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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for every student of art, literature and philosophy, 30 Mar. 2008
This review is from: The Roots Of Romanticism (Paperback)
Romanticism, `the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world', was a reaction to the 18th century Enlightenment view that we could in some way stand apart from the world, analyse it, get to know it, and ultimately control it through logic, mathematics and science. This positivist view held by the philosophes of 18th century France was made to look absurd by the French Revolution and the Lisbon earthquake, events that indicated that all was not after all for the best in the best of all possible worlds, as Leibniz had claimed.

In the Roots of Romanticism, which is a transcript of six lectures delivered in Washington in 1965, Isaiah Berlin traces the roots and fruits of the movement, or way of thinking, which reacted against the positivist view.

The author's scholarship and grasp of his subject is masterful. This is a book that every student of history and philosophy should read. In the space of 118 pages, Isaiah Berlin knits together, in a readable and at times entertaining way, the complicated pattern of views held by the German and British romanticists, and shows the lasting effects of those views.

If the book has one fault it is the fact that Berlin gives so little weight to the influence of Spinoza's philosophy. In Spinoza's single substance view, opponents of the Enlightenment found not merely a set of counter-arguments to the positivist view that the universe could be described in mathematical terms, but a comprehensive system that cohered with reason, logic and all the evidence of common sense and experience.

In Germany, the mechanistic world view was effectively eclipsed by the view first expressed by Spinoza in his Ethics that God and Nature are one and the same thing. Herder, Hegel, Goethe, Schlegel, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Novalis, Nietzsche--all these and many more admitted the influence of Spinoza on their thought, and reflected his monism in their works. Their influence continues to be felt to this day in the works of 20th century European philosophers, notably those of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Gadamer.

Hegel said Spinoza was the central point of modern philosophy: "either Spinoza or no philosophy." In The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer acknowledged the influence of Spinoza, and in his Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy he pays homage to Spinoza as beginning "an entirely new epoch of free investigation, independent of all theological teaching."

Novalis, who referred to Spinoza as a "God-intoxicated man" said that "the true philosophy is realistic idealism--or Spinozism." Schelling admitted that "no one can hope to progress to the true and complete philosophy without having at least once in his life sunk himself in the abyss of Spinozism." And Goethe asserted: "Spinoza does not prove the existence of God; existence is God."

In 1798, Schlegel, who held that modern philosophy began with Spinoza, wrote excitedly to Novalis suggesting the establishment of a new religion based on the philosophy of infinite substance as God-or-Nature. In his letter he is confident that such a religion will have the backing of Schleiermacher, Goethe, Fichte and Schelling.

The pantheistic view was not limited to philosophers, artists and mystics. By the late eighteenth century the notion that the universe was a single plenum in which force and matter were intimately linked was taking hold among physicists. The Danish physicist Hans Oersted (1777-1851) declares in The Soul in Nature that Spirit and Nature are one, viewed under two different aspects. "This system [...] is a part of a more distant and higher system, an eternal whole created in infinite space, which embraces all the ideas realized in existence. [...] The complete idea is expressed in the totality of things. [...] Each individual is thus a particular realization of the fundamental Idea of Being."

In spite of this omission, The Roots of Romanticism is an outstanding work of scholarship. If you are at all interested in the arts or philosophy, you must have a copy of this book.
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