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Modernity and Its DiscontentsMaking and Unmaking the Bourgeois from Machiavelli to Bellow$
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Steven B. Smith

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300198393

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300198393.001.0001

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The Tragic Liberalism of Isaiah Berlin

The Tragic Liberalism of Isaiah Berlin

(p.267) Chapter 13 The Tragic Liberalism of Isaiah Berlin
Modernity and Its Discontents

Steven B. Smith

Yale University Press

The influence of the Counter-Enlightenment has not been entirely nihilistic and rejectionist. It has deeply influenced Isaiah Berlin, one of the chief apostles of liberal political theory in the twentieth century. Berlin hoped to infuse what he saw as the rationalism and universalism of the Enlightenment with the Counter-Enlightenment’s emphasis on individuality, self-expression, moral diversity or what he called “value pluralism.” These ideas were best expressed by German romantics like Herder but can also be found in writers like Vico, Montesquieu, and Hume. Berlin saw moral and political life as torn between competing and irreconcilable values that applied also to nations and cultures each of which contains morally distinctive ways of life. It was this awareness that not all values are compatible and that life is a matter of choice between competing goods that gives his liberalism both a tragic and a heroic dimension.

Keywords:   Berlin, Isaiah, Churchill, Winston, Herder, Johann, Monism, Mill, John Stuart, Negative/Positive Liberty, Pluralism, Relativism, Zionism

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