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Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

Author(s): Joseph Mali, Robert Wokler, Mark Lilla, Roger Hausheer, John Robertson, Darrin
M. McMahon, Frederick Beiser, Graeme Garrard, Lionel Gossman, John E. Toews, Michael
Confino
Source: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 93, No. 5 (2003),
pp. i-xi, 1-11, 13-31, 33-71, 73-131, 133-196
Published by: American Philosophical Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20020351
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TRANSACTIONS
of the

AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY


Held

at Philadelphis

For Promoting
Volume

ISAIAH

Useful

Knowledge

93, Part 5

BERLIN'S

COUNTER-ENLIGHTENMENT

Edited by
Joseph Mali and Robert Wokler

^Q^^3^

American

Philosophical Society
2003
Philadelphia

2003 by the American


Copyright?
All rights reserved.

Philosophical

Society

for its Transactions

series.

ISBN: 0-87169-935^

US ISSN: 0065-9746

Data
Library of Congress
Cataloging-in-Publication
Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment/edited
by Joseph Mali and Robert Wokler.
v. 93, pt. 5)
of the American
(Transactions
p. cm.
Philosophical
Society;
Includes bibliographical
references and index.
ISBN 0-87169-935-4
1. Berlin,
Isaiah,

(pbk.)
Sir. 2. Philosophy.

I. Mali,

Joseph.

II. Wokler,

Robert,

III.

Series.

B1618.B454I84 2003
192-dc21

2003056005

Contents

The Editors

1
Chapter
Mark Lilla
Chapter 2
Robert Wokler

Preface

What

VII

Is Counter-Enlightenment?

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-

13

Enlightenment
Chapter

Roger Hausheer
Chapter

33

Joseph Mali
Chapter

the Enlightenment

Enlightening

Berlin, Vico,

and the Principles

of Humanity

51

John Robertson

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

73

Approach
Chapter 6
Darrin M. McMahon

7
Chapter
Frederick Beiser

Chapter
Graeme

Chapter

The Real Counter-Enlightenment:


Case of France

Berlin

and the German

The

Counter-Enlightenment

91

105

8
Garrard

Isaiah Berlin's

117

Joseph de Maistre

Lionel Gossman

Benjamin

Constant

on

Liberty

and Love

133

iv

Isaiah Berlin s Counter-Enlightenment

10
Chapter
John E. Toews

Berlin's Marx:
Enlightenment,
Construction

Chapter
Michael

CounterEnlightenment,
and the Historical
of Cultural
Identities

163

11
Confino

and 177
Isaiah Berlin, Alexander
Herzen,
Elusive Counter-Enlightenment

Russia's

Index of Names

193

Cist

of contributors

at Syracuse University.
is Professor
of Philosophy
His publica
The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Pichte (Harvard,
and Romanticism:
The Genesis ofModern German
Revolution,
1987), Enlightenment,
Political
German
Idealism: The Struggle
1790-1800,
(Harvard,
1992),
Thought,
1781-1801
and
The
Romantic
(Harvard,
2002),
against Subjectivism,
Imperative
a
on
He
is
book
the philosophy
of
(Harvard,
forthcoming).
currently writing
Friedrich Schiller.
Frederick
tions

Beiser

include

Confino
is Professor of History
emeritus at Tel Aviv University.
He is the
of Daughter of a Revolutionary: Natalie Herzen and the Bakunin-Nechaev
Circle
(London, 1974), Soci?t? et mentalit?s collectives en Russie sous VAncien R?gime (Paris,
en exil. Lettres de Pierre
1897-1917
1991), Anarchistes
Kropotkine ?Marie Goldsmith,
numerous
articles on intellectuals
and intellectual
in
traditions
(Paris, 1995), and
Russia in the eighteenth
and nineteenth
centuries.

Michael
author

Graeme
is Lecturer
in Political
Garrard
and European
Philosophy
Thought
at Cardiff University.
He is the author of Rousseau s Counter-Enlightenment:
A
(New York, 2003), and the forthcoming
Republican
Critique of the Philosophes
Prom theMid-Eighteenth
Counter-Enlightenments:
Century to the Present (London,
2004).
is the M. Taylor Pine Professor
Lionel Gossman
of Romance
and
Languages
at Princeton University.
on French
emeritus
Literatures
He has written
extensively
literature and literary theory, as well as on historiography.
His most recent books
are Between Literature and
(Harvard, 1990) and Basel in theAge ofBurckhardt
History
(Chicago,

2000).

is an Honorary
Senior Research
Fellow of Bradford University.
Roger Hausheer
His publications
include essays on Fichte and Schelling
and, with Henry Hardy,
editions of Berlin's Against
the Current and The Proper Study ofMankind. He is cur
on an intellectual
of Isaiah Berlin.
rently working
biography
on Social
in the Committee
is Professor
at the University
of
Thought
an Anti-Modern
(Harvard,
Chicago. He is the author of G.B. Vico: The Making
of
1993) and The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York, 2001), and co-editor
of The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin (New York, 2001).

Mark

Lilla

vi

Isaiah Berlins

Counter-Enlightenment

M. McMahon
is the Ben Weider
at
Associate
Professor
of History
Florida State University.
He is the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment:
The
French Counter-Enlightenment
and theMaking
(Oxford, 2001), and the
ofModernity
A
York,
(New
2004).
History
forthcoming Happiness:

Darrin

His publications
teaches history at Tel Aviv University.
include
Joseph Mali
Rehabilitation
New
Science
and
Vico's
1992)
ofMyth:
(Cambridge,
Mythistory:
Making
of aModern Historiography
(Chicago, 2003).

The
The

at St Hugh's
teaches Modern
John Robertson
College, Oxford. He has
History
on
in
in
the
and
Scotland
and on the Anglo
published
Enlightenment
Naples,
a comparative
Scottish Union of 1707. He is currently completing
study: The Case
the
Scotland
and
1680-1760.
for
Naples
Enlightenment:
and Director
of the Program
of History
in the
at
the
He
is
the
of
Ideas
of
of
author
History
Washington.
Comparative
University
The
Path
toward
Dialectical
1805-1841
Humanism,
1981)
Hegelianism:
(Cambridge,
and Becoming Historical: Cultural Reformation and Public Memory
in Early Nineteenth
numerous
articles on the
2004), and has written
Century Berlin (Cambridge,
John

E. Toews

history

is Professor

of psychoanalysis,

contemporary

historiography

and historical

theory.

is currently at the Whitney


Robert Wokler
Humanities
Center at Yale University
in the History
at the University
and was
of Political Thought
formerly Reader
on Society, Politics, Music
His publications
include Rousseau
of Manchester.
as joint
and Language
(Oxford,
(New York, 1987) and Rousseau
1995), as well
editions

of Diderot's

(Berkeley,
forthcoming

Political Writings
1992), Inventing Human Science
(Cambridge,
The Enlightenment
and Modernity
(New York, 2000), and the
Political Thought.
Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century

1995),

tditors'

preface

When
asked about the origins of the term "Counter-Enlightenment"
Isaiah Berlin
once replied that he did not know who invented the concept. "Could it be myself?"
"I should be somewhat
I did. I really
he wondered
playfully.
surprised. Perhaps
have no idea."1 As the essays in this collection make plain, Berlin invented neither
seems to be of late
in German
the word, which
nineteenth-century
vintage and in
came
in
to
fifteen
before
he
it, nor the con
years
print
English appeared
employ
can
within
the
of
to
which
be
traced
itself
debates about
age
cept,
Enlightenment
and failures. More than any other figure since the eighteenth
its own achievements
Berlin appropriated
the term "Counter-Enlightenment,"
made
century, however,
and
it the heart of his own political
his
imbued
of
thought,
interpretations
thinkers with its meanings
and significance.
particular
at the margins
treatments
His diverse
of writers
of the Enlightenment,
who
were
once
to
at
took
be
its
themselves
central
reflected upon what
currents,
they
of
historical
and
nineteenth
and philosophical.
By way
elucidating
eighteenththe fallacies and confronted
the implications
century doctrines which
challenged
of an overarching
faith in the unity of all sciences, Berlin sought to show that our
not exactly as we choose?
of culture, manufactured
patterns
by ourselves?if
we seek to fathom laws of
must be explained
in
the
which
from
ways
differently
nature. In the writings
and Hamann,
of Vico, Herder,
he uncovered
philosophies
in language,
of history
that were especially
laws, and mythology
encapsulated
to the aesthetic dimensions
In the works
of human activity.
sensitive, moreover,
of these and other luminaries of the Counter-Enlightenment
he identified notions
of understanding
human actions which prized empathy or "reconstructive
imag
ination" on the part of the observer as necessary means
for grasping
from within
to Berlin, inasmuch as the thinkers of
the motivations
of their agents. According
to
reassert
the Counter-Enlightenment
the singularity
and validity
of the
sought
human sciences as against the concepts and categories of the natural sciences, they
the hermeneutic
revolution
of nineteenth-century
and
anticipated
philosophers
sociologists.
the fundamental
of his theory of
assumptions
of his early philosophical
essays and in his more
historical essays of the early 1950s, itwas only in the late 1970s, following
the pub
lication of his essay on "The Counter-Enlightenment"
for Scribner's Dictionary
of
the appearance
the History of Ideas, and especially with
of his study of Vico and
that his ideas on this subject came to attract widespread
Herder,
public attention.
on other foundations,
Berlin had by then secured his reputation
above all as the
in
advocate
of
liberalism
modern
the
of
and
tradition
leading
Benjamin Constant
Although
the human

he elaborated
in some
sciences

vn

viii

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

of Liberty," his
John Stuart Mill, articulated most clearly in 1958 in "Two Concepts
as Oxford's Chichele
lecture
celebrated
Professor
of
Social
and Political
inaugural
on
With
the
diffusion
of
his
thinkers, he
Theory.
writings
Counter-Enlightenment
came towin a host of unexpected
friends from other quarters in the humanities
and
to the allegedly uniformitarian
social sciences. For by the 1970s, opposition
stric
was rampant
tures of the Enlightenment
in Europe and
universities
throughout
on
in
account
to
of
the
rise
of post
America,
Europe mainly
public prominence
modernist
the
of
events
in
1968
and
the
following
Prague Spring
philosophers
France inMay of the same year, in America principally
the
advent
of
fem
through
inism and multiculturalism.
Without
aiming to address these audiences, Berlin, al
was to find that his writings
on
ready in his late sixties,
Counter-Enlightenment
a
an
resonance
in
thinkers had
positive
epoch within which difference had come to
be celebrated
and the pretensions
of universalism
Just as the rise of
deplored.
un
to some commentators,
in the 1930s had, according
masked
the illusions of another epoch whose
totalitarian politics could be traced to
ideals of scientific progress
and wholesale
social change, Eastern and Western
in the 1970s were once again put to the test and found
of globalization
philosophies
and Communism

Fascism

On the other hand, Berlin's historical


of the origins of
wanting.
investigations
and nationalism
modern
incited hostile
reactions
conservatism,
anti-rationalism,
from many
liberal thinkers, who seemed to find in his sympathetic
recapitulation
an ap
innovations
of the methodological
of the opponents
of the Enlightenment
of
their
rehabilitation
parent
ideology.
swam
to thinkers who
Berlin's
realism and apparent
attachment
skeptical
own
come
currents
of
their
times
accorded
well
with
the
readers
who
had
against
the great metanarratives
and to believe
of modernity
that both Eastern
a
of
had
schemes
social
sham. Pluralism
proven
Utopian
regeneration
came to be
in the image of Counter-Enlightenment
philosophy
judged by

to mistrust

and Western
cast
a new

generation

of

readers

as more

appealing

than

liberalism,

whose

anti

too much
tainted by the ethics of a now-defunct
totalitarian principles
seemed
than
American
Cold War. More
critic of liberal universalism,
per
any
forcefully
even
more
or the critical theorists of
than
French
deconstructivists
incisively
haps
the Frankfurt School who commonly
attacked the alleged tyrannies of Enlighten
ment
to bear upon his
Berlin
and
Baltic
Danubian
brought
perspectives
thought,
to the populist myths by
assessments
of past thinkers. While
turning his attention
communities
which
the members
of diverse
identified
both themselves
and
in three continents,
to
this most peripatetic
seemed
scholar, at home
strangers,
share virtually none of his subjects' illusions. A polyglot who was by origin foreign
to the academic and intellectual
in England,
circles over which he came to preside
a firm Zionist
and yet the most
nationalist
of
he remained
cosmopolitan
a
own
himself
his
the twentieth
of
century,
perfect personification
pluralist
philosophy.
on
In his studies of Counter-Enlightenment
thinkers, no less than in his writings
was also the bearer of an Oxford
Berlin
tradition
textual
of
interpretation
liberty,
came to prevail
in Cambridge
and methodologically
different
from that which
to political philosophy
from the approaches
distinct as well
which,
again in the
and thereafter
first at Harvard
1970s, came to ascendancy,
throughout
virtually
world.
the whole
Berlin was only the second holder of
of the English-speaking
Oxford's

Chichele

Chair,

all of whose

incumbents

except

the first, G.D.H.

Cole,

Editors'

Preface

ix

all the holders of the Cambridge


Chair of Political
have been foreigners, whereas
in 1927 have been English. At least until the mid
Science since its establishment
was taught differently
in which
from the ways
1980s, political
thought in Oxford
it is now studied in both Cambridge
and Harvard,
the syllabus at Oxford having
been cast in the image of "Greats", that is, the school of Literx humaniores, which
on classics
in conjunction with modern
had long concentrated
and
philosophy
new
come
or
to
had
in
"Modern
after
the
school
of
Greats"
which,
1920,
figure
In
and
Economics.
sci
because
Politics, Philosophy
Cambridge,
largely
political
ence was taught in the Faculty of History,
revisions of the syllabus were associated
in
of history itself, such that, after the mid-1960s
with refinements
of the discipline
came to supplant all other
in
various
forms
contextualism
approaches.
particular,
at the height of Britain's age
in the tradition of "Greats" developed
But in Oxford,
to foster a spirit of public office and service, there had been scant
of imperialism
a strictly demarcated
in pursuing
historical
irrelevant to con
approach,
issues.
temporary political
treatment of Counter-Enlightenment
luminaries was unencumbered
Berlin's
of
about
the
their
His scholarship was
abiding pertinence
philosophies.
by doubts
of languages,
both wide
and deep, while his command
his literary sensibilities,
acumen enabled him to penetrate
of arguments
and his philosophical
the meaning
which
readers wedded
might not always be able to grasp.
only to contextualism
or
But he had few anxieties
the profundities
about identifying
of Vico, Herder,
interest

as anticipations
in the history of European
of later developments
thought
division
of labor between philosophers
and judged that the purported
and histo
of political
ideas was obscure. In the Oxford
rians in their interpretations
tradition
to texts, somewhat
similar to that
of "Greats" and "Modern Greats" his approach

Hamann

in the 1930s at the Univer


informed the "Great Books" syllabus
launched
a
was
to
suited
with broad interests in
of
theorist
sity
political
Chicago,
specially
affairs who was both trained in and drawn to the study of classics
international
to seminally
in their
and also warmed
significant writers who had been outsiders
own world,
in their readings of its principles,
all the more perceptive
he believed,

which

on

account

of

their

estrangement.

It has sometimes
been argued that Berlin's pluralism
and liberalism were, or
even had to be, fundamentally
in conflict. While he occasionally
that his
allowed
views of these two concepts might be inconsistent,
his whole
career, and particu
on the Counter-Enlightenment,
nonetheless
appear to bring them
larly his writings
or the celebration
of variety, multiplicity,
and
together. Philosophical
pluralism,
in the philosophies
of most of the thinkers of the
difference,
figures prominently
whom
he discusses,
whose
theolo
Counter-Enlightenment
including Hamann's,
to Enlightenment
ideals Berlin did not share himself, and even de
gical objections
at once
of human nature he deemed
whose misanthropic
Maistre's,
perceptions
as Berlin understood
and alarming. Pluralism,
it, also lay at the heart of
captivating
to toleration and respect for ethnic
modern
liberalism, not only in its commitment
to dogmatic
and other minorities,
but above all in its opposition
faith and all uni
or
formitarian doctrines, whether
Like
secular.
other
liberal
religious
philosophers,
on
Berlin, when
commenting
Counter-Enlightenment
figures, sided mainly with
the foxes who know many
who know just one.
things rather than the hedgehogs
Berlin's Russian
and, above all, his Jewish origins and interests, raise issues of
and
particular
significance which bear upon his treatment of the Enlightenment

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

While he had no patience


the Counter-Enlightenment.
for theocratic justifications
forMoses Hess, Chaim Weizmann,
of a Jewish state, his sympathy
and other pro
a
nationalism
of
form
the
Jewish
ponents
part with
part?perhaps
deepest
own
to
his
to
convictions?of
his
attachment
Counter
the
respect
personal
and
his
mistrust
of
and
homogenous
cosmopolitanism
Enlightenment
similarly
Procrustean
strains of the Enlightenment.
Such beliefs did not exclude but on the
of other cultures
contrary, he claimed,
required equal respect for the aspirations
In
and peoples,
the
Palestinians.
his
last
Berlin
remarks,
including
virtually
a Palestinian
state
wish
that
be
the
established
Israel,
expressed
might
alongside
and he imagined
that the prospects
of mutual
respect among disparate
peoples
or at least would
not be jeopardized,
in a world
of multiple
might be enhanced,
nationalities,
be generated.
But with

out of which

exchanges

could perhaps

slowly

own

in England
and America,
where
his
presence
at
irresistible
least
of
admirers
humanity
judged
by legions
that his knighthood
to
have supposed
had been gained
for services
an
an
he
seemed
welcome
illustrious exile and
conversation,
altogether
foreigner,
the European
such as had spawned
itself
refugee from barbarism
Enlightenment
in
the
of
first
Holland
and
then
around
end
the seventeenth
century,
England.
in public about the pressing
However
reticent he appeared
crises of the day, no
in England was
thinker of the twentieth
resided
century who
major political
more
and unparochial
international,
contemporary,
undogmatic,
conspicuously
in his treatment of philosophical
that the eighteenth
issues. He was convinced
and the Counter-Enlightenment
between
the
century battles of the Enlightenment
were still prevalent
and
that
and
their
critics
historians
of
ideas
philosophes
today
and significance.
could help to illuminate both their meaning
liberalism is itself inmany
Since modern
respects a child of the Enlightenment,
on these subjects give rise to questions
about the connection
Berlin's perspectives
as he envisaged
and the Counter-Enlightenment,
between
the Enlightenment
This volume
addresses
such questions. Was
these two intellectual movements.
or can notable strains of it be
an invention of the Counter-Enlightenment
pluralism
as well?
If the latter
identified within mainstream
eighteenth-century
philosophy
are
to be
and the Counter-Enlightenment
is the case, just how
the Enlightenment
are
in
the first essay by Mark
These themes
addressed
distinguished?
properly
the Enlightenment
and the Counter
that the clash between
Lilla, who
suggests
exuberant
who might

respect

to his
was

trust and cross-border

around divergent
of history
revolves
philosophies
essentially
Enlightenment
to Berlin's apparent
of modernity.
and perceptions
Another
pertains
question
that attachment
to the Counter-Enlightenment:
Was
attachment
purely method
or also, however
in
This
is addressed
question
inadvertently,
ideological?
ological
that throughout
his career
who
contends
the second essay by Robert Wokler,
a
Westernizer
Berlin remained
fundamentally
figure of the Enlightenment?a
obscurantism
and
his campaigns
rather than Slavophile?in
intolerance,
against
who argues that Berlin was sufficiently
and in the third essay by Roger Hausheer,
to have
and other critics of eighteenth-century
philosophy
impressed by German
In the
under
their
influence.
his
outlook
essentially
Enlightenment
tempered
in
of
Mali
how
Berlin
found
Vico's
shows
the
fourth essay,
theory
Joseph
new
moral
and
of
cultural
social
construction
of
reality
principles
mythopoeic

Editors'

Preface

xi

that enabled him to counter the positivistic


ideology and methodology
in
humanities
sciences
since
and
social
the
the
prevalent
Enlightenment.
In the fifth and sixth essays John Robertson
and Darrin McMahon,
respectively,
set out to define the true Enlightenment
and the real Counter-Enlightenment
in
common
to
with
national
Robertson
reference
contexts,
appropriate
assumptions
evaluation

and Neapolitan
interests
shared by Scottish
thinkers
of the eighteenth
to
with
and
McMahon
reference
French
claims that the
commentators'
century,
the political
of
of the philosophes had come to undermine
doctrines
foundations
civil society and the state. In the seventh
Frederick
Beiser
shows
that
essay,
and Jacobi's denunciations
of the tyranny of reason in the
Herder's,
Hamann's,
of
their
evolved
from
of its association with political
age
perceptions
Aufkl?rung
in
the eighth chapter Graeme Garrard explains how, even in
while
absolutism,
and

Berlin deplored,
of anti-liberalism
he identified
de Maistre's
which
philosophy
more profound
realism
that he considered
of psychological
violent principles
In the ninth essay, Lionel
than the unwarranted
of the Enlightenment.
optimism
in the light of
the political philosophy
of Benjamin Constant
Gossman
examines
the Romantic
belief that vital human energies had been anesthetized
by civilized
were
of ancient and modern
which
life and with respect to his conceptions
liberty,
to influence Berlin's
In the tenth essay, John Toews examines
ideas profoundly.
in the 1930s
that were
themes in Berlin's own intellectual
launched
biography
to
his
Karl
with
of
reference
Marx's
inheri
Marx,
by
study
including,
Hegelian
as he would
of the Counter-Enlightenment
later portray it. In
tance, anticipations
Confino
argues that even though there might never
essay, Michael
a "Russian
in the common historical meaning
of the
Enlightenment"
as a
that arose and developed
term, there was a Russian Counter-Enlightenment
movement
reaction to the Western
of
European
Enlightenment.
the eleventh

have

been

in
of the essays in this volume were prepared
for the International
Seminar
at
the
in
Sir
Tel
Aviv
of
Isaiah
held
School
of
Berlin,
Memory
History
University
funded by the
during the academic year 1999-2000. The seminar was generously
in Jerusalem. We are grateful to the seminar's convenor,
Yad Hanadiv
Foundation
and encouragement
in the
Shulamit Volkov,
for her firm judgment
Professor
to
of
this
selection
of
for
We
wish
thank
also
essays
preparation
publication.
at every
Hanita Atias-Wenkert
for her meticulous
attention to all practical matters
toMary McDonald
for closely su
stage of the project, and to express our gratitude
its
and
the
American
pervising
production
Philosophical
publication
by
Society.

Most

1 Ramin

Jahanbegloo,
1992), pp. 69-70.

Conversations

with

Isaiah Berlin

(London:

Peter Halban,

y'

What

Ss Counter

Enlightenment?

Mark Ulla

i.
age is as old as the age itself. Ever since men began
critique of the modern
distinction
virtue
of their modernity
seeking
by
they have also been plagued
by
over an inheritance,
Like brothers
doubt about its ultimate worth.
squabbling
two related but nonetheless
the
antagonistic
figures have been present throughout
Whenever
has
to
of
asserted
his
curios
modern
Jacob
history
thought.
birthright
it as vain or dehumanizing.
Esau has challenged
The legitimacy
ity or autonomy,
to judge, however.
of their claims and counter-claims
is difficult
for
Deciding
either brother would mean
their
shared
that
the
modern
accepting
assumption
a fundamental
transformation
of human experience.
And this as
age represents
come
a
we
must
to
which
is
(about
summary
sumption
judgment)
certainly open
to question.
But even ifwe do question
of this fraternal quarrel
it, the persistence
over the worth of modernity
it out of hand. I
gives us good reason to not dismiss
to suppose
will argue that there are grounds
that the quarrel springs out of deeper
tensions within
the Western
tradition and is only superficially
about the modern
or
even
to
If
is
this
then
the
deserves
be
taken seriously
so,
age.
possible,
quarrel
even
the
claims
either
those
unconvinced
of
brother.
by
by
a "new order of
that our age represents
The assumption
things" is a historical
our
we
If
it
to
take
be
then
of
the age will depend
correct,
assumption.
judgment
on how we
its
And
since
in
constant
this
is
the
motion,
judge
history.
history
can at best reach
critics of modernity
about
and
it,
only provisional
judgments
even these will depend on
the military
fortuna?on
exploits of a Corsican general,
the aim of an assassin,
the eureka of a scientist, or the disappearance
of a wall.
The

A historical
the significance
critique of the age will also be prone to overestimate
sense of
of the present moment,
if only to escape
the nagging
insignificance
creates the illusion that the
which historical
consciousness
brings with it.Myopia
"now" is the moment
of ultimate
that the
crisis, and pride adds the conviction
us
we
to
it.
has
If
of
been
revealed
consider
the
mystery
"age"
through
critique of
so
on
we
in
it
the
casts
historical
which
discover
others,
modernity
light
assuredly

Isaiah Berlin s Counter-Enlightenment

that two moments

of presumed

crisis have

decisively

shaped modernity's

own

judgment.
philosophical
Well before
The first, and more
crisis, was the French Revolution.
significant
was conceived
and
the critique of modernity
the Revolution,
Hamann,
by Vico,
its
formulation
from
Rousseau.
Whatever
these
and
received
classic
Herder,
thinkers found to object to inmodern
society, however,
thought and modern
they
on a passing historical moment.
Vico's New Science
did not focus their discontent
two Discourses
sketch the history of the human race in allegorical
and Rousseau's
not just modern
societies?and
the
terms, showing
facing all refined
dangers
turn their backs on traditional
Vico's
ones?that
(in
case) or on nature
authority
a
one
event
did
when
historical
become
the subject
The
instance
(in Rousseau's).
was
of
which
the
Lisbon
of philosophical
1755,
gave sudden,
Earthquake
dispute
to the question
of theodicy. Yet even here the debate about the
morbid
actuality
event did not descend
into a polemic
about philosophy's
of a historical
meaning
was on trial for the earthquake,
not
it.
the philosophers.
God
for
responsibility
and
that
the
Terror
with
But the Revolution,
followed,
conquests
changed
along
was put in the dock for
caused a
all that. For the first time, philosophy
having
in history, and the earlier, mainly moral, objections
raised against
transformation
and Newton,
and the Encyclo
and Bacon, Galileo
Voltaire
the ideas of Descartes
now gave way to a historical
critique of the world
they
pedists, Lessing and Kant,
had
created.
allegedly
in the critique of modernity
took place within
A second transformation
living
It is commonly
asserted
in the period bounded
memory,
by the two World Wars.
at this time was initiated and
that the second, more radical critique that developed
this may be so, but
formulation
by Nietzsche.
Philosophically
given its definitive
to
became
central
German
it should be borne inmind
that Nietzsche
only
thought
and aftermath of the Great War, not before, and that his works were
in the midst
with those of Kierkegaard,
which had just been
almost simultaneously
embraced
for understand
trivial fact is actually quite important
translated. This seemingly
has always
of
which
of
the
the
critique
modernity,
subsequent
development
ing
softness.
and Kierkegaardian
hardness
been an unstable mix of Nietzschean
more extreme
than
This new critique of the modern
age was unquestionably
It accepted
in the wake of the French Revolution.
the assertion
the one developed
was responsible
for the errant course of modern
that early modern
philosophy
to nature, feeling, or tradition. The new
history, but it rejected romantic appeals
as an unhealthy
as part of the modern
out
problem,
critique saw Romanticism
new critique took its
own errant humanism.
The
the
of
Enlightenment's
growth
so different
that today it
in very different philosophical
directions,
proponents
The radiating paths marked
takes effort to see their common point of departure.
Carl Schmitt, Karl Barth, and
out in the postwar
years by Martin Heidegger,
not to
destined
four
take
Walter
prominent
examples?were
Benjamin?to
a
had
entered
cross. Yet they all set out by assuming
that the modern
decisive
age
source was philosophical.
crisis whose
historical
They all conceived
original
now be seen in the development
as
a
fruits
could
whose
"project"
modernity
of mass society, uncontrolled
advance, mechanized
killing, the triv
technological
In short,
of human
ialization
of religion and art, and the flattening
aspiration.
about the dehumanization
of man. And when
had brought
humanism
modern
were plunged
into a second, more destructive
war,
Europe and then the world

What

Is Counter-Enlightenment?

it new, unimagined
that brought with
forms of erasing human
life, the radical
to
receive
if
of
confirmation.
immediate,
unwelcome,
critique
modernity
appeared
to which
to overestimate
the degree
It is difficult
the experience
of Europe's
ever
latest Thirty Year War has marked Western
since. The
political philosophy
a
as
of
had
about
the na
critique
begun
purely philosophical
modernity
dispute
ture of the human good and the conditions
under which
it could be achieved.
it became a debate about a singular break in history
After the French Revolution
which was
from it. The radical critique of modernity,
and the effects flowing
two
world
in
the
conclusion
of
then
drew
the
crucible
wars,
forged
apocalyptic
that the moment
of ultimate
crisis anticipated
modern
had
arrived,
by
thought
and that this crisis was
the only conscionable
reflection.
object of philosophical
to
in theWest changed dramatically
after the wars, but they continued
Conditions
in terms of the radical critique. Hot wars were
followed by a cold
be conceived
succeeded
ancient
those riven by class conflicts,
societies
peace, dull consumer
toleration?and
racial hatreds dissolved
before a flaccid
these too were heaped
to answer a contra
which now was made
like coals upon the head of modernity,
set
German
thinker
of
of
the
inter-war period
charges. Every significant
dictory
we
not
to ad
crisis
and
for granted;
since
have
took the
of modernity
managed
vance beyond
in
those thinkers
of the radical cri
this respect, the presuppositions
of much political philosophy
tique remain the presuppositions
today.
I began by stating that the critique of modernity
is based on assumptions
about
to
in
is
and
therefore
about
the
histor
opinion
changes
history,
highly susceptible
on these opin
ical moment.
Only with distance do we begin to gain perspective
ions and learn to distinguish
what may be true within
them. Our distance from the
of the French Revolution,
for instance, has finally given us the perspec
passions
tive necessary
to distinguish
the philosophically
of Tocqueville
enduring works
or Donoso
from the superficial polemics
of Bonald, Lamennais,
Cortes. Gaining
on the radical critique of modernity
is more difficult
because
the
perspective
are
so
events which
it
must
fresh
memories
for
Yet
be
many.
shaped
perspective
our
one
not
to
remain
if
the
is
of
others.
critique
opinion among
sought
judgment
to take seriously
the critique
Two paths are open to those who genuinely wish
on
to
is
historical
claim that
of modernity
One
seek
its
historical
perspective
today.
we live in amoment
crisis and that the experiences
of decisive
of our century, and
the so-called "lessons" to be drawn from them, provide ameasure
by which mod
ern philosophy
an
is to be judged. Such experiences
thrown
have
certainly
on
no
extreme
is
and
of
that
extreme
modern
life
there
doubt.
But
light
thought;
our vision
it. Some critics of
distorts
rather than sharpening
light sometimes
the
that "the
Hobbes,
opposite
modernity,
give
impression by asserting
following
extreme case is the common one" or that "the exception"
the rule. But we
proves
are permitted
towonder whether
this is so, and to ask whether
the intensity of this
us
not
to
has
caused
overestimate
their
and thus to
century's experiences
novelty,
miscontrue
their significance.
This sort of historical
would
engage the radical critique of moder
questioning
on
own
its
terrain.
sort
which we will only begin
Another
of
nity
questioning,
examine the philosophical
of any critique rather than
here, would
presuppositions
an
examine this or that account of modern
Such
would have
history.
undertaking
to pay particular
to assumptions
attention
about relations between
ideas and
events within
can
and
about
whether
be
history,
anything
philosophically

Isaiah Berlin s Counter-Enlightenment

in taking up these ques


deduced
from such relations. We cannot aspire to novelty
us
ever
since
since
have
with
and
been
tions,
Hegel
they
perhaps before. But they
to be considered
when
the
deserve
again, especially
critique
today,
philosophical
into journalistic
chatter about
of decaying
of modernity
gives every appearance
the postmodern
reflected upon the presuppo
age. Those who have not seriously
to
into the simple phrase "the modern
sitions packed
age" can hardly be expected
we hope
to those presuppositions
to take the
it. In returning
advance beyond
than it takes itself, at least
critique of modernity
seriously, perhaps more seriously
so
it
to teach us, if not about
has
We
do
with
the
that
suspicion
today.
something
the course of modern
then
about
history,
something
beyond history.
II.
The critique of modernity
is undertaken
thinkers. These are thinkers
by modern
are
not
to
in
it.
who
be of
Their very existence would
the modern
age, but claim
that modernity
the claim many of them make,
is a his
therefore seem to contradict
a
or
torical bloc, with
itself
single meaning
tendency. The critique of modernity
over its own legiti
at least intellectually,
shows that the modern
age is divided,
macy and worth. But what are we to call thinkers in these two camps, since they
are both

is the suggestion
of
"modern," historically
speaking? One suggestion?it
that we employ
the terms "Enlightenment"
Isaiah Berlin, and it is a good one?is
them really concerns
and "Counter-Enlightenment,"
since the issue dividing
the
I
the
will
of
century.
early-modern
philosophy
through
eighteenth
development
Iwill not employ
this suggestion,
but with the following proviso.
the terms
I
consider
from
the
to
those
distinguish
unenlightened;
enlightened
polemically
sense to group thinkers into discrete
nor will I employ them in a narrow historical
or "Romanticism."
In using
such as the "age of Enlightenment"
these
periods,
terms Iwill adopt the meaning
them
the
itself.
given
by
Counter-Enlightenment
To the Counter-Enlightenment
any thinker over the past three centuries
belongs
who has claimed that the cause of the crisis of the age is to be found in the devel
To the Enlightenment
any thinker in this
opment of modern
belongs
philosophy.
same period who has been made
to answer for this crisis.
the province
of the Counter
of modernity
The critique
is, therefore,
to
court
and empowered
which
first
the
Enlightenment
Enlightenment,
brought
have
to act as presiding
been
leveled against
world history
judge. Many
charges
over the past two centuries, but these can be reduced
to two. The
the defendant
was a self-conscious
to trans
conceived
first is that the Enlightenment
"project"
the second is that, alas, it succeeded.
Let us take up these
form human existence;
adopt

charges in turn.
was a self-conscious
in the
The notion that the Enlightenment
project, designed
works
of a few early thinkers and then carried out, more or less consciously,
by
It is the
of the Counter-Enlightenment.
is a commonplace
others who
followed,
source of that tireless search?sometimes
the piv
cavalier?for
serious, sometime
error was first
the fundamental
ideas where
otal point in the history of modern
or Bacon, others in
made.
Some have thought to find it in the works of Descartes
or Machiavelli.
The problem we face in
still others in Hobbes
Galileo or Newton,
from these works,
read
judging this charge is not that projects cannot be derived
if they existed, were
in a certain, sometimes
strained, light. It is that such projects,

What

Is Counter-Enlightenment?

we are to accept at face value the textual


utterly incompatible with each other. If
we can only conclude
that
the
evidence
Counter-Enlightenment,
gathered
by
ones.
we
If
but
rather
there was no single modern
many
"project,"
contradictory
define each of these so-called projects as a thesis or antithesis, we see that they fall
into a series of antinomies.
concerns the relation between
reason and morality.
The first antinomy
The the
a
was
on
reason
sis: that the Enlightenment
based
form
of
new, aggressive
project
men
and
that severed the bonds of natural human
into
turned
machines,
feeling,
that
moral
instincts.
the
their
The
antithesis:
extinguished
Enlightenment
actually
reason the servant of the
sought to constrict reason's horizon, making modern
passions,
corrupting morality
by giving free rein to the will.
concerns
reason and the sacred.
The second antinomy
the relation between
the world
the Enlightenment
The thesis: that by rationalizing
simultaneously
"disenchanted"
the world,
of religion, art,
genuine human experiences
foreclosing
or nature. The antithesis:
is itself a secularized
the Enlightenment
form of religion,
a new gnostic heresy that sacralizes human creativity
in politics and art.
concerns the relation between
reason and political author
The third antinomy
to depoliticize
wished
and thus neutralize
ity. The thesis: that the Enlightenment
individuals with the vegetable
and
social relations, securing peace by distracting
was a
animal satisfactions
that the Enlightenment
life. The antithesis:
of private
that politicized
interaction,
every aspect of human
giving
polemical movement
and absolutism.
rise to new forms of intolerance, utopianism,
The existence of these antinomies
for any global judgment of
poses a difficulty
of
claims.
Certain
critics
accept only one or
Counter-Enlightenment
modernity
the most
several of the theses, others only the antitheses.
Some,
challenging
turn our attention
to them presently.
But
thinkers, accept them all, and we will
first we must pose a somewhat naive question about the unspoken
presupposition
them. And that is, can the Enlightenment
be conceived
of as a "pro
underlying
at
all?
ject"
the most widely
Let us take, for example,
repeated charge that the Enlighten
was
a rationalizing
is
ment
It
that the thinkers
asserted
of the
project.
a
narrow
reason
to
all
rule
of
human
which
experience,
applied
Enlightenment
rendered
them by turns cold, inflexible,
intolerant, Utopian, blind to differences,
and Bacon are often named as parties in
Descartes
and potentially
authoritarian.
and La
the
fantastic
works
of Holbach,
this case for having
Helv?tius,
inspired
if not the mad dreams of Bentham,
Saint-Simon,
Fourier, even Sade. For
Mettrie,
let us accept this questionable
line of interpretation.
The fact
the sake of argument,
remains
its
that the mainstream
of the European
and
greatest
Enlightenment
and indeed
thinkers remained utterly untouched
rationalism,
by this so-called
were among
in
and Shaftsbury
its first critics. Locke, Smith, Hume, Hutcheson,
Voltaire,
England; Montesquieu,
Kant, and Wieland
Mendelssohn,
held an altogether different view

in France;
and Diderot
d'Alembert,
in Germany;
in Italy?these
Beccaria
of human reason.

Lessing,
thinkers

a critique of
ra
Enlightenment
began in
theological
and
about
claims
thinkers
inflated
were,
tionalism,
by
large, skeptical
to change
for reason, pessimistic
about its power
the human
and
condition,
with
contradictions.
those
its
who
preoccupied
Against
theologians
pretended
on ladders of syllogisms,
to reach the heavens
these Enlightenment
philosophers
Because

this mainstream

its greatest

Isaiah Berlin s Counter-Enlightenment

and common
the claims of sensibility
sense, and built their sciences
not
ratiocination.
to be slavery
believed
Yes,
upon perception,
they
ignorance
and truth to be freedom,
but few thought
absolute
could guarantee
freedom
their stubborn attachment
to enlightened
truth?hence
Yes, they be
monarchy.
defended

to be possible
and worthy
lieved progress
of pursuit,
and Hume,
attainable
for
they thought progress only
a delicate balance of rational
through
enlightenment
of reason
they were prone to speak simplemindedly

but, following Mendelssohn


short periods, and then only
and moral
cultivation.
Yes,
as a
calculating
faculty, but,
melancholy,
hypochondria,

about madness,
along with Kant, they also brooded
and the possible
of reason.
self-subversion
When
the Counter-Enlightenment
to have the
studying
critique it is important
at
works of the Enlightenment
to
to
hand
and
refer
It is, to say
them
often.
ready
the least, an enlightening
to see how little rapport there so often is be
exercise
tween the charges levelled against the modern
Enlightenment
"project" and the
books its authors actually wrote. The reason is not simply that the Enlightenment
and always has been, diverse.
It is also that, as students
of human
and
was,
natural
to
thinkers were
variety,
Enlightenment
allergic
highly
"projects."
sort of project can be built on Buffon's Histoire
After all, what
naturelle, or on
can be discerned
in the articles of
Esprit des lois?What
Montesquieu's
single aim
the Encylop?die and the variety of human pursuits
in its luscious plates?
illustrated
The Enlightenment's
for medieval
and early modern
contempt
theology, whether
or not, was a contempt
merited
for its naive rationalism,
the tout s'explique which
d'Alembert
Itwas against this rationalism
and the vanity it
thought so "childish."
as an anti-object,
reflected that the Enlightenment
if anything.
stood, functioning
But if this is the case, how did the contrary
arise?
is it that
impression
Why
so many
for so long have seen the works
of early modern
thinkers as blueprints
to nature,
a
for laying waste
for turning men
into machines,
for establishing
answer
not
to
in
world-order?
The
is
be
found
dif
homogeneous
interpretative
these subsequently
to be found
ferences, although
developed.
They are, I believe,
in motivations.
turns to Enlightenment
The Counter-Enlightenment
philosophy
reasons: to discover
and for extra-philosophical
the roots of a
only secondarily,
modern
it firmly believes
"break" or "crisis" which
to exist in contemporary
soci
the presumed
connection
between
ideas and social reality, Enlight
ety. Without
enment philosophy
would hold no more than antiquarian
interest for the critics of
the modern
it is subjected
to intense questioning
as these critics
age. Instead,
not its logical inconsistencies
or moral blindness,
seek to discover,
but rather the
word
that ultimately
became deed. It turns out that the Counter-Enlightenment's
interest is not in books or ideas. Its primary
interest is in history.
primary

III.
to history
is a temptation
to establish
for any doctrine
itself
Appealing
seeking
rivals.
The
in
thinker
to
first
the
tradition
understand
this
against
great
temptation
and its dangers was St. Augustine.
In the first four centuries of our era, Christian
found itself in extremely
relation with Roman
theology
polemical
religion and
so succumbed
to
and
Hellenistic
to history
and
philosophy,
temptation
appealed
as a way of
come
The
most
to
out
curious
work
of
this
histor
settling arguments.
ical turn in theology was Eusebius's
Demonstration
the
Eusebius
Gospel.
presents
of

What

Is Counter-Enlightenment?

of mankind
that begins with
creation,
passes
through
providential
history
a
in
climax
the
and ends with the crowning of
reaches
crucifixion,
Jewish history,
who unites the glory of pagan Rome with the revealed mission
of the
Constantine,
so long as Rome stood.
Christian
Church. Eusebius's
chronicle was convincing
When Rome fell, the verdict of history was reversed, and Christianity was charged
era in world
with having corrupted Roman virtue and initiated a new, regressive
a
a
to
God
is
this
historical
City of
long response
history. Augustine's
charge. It is
defense
because
successful
undercuts
the
brilliant, thoroughly
presup
Augustine
and his theological
of both the pagan philosophers
positions
predecessors
by
that world
courthouse.
is God's
The Christian
he
message,
history
denying
a
us
not
is
of
from
exists
the
salvation
release
outside
time;
says,
promised
history,
its culmination.
the French Revolution
What
the fall of Rome was to early Christian
theology,
never
a St.
was to the
it
Yet
the
modern
age
produced
Augustine;
Enlightenment.
ever
our
And
since Hegel,
instead.
judgment of the Enlighten
produced Hegel
ment has been a historical
It has been suggested
that the Enlightenment
judgment.
for historicizing
itsmessage.
But while
itself bears some responsibility
this may be
true of thinkers like Condorcet
remember
that the main
and Turgot, we must
was rather pessimistic
stream of the Enlightenment
about the course of history.
sur
about
the
Lisbon
Voltaire's
y a du mal
pronouncement
Earthquake?"il
us a sense of how little the Enlightenment
la terre"?gives
from
expected
provi
to be
dence. Athens,
Florence were held up as models
Rome, and Renaissance
were
as
not
emulated
ifmodern man was to rise out of barbarism;
they
perceived
which
had
been
The
historical
historical
schemes
of
stages
surpassed.
already
were allegories meant
to inspire thinkers
and d'Alembert
Hume, Mendelssohn,
was again possible.
and statesmen
alike, to awaken the hope that Enlightenment
was hardly alone in seeing the Revolution
as
the
of a new
Hegel
beginning
nor
was
in
that
it.
he
alone
the
had
Novalis,
age,
Enlightenment
thinking
prepared
and
had
all
different
views
the
who
of
Constant,
Revolution,
very
Tocqueville,
an
for
it.
But
held the Enlightenment
the
responsible
Hegel gave
Enlightenment
a
as
it
of
that
necessary way-station
greater significance
by conceiving
altogether
inman's
En
had to be surpassed
journey to self-conscious
Spirit. Psychologically,
an expression
was
to
of
human
the
drive
self-assertion
"negativity,"
lightenment
with all positively
that makes
consciousness
dissatisfied
given content and seeks
was the human characteristic,
so in one sense
to give that content itself. Negativity
nature.
the Enlightenment
essential
about human
But,
something
expressed
re
to
set
out
to
because
the
Hegel,
Enlightenment
according
eighteenth-century
a
a
own
in
naive
naive
faith
with
faith
Christian
man's
place
powers?in
Hegel's
to "bring heaven
to earth"?it
to psychological
doomed man
phrase, attempted
terror. Hegel's
and political
is the dissatisfied
disappointment
Enlightenment
man
And
die
since
seeks
satisfaction
Enlightenment,
unbefriedigte Aufkl?rung.
to surpass the Enlightenment
and find his philosophical
all, he is destined
in
and
Science
his
understood
(as Hegel
it),
resting place
political
resting place in
state. From this standpoint
it is a very small step indeed
the modern
bureaucratic
came in the wake of the
to assert that whatever
Enlightenment
historically must
be its philosophical
and political Aufhebung.
was not a
sense. He
thinker in any superficial
Hegel
Counter-Enlightenment
even managed
one
to inspire an Enlightenment
called
heresy
left-Hegelianism,
above

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

hearts and minds,


and much
of the globe's
dominated
many
variety of which
a
more
sense
in
until
surface,
quite recently. However,
profound
Hegel did shift
in favor of the Enlightenment's
critics by transforming
the idea of
the balance
a timeless ideal into that of Enlightenment
as a bounded
as
Enlightenment
period
a historical process could be seen to be
to
and according
working,
through which
it could be judged.
which
of Enlightenment
has had such wide
that even
influence
conception
Hegel's
on him
themselves
free from him find themselves
those who consider
depending
to the critique of modernity.
to the critique,
it comes
Three elements
when
or later radical form, are of
in its early Romantic
whether
origin, and all
Hegelian
are

questionable.

the Enlightenment's
The
significance.
to
in the curious position
thinker finds himself
of having
Counter-Enlightenment
a
as
a
as
treat the Enlightenment
his cri
success?if
success?indeed,
smashing
social effects are to have force. An Enlightenment
tique of the Enlightenment's
to survey the bloody
thinker, however,
brought back from the grave and made
a
of
modern
conclusion.
He might
reach
different
say
tapestry
history, might
had had no effect, that it had failed. There was a period in
that the Enlightenment
a number of thinkers, though by no means
all, revived an
European history when
or
conven
that was
free from political
old notion of enlightenment
theological
as
it serve the practical ends of mankind
to make
this notion
tions, and modified
one thinks of it, came to an end. Other
awhole. This period, whatever
fol
periods
different
thinkers thought other thoughts and pursued
different
lowed in which
to live as they always had, certainly no better,
ends. And human beings continued
The heavens
and powers, but not more enlightened.
of new machines
possessed
and
closed.
then
they
opened
The critic of modernity
points to this same tapestry and charges the Enlighten
If the Enlightenment
ment with being the loom on which
it was woven.
thinker
The

first

is the overestimation

of

that the tapestry is horrifying,


but denies weaving
it, the critic is forced to
a
in its sim
about
historical
That
hypothesis
responsibility.
hypothesis,
is
the
hoc
hoc.
is the
old
diachronic
This
form,
ergo propter
plest
fallacy, post
case
stone
its
which
the
builds
upon
against the
Counter-Enlightenment
shaking
or
critic
the
the
dialectic
he
modern
age. However
sophisticated
employs, he must
to
if
is
make
this diachronic
his
have
force.
The Enlighten
critique
assumption
even for those forces
ment must appear to be responsible
for whatever
followed,
once made,
the Enlightenment.
This assumption,
is
which
sought to extinguish
even permits
to
and
the
thinker
Counter-Enlightenment
extremely
powerful
earlier by affirming
the theses and antitheses
discussed
resolve the antinomies
a
He
of
does
this
modern
simultaneously.
by deriving
genealogy
thought inwhich
accepts
defend

is said to be the historical precondition


of each antithesis. For example,
as a reaction to the Enlightenment's
reli
is explained
irrationalism
rationalism,
as the
its
and
of
total
reenchantment
disenchantment,
politicization
gious
product
can be presented
as the consequence
Such genealogies
of a prior depoliticization.
each thesis

as

process

of

"secularization,"

as

"dialectic,"

as

an

account

of

the

growing

in the modern
stream of thought, or as the history of a modern
"forget
fulness" of Being. All such genealogies
derive, explicitly or not, from Hegel. And,
that is,we consider the other
like Hegel's
own, they are utterly convincing?until,
are equally convincing
which
because
equally irrefutable.
genealogies,
"waves"

What

Is Counter-Enlightenment?

is the synchronie
that the
assumption
in history.
ist Dingheit,
"Das Denken
is thought
Dingheit
(Phenomenology of Spirit, ?576). This connection
to be a dynamic
in
arise
in
to
reaction
which
within
ideas
contradictions
relation,
next
to
in
and then help
the
historical
existence,
stage. The
reshape existence
Romantic
often presented
itself in this light, as having
Counter-Enlightenment
The

second

real and

element

the rational
ist Denken"

taken from Hegel


are bound
together

arisen in justifiable reaction to the hard, cold world created by Enlightenment.


But
ifwe take the Romantics'
and examine
assertion
the worlds
seriously
they actu
we find remarkably
little enlightenment
there. Were
the Counter
ally came from,
a
to
the
world
it
reaction
created
the
genuine
Enlightenment
by
Enlightenment,
it was born in
should have grown up in Great Britain or America.
Instead,
in France, Spain, and Italy.
and flourished
Catholics
among disgruntled
Germany
seems to flourish
Like "anti-Semitism
without
Jews," the Counter-Enlightenment
and wherever
its object is absent.
whenever
that grew up after the First World War could
The radical critique of modernity
assume
real
and
rational were one. Instead, itmade
that
the
the more
the
hardly
that
the
real
is
and
that
this
is a
irrational,
powerful
assumption
irrationality
if
the
of
modern
conceived
unintended,
consequence
necessary,
"project"
by the
a
If
of
could
antinomies
and
modern
solve
the
Enlightenment.
genealogy
thought
was
it
for
show that Enlightenment
its
intellectual
could
opposite,
responsible
to show how Enlightenment
ideas were responsible
for its social
also be extended
a world which
for
the
would
itself
have
is,
creating
Enlightenment
opposite?that
to
Post
the
is
taken
be
the
hoc, propter hoc,
Enlightenment
judged unenlightened.
source of every political,
even
aesthetic,
technological,
psychological
develop
ment
of the modern
assertion
has given
rise to an
age. This extraordinary
enormous
literature which
the debate over modernity.
Some
today dominates
as
Kritik und Krise, are written
of these works,
like Reinhart Kosellek's
tragedies;
are unwitting
Dialektik der Aufkl?rung,
like Horkheimer's
and Adorno's
others,
are the same,
and diachronic
works of farce. But their synchronie
presuppositions
and they both derive from Hegel.
to inspire
The third element of the critique of modernity
which Hegel helped
is not a presupposition
about the nature of history, but rather an eschatological
If the Enlightenment
is taken to be a
ultimate
destination.
hope about history's
that issues in crisis, it is understandable
that some will expect a
historical process
of that crisis in an overcoming
resolution
of the Enlightenment.
This overcoming
a historical
can be conceived
as
a historical
in any number of ways?as
return,
leap
or
as
a
out
of
each
of
these
forward,
may be con
leap
history
altogether?and
or "truer"
not as the opposite
of Enlightenment,
but as a "higher"
ceived,
these escha
during the French Terror, Novalis
Writing
expressed
in
that
"true
terms, writing
tological hopes
apocalyptic
anarchy begets religion
it raises its glorious head as the
and from the destruction
of everything
positive
in the afterglow
maker
of a new world." Writing
of the Napoleonic
conquests,
a
as
in
terms
these
expressed
hopes
mythical
Hegel
"Calvary of World
Spirit."
to have dashed
the catastrophe
of the Great War
One might
have expected
all
but
the
occurred:
and
among Jewish, Catholic,
hopes,
just
opposite
eschatological
Protestant
the modern
thinkers alike the hope for a new world beyond
Enlighten
ment was reborn. It led one great thinker to believe
that a new world would
be
in by men wearing
brown shirts; it led lesser ones to think it had been
ushered
Enlightenment.

10

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

in a little red book. The Counter-Enlightenment's


critique of moder
prophesied
one
not
does
of
these
views, but it al
nity
imply any
eschatological
necessarily
ran
no
resources
to quell them.
had
the
risk
of
and
almost
them,
ways
encouraging
as
not
do
with
such
these
originate
hopes
Hegel. They are as old
Eschatological
as dissatisfaction
with the human condition, which
is to say, as old as the human
race. Nor was Hegel
or the
the first to discover
the disconsolations
of philosophy,
on trial. Hegel's
on
rests
first to put a philosopher
his
historical
novelty
entirely
That is why Benedetto
of these problems.
Croce's question?"what
is
conception
a
in
what
is
and
of
be
the
dead,
living,
philosophy
Hegel?"?can
only
preliminary
that the novelty
of Hegel's
for us. For even if we conclude
question
philosophy
was precisely
we still must confront the
its weakness,
phenomena
Hegel
sought to
rests
critique of modernity
explain. To the extent that the Counter-Enlightenment
on Hegel's,
it contains something
dead for us, but also something
very alive.

IV.
more
that we take the Counter-Enlightenment
by suggesting
seriously
the critics of modernity
have come under new criti
than it takes itself. Recently
on the
that turnabout
is fair play. A number of thinkers
cism themselves,
principle
as defenders
of the Enlightenment
who see themselves
of its
today, and especially
can settle our accounts with the
we
believe
ideas,
political
Counter-Enlightenment
its anti-liberal
animus, or
by pointing out its logical errors, its rhetorical strategies,
made
sorts of
its
These
the errors of political
by
leading
figures.
judgment
are
we
an
true.
to
and
But
when
meet
choose
arguments
usually
legitimate
own
we
on
must
to
his
beware
of
level.
his
turf,
enemy
always
descending
is not
may be a political virtue, but Aufkl?rungspatriotismus
Verfassungspatriotismus
a philosophical
one. Taking
in
the Counter-Enlightenment
the
truly seriously,
mean
more.
of
the
would
itself,
doing something
spirit
Enlightenment
mean
To begin with,
it would
in a
the Counter-Enlightenment
examining
I began

non-historicist
the critique of modernity
light. Ever since the French Revolution
means
has been carried out as a historical
which
the
that, to be consistent,
critique,
to
has
had
historicize
both
the
and
Counter-Enlightenment
Enlightenment
was something
new under the sun, then so was
itself. If the Enlightenment
the
we reject this historical
But
if
that
still
presupposition,
Counter-Enlightenment.
the Enlightenment
and
leaves the possibility?a
very good possibility?that
or
in
hu
alike
non-historical
eternal
express something
Counter-Enlightenment
man experience.
Rousseau
and Nietzsche,
The greatest critics of modernity,
give
that very impression. Whatever
they thought of modern man, their real target was
an ancient man, Socrates, who
with virtue and happiness.
equated knowledge
on
anti-Socratisms
less
their readings
of history
different
quite
depend
about the nature of the human
soul and the nature
than on their deep reflections
in society. Enlightenment
interaction
for them was a permanent
of human
possi
a
a permanent
to
treats this as an
and
threat
therefore
good life. Even Hegel
bility,
iswhat makes his Phenomenology
tension, which
eternal, if historically
developing
most
of
man's
the
dramatic
eternal
intense,
portrait
of Spirit
struggle with
our philosophical
in
literature.
Enlightenment
is not
and Enlightenments.
Socrates
There are, of course, Enlightenments
on
is Kant. But so long as we
and neither
focus our attention
St. Thomas,

Their

What

Is Counter-Enlightenment?

11

we will overlook
these Enlightenments,
differences
between
the important
fact
that each was stalked by its own Counter-Enlightenment.
The charges
levelled
and Kant all revolved around the same three problems
against Socrates, Thomas,
to morality,
Imentioned
to the sacred, and to
earlier: the relation of reason
was
seems
It
that
Nietzsche
for
political
authority.
right: the human
striving
to truth, is accompanied
what he called the will
Enlightenment,
by an equally
can be
to
will
voice
this
of
eternal Counter-Enlightenment
strong
ignorance. The
in
in
accounts
heard
the myths
of Prometheus
and Daedalus,
the biblical
of
Eden and Babel, and in the parable of the Golem. Long before Rousseau's
Emile
the Hebrew
is much
Bible taught that "in much wisdom
grief, and he that
increaseth

increaseth
sorrow"
(Ecclesiastes
1:18). Long before
knowledge
St. Paul gave a "yea and amen" to ignorance, which would
be echoed
and
Paul
is
Pascal.
writes:
it
Iwill
"For
Tertullian,
Luther,
written,
by Augustine,
will
to
and
the
the
the
wisdom
of
of
wise,
destroy
bring
nothing
understanding
is the wise? Where
is the scribe? Where
the prudent. Where
is the disputer of this

Nietzsche,

Hath not God made


foolish the wisdom
of this world? For after that in the
not God,
wisdom
it pleased
wisdom
of God the world
knew
God by the
by
... The foolishness
to save them that believe
of preaching
of God is
foolishness
than
men"
Corinthians
What
critic
of
what
1:19-21,
(1
25).
stronger
modernity,
the
to
in
of
has
stated
eternal
prophet
postmodernity,
challenge
Enlightenment
world?

stronger terms?
that the will to ignorance was being driven out of the soul by
Nietzsche
worried
the force of Enlightenment.
He was too pessimistic.
Every Socrates in our tradition
one
if
not
his
the
he
deserves.
The critique of modernity
gets
Aristophanes,
always
the
role in the
this
developed
Counter-Enlightenment
by
plays
Aristophanic
our times. To the degree that it understands
itself
and
of
its
enemy histor
thought
it
not
But
into
self-contradiction.
this
should
falls
confusion
and
distract us
ically,
over
from looking beyond
this limited horizon,
debate
the
the
modern
beyond
a
and
with
this
eternal
confrontation
age,
seeking
Any
Counter-Enlightenment.
for genuine enlightenment
must be attentive to the permanent
philosophy
wishing
to ignorance. These
and to the power of this will
of its own worth
questioning
can
can
be
this
will
and
should
and
should
be tamed. But as
answered;
questions
we must also be students of
students of Enlightenment
Counter-Enlightenment,
about ourselves.
for what we seek is enlightenment

Ssaiah

?erlin's

tnlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

Robert Wokler

on
to a tailor, who
himself
often compared
only cuts his cloth
or to a taxi driver who goes nowhere without
first being hailed,1 a
so
rather like Locke's
underlaborer,
philosophical
journeyman
philosopher,
com
in
tradition
One
of
Oxford
such
invoked
the
analytical philosophy.
frequently
the
from Scribner's Dictionary
mission,
of the History of Ideas, led him to produce
on
in
is
to
which
1973
said
mark
"The
essay
commonly
Counter-Enlightenment"
the invention of that term, at least in English.2 In fact, the expression was not at all
odd that the French, whose
invented by Berlin. It is perhaps
eighteenth-century
to the world by way of spreading
that
the
philosophes bequeathed
Enlightenment
infection abroad, have never had a term for it at all and hence no term for the
either. In the English
the term Enlightenment
language,
Counter-Enlightenment
seems to have made
in the late nineteenth
its first appearance
century in English
on Hegel, a few decades before the expression
Scottish Enlightenment
commentaries
came to be invented, and fully 100 years before anyone had heard of the Enlighten
in his book After Virtue more
ment Project conceived
than
by Alasdair Maclnytre
was of course the
It
three decades
after the launch of the Manhattan
Project.3
still insist it never had one, who
the term
detractors
invented
Germans, whose
in the 1780s, by way of a series of Berlinische
the Enlightenment
(Die Aufk?rung)
embraced Wieland's,
Reinhold's,
Mendelssohn's,
essays which
Monatsschrift
a century
treatment
of
and
who
around
Kant's
the
and, most
subject,
famously,
Isaiah

Berlin

commission,

the term Gegen-Aufkl?rung?Counter-Enlightenment?to


European
thought and intellectual history.4
in
of the expression
of 1973 is not even the first minting
Berlin's
coinage
term
since
in
fifteen
the
earlier
years
Counter-Enlightenment
appeared
English,
some justice,
Barrett states, not without
William
Barrett's Irrational Man, where
come at last to philosophical
that "Existentialism
is the counter-Enlightenment
I know, the term has an even longer pedigree
For
all
in English. Now
expression."5
that what passes for civilization
has been transcribed on disk, itmight be helpful
uses prior to 1973.
if some computer hack were to trace every one of its published
on
in
the
the
the
Berlin's
Scribner
essay
of
History
subject
Dictionary
of Ideas
later also

introduced

social

13

14

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

rehearses the doctrines


of a familiar cast of characters who had engaged his atten
a
to whom he had devoted
tion before: Hamann,
chapter of his collection, The Age
on whom
an essay in
in
he
had
Vico,
1956;6
of Enlightenment,
already published
on whom
on eighteenth-century
1960 in a collection
he
had con
Herder,
Italy;7
on the eighteenth
Press collection
tributed an essay for a Johns Hopkins
century,
as an article in Encounter in 1965;8 and de Maistre,
the sub
subsequently
published
an
of
1960
but
first
in
Berlin
essay
ject
by
largely completed
published
Henry
not
edition of The Crooked Timber ofHumanity
thirty years later.9 Itwould
to Jacobi.10
1977 that he first turned his attention
the term Counter-Enlightenment
is now associated
with
Berlin
Although
more than with any other scholar or thinker, we ought to bear inmind
that before
time he had long retired from the Chichele Professorship
the mid-1970s,
by which
and had also left his subsequent
of Social and Political Theory in Oxford
position
as President
that
it encapsu
of Wolfson
and the ideas which
expression,
College,
no bearing
at all upon his academic
lated, had virtually
reputation. His initial
were
on
if
at
and
read
with much
received
the
Hamann,
Vico,
Herder,
all,
writings
Hardy's
be until

same enthusiasm
as had greeted David Hume's
Treatise ofHuman Nature 240 years
in his seventies
Berlin's
fame rested chiefly on
earlier.11 At least until he was
of Marx;12 his
intellectual biography
four other works: his not altogether flattering
in the essay "Historical
to the philosophy
of history
contributions
Inevitability"
in The Hedgehog
and the Fox;13 and, in the field
and in his treatment of Tolstoy
the most widely
of Liberty,"14 much
theory, his "Two Concepts
in the
all
the
lectures
of
of politics
inaugural
given by professors
was
in
virtue
world
the twentieth century. It
of his defense of
by
English-speaking
in his fifties,
that Berlin, already
the idea of "negative"
liberty in particular
came to be regarded
as the supreme
advocate
among
contemporary
political
had con
of a notion of modern
philosophers
liberty, which
Benjamin Constant
treatment of the subject in
trasted with the ideal of ancient liberty in his celebrated
was
to
and
Stuart
form
the kernel of modern
of
181915
which,
Mill,
John
by way
as
to be regarded
liberalism
itself. Berlin came in the late twentieth
century
of political
discussed

liberalism's
foremost advocate?or
its
In Perry Anderson's
of
British
critiques
instance, or, more
recently, Quentin
itwas the alleged vacuousness
bridge,
closest

to its detractors.
chief apologist,
according
national
culture in the New Left Review, for
own inaugural
Skinner's
lecture in Cam
to
of Berlin's liberalism
that was subjected

scrutiny.

that, in the years following his retirement, Berlin's


imagined
to begin its natural course
have
would
ripened sufficiently
political philosophy
his work on the Counter-Enlightenment
has
of decay; on the contrary, however,
over
interest
the
keen
his
enhanced
years, invigorating
past twenty-five
standing
in new circles, most notably
who had earlier found his
among communitarians
measure
in
to
the
Thanks
labors of Hardy,
liberalism unpalatable.
editorial
large
or
more
than thirty years ago make him ap
broadcast
works which Berlin drafted
a
liberalism than a skeptical critic of the universalist
of modern
pear less defender
a
of modernity,
the in
cultures who
sage of disparate
recognized
pretensions
One might

have

of their values,
conflict and incommensurability
thereby apparently
escapable
common
cause with
detractors
of the metanarra
the antifoundationalist
making
or
tives of modernity,
and becoming?from
his unlikely
perch at the Albany
as
Savile Row postmodernist,"
Ernest Gellner portrayed
him.16
Athenaeum?"a

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

15

even more
than his liberalism had done before, it is Berlin's pluralism
Perhaps
of his reputation;
and while
that idea figures
that now forms the mainspring
on
in
in
first
his
the
essay
Montesquieu,
published
Proceedings of the
prominently
to itwhich
British Academy in 1955, and in three eloquent paragraphs
addressed
of Liberty,"17 it is largely through his
form the conclusion
of his "Two Concepts
that
elaboration
and embellishment
of his notion of the Counter-Enlightenment
as
of his political philosophy
his pluralism has come to be seen as the mainspring
a whole.18
I say "elaboration
and embellishment"
because his original contribu
as had been his earlier studies of Hamann,
tion on the subject was as much
ignored
was
In 1976 Berlin reassembled
it
and
and
Maistre
from
which
distilled.
de
Herder,
as
a
two
the
last
that
would
earlier
those
he
edit
of
book,
himself,
essays
expanded
for the first time occasioned
the scholarly atten
entitled Vico and Herder,19 which
to
in
tion that had previously
been devoted
his
other disciplines.
only
writings
we
find these preeminent
Here
of the Counter-Enlightenment
por
spokesmen
phi
trayed not only as critics of some of the most central tenets of Enlightenment
the Naturwissenschaften
and
the divide between
losophy but also, in anticipating
come to inform the historiography
that would
and social sci
Geisteswissenschaften
ences of the next two centuries,
the pre-French Revolutionary
of
post-modernists
their day.20
to the timeless
of human nature opposed
Here we find historicized
conceptions
verum ipsumfactum and
Vico's
of
of
natural
notions
law.21
Here,
through
principles
Herder's
of Einf?hlung or empathy, we can detect a species of
conception
putative
a scheme
to persons able to penetrate
of Verstehen, only accessible
understanding,
it is.22
of things subjectively, with an insider's grasp of how it comes to be what
notions of culture, of the spiritual dimensions
of
Here we find our contemporary
in the arts, in legal systems,
and myths.23
activity represented
languages,
we
in
confront
ideas
of
communal
Herder,
particular,
Through
identity, of lan
as
essence
arts
and
the
of
man's
the
of a celebration
guage
forming
species-being,
human

and difference, which Berlin termed populism,


and
expressionism,
as
two
In
and
radical
pluralism,
casting
provin
profoundly
original
respectively.24
cial and, in certain respects, reactionary
century?each
figures of the eighteenth
in the international
of
largely unappreciated
by his contemporaries
republic
to
from
the
letters?Berlin
the
of
of
age
managed
pluck
peripheries
Enlightenment
come to transform
ever having
to
the seeds that would
it, without
subsequently
a course through
commentators
that
channel
those ideological
other
swamps
above all with the influence of Rousseau.
interested in the same subject associated
In The Magus
in The
part inspired by the chapter on Hamann
of theNorth?in
of multiplicity

in fact assembled
from papers dating from
but which Hardy
Age of Enlightenment
at Columbia?Berlin
the mid-1960s
for the Woodbridge
Lectures
that
added
in his defense of the particular,
the intuitive, the concrete, and the per
Hamann,
the opposite
attributes of the Enlightenment
and all its works
sonal, denounced
and thereby proved
the founder of modern
and
anti-rationalism
and romanticism
and the existentialists.25
the forerunner of Nietzsche
These themes were also to in
inWashington
in 1965, finally pub
the Mellon
Lectures Berlin delivered
in 1999 as The Roots of Romanticism, with a recording of the last lecture in its
as a compact disk.26
original form appended
The Roots of Romanticism,
which Berlin himself never completed,
incidentally,
in Saul Bellow's novel,
also forms the unfinished
of
Moses Herzog
magnum opus
form

lished

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

16

one year before Berlin presented


his lectures, that refers to many of the
published
same persons,
and de Maistre,
who
Rousseau,
Kant,
Hegel,
Tolstoy,
including
were to figure in Berlin's own cast of characters, as well as the Hotel Pierre, inNew
in America. One way of reading The Roots
York, where Berlin often resided when
inchoate lectures at appropriate
is by intercalating
Berlin's
points
of Romanticism
so that by way of the compact disk one book may be said to
of Bellow's
novel,
thus the first fictional figure in world
the other, with Herzog
litera
complement
over
ture to have undergone
to
Berlin
the
transubstantiation,
through
passing
other side and thereby acquiring his own voice.
Several of the reviews of his Vico and Herder Berlin found profoundly
dispirit
and admirers,
like Patrick Gardiner
and Hayden
friends
White,
ing. While
other philosophers
and historians
of ideas found
and took him to task. Arthur Scouten, writing
in
in
Literature
and
London
Hans
the
Review
Studies,
Aarsleff,
Comparative
of Books, in
his
main
of
wrath.
his
incurred
the
thrust
argument
particular,
They challenged
about the Counter-Enlightenment,
Scouten partly on account of Berlin's exagger
from the Encyclop?distes,28
ating the extent to which Herder had parted company

commended
faults
major

his scholarship,27
in his arguments

mainly

the profound

with

to Berlin's

and
ignorance of seventeenthin
the
of
which
and
Vico
linguistics,
anthropological
light
eighteenth-century
as disciples
and together, ought to have been portrayed
of En
Herder,
separately
as critics.29 In acid replies to each author,
rather
than
lightenment
philosophy
on
his scholarship,
Berlin valiantly defended
insisting, especially
against Aarsleff,
Aarsleff

originality

respect

of Vico

apparent

and the depth

of the influence

of Hamann

upon

Herder.30

in Mind,
William
and Arnaldo
reviewers,
Walsh,
writing
in
The New York Review of Books, troubled him even more. Can it
Momigliano,
on behalf of Herder,
that to explain
the
really be the case, as Berlin had claimed
an
was also to endorse
in
context
its
of
local
it?, asked Walsh.
meaning
activity
can a genetic explanation
form a justification? We are not required to agree
How
Two

other

from the perspective


that whatever
of an historian of the
is, is right.31 Momigliano,
a
same
in
the
different
of
classical tradition, pursued
way. The philosophies
point
the second born in the year the first had died, must not be con
Vico and Herder,
in the values of Christian
immersed
flated, he argued, since Vico remained deeply
and classical culture, whereas Herder's
fascination with Orientalism
inclined him
to overlook
racism. In any event, Berlin appeared
the
instead towards modern
two
main
of
of
his
these
the
Counter
of
protagonists
implications
reading
to be asked in each case, Momigliano
in
The crucial question
Enlightenment.
was
we
acount
to
if
of
their
attachment
that
Berlin's
sisted,
accept
pluralism,
that they were also relativists? Before
how then are we to escape the conclusion
we celebrate
to take stock of where
such pluralism
their vitality,
let us pause
would

lead.32

was personally
with Vico's classical sources and
well-acquainted
Momigliano
and in
the ancient Vico with
the modern
but in contrasting
Herder,
references,
also
imputing a relativist stance not only to Vico and Herder but, by implication,
to have fallen under
to Berlin himself, he appears
the influence of Leo Strauss,
at the University
since 1959, after
he had become
of Chicago
whose
colleague
a close companion
at
All
of
Souls
Oxford.
earlier
been
Berlin
College,
having
were
from Fascist powers,
Strauss and Momigliano
Jews, refugees
expatriate

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

17

into Fascism and


who were convinced
that Central and Eastern Europe's descent
it
of
had
Western
been
social
appeasement
Europe's
prefigured
by modern
and absolutist principles
science's abandonment
of the universalist
of classical or
civilization.
The Counter-Enlightenment
doctrine
of relativism
that
Christian
as
warrant
to
to applaud was denounced
them
the
Berlin appeared
by
lending
it
most
of
and
then
crisis
catastrophic
thereby making
conceptually
modernity,
in particular,
and practically
For Strauss,
the relativism
historically
possible.
modern
entailed
social science had opened
the prospect
of the
by value-free
and the extermination
his
Holocaust
of the Jews.33 Alexander
from
Pope's couplet
our
on
In
Man
had
dilemma.
the
world
of
Essay
correctly encapsulated
modernity,
whatever
is, is indeed right.
as he had
and Momigliano
Berlin did not reply in print to the reviews of Walsh
done with respect to those of Scouten and Aarsleff, but in 1979 he accepted an in
of the International
Studies to speak at its
Society for Eighteenth-Century
a
at
of the Enlightenment
few miles
from his summer home in
Pisa, just
Congress
a
over
at
which Momigliano
and which
session
himself presided
Liguria. There,
I attended?virtually
his last public appearance
in any academic
sup
setting?he
answer to the imputation
that
his
his
heroes
the
of
plied
Counter-Enlightenment
vitation

had been heralds of relativism


attendant
His
and all its dreadfully
consequences.
in Eighteenth-Century
talk was entitled "Alleged Relativism
European Thought,"
in 1980, in the British Journal for Eighteenth-Century
and itwas published,
Studies; a
a decade
later in Hardy's
edition of The Crooked Timber
revised version appeared
ofHumanity.M
"A distinguished

if I fully appreciate
and learned critic has wondered
the im
of
the
historical
relativism
of
Vico
and
Herder
which,
plications
unacknowledged
... constituted
a problem
to this day," Berlin
which
has persisted
by them
were
"If we grant
in fact
remarked.
that Vico and Herder
the assumption
... the
now
was
I
made
critic
valid.
to be a
relativists
But
this
believe
point
by my
Vico
and
mistaken
of
here
he
Herder,
[and
may be
interpretation
although
some
to
in
remarks
about
relativism
which
he
had
made
his
referring
original
I have in my time contributed
to it myself."
treatments
"True
of these writers]
in so far as it entails fundamental
he continued,
doubt about the
relativism,"
is derived
of objective knowledge,
from other and later sources?from
possibility
the metaphysics
of Schopenhauer
and Nietzsche,
from social anthropology,
It is a nineteenth-century
not consistently
and Freud.
from Marx
doctrine,
influential
thinker
of
the
forward
any
put
century, he claimed.35
by
eighteenth
Vico and Herder, he now contended, were pluralists
rather than relativists;
they
believed not in the absence of objective ends but in their variety,
their multiplic
not the
conflict.
he maintained
Relativism,
here, was
ity, and sometimes
to universalism.36
The Counter-Enlightenment
had confronted
monism
not
sinister
of
the
of a
way
by
trappings
Enlightenment
potentially
but
the
of
by invoking
nineteenth-century
ideology
liberating principles
plural
ism. Itwas in this manner
that Berlin restated the central theme of his concluding
in his Two Concepts of Liberty, except that
section on "The One and the Many"
it
had
been
whereas
various
forms of monism which had given rise to
previously
on the altars of the great historical
the "slaughter of individuals
ideals," as he had
now
for
outcome
that
dreadful
had
been passed
put it,37 conceptual
responsibility
even more
to relativism.
only

alternative

18

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

was
If the Counter-Enlightenment
the Enlightenment
pluralist,
fundamentally
must
of course have been its opposite?uniformitarian,
ho
undifferentiated,
and
In
monolithic.
the
dimensions
of
the
mogenous,
mapping
richly pluralist
too
all
for
the
Berlin,
my
frequently
Counter-Enlightenment,
liking, portrayed
as if, as he put it in The Roots of Romanticism,
it could be boiled
Enlightenment
to three fundamental
which
down
constitute
the
also, incidentally,
principles,
our
describes
and
indeed
the
Ionian fallacy, as he elsewhere
whole
of
it,38
virtually
so enthusiastically
tradition
Western
into well-merited
intellectual
bludgeoned
on Berlin's behalf by John
obsolescence
These
are, first, that all
principles
Gray.39
can
answers
are knowable;
all
be
that
the
answered;
second,
questions
genuine
answers must
and third, that all those knowable
also be compatible.40
That, in
of the Enlightenment
be termed Berlin's version
short, is what might
Project,
or
it has proved
and for his communitarian,
admirers
postmodernist,
pluralist
to license their hammering
of the last nail into the
quite sufficiently
devastating
coffin.
Enlightenment's
It is of course true that a richer and more
portrait of the age of
sympathetic
can be culled from Berlin's writings,
in the
in
particularly
general
Enlightenment
to Enlightenment
of his introduction
thinkers where he praises their
last paragraph
and the courage of their campaigns
intellectual honesty
against injustice and igno
with Ramin
above all in his Conversations
rance,41 and perhaps
Jahanbegloo,
in 1992, where he speaks of himself as a liberal rationalist who, despite
published
to the liberationalist
values of Voltaire,
their dogmatism,
subscribes
fundamentally
in general. "They were
and the Enlightenment
Condorcet,
d'Holbach,
Helv?tius,
there, "they were against oppression,
they fought the
am on their side." [But] "I am
I
and
ignorance_So
good fight against superstition
not because
in the views of the opposition,"
he continues,
interested
[I] greatly
fallacies" of the
admire them but because "clever and gifted enemies often pinpoint
some of its "political
as "inadequate"
and expose
implications"
Enlightenment
we
It is just this last proposition,
and, "at times, disastrous."42
might note, that
forms the central thesis of Jacob Talmon's Origins of Totalitarian Democracy of 1952,
in fact inspired by (an unmentioned)
Talmon
instead
Harold
Laski in which
a
as
to
he
debt
Berlin's
it.43
puts
"stimulating
suggestions,"
acknowledges
in diverse
studies and
fields of eighteenth-century
For those of us who work
Berlin's invention of amonolithic
also greatly admire his achievement,
Enlighten
since it
ment with
than a trifle embarrassing,
just three legs is more
particularly
manner
was
so that it might
in
of
the
be
deconstructed
assembled
only
to a richer understanding
of the diverse
Procrustes
and thereby point the way
to
for a pluralist
Itmakes
little sense, I believe,
its opposite.
threads that constitute
to
who
set aside his own principles when addressing
thinkers,
my
Enlightenment
Berlin
the values with which
mind
for the most part characteristically
espoused
as
the Enlightenment
than he did. In depicting
them no less tenaciously
confronts
to the pursuit of truth
commitment
if its centrally guiding
thread was an absolutist
by way of science, Berlin appears to join both Carl Becker, whose Heavenly City of
as well
in his Roots of Romanticism,44
the Eighteenth-Century
Philosophers he praises
an
as Richard Rorty, whose
mind
which
doctrine
of
of
Enlightenment
portrayal
bed.45
mirrors nature is drawn upon a similarly Procrustean
to Becker in particular,
the philosophes of the eighteenth
century had
According
out
which
substitut
the
Christian
absolutism
turned
inside
decried,
they
simply
against

cruelty,"

he remarks

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

19

in place of the unworldly


salvation
of our
ing the pursuit of earthly happiness
on
to
the
of
rebuild
it
the
terrestrial
souls, thereby demolishing
city
god only
can thus be portrayed
as having
loved the thing it
plain.46 The Enlightenment
a
killed and of taking on itsmantle
in the very act of destroying
it, by substituting
arcane
was
on
rationalist
form of
to
for another, based
faith.47 Berlin
dogmatism
far too wise and learned to be seduced by such nonsense.
my mind
those philosophes of whom
it might
Even among
be said that this was
their
the pursuit of scientific truth in the Enlightenment
did not
preeminent
objective,
take the form of belief in the one and only true religion by another name. Of all
was
the most
tenacious
thinkers, Montesquieu
major eighteenth-century
perhaps
that the laws of nature and the operations
of the hu
supporter of the proposition
man mind must be understood
in the same way. No one in the Enlightenment
subscribed more plainly to physicalist
of social behavior and culture,
explanations
and Rorty's account of mind as nature's mirror
in fact describes
the central thrust
on
perfectly. Yet from that monolithic
perspective
or cos
there springs no universalism
sciences,
was
of any kind. Above
all his contemporaries,
mopolitanism
Montesquieu
to
sensitive
the
local
of
and
social
insti
specially
variety, specificity,
uniqueness
tutions, customs, and mores. His Esprit des loismight well have been subtitled "A
His Lettres persanes ought to be required
in any
Study of Difference."
reading
course of comparative
as indeed
to the subject of "Otherness,"
literature devoted
should be Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Voltaire's
Candide.
A postmodernist
definition
of the Enlightenment
in terms of its deconstruction
of Christian dogmas by way of critical theory would,
Ibelieve, more aptly describe
that century-long
intellectual movement
which was inspired by the Revocation
of
the Edict of Nantes
in 1685 and the Glorious
in England
Revolution
three years
later than do the uniformitarian
strictures of Becker and Rorty. From Berlin's own
of Montesquieu's
both the natural

philosophy
and human

the advent
of that fresh approach
be said to
pluralist
perspective,
may
be marked
the
from
Bossuet's
Histoire
to
universelle
Fontenelle's
passage
by
Pluralit? des mondes. No one who read the voyages
assembled
by the abb? Pr?vost
in his collection, which
to that produced
added so much
by Samuel Purchas in the
to
could
fail
notice
how
previous
century,
disparate were the cultures of mankind
the world,
and how diverse
their social institutions. No one who read
throughout
about the Egyptian or Hebrew
chants in Burney's General History ofMusic or about
Persian or Chinese
tunes in Rousseau's
Dictionnaire
de musique could any longer be
were
that
the
Western
its
scale
and
harmonies
persuaded
universally
appreciated.
or
Accounts
or singing the
real
to
exotic worlds,
relating
imaginary
journeys
and often among the same
praises of a primitive
golden age, circulated as widely,
as
on
did
the
treatises
natural
and on the progress
sciences
readers,
Enlightenment
of civilization.
over
and
the rest of the
spiritual
Europe's
political
hegemony
world was not appreciated
at all but in fact fiercely
a
in
great many anti
opposed
colonialist
classic works
of eighteenth-century
and
philosophy
anthropology,
sur
from Rousseau's
Discours
au
l'in?galit? to Diderot's
Suppl?ment
Voyage de
to
the
Abb?
Histoire
des
Indes.
deux
Even
while
Bougainville
Raynal's
op
expressing
timism with
to the increasingly
secular development
of the human
respect
race as it rose from barbarism
to civilization,
the proponents
of the Enlightenment
a
about the imperialist
Project characteristically
displayed
pessimism
profound
nature of Western
Christendom.
Instead of denouncing
the Enlightenment's

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

20
rationalist

and universalist

pretensions,
which
gate
empiricism
skeptical
from Bayle to La Mettrie
and
advocates,
to the bigotry of sacred
liberal objections
and to the universalism
of blind faith.48
the

its detractors would


do better to investi
informed
the doctrines
of its leading
who
framed fundamentally
d'Holbach,
as uncovered
knowledge
by revelation

reiteration only because


truths, which warrant
commonplace
they are so
most
and
crit
remembered
communitarian
modern,
infrequently
by
postmodern,
were
to
known
it
ics of Enlightenment
Berlin.
had
well
philosophy,
Although
and was seldom reliably stored for invocation
sometimes been gained secondhand
in scholarly footnotes, Berlin's erudition was vast and his command
of the litera
ture in eighteenth-century
Iwas working myself was as broad as
fields in which
These

I ever met while


at Oxford; and itwas
completing my doctorate
on
own
account
of
the
fact
that
his
interests more
deeper
philosophical
generally
we discussed
in
texts
the
ideas
the
than
of my tutors
those
closely approximated
context
of
the
with just literary backgrounds,
whose
intellectual
of an eigh
grasp
work
sometimes
obscured
their
of
its
penetration
teenth-century
meaning.
I conveyed
to Berlin my thoughts about the Querelle des Bouffons of the
When
he not only pointed me towards commentators
who had addressed
mid-1750s,49
some
but
also corrected
this musical
precursors
dispute's
seventeenth-century
was
I
in
Italian
had
transcribed
that
of
need
doubtful
prose
eighteenth-century
on
own
in
the
Current sheds
such attention. Berlin's
essay
Against
Montesquieu
fresh light upon that central thinker, perhaps
the most central thinker,
genuinely
that of any person

not of the Counter-Enlightenment


but of the Enlightenment
itself. Although
the
me as
to
account
tone of Aarsleff's
Berlin's
of
Herder
strikes
objections
excessively
that the intel
severe, I feel more than a little inclined to agree with his contention
to find from re
lectual gulf between Herder and Hamann
is vast, and I am pleased
on Herder
cent scholarship
(ofwhich Berlin could not have been aware) that many
were drawn directly
of Herder's
crucial passages
from
Ideen, his masterpiece,
Adam Ferguson
As Berlin himself
and, more distantly, Montesquieu.50
reports at
Hamann
read Hume meticulously
and was greatly persuaded
length, moreover,
account
to my mind,
of the nature of belief and reason.51 All of which,
sug
by his
come
to
pass for the Counter-Enlightenment
gests that much of what has
properly
and not outside
the Enlightenment
it.52
figures within
With
the exception
of the caricatures
of that intellectual movement
he
which
what he supposed was its opposite,
drew for the purpose
of highlighting
Berlin's
strike me as cast
corpus of his writings
sympathies,
style, and almost the whole
an
in
to convey
mold.
This really is the principal
thesis Iwish
Enlightenment
Berlin was a philosophe of enlightened
here?that
disposition
malgr? lui,53 whose
at virtually
life and work
the spirit of enlightenment
every
together
display
to address
he contrived
that subject. However
post
juncture apart from where
modern
he might have come to appear by virtue of the recent diffusion
of lectures
or
it is hard to imagine
he conceived
this
thirty
forty years before his death,
of Austin's
admirer of the analytical precision
prose impressed by the lectures on
in Freiburg
"the secret king of philosophy"
rendered Heidegger
ontology which
I suppose
that he would
have regarded
of an utterly different
kind, although
an
an
reason
to
insufficient
him
Derrida's
charlatanry
deny
alleged
honorary
at
rate
main
from
describes
the
thrust
of his phi
any
Gray
degree,
Cambridge.54
as agonistic in its liberalism,55 but the combative nature of his imagery is
losophy

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

21

an

affair than the traumatic notion of Geworfenheit?of


altogether milder
being
thrown?that
lies at the heart of the human predicament
described
by Heidegger
coarser
notions
of a decidedly
have sprung postmodernist
and out of which
from
Savile
than
Berlin's
Row.56
species
bespoke variety
I suspect
and "otherness,"
that no philosopher
of the
As for "difference"
at home
but at the same time comfortably
twentieth century was more peripatetic
in which he was wel
in every culture of the three continents he visited regularly
in the company of Anna
the night of his spiritual apotheosis
comed. Throughout
so
in
it was she
Michael
Akhmatova,
Ignatieff's biography,
depicted
brilliantly
and dark intensity of Dostoyevsky
who spoke incessantly
of the inner world
and
Berlin
who
instead
other writers who had labored on Russian
invoked
the
soil,
more
luminous
of Turgenev
subtleties
among exiled artists who had worked
was
to command
his admiration more
abroad.57 No nineteenth-century
figure
that cosmopoli
than Herzen,
that ebullient Westernizer
among dour Slavophiles,
tan Russian abroad, that generous
from a dark-eyed nation
spirit of enlightenment
as a kind of Russian Voltaire
in a still benighted
he describes
of his
age, whom
the greatest
lan
of his native
Berlin addressed
literary masterpiece
day.58 When
guage, Tolstoy's War and Peace, itwas not the rich tapestry of the social life of the
there which
and aristocracy
Russian peasantry
portrayed
engaged his attention
Rousseau
and other
of
his
for
most, but rather Tolstoy's
respect
theory
history,
his contempt
for "unintelligible
of the French Enlightenment,
mysteries"
to the cant of the freemasons.
his hostility
The
from "mists of antiquity,"
own image, he describes
as a
cast
in
most
he
his
realist
admired,
Tolstoy
skeptical
to dogmatic
who stood in lifelong opposition
authoritarianism.59
In several respects, and above all in his comprehensive
of the Enlight
mastery
so
enment oraison fun?bre or funeral oration which
many chapters of his
comprises
of both d'Alembert
and
Personal Impressions,60 Berlin was the spiritual descendant
in
the
late
of
the
Acad?mie
secretaries,
Condorcet,
permanent
century,
eighteenth
for instance, he congratu
fran?aise and Acad?mie des sciences, respectively. When,
on his production
of an excellent book?"all
the better for
lated Lewis Namier
But
wit
with
the
of
Voltaire.
added?his
could
he
sparkle
glisten
being short,"61
tomy mind,
in his ideals, his enthusiasms,
his spontaneity,
his vitality, his mimicry
he was more
fuelled by genuine
of others, his genial self-abasement
self-doubt,
than anyone I ever knew. By dint of his own Einf?hlung with diverse
like Diderot
thinkers

drawn

to make
their ideas vivid and com
and present
thinkers Berlin managed
as his own. Such transitivity or
to
them
without
pelling,
having
adopt
clairvoyance
was much
I
sought and greatly prized by the philosophes of the Enlightenment
our
was
more
or
to
time
of
suited
attracted
know best. No academic
better
figure
the delights of the linguistic turns of the eighteenth-century
salon.
and Zionism,
Even with respect to his nationalism
Berlin strikes me as a child
past

of the Enlightenment.
At least in the English-speaking
communitarians
world,
more
to
who
found
themselves
drawn
Berlin's
today, including many
pluralism
than to his liberalism, have been mainly
concerned with
the cultures of ethnic
or with
in parts of the world
and colonized
minorities
conquered
by Europeans,
in societies predominantly
the loss of spiritual bonds of fraternity
held together
alone. Berlin, by contrast,
focused on the identity of a
by market mechanisms
never
a
but
that
colonized
community
gained security in Europe, and although
a
to
to
in
him
with
command
of
sufficient
enable
Hebrew
lecture
Jew
practicing

22
that

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


he never displayed
any in Jewish culture

in Jewish
the slightest
interest
theology
arts.
and
the
However
remarkable
their
scarcely
the greatest
of Jewish
artists?Heine
and Mendelssohn,
for
achievements,
to
instance?he
Goethe
inferior
and
if
Beethoven,
judged manifestly
respectively,
too
and
because
Heine
Mendelssohn
had
all
to
only
conspicuously
attempted
scale the summits of just German
he con
culture, whereas Goethe and Beethoven,
and

language,

of universally
sublime character which
tended, had produced
poetry and music
had transcended
the national
identities of their composers.62
Though he traveled
to
in Jerusalem?fa
the
Wall
the
of
Mount
Israel,
frequently
Wailing
Temple
as the
described
his
observant
relative, Yeshayahu
Leibowitz,
mously
by
devoutly
Kotel recast as a Dis-kotel?bore
scant mystical
him.
for
As
significance
passionate
as was his commitment
to Zionism, he loathed the extremism
of Menachem
Begin
and the Irgun,63 which he regarded as a band of terrorists, and although he seldom
he was convinced
that the existence of a Jewish
spoke in public on such matters,
as he sometimes put it64?did not
state?that
last child of a European Risorgimento,
exclude but on the contrary necessitated
the establishment
of a Palestinian
state as
well. "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you
in," Robert Frost had once said,65 and Berlin concurred. What was necessary
in which
above all else, to his mind, was that in a world
Jews cannot but remain
never
to
be
destined
there must somewhere
strangers,
perpetual
truly naturalized,
a
or
one
not
homeland
for
them
in
be
which
too,
refuge
they should all be obliged
to live, but one to which
they might one day have to flee.
These are questions which have bedeviled
the history of their
Jews throughout
to the late eighteenth
diaspora. But from the late seventeenth
century, in the great
and Calvinist
schisms of Catholic
gave rise to a different diaspora
Europe which
that inspired the pleas of toleration of Spinoza, Bayle, Locke, and others?which
to my mind
lie at the heart of the only intellectual movement
of the period
that
issues were
might
correctly be termed "The Enlightenment
Project"66?these
in fresh ways,
and for the Jews in a new idiom, in the language of civil
pursued
and human rights. Here, in the context of an eighteenth-century
debate about Jew
in the state, pursued with
ish identity, assimilation,
and incorporation
renewed
enfranchisement
of the Jews?not
least by
vigor after the French Revolutionary
Marx?lies
the proper context for an understanding
of Berlin's Zionism.
Imust not, however,
fail to introduce
the fly in this ointment.
If the Enlighten
ment
constitutes
the background
of Berlin's Zionism,
its fundamental
tenets,
contrary to the central thesis I have just put forward, do not spring at all from
ideals of toleration. Those ideals?encapsulated
most famously by
Enlightenment
a London Stock
in his Lettres philosophiques where he describes
Voltaire
Exchange
of men who before they worship
their different gods in their separate
comprised
in a common
churches negotiate
the only infidels are traders
currency, of which
not and cannot embrace Berlin's Zionism. For Voltaire and
who go bankrupt67?do
most
other philosophes
of the Enlightenment,
the
the Jews only
required
in matters
of the rule of law by civil powers
uninterested
of faith.
protection
to return to a land in which
For Berlin, the Jews must be empowered
they alone
constitute
the predominant
When writing
about such matters with
community.
to the eighteenth
not by the Plea for
Berlin was
respect
century,
impressed
the Toleration of the Jews compiled
Moses
of the
Mendelssohn,
by
grandfather
one
translator of Rousseau
and, by virtue of his learning and humanity,
composer,

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

23

He was struck instead by


luminaries of the German Enlightenment.
even anti-Semitic
and in some respects
diatribe produced
by
mere
as a denial of their
toleration
of
differences
the
who
Hamann,
regarded
claim. When pursuing
the same themes
importance?a
postmodernist
genuinely
on
in
in the mid-nineteenth
his
the
"Life
and
of Moses
essay
century
Opinions
of the foremost
the provocative

treatment of Rome und Jerusalem, inwhich


Hess's
Hess," he hailed as amasterpiece
a belief both in
as inconsistent
and in the Jewish
Hess denounced
enlightenment
and the con
in exile, on account of its endorsing
the ultimate dissolution
mission
tinued existence
of Judaism at the same time.68 Here, wrote Berlin, was a work
which preached Zionism more than thirty years before the term had been invented,
in the course of Hess's
all the more powerfully
persuasive
today than it had proved
own lifetime, in view of itswarning
to Germany's
assimilated
Jews that they would
one day suffer a cataclysm of greater magnitude
than any they could conceive.69
In 1932, in the same year that Becker's Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century
one of the first Jewish rectors of a
Ernst Cassirer,
Philosophers was published,
as
in large
German university,
well his Philosophie der Aufkl?rung, which
produced
a
own
measure
articulates his
defense of noble tradition of German Enlightenment,
in the face of contemporary
and Baumgarten,
Wolff,
Leibniz,
including
was
he
the Weimar
barbarism.70 But while Cassirer
drafting his work,
Republic
own
effect modern Germany's
itself in its
served?in
Enlightenment
Project?was
death throes. A few months
of Die Philosophie der Aufkl?rung,
after the publication
the civil rights of assimilated
the institutions which had protected
Jews vanished
and as a consequence
Bertolt Brecht, Albert
with
the Republic's
dissolution,
Thomas Mann, Paul Tillich, Bruno
Einstein, Walter Gropius, Wassily
Kandinsky,
science and culture, as well
Walter, and many other luminaries of twentieth-century
as Cassirer, were forced into exile.71 In an essay on "Jewish Slavery and Emancipa
in The Jewish Chronicle in 1951 and has only just been pub
tion" which first appeared
the Jews had taken every conceivable
lished again, Berlin remarked that while
step
in the societies in which
to adapt and adjust themselves
they had sought to be nat
their efforts had all "proved unavailing."72
The extermination
of European
uralized,
true
in
his Conver
had
he
adds
the
established
of
assimilation,
hopelessness
Jewry
It
sations with Jahanbegloo.73 That perception
above all else sustained his Zionism.
to the principles
of the Enlighten
marks
the most decisive break of his attachment
ment I know, tomy mind much more striking than his depiction
of its three-legged
faith in his portrayal of the Counter-Enlightenment.
uniformitarian
I believe
to
I should like finally to comment briefly on just one matter which
itwas not addressed
this subject, although
be intimately
connected with
directly
when he first raised it in his own fashion in an essay on "Com
by Perry Anderson
in the New Left Review in the
of the National
Culture," which
ponents
appeared
summer of 1968.74 Readers of this collection who can should cast their minds back
to that period of our history which, by way of the Prague Spring and the student
in France inMay, seemed for many
at the time a
uprising
left-wing commentators
a false dawn. Almost
as if to recapitulate
celebrated
fresh and then subsequently
the
revolutions
lines about a specter haunting
occasioned
of 1848,
Europe
by
as follows: "A coherent and militant
text
movement
Anderson
student
his
begins
in England,"
he writes.
"But it may now be only a matter
has not yet emerged
so bereft of a radical political
of time before it does."75 Why was England
culture,
rea
he wondered,
such as had arisen in Germany,
and
France?
The
Italy,
principal

24

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

center in England, which had


son, he explained, was the absence of a theoretical
a classical
or national
never
tradition
of Marxism.
And one of
sociology
produced
"listless
and
the main
"wizened
factors which
explain England's
mediocrity"
as he put it, was that since 1900 it had been sub
in
such
matters,
provincialism"
a wave of immigrants
from Eastern and Central Europe whose
"elective
jected to
a quiescent
and
and
untheoretical
social
sciences
for
society
unsystematic
affinity"
of a political
culture such as could be found, in
had impeded
the development
dissident
1968, in Germany,
radicals, or "Reds," who
Italy, and France. Whereas
in
Frankfurt Marxists
fled the instability of Central Europe settled elsewhere?the
in
Mann
in
and
and
for
Luk?cs
Brecht
Scandinavia?
instance,
Russia,
America,
had by a process
of natural
selection
attractive
only to the
proved
England
that
the
mantle
which
had
thus
ensured
intellectual
of
"Whites,"
authority
families
the name Macaulay,
from Victorian
bearing
progressively
passed
or Hodgkin,
to Germans
like
Arnold, Huxley,
Stephens, Wedgwood,
Trevelyan,
asWittgenstein,
to
to
and
Austrians
such
Poles
Klein;
Popper, Gombrich,
Eysenck;
and to Russians
and Namier;
like Isaiah Berlin.76
like Malinowski
too lengthily here on this curious
tableau of enduring
Imust not comment
attraction of expatriate academics
made possible by England's
from
complacence
Let me
Central and Eastern Europe, cloned with suitably acquired characteristics.
never once
note only that, while distinguishing
"Reds" from "Whites," Anderson
to do with Judaism
mentions
the word
"Jew," nor does he take stock of anything
abandoned
their
homes
abroad.
If
these
which might
expatriates
explain why
or
in
had
settled
instead
when
Russia
Berlin's
parents
Germany,
Italy,
fleeing
than likely that I should not have had this tale
France and stayed there, it ismore
no
in the
to tell. Unless
it was Chaim Weizmann,
leader of any people
political
as
so
esteem
Berlin's
Winston
Churchill.
Even
world
commanded
contemporary
to his own followers
more
it seemed
if only because
than Franklin Roosevelt,
he rallied to his cause that success was so unlikely,
Churchill's
whom
"greatest
to be politically
to mankind"
service
had been to show that it was
"possible
and humane."77
effective and yet benevolent
the last survivor
of that
Berlin died on November
5, 1997. He was virtually
over higher education
in Great Britain
of immigrants whose
generation
ascendancy
so much
lamented. He had precious
little in common,
Anderson
ideologically
or temperamentally,
with
other
luminaries
of that White
rather than Red
or Popper,
for instance?who
Eysenck,
collectively
Hayek,
emigration?with
are held to have steered the English nation
its long slumber while
less
through
revolted. His Zionism,
radical students on the Continent
ideologically
hamstrung
He formed no school and had no followers. He
like his liberalism, was undogmatic.
was
ever
not his own without
in a civic culture which
his
flourished
abandoning
native identities or the exotic languages
of his youth. He was a Russian
Jew who
had come to feel at home abroad, the first Jewish Fellow of All Souls and the only
two
and President
whose
holder of the Order of Merit
of the British Academy
an uncle, an aunt, and three cousins had been shot, quite possibly by
grandfathers,
the British Home
the associates of a very elderly Latvian citizen of Australia whom
in
to
not
but
minded
detain
when
alerted
of
his presence
felt
Secretary
deport
A
few
before
Berlin's
Pocock
weeks
three
around
death,
John
years ago.78
England
the first of a series of lectures in his honor at Oxford, which he had
had delivered
as both
his
tribute
and articulating
their differences.
conceived
paying

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

25

after his passing, Quentin


Skinner gave his inaugural
lecture
Exactly one week
as the Regius Professor of Modern History
in Cambridge,
before
Liberal
"Liberty
and sought to correct the concept of negative
ism," in which he addressed
liberty
introduced by Berlin's own inaugural lecture forty years earlier.79
to the reading of texts in political
With respect to Berlin's approach
theory and
the history of ideas, Pocock and Skinner in their different ways point to d?calages
or breaks which
are both epistemic
In view of the number
and generational.
of
columns of print that followed
the demise of Britain's preeminent
academic pillar
some of which
in other circumstances
of the establishment,
might have been de
a
sense
is
in
there
voted to reporting Skinner's
which
Berlin's death could
lecture,
in the words of Norman Mailer on the passing of Truman
accurately be described,
as
career
"a
move."
But although he was eighty-eight
years old, his
Capote,
good
demise
shook me and many
other persons
the
world
very deeply
throughout
so
in Louis
of the Jewish child portrayed
indeed. Iwas reminded
affectionately
Au
Malle's
Revoir
les
whose
command
of
enfants,
autobiographical
dazzling
a
his
Schubert at the piano just before his deportation
classmates
gave
glimpse of
never
in their midst which
had
another world
known
of
all
that was
firsthand,
they
was
to
and
best in European
then
taken
all
that
them
civilization,
away by
brought
worst. Not only by the sheer humanity
of his writings
and the exuberant cadences
in England,
of his style, but by virtue even of the circumstances
of his presence
Berlin was,

to my mind,

the very

epitome

of the spirit of enlightenment.80

NOTES
1. Ramin

Conversations
with Isaiah Berlin (London: Peter Halban,
Jahanbegloo,
1992), pp. 95-6.
2. Philip P. Wiener
(ed.), Dictionary
of the History
of Ideas (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1968,1973),
vol. 2, pp. 100-12.
3. In French, the expression
"les lumi?res" refers to the authors of Enlightenment
as to their doctrines'
to Rivarol
collective
ideas as well
character. Thanks
a certain currency
in the course of the French
and others, the term achieved
and in the second half of the nineteenth
Revolution,
century, partly by way of
Taine's surveys of the origins of contemporary
France, what in English around
as the "the Age of
was en
the same time came to be described
Enlightenment"
as
in
"le
On
in
French
si?cle des lumi?res."
the inauguration
capsulated
see
on
of
The
the expression
John Lough, "Reflections
English
Enlightenment,
in the British Journal for Eighteenth-Century
and Lumi?res,"
Enlightenment
Studies 8 (1985), pp. 1-15, and especially
the
James Schmidt,
"Inventing
British
and
the
Anti-Jacobins,
Enlightenment:
Hegelians,
Oxford English
in 2003 in the Journal of theHistory of Ideas. The mod
Dictionary,"
forthcoming
ern imagery of the age of The Scottish Enlightenment
owes much
to James Mc
The Scottish Philosophy of 1875 and, above all, Henry Grey Graham's
Scottish Men of Letters of 1901, but itwas first conceptualized
within
the eigh
teenth century by Dugald
Stewart. With respect to the expression
The Enlight
enment Project, I am unaware of any published
instances before the appearance
in 1981 of Alasdair Maclntyre's
Virtue:
A
After
Study inMoral Theory (London:

Cosh's

Duckworth)

(see chs. 5-6. pp. 49-75).

26

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

4. Norbert Hinske
and Michael Albrecht
(eds.), Was istAufkl?rug? Beitr?ge aus der
Berlinischen Monatsschrift
(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft,
Ehrard
Was
ist Aufk?rung?
Thesen und Definition
Bahr,
1973),
(Stuttgart:
Reclam,
(ed.), What is Enlightenment?
1974), and James Schmidt
Eighteenth
Questions
Century Answers and Twentieth-Century
(Berkeley and Los Angeles:
see Friedrich
of
California
For
Press,
1996).
University
Gegen-Aufkl?rung,
summer
Nietzsche's
of
the
and
of 1877, in
Fragmente
spring
Nachgelassene
Werke:
Kritische
Walter
de
Nietzsche,
(Berlin:
1967-),
Gesamtausgabe
Gruyter,
sect. 4, vol. 2, p. 478, 22[17]: "Es giebt k?rzere und l?ngere Bogen in der Cul
die H?he
der Gegen
Der H?he der Aufkl?rung
turentwicklung.
entspricht
in
und
Wagner."
Aufkl?rung
Schopenhauer
5. William
Barret, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy
(New York:
1958), p. 244.
Doubleday,
6. Isaiah Berlin, The Age of Enlightenment,
forming vol. IV of the The Great Ages of
Western Philosophy
Miflin,
1956), ch. 8, pp. 271-5.
(Boston: Houghton
7. Isaiah Berlin, "The Philosophical
Ideas of Giambattista
Vico," in Art and Ideas
e
in Eighteenth-Century
di Storia
Letteratura,
1960), pp.
Italy (Rome: Edizioni
156-233.
in Earl R. Wasserman
8. Isaiah Berlin, "Herder and the Enlightenment,"
(ed.),
Press,
Aspects of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University
in Encounter, 25 (no. 1, July 1965), pp. 29-48 and (no. 2, August
1965), reprinted
1965), pp. 42-51.
9. Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber ofHumanity: Chapters in theHistory of Ideas, ed.
1990), pp. 91-174.
(London: John Murray,
Henry Hardy
in
and the Sources
10. Isaiah Berlin,
"Hume
of German
Anti-Rationalism,"
G. P. Morice

(ed.), David Hume: Bicentennial


Papers (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh
in Berlin's Against
the Current: Essays in
Press,
1977), reprinted
University
a bibliography
an
the History
of Ideas, ed. and with
by Henry Hardy, with
see
introduction
Hausheer
Press,
(London:
1979);
by Roger
Hogarth
especially
pp. 181-5.
re
in his autobiography,
11. "It fell dead-born
from the Press," remarked Hume
a
line from Pope's Epilogue to the Satires.
capitulating
12. Isaiah Berlin,
Karl Marx: His Life and Environment,
first published
by
in London
in 1939, of which
four editions and over ten
Thomas Butterworth
translations had been published
by 1978.
Trust
Comte Memorial
13. Isaiah Berlin,
"Historical
Inevitability,"
Auguste
no.
1 (London: Oxford University
Lecture
Press, 1954), and The Hedgehog and
and Nicolson,
the Fox (London: Weidenfeld
1953).
14. Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts
of Liberty"
Press, 1958),
(Oxford: Clarendon
in
ed.
most
Oxford
Berlin,
(Oxford:
Liberty,
Hardy
recently
published
Press, 2002).
University
15. Stephen Holmes,
ofModern Liberalism (New
Benjamin Constant and theMaking
of Liberty," pp.
Yale University
Haven:
Press, 1984), ch. 1, "The Anatomy
to this volume.
contribution
28-52, and Lionel Gossman's
"Sauce for the Liberal Goose"
16. Ernest Gellner,
(review of John Gray, Isaiah
Berlin, London: Harper Collins,
1995), Prospect (November
1995), p. 61.
in his Against
the Current, pp. 142, 144, and
17. Isaiah Berlin, "Montesquieu,"
157-8,

and his "Two Concepts

of Liberty,"

in Liberty, pp. 212-17.

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

27

18. Berlin's pluralism was, tomy mind,


inspired ultimately
by his reading of both
its connections with later philosophical
Herder and John Stuart Mill, although
doctrines
have still to be traced. I am unconvinced
Ignatieff's
by Michael
in this regard (see his Isaiah Berlin: A Life, [London: Chatto & Windus,
allusion
1998], p. 336, n. 4) to James Fitzjames Stephen's
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity of
I
with
in Berlin's own
and
that
ideas
associated
1873,
suspect
pluralism would
as were
lifetime have come to his notice more by way of such distinctions
made by W. D. Ross in 1930 in his account of The Right and the Good. Kingsley
in his biography
of Harold Laski (London: Victor Gollancz,
Martin,
1953)
in London
in
describes what he terms "the pluralist movement"
prevalent
and syndicalist
and 74), whose
decentralist
principles
In the final chapter
with
Berlin's
of
pluralism.
and liberalism
Isaiah Berlin, Gray argues (see pp. 141-56) that value-pluralism
are inconsistent
to derive one from
Berlin's endeavors
ideals, notwithstanding
the other. But in his Conversations with Jahanbegloo
(see p. 44) Berlin himself
as incompatible,
even
to each
describes
these principles
though he subscribes

the 1920s (see pp. 71-2


scant connection
have

of them.
19. Isaiah Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in theHistory of Ideas (London: The
Vico,
Press,
1976), and Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment:
Hogarth
Hamann, Herder, ed. H. Hardy
(London: Pimlico, 2000).
20. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment, pp. 8-12,13-16,30-40,
111, 131-2,143,
and 169.
21. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment,
pp. 57-62 and 212-13.
and 360.
22. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment, pp. 14,34-9,131,212,233,318,
23. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment,
55-6,
64-7,
108,
10,
73-8,
192-6,
pp.
and 314-15.
24. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment,
pp. 15-16,168-172,176-7,179-80,189,
208-9, 224-5, and 231-9.
Isaiah Berlin, The Magus
of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins ofModern
Irrationalism, ed. H. Hardy
(London: John Murray,
1993), and Three Critics of
in his preface
328-9.
283-4
and
As
the Enlightenment,
pp.
Hardy
explains
a
text
this
has
been
for
readers
(p. 246),
salvaged
partly by way of machine
and the expertise of staff at the
Science Museum
relic found in the National
of
National
Sound Archive, which
the reconstitution
together made possible
a
defunct
for
"Dictabelt"
passages
recordings?now
technology?embracing
or typescript
survived.
which no original manuscript
in the Fine
the A. W. Mellon
26. Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism,
Lectures
Arts, 1965, ed. Henry Hardy
(London: Chatto and Windus,
1999).
in review, Political Theory, 5.1 (February 1977), pp. 124-7, and
27. White,
books

25.

and Theory, XVI.l


(1977), pp. 45-51. While
essays, History
in a critical
Berlin's
William
scholarship,
largely welcoming
Dray, however,
IX.l (March 1979), pp. 179-82, doubts
notice, Canadian Journal of Philosophy,
to establish Vico's and Herder's
Berlin had managed
whether
for
significance
readers today. Among
commentaries
rather
of a predominantly
descriptive
than evaluative
character, see, for instance, John Michael Krois, book reviews,
Philosophy and Rhetoric, 10.4 (Fall 1977), pp. 276-80, and James C. Morrison,
as well of Ferdinand
assessments
"Three Interpretations
of Vico,"
including
Fellmann's
Das Vico-Axiom
and Leon Pompa's Vico, offering
interpretations
Gardiner,

review

28

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

strikingly different both from Berlin's and each other's, Journal of theHistory of
Ideas XXXIX.3 (1978), pp. 511-18.
28. Scouten, book reviews, Comparative Literature Studies, XV.3 (1978), pp. 336-40
(especially p. 338).
29. Hans Aarsleff,
"Vico and Berlin," collectively
reviewing Russian Thinkers, Con
and
the
and
Personal Impressions, as well as
Current,
cepts
Categories, Against
Vico and Herder, in the London Review of Books, 5-18 November
1981, pp. 6-7,
letter in retort to Berlin's response of 3-16 June
succeeded
by his published
and regard his command
of
1982, pp. 4-5.1 greatly value Aarsleff's
friendship
as
seventeenthand eighteenth-century
and
linguistics
philosophy
virtually
in the world of historical
unrivaled
scholarship
today. But, tomy mind, his oc
casional rebuke of linguists and philosophers
whose purportedly
inflated self
esteem and standing he takes to be unmerited
distracts
from the strength of
his arguments. Other critics, none more than Christopher
in an egre
Hitchens
review of Ignatieff's
to
have not hesitated
ill-tempered
giously
biography,
accuse Berlin of appeasement,
or charlatanry.
"Here is the rich
inactivism,
man's
remarks Hitchens
John Rawls,"
(in the London Review
of Books,
...
26 November
for irony "conditioned
1998, p. 11), his aptitude
by his long
of masters."
service to a multitude
30. Isaiah Berlin, "Professor Scouten on Herder
and Vico," Comparative Literature
to the
Studies, XVI.2
(June 1979), pp. 141-5; and "Isaiah Berlin responds
criticisms of his work" and "Isaiah Berlin writes,"
London Review of
foregoing
1981, pp. 7-8, and 3-16 June 1982, p. 5.
Books, 5-18 November
vol. LXXXVII, no. 346 (April 1978), pp.
31. W. H. Walsh,
book reviews, Mind,
284-6 (especially p. 286).
"On the Pioneer Trail," The New York Review of Books, 11
32. Arnaldo Momigliano,
November
1976, pp. 33-8 (especially pp. 34 and 38).
33. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History
of Chicago Press,
(Chicago: University
or Return? The
1953), introduction,
pp. 2-6, and "Progress
Contemporary
Crisis inWestern
inModern
from 1952, first published
Civilization,"
dating
in Strauss,
and
Judaism (1981), pp. 17-45, and reprinted
Jewish Philosophy
the Crisis ofModernity,
ed. Kenneth Hart Green
of
(Albany: State University
see
New York Press, 1997), pp. 87-136. On Berlin's
assessment
of Strauss,
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, pp. 31-2.
Jahanbegloo,
34. British Journal for Eighteenth-Century
Studies, 3 (1980), pp. 89-106, and Berlin,
The Crooked Timber of Humanity:
Chapters in theHistory of Ideas (London: John
70-90.
in L. Pompa and W.
Berlin's
revisions
first appeared
1990),
pp.
Murray,
H. Dray
(eds.), Substance and Form inHistory: A Collection of Essays in Philoso

phy ofHistory (Edinburgh, 1981).


The Crooked Timber ofHumanity,
pp. 76-8.
The Crooked Timber ofHumanity,
p. 85.
in Liberty, p. 212.
"Two Concepts
of Liberty,"
38. The "Ionian fallacy," as he termed it, was
first discussed
by Berlin in 1950
in his essay on "Logical Translation"
in
the
Proceedings
of the
published
some
on
It
in
is
Aristotelian
treated
detail
Claude
50-58
pp.
Society.
by
Galipeau
of his Isaiah Berlin's Liberalism (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1994).
39. John Gray,
Wake: Politics
and Culture
at the Close of the
Enlightenment's
and
Modern
New
York:
review,
1995), and my
Age (London
Routledge,
35. Berlin,
36. Berlin,
37. Berlin,

Isaiah Berlin's

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

29

to Rest," Government
and Opposition,
32 (1997),
"Laying the Enlightenment
140-5.
pp.
40. Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, pp. 21-2. Variants of the same argument appear
in "The Decline of Utopian
in The Crooked Timber ofHuman
Ideas in theWest,"
in
in
"Hume
and
the
of
German Anti-Rationalism"
and
Sources
ity, pp. 24-5,
Against the Current, pp. 162^4.
41. Berlin, The Age of Enlightenment,
introduction,
pp. 28-9.
42. Jahanbegloo,
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, pp. 70-1.
The Origins
43. Jacob L. Talmon,
of Totalitarian Democracy
vii.
1952), preface, p.
Warburg,
44. Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, p. 32.

(London:

Seeker

&

and the Mirror


Princeton
(Princeton:
of Nature
Rorty, Philosophy
Press, 1980).
University
46. Carl H. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century
(New
Philosophers
Haven: Yale University
Press, 1932), pp. 29-31.
47. On this theme, see especially my "The Enlightenment,
the nation-state
and
in Norman
the primal patricide
of modernity,"
Geras and Robert Wokler
45. Richard

and Modernity
Press, 2000),
(London: Macmillan
(eds.), The Enlightenment
pp. 161-2.
own "Multicultural
48. I have drawn the last three paragraphs
largely from my
in the Enlightenment,"
in Ole Peter Grell and
ism and Ethnic Cleansing
Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge
Roy Porter (eds.), Toleration in Enlightenment
Press, 2000), pp. 81-2.
University
of France: A Study
49. See my "La Querelle des Bouffons and the Italian Liberation
Studies
in
the
of Revolutionary
Eighteenth Century, 6, special issue of
Foreplay,"
11
94-116.
(1987),
pp.
Eighteenth-Century
Life,
Pr?ss's edition of Herder's
Ideen zur Philosophie
50. I have inmind here Wolfgang
der Geschichte derMenschheit
(M?nchen: Hanser,
2002).
51. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment,
pp. 281 and 328.
52. On this point, if I read him correctly, I largely subscribe to Aarsleff's
interpre
and philosophy,
tation of a central tradition
of Enlightenment
linguistics

53.
54.

55.
56.

and S?ssmilch, which he


inspired by Leibniz and embracing Locke, Condillac,
as
other
takes to have been misconstrued
commentators,
sometimes,
by
with regard not only to Berlin but also Noam Chomsky,
because he regards
on the course
of
them as skewed
by nineteenth-century
perspectives
intellectual
history.
European
I have borrowed
this remark from Mark Lilla.
a
In 1992 Jacques Derrida was awarded
doctorate
highly contested honorary
an
vote
of
from Cambridge,
forced
by way
unprecedented
mainly
by the
in
votes
with
favor
336
his
triumphing
against 204.
university's
philosophers,
See especially
the sixth chapter of Gray's Isaiah Berlin, pp. 141-68.
Martin Heidegger,
Sein und Zeit, seventh edition
(T?bingen: Max Niemayer

1953), p. 348, and Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven:
Verlag,
Yale University
Press, 1946), p. 293.
57. Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life, ch. 11, pp. 148-69.
IV: Alexander
58. Isaiah Berlin, "A Remarkable
Decade.
Herzen"
(first published
in Encounter in the mid-1950s),
in Russian Thinkers, ed. Henry Hardy and Aileen
an introduction
Press, 1978), p. 189.
by Kelly (London: Hogarth
Kelly, with

30

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

and the Fox (London: Weidenfeld


& Nicolson,
Berlin, The Hedgehog
79.
46
and
1953), pp.
of L. B. Namier
in his
60. See especially
and J. L. Austin
Berlin's commemorations
Personal Impressions, ed. Henry Hardy, with an introduction
Annan
Noel
by
Press, 1980), pp. 63-82 and 101-15.
(London: Hogarth
61. As recounted by Simon Schama at ameeting
Berlin's life and
commemorating
work held in New York's Harvard Club in 1998.
in The Power of Ideas, ed.
62. Isaiah Berlin, "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation,"

59.

Isaiah

(London: Chatto & Windus,


Hardy
Berlin: A Life, p. 234.
Isaiah
Ignatieff,

Henry
63.

2000), pp.

169-70.

of Israel" (first published


Isaiah Berlin, "The Origins
by the Anglo-Israel
in 1953), and "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation,"
in The Power of
Association
Ideas, pp. 150 and 164.
at the Commemoration
in the Sheldonian
"Address delivered
65. Avishai Margalit,
on
21st March
"The Crooked Timber of
Theatre, Oxford
1998," and Margalit,
in Ronald Dworkin, Mark Lilla, and Robert B. Silvers (eds.), The
Nationalism,"
Legacy of Isaiah Berlin (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), pp. 151-2.
in the Enlightenment"
66. See my "Multiculturalism
and Ethnic Cleansing
in
Toleration in Enlightenment
Europe, pp. 69-85.
on
Lettres philosophiques.
67. See the sixth of Voltaire's
This text, incidentally,
account of its description
of Presbyterians
who only preach through their nose
the majority, might
when
be
they constitute
they return to Scotland where
to
Virtue.
said to form the Enlightenment's
Alasdair
reply
Maclntyre's
After
64.

in Against
the Current,
Isaiah Berlin, "The Life and Opinions
of Moses Hess,"
the
296-7
and
and
Critics
309.
Three
237-40,
pp.
pp.
of
Enlightenment,
in Against
the Current, pp. 245 and 249.
69. Isaiah Berlin "Moses Hess,"
and
70. On the circumstances
the composition
of Cassirer's work
surrounding
see especially my "Ernst Cassirer's
its defense of the German Enlightenment,
An Exchange with Bruce Mazlish,"
in Studies in Eighteenth
Enlightenment:
and
Kent
"'A Bright Clear
29
335-48,
Culture,
(2000),
pp.
Century
Wright,
in K. M. Baker and P.
The Philosophy of the Enlightenment,"
Mirror': Cassirer's
A Postmodern Question
H. Reill (eds.), What's Left of Enlightenment?
(Stanford:
the English
Stanford University
Press, 2001), pp. 71-101. Berlin reviewed
in 1951, in
first published
translation
of Cassirer's
Philosophie der Aufkl?rung,
68.

the English Historical Review, 68 (1953), pp. 617-19.


71. Peter Gay, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (Westport,
wood Publishers,
1968), p. xiv.
72. Berlin, The Power of Ideas, p. 165.
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, p. 21.
73. Jahanbegloo,
of the National
74. Perry Anderson,
Culture," New
"Components
3-57.
1968), pp.
(July-August
of the National
75. Anderson,
Culture," p. 3.
"Components

Conn.:

Green

Left Review,

50

of the National
76. Anderson,
Culture," pp. 7-8 and 15-19.
"Components
in 1940," "President
Franklin Delano
"Winston
77. Isaiah Berlin,
Churchill
in
Personal
"Chaim
and
Berlin,
Weizmann,"
Roosevelt,"
Impressions (London
1981), pp. 16, 31, 52-3 and 62.
a member
of the Arajs Kommando
Unit responsible
78. Konrad Kalejs, allegedly
of Latvian Jews during the Second World War,
for the murder
of thousands

Isaiah Berlin's
returned

Enlightenment

and Counter-Enlightenment

31

in January 2000 after a long stay in a retirement home in


inMelbourne
the following year.
Liberalism
Liberty before
(Cambridge: Cambridge
University

to Australia

Leicestershire.

He died

79. Quentin
Skinner,
Press, 1998), pp. 113-16.
in January 2000 for the Oxford
80. These remarks,
Political
initially prepared
on
and
Aviv
the
Tel
"Isaiah
Berlin's
Conference
symposium
Thought
were
which
is
from
this
collection
also de
drawn,
Counter-Enlightenment"
as a public
livered
the following
March
lecture at the Central
European
in Budapest
and subsequently
for the political
University
theory seminar at
In their original
Harvard University
directed by Harvey Mansfield.
format,
were
in the second Jewish
and virtually without
annotation,
published
they
in 2002.1 am grateful
to
Studies Yearbook of the Central European University
and
Joshua Cherniss, Henry Hardy, Roger Hausheer,
Joseph Mali,
Wolfgang
Pr?ss for supplying me with several leads and references.

the

tnlightening
Enlightenment

Roger

Isaiah Berlin never

Hauskeer

in any doubt about where he stood vis-?-vis


the
and its legacy. Broadly speaking, he saw him
Enlightenment
eighteenth-century
and continuators.
self as one of its proponents
"The intellectual power, honesty,
love
truth of the most gifted thinkers
and
disinterested
the
of
courage
lucidity,
once
to this day without
of the eighteenth
he
"remain
wrote,
century,"
parallel.
in the life of mankind."1
Their age is one of the best and most hopeful
episodes
Berlin could be as unspar
friend or sincere family member,
But, like any genuine
to
and
towards
those
close
whether
him,
contemporary
intellectually
ing
morally
or dead and gone, as he was profoundly
well-informed
about their innermost
to believe
that among
character
and habits. He seemed
the most
precious
to
to
human
available
difficult
but
still more painfully
gifts
beings, painfully
give
to accept, is the truth about themselves.
In any event, he placed the high
difficult
est possible
And since both love and hate in their
value upon self-knowledge.
to abandon
the
very different ways
sharpen human vision, he did not hesitate
of
and
for
and
rose-tinted
affection
the
remorseless
spectacles
intimacy
telescopes
instruments
of night-time
vision wielded
and the deadly
microscopes
by the
never
had a
for
the
enemy. Sapere audel Kant's
slogan
Enlightenment
probably
left the world

more

faithful practitioner.
But one of the consequences
of Berlin's almost Nietzschean
daring and passion
for hunting down and stating the truth quand-m?me, is that the Enlightenment
also
never had a friend and supporter with
a pro
fewer illusions
about it or with
it is precisely
And
of its potentially
fatal weaknesses.
this
knowledge
so
to
with
the
that
rise
much
mis
has
given
engagement
Enlightenment
His almost preternatural
bent
about Berlin and the Enlightenment.
understanding
for sliding into the skins and acquiring
the eyes and hearts of its most savage and
and then retailing their worlds
in toto with consummate
effective opponents,
lit
in
and
mental
and
moral
conviction
skill
memorable
short,
erary
sharp, vibrantly
an erudite but un
essays rather than interminable
gray tomes, has misled many
founder

ruthless

wary critic friendly to the Enlightenment


enemies.
subtle and insidious
Likewise,

into identifying
Berlin as one of its most
there have been, and are, enemies
of

33

34

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

reason and universalism


Enlightenment
In
I shall clarify
what
follows
confr?res.

seen
who have
a little this curious

in him

one

of their

and highly

complex
relationship.
and quasi-sociological
Before doing
considerations
so, some biographical
no
amuch
in
to
be
With
the
of
and
lesser
Rousseau,
doubt,
exception
might
place.
were
on
of
French
the
leaders
the
great
degree, perhaps, Diderot,
Enlightenment
secure
cos
in
what
the whole
and
rooted
to
took
be
the
socially
they
firmly
of their place and time. They were French,
(i.e. French) civilization
mopolitan
Problems of identity,
they were upper class if not aristocratic,
they were universal.
were
to
at all. The pattern of
and
arise
much
less
if
for
status,
them,
position
likely
their allegiances
tended therefore to be correspondingly
simpler, more homoge
neous and unified,
and their vision of the world
and of the human past, present,
and serene, for all that many were
in a
future more harmonious
engaged
fierce and dangerous
battle against the ancien r?gime. Nor had the world yet gone
educational
collective
process of the French Revolution,
through the harrowing
the Russian Revolution,
the great European Wars, and mass
industrialization.
By
three major allegiances
the tug and pull of Berlin's
and identities was
contrast,
the most
formative
factors of his life and gave him an early
among
important
rut. He felt himself,
and in his life revealed
existential
jolt out of any comfortable
to be, at one and the same time fully a Jew, a Russian, and an
himself
Englishman.2
in the heart and mind of a supremely
Itwas perhaps
this early collision
intelligent
his active interest in the cluster of central
and sensitive man that first stimulated
him all his life, and were
in lead
human problems
that preoccupied
instrumental
some
to
him
himself
from
of
the
ing
positions.
disengage
principal Enlightenment
too smooth, simplistic,
To him such positions were palpably
rational, universalis
tic, and, for the most part, blandly optimistic. His own early life was profoundly
storms of the twentieth century, and his
by one of the two great political
disrupted
were
dominated
his
middle
of the war and his work as
years
experience
early
by
a political
to
in
attached
the
British
and then in
analyst
Embassy
Washington,
Moscow.
Also, though he rarely spoke of this, no account of his life can leave out
in the Nazi Holocaust
the persecution
and loss of many
close relatives
and under
Soviet tyranny. There is therefore an authentic quality to everything
he says about
in the writings
the great issues of our time that is often lacking
of academic
as
And
is indeed
social
and
he
of
he
if,
claimed,
political
practitioners
thought.
an
seen
as
one
is
he
should
be
older
and
who
Enlightenment
figure,
essentially
wiser
than his eighteenth-century
forebears.
In addition
to his in
to these outward
which were so propitious
circumstances,
there was his unique
tensive study of the perennial human problems,
intellectual
his astounding
temperament,
capacity for what might perhaps be termed objec
or what Keats called "negative
tive empathy,
qualities
capability." He possessed
of mind and heart of a type best exemplified
by some of the great creative writers,
and

or Balzac. This creativity


is evident not just in the all-embracing
like Shakespeare
sense of detail and nuance, but also
or
in
of
his
inexhaustible
his
vision,
sweep
to
enter
into and recreate, to become, as it
and above all in his uncanny
ability
some of the central figures he studied and wrote about. Itwas this capacity
were,
into the minds
and tempera
for self-transposition
for a kind of higher mimicry,
in
times
which
made
ments
other
and
of him
of radically differing
types
places,
a man who
a master
set
out
to
the
modern
condition:
of
navigator
explore and

Enlightening
map,

objectively
European mind

the Enlightenment

and exactly, the oceanic depths and continental


onwards.
from the Enlightenment

contours

35
of the

I.
was
influenced
development
by the dry,
strongly
early philosophical
own
account
the
of
British
His
tradition.
of the
ahistorical,
empiricism
analytical
and his friends, Ayer and Austin
informal dialectical
clashes between
himself
technical points and sharply astringent
among others, involving minute
logic, is
in
with
marked
contrast
But
his
Oxford
very revealing.3
colleagues,
philosophical
a boundless
he had from the start displayed
curiosity about the endless diversity
and the arts, in politics
and
life. This interest in history,
of human
literature,
in every conceivable
social life, in gossip and intimate self-revelation,
expression
of human existence and behavior, grew with time. In contrast tomost of his philo
of the major European
he moved
easily in the medium
sophical contemporaries,
and their literary and philosophical
cultures. He was driven by an al
languages
most Faustian desire to taste at first hand the teeming variety of human existence.
for its own sake, for the pursuit of truth
This very Jewish passion
for knowledge
was
in all its manifestations,
the prime motive
for his abandonment
of pure
came
to
in
"I
He
announced
that
the
the
1950s.
conclusion
gradually
philosophy
one could
that I should prefer a field in which
hope to know more at the end of
one had begun; and so I left philosophy
for the field of the
one's life than when
Berlin's

interest tome."4
history of ideas, which had for many years been of absorbing
on
course
in
in
of
his
Marx
the
book
the
1930s, Berlin had
writing
Already
the scientific, naturalistic,
of
the thinkers of
encountered
sociological
approach
in rationalist methods
As an empiricist
and a believer
the French Enlightenment.5
to find something
and superficially
attractive
himself, he was bound
agreeable
their approach. The sweeping
away of theology and metaphysics,
supersti
were
a major part of the
and blind authority,
critical
tradition,
general
saw themselves
as
was
in
and
his
which
he
There
friends
activity
being engaged.
not unconvincing
about the Comteian
schema of the progress
after all something
first came mathematics,
then physics
and astronomy,
fol
of human knowledge:
so
on
and
lowed in turn by chemistry,
up the
biology,
psychology,
sociology,
and organization;
scale to the scientific study of ever higher levels of complexity
to form the
each successive
upon its predecessor,
stage requiring and building
edifice. Why
should there not be a science of
seamless whole
of the completed
Indeed
man, history, and society on a par with the Newtonian
system in physics?
had
Comte's
looked
Condorcet,
predecessor,
explicitly
eighteenth-century
to study human
there would
be a naturalistic
forward to the day when
sociology
as the life sciences
it was
and
And
indeed
this
bees
beavers.6
study
beings
in
that
the
had
scientific rationalist Enlightenment
formed
programme
principal
the
Revolution.
Yet
all
of
for
tellectual
French
that
the
Revolution
inspiration
storm through Europe,
the old order and
swept like a cleansing
transforming
and
human
classes
hitherto re
whole
of
(and unleashing
groups
liberating
beings
areas
it
of
collective
did
but
its positive
the
achieve
pressed
psyche),
anything
a
on
of
rational
social
based
organization
lasting, stable,
goal
liberty, equality,
of
the civilized world.
Indeed, a great part of the work
fraternity
throughout
as an attempt to find out where
Comte and even of Marx can be understood
the
about
tion,

36

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

went wrong
and to discover methods
French Revolution
and principles
more
more
success
still
scientific
that
would
rational,
kind,
guarantee
time

of a still
the next

round.

But by the time Berlin came to write his book on Marx,


itwas at least absolutely
recent heir of the scientistic Enlightenment
clear to him that the most
tradition,
built upon Marxist-Leninist
the Bolshevik
Revolution
had
namely
principles,
an
even
excesses
iron
which
made
the
of the
oppressive
spawned
dictatorship
era
Berlin was
thus among
French Revolutionary
the very
pale by comparison.
few Western
intellectuals who, from the very start, could see that there was some
askew in principle?at
the heart
thing radically amiss?and
generally
something
to the study of man, society, and human history.7 But what
of this entire approach
exactly was it?

IL
to the problems
that trouble him in an attentive
always, Berlin finds answers
was
on Marx
It
of
the
relevant
of
while
that he
portions
study
history.
working
was
contact
with
tradition
of
into
the
and
whole
nineteenth
eighteenthbrought
to
lands, and itwas immediately
century thought in German-speaking
apparent
him?as
intellectual historians who are his true
it had been to the great German
a great part of the most
in
original and revolutionary
thinking
precursors8?that
in reaction against the French Enlightenment
those times and places developed
after another of writers,
thinkers, move
spirit and its later progeny. One wave
As

of thought,
and schools
had rebelled
the entire
rationalist,
against
as
scientific outlook. To treat human beings naturalistically
universalistic,
nothing
but objects of science was to offend against the most
truth
about
them,
important
are free and creative, and was
a furious
to
that
they
namely
guaranteed
provoke
response from those so treated. Thus, itwas to the enemies of the Enlightenment?
and systematically
and the more
the better
violent,
critical,
sharp-sighted,
now drawn, half in terror and half in admiration,
was
were?that
Berlin
but
they
an ultimate
causes
inner
with
into
the
of
detachment,
insight
always
seeking
with whose
of a general movement
the foundering
overall ambitions
for greater
reason and humanity,
in total sympathy?even
he was
if he
clarity and light,
had himself begun to entertain the most serious doubts over some of its dogmatic,

ments,

about the nature of human beings.9


assumptions
of the rational,
the
basic
scientific,
assumptions
Among
Enlightenment
can
nature
to
the
both
of
and
of
is
the
belief that everything
man,
world,
approach
as inert material which
can be
and should be studied with objective detachment
or brought
causal laws. For
under covering
classified,
described,
exhaustively
no
is conceived
of scientific investigation,
the world
the purposes
of as possessing
own outside the system of scientific laws that govern its be
its
life
of
independent
the exhaustive
schema into which
it falls. Whether
havior, or beyond
classificatory
or
movements
it is Newtonian
the
for
of
bodies
accounting
physical
physics
of
Linnaean botany meticulously
such
methods
plants,
study explicitly
describing
the unaccountable,
the unpredictable,
the undescribable.
rule out and exclude
are
In the case of physics,
for ex
They
by their very nature fixed and deterministic.
was
can
the
science
which
for
the
there
be
par excellence,
Enlightenment
ample,
no question of final causes or purposes,
of
inner
lives
things possessing
absolutely
unexamined

Enlightening

the Enlightenment

37

ideals, but only of causal regularities.


(Here I am of
pursuing
to classical physics of the kind that inspired eighteenth-century
was
he
of anthropomorphism
when
doubt Aristotle
No
thinkers.)
guilty
in the universe,
to literally everything
final causes
the
attributed
including
in the new
universe
of the thinkers
itself; but the nefarious
general
tendency
in the Renaissance,
had first emerged
tradition?which
which was most power
in the sciences established
and Newton,
and which,
by Galileo
fully embodied
come
to
and
had
the
dominate
French
after,
Enlightenment
literally every
through
to eliminate
field of human
final causes not just
thought and investigation?was
but from the scheme
from those areas where
belong,
they do not properly
even
corner
from
that
the
universe
where
of things altogether,
of
they originate
at home, namely
and are specifically
the human realm. The austerity of this ap
comes out very clearly when we try to adopt it in
proach, not to say its absurdity,
and
culture. When
it comes to dominate political prac
the study of human history
and consciously
course referring

tice, tragedy is the inevitable result.


More generally
still, as Berlin saw it (and he returned to this again and again in
new
scientific world-picture,
his writings),
the
categories of
purged of purposive
out
all kinds, as well as the generalized
view
that
of it, rested
grew
Enlightenment
common
to systematic Western
upon three central presuppositions
thought since
in it, including hu
the time of Plato. The first is that the cosmos and everything
man
a
structure is objectively
whole whose
single harmonious
beings, represents
all
and
and
the
exists
of
observers;
second, that with suf
any
given
independently
we can discover
and determination
the appropriate methods
ficient intelligence
for establishing
what
this structure is, and thereby gain answers
and procedures
to all our questions
both of theory (concerning
fact, the way
things are in the
we
widest
values
how
should
live and act
and
sense) and of practice
(concerning
and larger groups); and finally, that once we have discovered
both as individuals
structure
and unvarying
of things we
about the ultimate
in possession
of a neat, seamless,
coherent
logically
body of
no proposition
was
contradicts
another.
It
monolithic
where
these
knowledge,
and writing
about.
that Berlin spent so much of his life worrying
presuppositions
in his own voice; at other times he exposed
At times he attacked
them directly
in ways
that were necessarily
historical
and indirect, for ex
their shortcomings
these

will

fixed

truths

find ourselves

to sympathetic
but unsparing
the ideas
critical examination
ample, by subjecting
In
his
Berlin
of some of their most formidable
has, as
task,
opponents.
performing
a
in
itwere, conducted
which
human
the
realm
of
gigantic campaign
specifically
values?where

freedom,

choice,

self-conscious

purposive

action,

self-understand

are the defining


core of things?is
and self-interpretation
deci
ing, self-creation,
alien
rule
of
science
and
This
liberated
the
methods.
is the
from
generalizing
sively
reason he set such store by the existence of some types of radical, nondeterminis
of Holbach
tic freedom and inveighed
determinism
and
against the hard-boiled
successors. His penetrating
and their modern
Helv?tius
"From
and
essay,
Hope
a
one
in
this
to
blow
Fear Set Free,"10 for example,
represents
respect
resounding
of the central orthodoxies
from the ancient Stoics
of
point in the writings
is
Equally powerful
a
level,
preoccupation

running through the greater part of Western


philosophy
to the present day, an orthodoxy which
reached its high
some of the major Enlightenment
thinkers.
Berlin's defense
of freedom at a collective
and historical
which

informs

his

passionate

and

celebrated

essay

38

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

It is an interesting
any of the major
question whether
Inevitability."
was without
own more or less deterministic
his
thinkers
Enlightenment
theory of
In
Berlin
attacks
deterministic
whether
all
theories
of
any event,
history.
history,
and his idealistic heirs, or positivistic
like those of Hegel
like those
metaphysical
successors
to
the
of Comte
and his many
contemporary
present day, or those
while
elements
nevertheless
combine
of both,
which,
being wholly materialist,
an unalterable
In all of these human history
is seen as obeying
such as Marxism.
in
pattern. Such views are partly inspired by the success of the natural sciences
a
of
the
of
their respective
category
spheres, partly by misapplication
deep-rooted
as they are, but, like indi
to which
all things are not merely
(according
teleology
and not least by the perennial
vidual human beings, also pursue purposes),
desire
With
and
of human beings to abdicate personal
great thoroughness
responsibility.
as
all
and
Berlin
these
exposes
positions
acuity
unempiri
being utterly dogmatic
that the history of the past decade or
cal. And itmight be noted parenthetically
more has scarcely belied his judgment.
or
whether
theories of history
however,
dealing with deterministic
Always,
a
as
to much more
free will
with
the question
of individual
such, Berlin points
our lives are
set
of
and
much
the
that
thesis
arguments
against
deeper
general
or as functions
in the processes
either as isolated
individuals
of
determined
"Historical

These arguments
take us to the very core of his vision of man
historical wholes.
and of the essence of human nature, and furnish a major key to his peculiar
ap
to
few
human
studies.
modern
thinkers
Kant
since
have
been
proach
Very
human beings and their
quite so intensely aware of the truth that to understand
one must
of
and
their
world
understand
first
themselves
the central
knowledge
a
it
Kant
constitutive
that
motivate
them.
After
became
categories
commonplace
we and our world
are in
that there is a framework
of categories
by which
some sense bounded,
and that these categories
establish absolute
limits of and for
human
and in terms of these
life. We perceive,
think, sense, feel, and act within
we
can become
aware
virtue
and
while
of
reflection
categories,
by
philosophical
of them, they cannot, as constitutive
the
foundations
is,
upon
categories?that
which

else rests, including


scientific
theories?be
made
the objects of
everything
are
not many
science
fatal
without
There
study by empirical
circularity.
own inner
thinkers who are much preoccupied
with peering
into
their
intently
are find it hard to sustain for any period of time. This
and
who
those
subjectivity,
act of self-dwelling,
reflexive
this turning back of the inner eye upon
itself, of
was
add Descartes)
the systematic
and
which Kant (some would
pioneer
by far
in two main directions.
It can be pressed
be extended
the greatest master?can
and deeper
its basic
into the realm of subjectivity
itself, revealing
deeper
as Husserl,
structures with increasing depth and refinement,
Heidegger,
Bergson,
Sartre, and others have sought to do; or it can explore the emer
Merleau-Ponty,
realm of some of the deepest presuppositions
about what
gence in the historical
as thinkers from Vico and Herder
we are (and should be) as human beings,
to
In
and
others
have
done.
event,
Troeltsch,
Meinecke,
any
Dilthey, Windelband,
none of these thinkers, not even Kant in any straightforward
sense, despite his
as an
thinker
famous essay of that title, can easily be categorized
Enlightenment
or as
too
methods.
For
from
En
Enlightenment
they depart
adopting
sharply
as well
as from
monism
naturalism
and
scientific
lightenment
epistemological
value

universalism

for that.

Enlightening

the Enlightenment

39

contri
world,
(and, in the English-speaking
incomparable)
in conceptual
in
the
what
he
historical
archeology
sphere,
and impressionistically,
about the reflexive subject is also
as any German Lebens- or Existenzphilosoph
from
intensely
with
far
but
less
and
Bollnow,
portentousness
metaphysi
as humans
a
sense of
that we all possess
cal fog, Berlin indicates
primordial
a
in
to
all
which
is
further
and ra
prior
reality,
being,
thought, reflection,
being
rest.
and
The
tional analysis,
which
these
science,
upon
pages
including predictive
in "Historical
shines forth clearly?for
Inevitabil
where
this conviction
example,
and the Fox," in "The
ity," in the last two or three sections of "The Hedgehog
and in various
the most
Sense of Reality,"
other places?are
luminous
among
While

Berlin's great
has lain largely
says, however
obliquely
of the first interest. As
or
Jacobi to Heidegger

bution

Berlin

ever

wrote.11

sense of some form of primal subjective being or agency that


This primitive
a very strong theme in Berlin. It seems to be for him the ulti
all
else
is
precedes
mate
root both of our conviction
in some absolutely
that we are free beings
sense
our
and also constitutive
nondeterministic
essential human nature at the
of
so
our
rests
level. Indeed,
basic is it, that
entire moral vocabulary
very deepest
upon it, and basic terms like responsibility,
praise, guilt, remorse, regret, desert,
and others, stand or fall with
it.We literally cannot think it away or else we will
sense
at the same time think away so much
of our humanity,
of our bedrock
a
it is to be
to do so is an
human being in the world,
that the attempt
of what
or
of a type not merely
but
impossibility
impossibility?an
logical
psychological,
sui generis and deeper than either. To seek to explain in causal or any other terms
awareness
is like trying to balance
this not-further-analyzable
the
"categorial"
on its summit. There is a
base of the mountain
almost
peculiarly
compelling,
in those pages of "Historical
existential
where
Sartrean,
agony
Inevitability"
a world where
in vain to envisage
the
Berlin struggles
everything,
including
are
to
which
is
and
He
determined
it,
trying
envisage
through.
thoughts
through
as he tries to state it.
is living through the nightmare
reasons
There are then very compelling
why human beings cannot be studied
as
science or the disci
natural
by natural
just
explainable
objects exhaustively
on
it.
In
in particular,
of
"The
Scientific
Berlin
modeled
Concept
plines
History"
inwhich history differs from
offers a comprehensive
survey of the principal ways
science, and spells out in detail the reasons why a science of history on a par with,
is a conceptual
This essay, taken together
say, Newtonian
physics
impossibility.12
with
"Does Political Theory Still Exist?,"13 offers something
like a program
for
For human beings
the type of history
of ideas which
he advocates.
interpret
in terms of very general models
and their associated
themselves
Some
categories.
of these are as old as humanity
Others
itself and so virtually universal.
change,
and sometimes
time. The Western
tradition of
quite radically,
through historical
a succession
As a model
of such models.
political
thought, for example, has seen
or models
or are seen to do too little justice to the alter
come to seem antiquated,
are
often overlap
ing patterns of experience,
they
replaced by others. Such models
or clash; but one thing is certain, and that is that no single model,
no matter how
can ever encompass
and sophisticated,
the whole of experience
deep, penetrating,
once and for all. Each is exclusive
and at best casts light on a portion of human life
for a period of time. But unlike scientific
theories which have been superseded,
such systems

of concepts

and categories

remain

of permanent

interest

and value.

40

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

For each opens its own special doors to human


and it should
self-understanding,
be a central preoccupation
and historians
of both philosophers
of ideas in each
of any civilized human)
to ask critical nor
(and a part of the education
generation
in
to
mative
of
these
models
relation
the
of their own
questions
unique problems
in
Berlin
his
adult
life
not
entire
this
spent
day.
activity and,
engaged
surprisingly,
came up with some very remarkable
and deeply
results.
transforming

III.
in the history of ideas revolves around what he sees
all of Berlin's work
Virtually
as the greatest revolution
in our concepts and categories
since the Renaissance
and
in all fields of human
the Reformation:
the rebellion against monism
thought and
action. This does not of course entail a crude chronological
universal
break?first
is
to
then
universal
For
he
careful
allow
that
monism,
very
pluralism.
suddenly
there were skeptics and relativists
from antiquity onwards, but they were
largely
and did not deflect the main
rationalist
current.14 The full statement of
marginal
and their immense practical
anti-monist
for later
positions
impact had to wait
now
even
full
and
the
of
these
for
and
thinkers,
practice are
implications
theory
as
out with unforeseeable
still working
themselves
Moreover,
consequences.
were
two
at
the
of
millennia
Berlin often notes,
monist presuppositions
which
the
core of the French Enlightenment
our contemporary
still (more or less) dominate
and are perhaps
side by side with,
culture,
though
they now exist uneasily
currents
to, the powerful
(and relativistic)
increasingly
succumbing
pluralistic
and German Romanticism.15
released by the Counter-Enlightenment
A major part of Berlin's work
in the history
of ideas has been to identify
some of the principal moments
in this process. Among
the thinkers who most
unaware
vast
of what he was
of
the
(albeit
consequences
powerfully
exemplify
to
isMachiavelli.16
bedrock
doing) the earliest shifts in our conceptual
According
was probably
the very first to juxtapose starkly two coherent,
Berlin, Machiavelli
valid but mutually
exclusive
the
systems of morality:
objectively
all-embracing,
aim at the perfection
Christian
ethics of his time and ours which
of the individual
life and preach meekness,
and renunciation
of this life for the
self-abnegation,
and
aim at the power
and
those
of
the
Greek
Rome which
next;
polis
Republican
in this
and glory of the body politic and aspire to self-assertion
and self-fulfillment
life. The critical consideration
is that no criteria exist for choosing between
these
two equally valid but totally incompatible
systems. It is this, and not Machiavelli's
to Berlin, has exercised
the civilized world
"Machiavellianism,"
which,
according
ever since. In the early modern world
itmarks
the first irreparable
fracture in the
structure of values binding on all mankind.
belief in a single universal
It is this concern
Vico an

of Berlin's with
the massive
collective
shift in mind-sets
to
of
such
inexhaustible
fascination
him.17
On Berlin's
object
of
this
isolated
born
before
and
him,
strange,
interpretation
genius,
long
long af
ter his time, traced unerringly
all the chinks in the monist
edifice into which
the
were
movements
two
to
of
the
hundred
drive
fatal
years
coming
revolutionary
an
that human beings do not possess
Vico was the first to state explicitly
wedges.
that they understand
their own works
and the world
of his
unalterable
essence;
in which
in a way
the
tory which
they cannot understand
they themselves make,
to be drawn between
world of external nature; that there is therefore a distinction
that makes

Enlightening

the Enlightenment

41

we acquire
which
of things and actions
from the inside
the knowledge
(as
their creators and agents), and that which we acquire of them from the outside by
and scientific
inference; that a society or culture has a
observation,
experiment,
are marked
or "coloured,"
its
all
and that
which
pattern by
products
pervasive
of
and
from
cultures move
identifiable
phases
growth
development
through
to old age; that all human
and activities,
institutions
childhood
through maturity
are
never
even the most
and
utilitarian,
just that, but also vital
severely practical
in art or
that therefore timeless principles
and standards
forms of self-expression;
life are not available and that every human manifestation
should be judged by the
canons of its own time and place, of the specific phase reached by its own culture;
or types of human
that finally a new distinction
among the varieties
knowledge
must be added to the two types traditionally
(a priori-deductive
distinguished
a form of "inner"
and a posteriori-empirical),
namely
knowledge
by which we en
ter into the mental
of other ages and peoples by what Vico calls fantasia
universe
or acts of reconstructive
of all this for Berlin's own
The implications
imagination.
and cultural history will be very apparent: the works of
of intellectual
conception
Vico are the womb
from which
between
the sci
sprang the cardinal distinction
a distinction which has suffered a curious
ences and the humanities,
in the
neglect
it
from
and
who
has
taken
seri
world.
Berlin,
(Apart
Collingwood
Anglo-Saxon
of Einf?hlen and Verstehen later developed
ously?) This is the seed of the doctrines
him
German
Herder
and
after
the
historicists,
great
by
Dilthey, Windelband,
by
Max Weber,
and their many colleagues. No
Troeltsch, Simmel, Scheler, Meinecke,
modern
thinker has thrown more
and precise
light upon the historical
genesis
status of that distinction
than Berlin, with more than a hint that fail
philosophical
ure on a grand scale by our uncompromisingly
to ap
civilization
technological
one
our
it
it
of
for
what
is
constitutes
the
and
of
ills
preciate
major
rapidly growing
times. However
that may be, the fatal consequence
that follows from it for monism
the natural sciences and humanistic
is that if an unbridgeable
gap exists between
can
never
in
if
and
the
latter
therefore
studies,
principle be reduced to the former,
in the two-thousand-year-old
then a breach has been made
dogma that all knowl
a
must
form
interconnected
whole.
The Enlighten
seamless,
systematically
edge
ment and neo-positivist
dream of a unified science of all there is is a creature that
in the realms of philosophical
belongs properly
mythology.
It is above all in the German-speaking
world of the second half of the eighteenth
to take a
that Berlin sees the great antinomian
revolt first beginning
century
incalculable
theoretical
and practical
The
real hold on life, with
consequences.
writers of the Sturm und Drang movement
of the 1770s, for example, Lenz, Klinger,
in their chaotic and turbid
and the very young Goethe,
Leisewitz,
Gerstenberg,
and
plays (and lives) railed against all forms of social and political organization;
were
in every sphere of human
life rejected rules as such, not because
unjust,
they
or irrational, but because,
as rules,
or authoritarian,
the general,
they addressed
is a fiction, and not the concrete, which
which
alone is true. But it was above
all the great counter-rationalist
Hamann who was the first to say all this very con
abstraction of any kind filled him with blind rage. Scientific
sciously.18 Systematic
had for him at very best an instrumental
and
value;
hypotheses
generalizations
was
not
could
unassailable
Such knowledge
they
knowledge.
yield
always
concrete and specific, given to us only by the senses and by spontaneous
imagi
the world, not the
nation, instinct, and insight. The lover and the poet understand

42

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

our
is known by direct perception
alone?by
sense
of
Hamann's
of
immediate, not-further-analyzable
reality.
theory
language,
towhich
which
struck Berlin with especial force, and according
language does not
timeless reality but rather cre
map the objectively
given features of a pr?existent
ates its own unique world
in place and time (with the implication
that there are as
a
as
are
there
has
worlds
modern
(and for that mat
many
languages),
remarkably
scientist.

Everything

worth

knowing

ter, postmodern)
No one felt

ring.19
vision more
the impact of Hamann's
than
original
forcibly
Berlin
who
is
absolute
For
for
of
central
Herder
uncovered
Herder,
importance.20
some of the major
that have
transformed
the modern
categories
literally
a
to
and
made
contribution
human
world,
permanent
thereby
self-understanding.
or the belief
He is the true originator
of three utterly novel
ideas: populism,
an
to
that men can realize themselves
when
identifiable
fully only
they belong
or
a
common
roots
in
with
culture
and
custom,
tradition,
group
language,
common historical memories;
or the notion
that all men's works
expressionism,
or communication,
"are above all voices
forms of expression
which
speaking,"
a
total vision
of life; and finally pluralism,
which
renders
convey
logically
in a universally
incoherent
ideal path to human
the belief
fulfillment
valid,
success
men
at all times and places. After
by all
sought with varying degrees of
was ever to be quite the
these two seminal
thinkers, Vico and Herder,
nothing
same

again.

IV.
in the
of the nineteenth
century onwards,
particularly
and immensely
bound
itself
the
upon
image
powerful
on this
Berlin
threw
much
in
light
European
imagination.
development
such as "The Apotheosis
and "The Counter
of the Romantic Will"21
essays
as well as in his
Lectures, The
posthumously
published Mellon
Enlightenment,"22
Roots of Romanticism?3 which
contains his most sustained account of it. Successive
waves
to greater and greater lengths in their
and thinkers went
of German writers
as such. In this they left
rejection of the entire notion of objectivity
figures like Vico
not only to the realms of ethics
far behind. This rejection pertained
and Herder
and aesthetics, but also to the very existence of the external world,
real
objective
a great revolution
A
itself.
radical
of
of
the
shift
occurred,
categories
ity
spirit,
re
creation
where will usurps
the function of intellect, and free, quasi-artistic
From

German

the first quarter


lands, a new

this shift began in the sphere of literature, art,


Though
places scientific discovery.
in private life, it soon overflowed
and music,
and in relations between people
into
and
with
social
life
The
central
results.
catastrophic
(ultimately)
politics
figure in
this scenario for Berlin was Fichte. His voluntarist
of
the
absolute
ego
philosophy
an epoch. Poets,
that creates literally everything
artists,
inaugurated
philosophers,
and divines were
intoxicated by it. The heroic individual
statesmen,
imposing his
The notion of the self as an
the dominant model.
own
its
values
and goals and the mate
principle
freely generating
came
to
which
it
and very diverse
inform
many
operates,
rial?nature?upon
moral, artistic, and political movements.
From the heroic and defiant figures of Schiller's early plays and poems and the
we have ever
tragic heroes of Kleist, to the works of Tieck, Arnim, and Hoffmann,
will

on nature

active,

creative

or society

became

Enlightening

the Enlightenment

43

In Tieck especially, whose


insistent attacks on the objective system builders.
and
with
and
novellas
fast
loose
time, space, and causality, Berlin sees
play
plays
In the works of Hoffmann,
where
the true originator of the Theatre of the Absurd.
a
in
state
and
of
where
all things become
totally fluid, suspended
perfect virtuality
we
see
no boundaries
turn
into
and
unmistak
exist,
anything may
anything else,
of full-blown
German Expressionism.
able premonitions
early twentieth-century
a
man
as
and
of
Fichte's
Again,
image
demiurge
inspired Carlyle and Nietzsche
of Fascism and National
had a fateful impact on the ideologies
Socialism. Even the
Marxist doctrine of the dignity of labor, and the heroic, Romantic vision of man as
a
a creative
being, united together with his fellows in vast collective assault upon
nature with a view to molding
it to human ends, owes something
to this current
scene.
of ideas. Voluntarism,
dominate
the
self-assertion
This, surely,
dynamism,
is the birthplace
of Fascism, pragmatism,
existentialism,
relativism,
subjectivism,
and many
later currents of counter-rationalist,
counter-Enlightenment
thought.
to the sta
Here the will finally triumphs over the intellect, knowledge
is demoted
to our practical purposes,
tus of hand-servant
and the world
is but the image cast
more

and martyrdom,
status
the absolute
all, heroism
by our total life-projects. Above
are
of integrity,
and
the
the
values
sincerity,
unique
authenticity,
light within,
lived. Ends are created, not discovered.
lives are henceforth
around which
The
truth or falsehood of an ideal is no longer thought to be important, or even to be a
at all.
question
a subject to which Berlin de
In particular,
this is the birthplace
of nationalism,
a coherent doctrine,
some of his most prescient
it emerged
voted
essays.24 As
in the pages of Herder:
for him, and those
for the first time in the modern world
the archenemy was French universalism
and materialism.
Germans he influenced,
on the one hand, a
Berlin sees Herder's
rejection of the
thought as,
comprehensive
and
that universal
rational rules governing
doctrine
practice could be dis
theory
to the
covered, and, on the other, a traumatic reaction on the part of the Germans
towards
them
of
the
attitude
condescending
politically,
culturally,
scientifically,
and militarily
of wounded
superior French. This natural response
pride on the
an
a
a
more
one
backward
vis-?-vis
advanced
is
of
part
people
early and typical
case of an attitude which was to become
in the nineteenth
prevalent
increasingly
a worldwide
our
own
in
and has become
time. Yet in the
century,
syndrome
case of Herder
to a continuous
the sense of nationhood
and of belonging
culture
and language
is still benign and in some sense universal: he does not subscribe to
that they can
the idea of the unavoidability
of conflict among nations and believes
and productively
side by side. The Enlightenment
(and should) exist peacefully
in his outlook
is still strong. But it iswhen
the free, creative Fichtean self
element
of the German
with
identified
the inspired
individual
Romantics?initially
on collective
artist?takes
forms (as tends to happen with a kind of inner logic
in "Two Concepts
which
Berlin explores
of Liberty"25), and becomes
identified
with a nation, race, or culture, or some other supra-personal
that
clashes
entity,
to the death occur. Each such separate "self" creates and pursues
its own inde
comers. In the absence
pendent goals. These itwill seek to realize?and
against all
of universal
rational
of universal
criteria of adjudication,
moral
standards
or norms, the war of all against all
ensues. This is aggressive
national
inevitably
ism with a vengeance,
it is but
and from there to Fascism and National
Socialism
a short

step.

44

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

V.
this great mutation
of ideas more fully than Berlin. No one traced
No one grasped
its principal
twists and turns with greater skill and erudition. And no one, it has
and hearts of some of itsmajor figures with
to be admitted,
entered into the minds
about one of
for example,
When
he writes,
and
understanding.
greater empathy
sound almost like an
his words might
of Fascism, de Maistre,
the great harbingers
and even affection for, say, the
ardent apologia.26 And so evident is his admiration
that the
obscurantist
life and work of the outrageously
Hamann,
archreactionary,
that Berlin himself
could (and do) easily fall into the error of supposing
incautious
of this essay, he
to the irrationalist camp. But as we noted at the beginning
belongs
in
had
been all his life
that
he
and
in
conversation
and
print,
again,
repeated again
then is his
a staunch supporter of the Enlightenment
and what it stands for. What
ideas and doctrines
own relationship
to this vast body of Counter-Enlightenment
life unearthing
the greater part of his intellectual
after all, he spent much
which,
in genealogy?his
exercise
In a sense, his work was a gigantic
and analyzing?
it is
his protestations
of Enlightenment
that is. For despite
own,
leanings,
a
on
even
that
he
his
himself
has
of
to
cursory reading
writings,
anyone
apparent
tree
and
he
at least a hybrid place on the great Romantic
delineated,
genealogical
that his own is, at best, a highly modified
position.
Enlightenment
can be
the following
At the risk of a good deal of oversimplification,
perhaps
are
in which
the Counter-Enlightenment's
five main ways
said. There
arguments
and especially
Western
of
the
rationalism,
assumptions
underlying
against
have radically
descendants),
(and its modern
against the French Enlightenment
that have dominated
these assumptions
force us to abandon,
and might
modified,
for two hundred
civilization
Western
years and more.
In the first place, these thinkers, beginning
especially with Vico and Herder,
faith in a single system of
old rationalist
the two-thousand-year
undermined
men
on
norms
at
the full
all times and places. But where
all
timeless
binding
and
tended towards subjectivism
and their progeny
blown Romantics
relativism,
than could have
faith even more
the monist
and thereby undermined
radically
to a
the latter, each in his own way, subscribed
been dreamt of by Vico or Herder,
a
vast
of
value
of
allowed
for the flowering
form of value pluralism which
variety
a common human horizon. These systems may conflict with and
systems within
exclude one another; values within
any one system may prove uncombinable;
that are at
individual
of
the
and the consciousness
may be riven by values
single
and
war with one another. Yet so long as these outlooks,
attitudes,
ways of life are
a
that they
we
can
effort
of
such that
great
imagination,
accept, perhaps only after
in those times, places, and general circumstances?and
were right for those people
not
offend
do
against our core sense of what it is to be human?then
they
provided
It is this
into the great family of possible moral universes.
they must be admitted
to
albeit
and it is this
that Berlin has identified as objective value pluralism
which,
and evolved
in a highly sophisticated
form, he subscribes.
from the above?the
this follows
In the second place?and
insights of these
thinkers and
to so many Enlightenment
thinkers blow to pieces that faith common
there is one single, static, unitary
those who later carried their flag that somewhere
the
in the past, which will
embrace
in the future or buried
pattern,
floating
is thereby shown to be not so much
The very notion of Utopia
whole
of mankind.
to realize in purely practical
it is difficult
(or even impossible)
something which

Enlightening

the Enlightenment

45

a sheer logical impossibility,


the
terms, as rather something
literally inconceivable,
nature of human values being what it is.
in "Two Concepts
has set the framework
for all
of Liberty," which
Thirdly,
come
serve
to
the
serious discussion
of liberty over the past four decades
(and may
"On Liberty" has served that of the past one
liberalism of the future much as Mill's
a doctrine of
and a half centuries), Berlin has used these insights to develop
liberty
roots in Constant,
and highly original
its
is both profound
obvious
which
(despite
to all the standard liberal arguments
In addition
and Mill).
for individual
Herzen,
one
above
all
which
confers
he
that
there
is
consideration
others
urges
liberty,
as
on
what
with
he
identifies
claims
great sharpness
"negative"
liberty. It
unique
to col
is that in a world where values, by their intrinsic character, are guaranteed
lide and clash and, in extreme cases, to fight it out to the death, rational solutions
in these areas will remain impossible
in principle. Hence
to problems
the rule
so dear to the majority
of experts and specialists
of thinkers in the enlightened,
mainstream
tradition is an idle and dangerous
Western
dream. Tragic clashes and
so
far
for their cure,
from
anomalies
choices,
waiting
agonizing
being pathological
are a normal,
human
feature
condition.
That
ineradicable
of the
being so, it follows
that the maximum
freedom
the consequent
from interference?and
possible
maximization

and groups, always allowing


of freedom of choice?for
individuals
for the claims of basic social order and some very basic values like justice, ismore
and fulfillment
and mitigate
human
frustration
flourishing
likely to promote
and pain, than any of the more "rational," "enlightened,"
"scientific" alternatives.

Hence
Berlin's eloquent
too, his cautionary
plea for "negative"
liberty. Hence,
on
The
he
makes
clear
several occasions,
words
latter,
against "positive"
liberty.
its
is a profoundly
and
value
with
central
almost
but,
genuine
invariably monist
can all too often
and its collectivist
motives,
claims, its voluntarist
implications,
can be oppressive
convert liberty into its opposite.
The outcome
tyranny where
and every action is forced into its allotted
slot in the frictionless
every person
of the twentieth
totalitarian dictatorships
this danger
century made
and
Both
Hitler
and
Stalin
that they
said,
believed,
very plain.
probably
really
were
their
peoples.
liberating
in Berlin's view Herder,
and after him the Romantic
revolt generally,
Fourthly,
a permanent
to
amounts
to
what
historical
category,
light
probably
brought
to a nation. The
and above all of belonging
the notion of "belonging,"
namely,
liberal internationalists
since their time, have
and most
Marx,
Enlightenment,
as a deformation
tended to regard the idea of nation and nationalism
of the human
and not as a natural and integral part of it. Following
world
and devel
Herder,
alone
liberal
among
oping some of his most novel
Berlin?virtually
insights,
serious and not unsympa
thinkers of any stature in the twentieth
century?paid
whole.

The

to this exceedingly
Herder?in
complex human manifestation.
flow
the
seminal
ideas
his
of
that
from
conception
propounding
"belonging,"
as the
which he was
the very first thinker to formulate
explicitly,
namely,
deep
in a continuous
for membership
cultural and historical
need of human beings
rooted in its own geographical
what
discovered
community,
territory?literally
we are increasingly
a
as
to
and
fundamental
unalter
being compelled
recognize
If the coherent
thesis built up by Berlin out of Herder's
ing human
requirement.
to belong
scattered
is
then
the
need
to, and acquire and express
insights
right,
is a universal need
one's identity in and through, a concrete historical
community,
thetic

attention

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

46

as the need for food, drink,


is just as deep and imperious
which
shelter,
clothing,
not
in the
and procreation:
of
it
but
fatal,
prove
may
deprivation
immediately
a world
run itwill wreak
inevitable
In
havoc.
of
settled
nations,
long
normality,
in the ideal case coexist side by side
and groups would,
for Herder,
communities,
in a state of happy and creative self-absorption,
and untroubled
uninvaded,
by in
or
with
vidious
But
this
comparisons
culturally
materially
"superior" neighbors.
now only very
even
and
human
has
need
of
enemies
recognized,
deep,
partially
two main types: those that spring from the destructive
and
universalizing
"reify
of Western
and Enlightenment
science and technology
standards
of the community
those arising from radical disruption
by con
in
extreme
alien
the
its
from
or,
case,
invasion,
rule,
quest,
by expulsion
to live as an alien minority
ancestral territory and dispersal
nations.
other
among
factors that trigger those pathological
These are the principal
convulsions
of
ing" tendencies
and
generally;

self-awareness
that now scar the entire globe. This happened
for
perhaps
the French domination
the very first time, at any rate in the modern world, with
in a climax during
of Germany
the Napoleonic
for several centuries,
ending
Wars and the invasion of German
territories. That led to some of the key insights
nature and needs of human
thinkers
into the perennial
developed
by German
to
in
the
communities,
light
only way
they can be, historically
insights brought
in terms of general categories
and from within,
traced and described
that define
as such, those emerging
human beings
and evolving most
of
features
general
lot which
the history of ideas as practiced by Berlin exists to identify
the human
of something
in our own
and record. To give but one example
that occurred
national

to the early German experience,


the nationalist
time and is remarkably
analogous
in Iran, provoked
the
fundamentalist
revolution
under
introduction,
by
too-rapid
into a medieval,
outlooks
and technology
the Shah, of Western
theocratic society,
an eruption
so
that was wholly
unpredicted
by any of the conventional
wrought
and
cial scientists,
for all their elaborate empirical
statistical
soundings
techniques;
to surprise
and yet it contains
the student of the collective
absolutely
nothing
Berlin so brilliantly
describes.
For good or evil, ancient
learning process which
are
and
cultural
identities
everywhere
reawakening
regional
today. Berlin is one
of the few thinkers who can equip us to analyze and understand
them for what
they

are.

to acquiring knowledge
of human
Finally, the roots of Berlin's own approach
are
in
the
of
the
No
rebellion
great
beings
firmly planted
Counter-Enlightenment.
one ismore aware of the variety of types of knowledge
and understanding,
and of
to a single standard or pattern, nor of the immense harm that is
their irreducibility
to every aspect of human existence of a model
that
done by the blind application
in one area of experience,
Newtonian
is successful
for
of
as,
example,
physics
Indeed, among the most
important results of his in
by the French Enlightenment.
is the knowledge
that the unthinking
imposition upon human beings
has been both the greatest stum
sch?mas drawn from alien disciplines
sources of
and also one of the greatest
self-understanding
bling block to human
of Adorno, Horkheimer,
and
human
Habermas,
suffering. Quite
independently
the Frankfurt
School, but with vastly greater clarity and conceptual
precision,
the genuinely
inhuman and oppressive
Berlin has exposed
of some
implications
and scientific
very influential aspects of Enlightenment
thought and of itsMarxist
successors.
and on this issue, in
From first to last he was an impeccable
empiricist,
vestigations
of abstract

the Enlightenment

Enlightening

47

true empiricist
tradition, its thought and ac
fashion, he subjects the Enlightenment
reaction
to
most
the ferocious
the
tion,
devastating
testing available,
namely,
more
over
two
all
human
indi
hundred
and
them
the
those
years
past
by
against
to them. If the
viduals and groups which have in one way or another been exposed
this would
be it. No better method
exists for exposing
historian had a laboratory,
on
human beings.
constructions
flaws in rationalistic
zealously
imposed
unwilling
nostrums
break down
Wherever
these Enlightenment
before the
irretrievably
to
it
must
that
Romantic
Berlin
is
concede
prepared
onslaught,
give ground.
on a
is all too clearly amiss with
the proposed
remedies. Moreover,
Something
a
wants
to
to
and
constructive
he
virtue
learn
make
of
note,
very
necessity
from
such

to enlighten

the mistakes,
key

notions

as

"man,"

the Enlightenment,

"human

nature,"

"society,"

and

to revise
"culture,"

and

enrich

"history,"

and so forth, in the light of its defeats. All these


"understanding,"
"knowledge,"
terms acquire a deeper and richer resonance
than they ever had in the eighteenth
a
our
net
in
increase
of what human beings are
century. The result is
knowledge
can
most
cannot
to be). In this sense,
be made
and
be (and, perhaps
importantly,
in
whatever
then, his intention is continuous
spirit with that of the Enlightenment,
some of its more
to make with
radical breaks he may
find it necessary
rigidly
unempirical
Out
of

assumptions.
this "dialectical"

clash between
and Counter
Enlightenment
aware
while
of
the
and violence
then,
Berlin,
savagery
Enlightenment,
poignantly
a
extreme manifestations
to salvage
its more
have caused,
seeks nevertheless
it
to
of
In
the
human
is
Vico
the
and
Herder,
great enlargement
spirit.
particular,
and Schelling
German Romantics,
(and also no doubt to
Schlegel, Schleiermacher,
their heirs, Dilthey, Windelband,
that we may
Troeltsch, Rickert, and Meinecke),
trace the origins of his own acute sense of those priceless
forms of knowledge
we have
in the purely
which
human
exclusively
realm?empathy,
insight,
and
the
into the lives
imaginative
understanding,
capacity to transpose ourselves
of other human beings and to share in what
of the
they value most,
regardless
or action. These, surely, constitute much
medium
of expression
sacred
the most
and valued part of our lives. Berlin refines and develops
the notion of "Verstehen"
in this sense, especially
in his work on Vico, with
and
incomparable
sharpness
a
to
the
full
the
he
when
clarity, utilizing
scrupulous
logical techniques
acquired
young man as one of the founders of Oxford philosophy.
in tracing the earliest origins
And by a curious paradox,
of the Counter
some of its most
and in analyzing
and describing
radical conse
Enlightenment,
in their fullest form and in their relevance
to our own day, he made
quences
in a sense both the genealogist
and consummator
himself
of that elusive but
in the human studies desiderated
"Newtonian
Revolution"
long-awaited
precisely
(and their descendants
by Kant and by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment
down almost to the present).
To present Berlin as some kind of not-yet-recognized
in the field of the human studies would
as uncritical
Newton
rightly be dismissed
it is perhaps
not too fanciful
to see him as representing
the
cen
which began in the late eighteenth
of a series of developments,
a chain of thinkers,
in the German
tury, passed
through the hands of
principally
came
to
and
in
their
fruition
him.
fullest
Taken
these
world,
speaking
together,
in various ways
revolted
and degrees
the
thinkers, who
against
Enlightenment
as an object of science like any other, attained
ambition of treating man exclusively
adulation.

summation

Yet

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

48

what Newton
and others were able to do for
by tortuous routes for the humanities
the sciences of nature by more direct paths. By turning their backs upon what they
in this re
took to be the false start made by the official Enlightenment
approach
an
in
for
the
alternative
the
way
spect, they helped pave
approach which,
figure of
at
in
has
last
what
succeeded
makes
the
humanities
the
Berlin,
perceiving
clearly
and prevents
them in principle
with the
from ever being homogenous
humanities
in
natural sciences. The rational study of man, viewed
from the outside
essentially
terms as the Enlightenment
would
naturalistic
have it, as a physical,
biological,
itmust be
natural-historical,
anatomical,
neurophysiological
object (all of which,
as
the
Berlin
of
modern
stressed,
science), and
among
greatest triumphs
applauds
to some degree as a psychological,
economic
and
sociological,
anthropological,
some
secure
for
has
rested
foundations
time.
animal, too,
upon relatively
But here at last the study of that which makes humans most specifically
human
a
same
at
time
rational
and
the
freed
from
the
is also placed
upon
footing
so
and
it
bedeviled.
which
had
been
profound
damaging misconceptions
by
long
That is the study of man as a free, autonomous,
unpre
purposive,
consciously
and self-transforming
creative,
proper
species, whose
dictably
self-interpreting
once and for all
nature
is history
and whose
is revealed, not timelessly
element
most
and evolving?
from the outside, but in his
basic, all-informing,
developing
transformed
and clashing?concepts
and categories,
and sometimes
violently
as it were,
are known,
"from within."
and can only be known,
This has
which
the human
sciences?now
of extraneous
the effect, surely, of rendering
purified
autonomous
and theological-metaphysical?as
elements
both natural-physical
as
ever be made. Their intellectual
and
and as rationally
they can
self-transparent
as great as that of the natural sciences,
at
to
if
is
least
revealed
be
spiritual dignity
to
not much greater. And the type of history of ideas which
Berlin did so much
one of the greatest masters,
was
opens
perfect, and of which he
by general consent
so much
inwhich
to be done.
iswaiting
field of rational investigation
up a whole
is full of paradoxes.
The history of ideas, as Berlin himself used often to observe,
should eventually
have been achieved by
That a prime goal of the Enlightenment
to conceive,
and by intellectual
have found it impossible
paths itwould
winding
to comprehend,
itwould
is
have found it impossible
many of whom
personalities
one.
a
one
of
but
major
them?though
near correct,
then Berlin is a true patron
If this interpretation
is anywhere
saint of the Enlightenment,
but with this great difference
that, unlike the founding
more
he
alone
and
their
has
fathers
passed
through the crucible
legitimate heirs,
with
the light
and
of the Counter-Enlightenment
emerged
transformed?shining
one
ever.
more
than
of Enlightenment
Indeed,
go further, and
might
radiantly
or so
an
one
to declare him
intellectual
colossus:
of the half-dozen
feel tempted
most
most
consistent
and most penetrating,
and most wide-ranging,
deepest
richly

generous

to emerge
thinkers
since the
social and political
its
within
ranks?a
seminal
great
figure whose
squarely

and humane

standing
Enlightenment,
true status is only gradually

dawning.

Notes
1. Isaiah Berlin,
Philosophers,
Isaiah Berlin

to The Age of Enlightenment:


The Eighteenth Century
Introduction
comments
and interpretive
and introduction
selected, with
by
Miffin,
1956), p. 29.
(New York: Houghton

Enlightening

the Enlightenment

49

2. Isaiah

in My Life," Jewish Quarterly


27 [2-3]
"The Three Strands
Berlin,
(Summer/Autumn
1979), pp. 5-7.
3. Isaiah Berlin, "J. L. Austin
and the Early Beginnings
of Oxford Philosophy,"
Personal Impressions, ed. Henry Hardy, with an introduction
by Noel Annan
Press, 1980), pp. 101-15.
(London: Hogarth
4. Isaiah Berlin, Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays, ed. Henry Hardy,
with an introduction by Bernard Williams
(London: Hogarth Press, 1978), p. xii.
5. Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment,
4th ed. (London: Oxford
27-33.
Press,
1978),
pp.
University
6. Isaiah Berlin, "Historical
in Four Essays on Liberty (London:
Inevitability,"
Oxford University
Press, 1969), pp. 42-43.
7. Ramin Jahanbegloo,
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin. Recollections of an Historian
with Russian
1992), pp. 8-13; and "Conversations
of Ideas (London: Phoenix,
an
Russian
and Aileen
Writers,"
Thinkers, ed. Henry Hardy
Kelly, with
introduction
Aileen
212.
Press,
1978), p.
by
Kelly (London: Hogarth
once after lunch with Berlin at his home
8. I remember
in Headington
House
in early 1992 his saying, in a remarkable aside, after we had talked
sometime
a bit about
I am
and particularly
Rickert, "Well, perhaps
Dilthey, Windelband,
a German
in
who
thinker
writes
For
all
his
Humean
char
very
really
English."
in
acteristics,
"Nationalism,"
singled out among others by Stuart Hampshire,
Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration,
eds. Edna and Avishai Margalit
The
(London:
than a grain of truth in his remark. My
Press, 1991), there is more
Hograth
intellectual biography
of Berlin will enlarge on this topic.
forthcoming
9. See Jahanbegloo,
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, pp. 70-1.
10. Isaiah Berlin, "From Hope and Fear Set Free," in Concepts and Categories.
11. Isaiah Berlin,
"Historical
"The Hedgehog
and
pp. 69-73;
Inevitability,"
the Fox," in Russian Thinkers, pp. 74-80; and "The Sense of Reality,"
in The
Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their History,
ed. Henry Hardy, with an
introduction
Patrick
Gardiner
Chatto
and Windus,
(London:
1996),
by
16-28.
pp.
12. Isaiah Berlin, "History and Theory: The Concept of Scientific History," History
in
and Theory 1 (1960), pp. 1-31, repr. as "The Concept
of Scientific History"
and
Concepts
Categories.
13. Isaiah Berlin, "Does Political Theory Still Exist?" (1962), repr. in Concepts and
Categories.

14. Isaiah Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"


in Against
the Current: Essays in
a
an
the History
ed.
and
with
of Ideas,
bibliography
by Henry Hardy, with
introduction
Hausheer
2-3.
Press, 1979), pp.
(London: Hogarth
by Roger
in The Sense of Reality, pp. 191-3,
15. Isaiah Berlin, "The Romantic
Revolution,"
and Jahanbegloo,
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, pp. 158-159.
16. Isaiah Berlin, "The Originality
in Studies on Machiavelli,
of Machiavelli,"
ed.
Myron

P. Gilmore

(Florence:

Sansoni,

1972), pp.

149-206,

repr. in Against

the

Current.

17. Isaiah

Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History


of Ideas (London:
Press, 1976).
Hogarth
18. Isaiah Berlin, The Magus
of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins ofModern
ed.
Irrationalism,
(London: John Murray,
1993).
Henry Hardy
to The Magus
19. See the appendix
of theNorth, pp. 129-132.
20. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. 149-205.

50

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

in The Crooked Timber


of the Romantic Will,"
"The Apotheosis
in
the
ed.
Ideas,
(London: John
Henry Hardy
History of
Chapters
of Humanity:
1990).
Murray,
in Against
the Current.
22. Isaiah Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
in the Fine
Lectures
the A. W. Mellon
23. Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism,
ed.
Pimlico,
1965,
Arts,
2000).
(London,
Henry Hardy
in
in Against
the Current; and "The Bent Twig,"
24. Isaiah Berlin, "Nationalism,"
21.

Isaiah Berlin,

The Crooked Timber ofHumanity.


of Liberty," pp. 149-54.
25. Berlin, "Two Concepts
and the Origins
26. Isaiah Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
Timber ofHumanity.

of Fascism,"

in The Crooked

Vico, and

?erlin,
i

the

of Humanity

principles

Joseph Mali

a short
on Peter Burke's Vico
Late in his life, Isaiah Berlin wrote
review-essay
to the Past Masters
contribution
series of Oxford University
Press.1 The essay,
which was published
under
the
title
"The
of Vico," was
posthumously
Reputation
as a genius whose
to justify Vico's reputation
last attempt
Berlin's
"originality"
was fully appreciated,
if at all, only long after his time.2 As Berlin would
have it,
that Vico was not a "forerunner"
Burke's contention
of our times but rather "a
scholar and thinker of his time" aligned him with
those who
typical Neapolitan
failed to appreciate Vico's "originality."3
This apparent fallacy in Burke's positive
assessment
of Vico outweighed
the "many merits"
that Berlin otherwise
found in
more
so
all
the
his book,
for Berlin, "originality"?the
because,
ability to think
the singular quality that distinguished
those thinkers
"against the current"?was
whom he deemed
really important to the history of ideas, even if, as in the case of
in it.What made Vico, along with
Vico, they themselves were rather insignificant
or Sorel, who were
thinkers such as Hamann
in their
rather marginal
likewise
our
most
into
the
masters
of
modern
cultural history was
times,
"original" past
to the dominant
their opposition
in
"monistic"
For
Western
civilization.
ideologies
Berlin these comprised
all those ethical and political doctrines
that sought to re
duce the moral and cultural plurality of human
life to some ultimate unity or ver
the "natural law" of
canonists,
ity, be it the "true religion" of the Judaeo-Christian
the human scientists, or the "perfect society" of the Marxists.
Yet much as he ad
mired
the "originality"
of Vico and his fellow protagonists
of the "Counter-En
saw
Berlin
well
that
of
their
lightenment,"
rejection
rationality and all other norms
and forms of universality
rendered
them prone to all sorts of misapprehensions
and accusations.
Berlin recalls one typical reaction to his own evaluation
of Vico
as "the most
the Italians have produced"4:
original philosopher
I remember
and
Vico's

hero

well
Gaetano

writings.

one

how,

Salvemini
"Vico,"

at dinner

evening

some
at Harvard
friend
ago, my
years
me
and
in
denounced
interest
upon
my
a charlatan.
"was a fraud. Vico was
Croce
[at this

turned

he declared,

point Salvemini took a deep breath and then puffed it outwards] blew him up like
that, like that! Vico has been translated into English. English is an honest language.
51

52

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


will
everyone
of Croce
either.5

Now

see

through

this pretender,

nothing

will

be

left of him,

nor,

hope,

on this incident some forty years later,6 Berlin could safely conclude
Reflecting
to be fulfilled." Berlin should have
that Salvemini's
"was not destined
augury
was
own efforts that Vico has
to
it
that
due
his
of
course,
added,
largely
acquired
as one of the greatest
in modern
his great reputation
intellectual
"past masters"
at least among
scholars outside
of
history,
Italy. The latest Vico-bibliography
from 1884 to 1994"7 attests to the fact that the current celebra
"Works in English
tion of Vico began around 1960, the year in which Berlin published
his first major
on
to
the
of
Vico.8 According
essay
promoter
Giorgio Tagliacozzo,
indefatigable
on
our
in
"The
remarkable
the
times, Berlin's essay
Nico-Rezeption
Philosophical
Vico" was the main catalyst behind this latest and grandest
Ideas of Giambattista
and innovative
"No other similarly comprehensive
stage in "Vico's Resurrection":
context and relating it to
setting it in its philosophical
thought,
study of Vico's
existed before Berlin's essay or would
modern
social disciplines,
appear anywhere
so auspiciously
it
When
Berlin
the
decade
this
republished
during
inaugurated."9
revisions, as the first chapter in his book Vico and Herder in 1976,
essay, with minor
and social
Vico had already become a cultural hero for scholars in the humanities
come to praise him as the main discoverer
of almost
sciences, who have commonly
too modern?disciplines.10
Berlin not only initiated
all of our modern?all
this
modern
artists had already
theorists?for
among modern
process of recognition
it beyond academic
cir
he also propagated
rediscovered
Vico through Joyce?but
a
on
in
the
York
Times
Vico
New
1970 he published
cles: in November
essay
long
in the History
of Human
the lively title ("One of the Boldest Innovators
a large public became
that
familiar
with
of
which
and
ensured
Thought")
style
Vico's name and main ideas.11 The thriving Vico industry of the last three decades,
in the annual New Vico Studies, and the recent republica
is duly monitored
which
own Vico and Herder,
tion of Berlin's
Berlin's
somber
conclusion
defy
in that book that Vico "is constantly
and as constantly
laid aside. He
rediscovered
and unread."12 Yet, the enthusiastic
of Vico as a
remains unreadable
reception
some
even
to
thinker"
led
oddities
and
"modern
as,
absurdities,
inevitably
great
on those occasions when Vico has been associated
with modern
for example,
never have understood
and who,
all too often, have
he would
thinkers whom
never bothered
to understand
him. And then, of course, there have always been

Magazine,

those who

hated Vico.

the dinner at Harvard,


the incident with Gaetano
Salvemini
during
Recalling
further comment,
that this great Italian scholar and anti
Berlin remarks, without
Fascist fighter came to hate Vico so intensely because he regarded him a "political
this association was still very vivid.
reactionary." At the time of that conversation
commemora
For just several years earlier, inMarch
1944, during the bicentennial
the leading intellectual of
tion of the death of Giambattista
Vico, Giovanni Gentile,
a
in
which
he
hailed Vico as the true
delivered
Italian Fascism,
speech
public
in
And
the
fact
that Vico's
founder of the Fascist movement
yet,
legacy in
Italy.13
was acclaimed both by political
and
like
Gentile
revolutionar
reactionaries
Italy
or by both de Maistre
in France; that it inspired
and Michelet
ies like Gramsci,
like Sorel and Pareto?
Marxists
like Labriola and Lafargue as well as Revisionists
is the case with other enigmatic
thinkers
indicates
that the reception of Vico?as
or Nietzsche?has
often been largely determined
like Machiavelli,
Rousseau,
by

Berlin,

Vico,

the Principles

and

of Humanity

53

men
on this ambivalent
In his comments
interpretations.
legacy Berlin
ideological
as a "forerunner
of Fascism," but also, and
tions that Vico had been represented
more

as

resoundingly,

as

"proto-Marxist,"

a "Catholic

apologist,"

"pragmatist,"

of which means,
for Berlin, that Vico faced
and as much else?all
that
attends
the
fate
of
rich
and
but inexact and
profound
danger
that their admirers tend to read too much
into them, and
obscure thinkers, namely
turn insensibly
in the direction
of their own thoughts."14 Berlin goes on to cite
some famous examples
of modern
thinkers who fashioned
their own Vico in this
we
turn
acute
in
to
and
his
and
observation
Berlin himself
may
way,
apply
of his own thought into Vico,
consider whether
Berlin had not "read too much"
a thinker, a
too modern
of
of Vico much
champion
thereby perhaps making
that
Berlin's own ethical and political
creeds of liberalism or pluralism?creeds
"existentialist,"
the "particular

could not possibly have held.


Some critical reviewers
of Berlin's Vico and Herder were alert to this apparent
in
Berlin's
as, in fact, was Berlin himself.
interpretation,
fallacy
methodological
as he tried to dissociate
to perceive
Much
himself
from the Crocean
tendency
of Hegelianism,
and
similar
Vico as the "forerunner"
Marxism,
historicism,
as
an
or
to
of all
Berlin
often
referred
Vico
"isms,"
"originator"
"anticipator"
over
to
kinds of later modern
theories. He was particularly
Vico
eager
promote
cen
in
all
the
German
schools
the
nineteenth
of
major
Geisteswissenschaft
against
Vico

the very notion of


tury: not only did he claim that Vico had actually discovered
but
that
had
he
also
Vico
Geisteswissenschaft,
implied
thought up, in all but names,
of
the conceptual
categories
Schelling's
Mythologie,
Hegel's
Ph?nomenologie,
Marx's
It seems that Berlin was as much
Ideologie, or Weber's
Wissenssoziologie.
as amused

and ap
which
he repeatedly
observation,
by Michelet's
in
his
that
last
"these
illustrious
Germans
(even
essay),
provingly
might have
are
in
All
that
had
all
lived
Vico.
the
of
criticism
remembered
formerly
giants
they
room
to
in
with
the
little
of
the New
contained,
spare,
already
pandemonium
and perhaps not quite rational,
Science."15 Berlin may have had some personal,
but his basic association
motivations
of Vico with
for this counter-German
motion,
the German
of
tradition
and, above all, his persistent
attempt
Geisteswissenschaft,
in the
to portray Vico as the real creator of the new hermeneutic
methodology
humanities
and social sciences,
summed up in the assertion
that "Vico virtually
invented
the concept
of understanding?of
what
and others
call
Dilthey
impressed

cited

'verstehen,'

"16?makes

clear

what,

in his

view,

was

Vico's

most

important

intel

lectual achievement.
Whatever
Vico himself may have meant by the term "new
itmerely
to "philology,"
he in fact consigned
science" (scienza nuova)?and
the old
art which
in
humanistic
entailed
the
formal
of
words
traditionally
interpretation
classical works and which he sought to improve by the new sciences of etymology
and mythology?Berlin
task
rightly saw that in order to achieve that professional
new
in
Vico had forged a whole
of
human
past or
theory
understanding
beings
and
cultures
their
literatures,
gestures,
foreign
pictures,
through
by probing
than philologists
had hitherto done, beyond words
into images, beyond
deeper
in this famous
theories into stories, back to what
James Joyce must have meant
in Finnegans Wake: "The Vico road goes round and round tomeet where
evocation
terms

begin."17

Along with
interpretation,

discoverers
of Vico, Berlin drew his
Joyce and many other modern
and much
from this famous oration in the New Science:
inspiration,

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

54

But in the night of thick darkness enveloping


the earliest antiquity, so remote
from ourselves, there shines the eternal and never failing light of a truth beyond all
question:

that

the world

of civil

are

therefore

to be

principles
mind.
Whoever
have

bent

all

on

reflects
their

this
to

energies

has
society
within
found
cannot
the

been made
certainly
the modifications

but

study

marvel

of

by men,
of our

of nations,

or civil world,

which,

since

men

that

the philosophers
of nature,
which,

should
since

God

the study of theworld

it, men

had made

its

human

that

the world

it,He alone knows; and that they should have neglected

made

and
own

could

come

to know.18

latter part of this passage has often been quoted and discussed
by theorists
come to regard it as one of the most
of the human
sciences, who have commonly
to the formation
of their methodology.19
contributions
Following
significant
and other Idealists, they commonly
celebrate Vico as the first
Croce, Collingwood,
to that
and all other Positivists.
and foremost opponent
of Descartes
According
of liberation already in his early metaphysical
version, Vico began his campaign
notion
and theological
treatises with his epistemological
that verum et factum
convertuntur sunt, namely
is possible
that perfect knowledge
only per causas, and
of what he or she has made.
hence attainable only by the creator's own knowledge
of the oration. He readily found in
Berlin largely concurs with this interpretation
the first and best confirmation
its resounding
conclusion
of his own humanistic
as a spontaneous
autonomous
and
of
process of human
largely
conception
history
on Vico's
creation through self-assertion.
Yet, whereas most other commentators
its first part (and in any case failed
famous oration have either ignored or misread
to follow its syllogistic
which would
have required
them to draw
construction,
from his historical
Berlin
conclusion
Vico's philosophical
pays as
assumptions)
to the
to its opening declaration,
with
its
much attention
references
starting
cryptic
to
in
times
claims
have
made
his
monumental
which
Vico
discovery.
mythic
in the
the decisive moment
testified and as Berlin reiterates,
For, as Vico himself
to decipher
creation of his new science of humanity was when Vico managed
the
which
the
ancient
had
their
"human
made
characters"
up
mythmakers
"poetic
by
is the master key of this Science, has cost the
institutions":
"This discovery, which
research of almost all our literary life, because with our civilized natures
persistent
we
cannot at all imagine and can understand
[moderns]
only by great toil the
more
nature
first
of
these
Elsewhere
Vico
elaborates
men."20
clearly how
poetic
all the first mythological
of
these "poetic characters"?above
Jove?had
figure
on their own makers:
"In their monstrous
forced themselves
savagery and unbri
to tame the former or bridle the latter but
dled bestial freedom there was no means
The

the fear of whom


is the only powerful
the frightful
thought of some divinity,
means
to duty a liberty gone wild."21 As Berlin would
have it, this re
of reducing
Vico
which
construction
of the mental
(as
configuration
by
cunningly put it) "man
them (homo non intelligendo fit omnia)"22?
all things by not understanding
becomes
In Vico's words:
and reification."23
is the first theory of "alienation
In such

fashion

the

first men

of

the gentile

nations,

children

of

the nascent

mankind,

created things according to their own ideas. But this creation was infinitely different
from that of God. For God, in his purest intelligence, knows things, and, by knowing
creates

them,
corporeal
marvelous
very
which

them;

but

imagination.
sublimity;

they,
And
sublimity

who
persons
by imagining
is Greek
for "creators."24

in their

robust

did

it

virtue

of

wholly
it with
corporeal,
they
such and so great
that it excessively
the
perturbed
were
did
the creating,
for which
called
"poets,"
they

because

it was

ignorance,
quite

by

did

Berlin,

Vico,

and

the Principles

of Humanity

55

so great, then, and so


is not
Vico's
achievement
truly modern,
new
and
the
notion
old
the
of
the
of
theological
philosophical
application
merely
men
had
to
the
realization
that
themselves
simple
verum/factum
history, namely
it:
their history, but rather the more acute realization
of how they had made
made
too
all
faculties
of
their
human,
human,
imagination
(fantasia),
mythopoeic
by
invention
In that way,
Berlin
(memoria), and creative
memory
(ingenium).
it
this notion
and
"Vico transformed
elaborates,
gave
[verum/factum]
immensely

What

renders

its dangerously
character) by
scope and depth (and increased
speculative
or
in
to
it
time
the
the
of
social
consciousness
of
collective
extending
growth
at
its
to
and
semi-conscious
the
dreams
mankind,
level,
particularly
pre-rational
greater

and myths
and images
earliest beginnings."25

that have dominated

man's

thoughts

and feelings

from his

the many
that Berlin ascribed to Vico's New Science he
"new sciences"
Among
all
above
the
invention
of
"historical
Vico, he argued, was
prized
anthropology."26
is captured
in the axiom, "Doctrines
the "begetter" of this methodology
which
must
of which
take their beginning
from the matters
they treat."27 Berlin rightly
saw that with
turn in the historical
this assertion Vico initiated a genealogical
as
for he thereby challenged
the main naturalistic
sciences of the Enlightenment,
in
nature
the
of
human
of
the
the
belief
age, namely
sumption
fixity
beyond any
of history like Voltaire or Hume
culture. While
could
contemporary
philosophers
that "if the present be compared with the remote
still maintain,
with Machiavelli,
there are the same desires
past, it is easily seen that in all cities and in all peoples
as there
saw
and the same passions
Vico
that our great classical
always were,"28
ancestors were very different
from us:
From

these

first men,

and philologists
... And

gentiles

insensate,

stupid,

should have begun


should

they

have

in the external world but within


it. For

since

modifications

this world
that

of nations

its principles

and

horrible

their investigations

begun

with

has

been
certainly
have
been

all

the

of the wisdom

metaphysics,

themodifications
should

beasts,

which

of themind
made

seeks

philosophers

of the ancient
its

proofs

not

of him who meditates

by men,

it is within

these

sought.29

to Berlin, by "modifications"
Vico "appears to mean what we should
According
mean by the stages of the growth, or of the range or direction,
of human thought,
man
which
with
into
(as
any
imagination, will, feeling,
su?icier?fantasia
equipped
"30
can 'enter.'
This rendition of
well as knowledge
acquired by rational methods)
them to the "metaphysical"
and other mythopoeic
confines
modificazioni, which
more
creations of "the mind"
and
all
but
creations
the
(mente)
ignores
physical
in the "external world,"
is congenial
to Berlin, who tended to
that men had made
in humanistic
and rather idealistic terms. His objec
the study of history
perceive
tion to the very notion of "scientific history" was mediated
by his reading of Vico,
as well
as
it
his
about
the writings
of his
seems,
Vico, primarily,
reading
by
the one who
him to Vico?R.
G. Collingwood,
teacher?and
introduced
who re
a certain
of (and
identification
quired from the historian
capacity for empathetic
an
other
human
of
and
others
that
could
both
self
with)
agents,
introspection
lead to a "re-enactment"
of their peculiar
and
In
actions.31
intentions,
situations,
to
Vico's
the
mental
of
the
uomini
"modifications"
any case,
injunction
regain
primi
such men and their worlds
is by
implied, for Berlin, "that the way to understand
are
to
out
enter
their
what
the
rules
at, by learning
minds,
trying
they
by finding
of expression?their
and significance
of their methods
their songs, their
myths,

56

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

their marriage
and funeral rites. To
dances, the form and idioms of their language,
one needs
to understand
understand
their history,
what
they lived by, which
can be discovered
to
who
have
those
the
what
their
key
only by
language, art, and
was
New
to
ritual mean?a
which
Vico's
Science
intended
Vico
key
provide."32
a new
in
instated
that
consists
what
Berlin
calls
thereby
interpretive methodology
"reconstructive

imagination."

critical readers of Berlin's essays on Vico, notably Leon Pompa and Perez
to Vico this hermeneutical,
took him to task for having
and, in
imputed
Zagorin,
notion
of "empathetic"
their view, quite mystical,
historical
interpretation.33
a new scientific
and practiced
of
Vico, as they read him, preached
methodology
was
on
that
historical
modeled
the
Baconian
interpretation
utterly positivistic,
of empirical
Newtonian
conception
inquiry into reality that was bound, and could
be found, by physical
rather than metaphysical
to
laws. Insofar as Vico claimed
or the laws of an "ideal eternal
have discovered
the "order of human
institutions"
Some

in its rise, development,


in time by every nation
traversed
de
history
maturity,
as
New
to
not
of
and
fall"
his
Science
be
anti-mechanistic
and
cline,
history appears
as Berlin presents
anti-deterministic
it.34
his New Science on the new mathematical-physical
Vico indeed modeled
sci
ences. He may have borrowed
the title scienza nuova from Galileo's Dialoghi delle
inasmuch as his aim was to discover
Nuove Scienze. More
the origins
importantly,
use
to
in some fundamental
terms he
the
of human history
or,
"institutions,"
set up a New Science
had used in the title of the first edition of his major work?to
the Principles
to
work may have owed even more
of Humanity?his
concerning
as
as
term
in
in
this
For
the
well
the
title
Newton.35
"Principles"
key
original title,
of the last edition, clearly alludes to Newton's
Principia. Like most of his contem
in order to get its literal
Principia
poraries, Vico did not need to read Newton's
were
some "occult qualities"
not
Newton
"These
wrote,
meaning:
principles,"
cannot be observed
which
and tested, like metaphysical
entities, but are those
of
and
forces?like
the
cohesion
bodies,
inertia, or gravity?
properties
physical
the movements
of all natural
and
form and govern
things in the world,
In
be
therefore
called
the
Laws
of
the
New
Sci
Nature."36
"general
might
rightly
as
to
out
Vico
establish
these
from
the
ence,
sought
principles
accordingly.
Setting
nature
that
"the
of
institutions
is
but
their
into
sumption
nothing
coming
being at
to discover
"in the de
certain times and in certain guises," Vico then sought
of the nations and in the innumerable
plorable obscurity of the beginnings
variety
the "principles
of their customs"
of humanity,"
those primal capacities of
namely,
like Newton's
human beings which, much
of nature," have formed
"principles
and govern their social life and history.37 What are these "principles
of humanity"
and how does Vico claim to have found them?
seem that Vico de
to Pompa and like-minded
itwould
positivists,
According
a systematic
to
the
similar
veloped
analytical methodology
hypothetico-deductive
sciences. Accordingly,
the "principles"
model
laws" in the natural
of "covering
were
to
in
be found
the permanent
realities that determined
he invoked
physical
and biological
human
life and history, either inman
(physiological
compulsions)
even
or outside him (geographical
Berlin rejected this interpretation,
conditions).
new
natural
though he, too, noted the affinity between Vico's New Science and the
the positivists,
Berlin maintained
that even if Vico
sciences.38 Against
however,
had initially molded
his work on Newton's
scientific methodology,
he eventually
which

Berlin,

Vico,

and

the Principles

of Humanity

57

he came to realize that his new science of humanity was not


it relied on a more
than the science of nature?because
it pro
intimate knowledge
of its object?but
that itwas also more "true" because
one
cessed a better kind of knowledge,
that
the
made
who
namely
possessed
by
In Berlin's words:
the object of knowledge.
"In history we are the actors; in the
natural
sciences mere
This is the doctrine,
above others, on which
spectators.
inverted its premises:
"certain"
only more

must rest. For upon it rests the crucial distinction


be
over
and
The
battle
this
distinction
Geisteswissenschaft
Naturwissenschaft.
has continued
until well
unabated
into our own day."39 And in order to retrieve
we must
the actors' knowledge
indeed "enter," as Berlin likes to paraphrase
Vico,
the "minds" of the historical
actors whom we study, yet not by any mystical
feats
or speculative
of intuitive "empathy"
with
identification
"those quite wild and
indeed "we cannot at all imagine," but rather by methodi
savage" brutes, whom
cal investigation
of those mental
which we "can comprehend
if only
expressions
as
or
with
modern
do
great effort," precisely
psychologists
anthropologists
or
when
dreams
As
Berlin
elaborates:
they interpret
myths.40
"Myths, according
to Vico, are systematic ways of seeing, understanding,
and reacting to the world,
of
intelligible
fully perhaps only to their creators and users, the early generations
same
are
at
the
also
"for
modern
critics the richest of all
men," but,
time, they
sources of
of the physical
and mental habits and the social ways of life
knowledge
Vico's
tween

of

their

claim

to immortality

creators."41

and quite uniquely


on
commentators
among philosophical
Consequently,
Vico's New Science, Berlin paid due attention
to Vico's own definition
and actual
execution
of his New Science as a philological,
and not only philosophical,
investi
on Vico's
he wrote much
affairs. Although
gation of human
"philosophical"
of knowledge,
Berlin rightly recognized
that underlying
his conception
conception
on human life and
of verum/factum were some concrete "philological"
observations
is neatly worked
out in his book Vico and Herder, which
history. This dual vision
contains two complementary
and the philologi
essays on both the philosophical
of
Vico's
In
cal-historical
of
the
second
aspects
essay, "Vico's
theory
knowledge.
its
and
of
Berlin
the
studies of
Sources,"
Theory
Knowledge
pursued
important
of legal scholarship
John Pocock and Donald Kelley on the "historical revolution"
was able to show how Vico could have derived many
in early modern
Europe and
of his most insightful philosophical
notions from this domain.42 In any case, Berlin
move
insists that "the truly revolutionary
is the application
of the verum/factum
so as to make
to the study of history,"
clear that even if it is true, as
principle
scholars from Croce to L?with have shown, that Vico could find some clues to that
or in Thomas Aquinas,
or (more probably)
in Augustine
in Hobbes,
his
principle
was
real achievement
in
terms how men in
having shown
practical and historical
"earliest antiquity"
had actually made
their world
by certain "modifications"
in our world
which
still prevail
of "modernity."
For Vico indicates quite clearly
that he had discovered
the "truth" about the "civil world"
is,
(mondo civile)?that
how men had made
it and why, therefore, they (or other men) could come to know
some archaic
it?in
"human
creations"
(cose umane) that have made
up and
still sustain this "civil world,"
and which,
insofar as
being thus "its principles,"
are
to
to
our own
veritable
still
"are
be
found
within
the
modifications
of
us,
they
human mind." Vico, in other words,
claims that in order to know what our world
theirworld. And this
really iswe must know how men in "earliest antiquity" made

58

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

to do because, and only insofar as, we share those same archaic mental
is possible
to know and to make
which
enabled
ancient men
this world.
"modifications"
These are none other than the myths which
still persist in our minds
and cultures
in a variety
of forms?in
rites,
linguistic metaphors,
literary idioms, religious
moral rules, political
institutions, national
traditions, and similar human creations.
on these astute observations
Berlin was thus able to realize that the
Following
of inquiry that Vico had inmind, and around which he constructed
actual method
own definition?"historical
in fact?and
his entire New Science, was
by Vico's
certain than he who
that "history cannot be more
Vico's assertion
mythology."
creates the things also narrates them"43 intimates what scholars in the humanities
come to call "the narrative
and social sciences have nowadays
construction
of
means
in
to
to
it
that
order
when
historical
reality";
applied
history,
explain
events it is imperative
to grasp the ultimate narratives
in
of the agents involved
events?their

myths:

or the interpreta
It follows that the first science to be learned should be mythology
tion of fables; for, as we shall see, all the histories of the gentiles have their beginnings
in fables, which were the first histories of the nations. By such a method
the
beginnings

of

the

as well

sciences

as of

the nations

are

to be

for

discovered,

in the public needs or utilities of the peoples


had their beginnings
as
acute
individuals
applied their reflection to them.44
perfected

...

they

and were

later

or the interpretation
of fables" was, then, the "first science" (la prima
"Mythology,
And
New
Science.
he duly turned it into a new science by ground
of
Vico's
scienza)
norms and forms of life of the
in
in
the
actual
the
classical
ing
myths
peoples
in his view, utterly primitive
ancient civilization,
which were,
and imaginative.
of the various
social sciences
the emergence
of the
interpretive
Long before
nineteenth

had already
anthropology,
sociology?Vico
century?psychology,
of the mythopoeic
construction
of social reality, namely of the fact that
as men have made up their history according
to certain imaginative
and
ex
not
in
which
believe
but
the
do
live,
patterns
they
merely
actually
even
in
must
of
human
actions
include?and
history
always
perhaps
planation
take the form of?an
of
attempt to recover and interpret the subjective meanings
these actions from the point of view of the agents performing
them, even if, and
are immemorial
and largely impersonal.
these meanings
especially when,
In brief, Berlin came to appraise Vico's discoverta of the creative mythopoeic
as a "major achievement"
in the history of historical
studies, because
imagination
as well
it was a virtual discovery
of what we nowadays
call "cultural history"

conceived
inasmuch
narrative

as of some

to the
"The door
that he opened
social sciences:
other modern
of
the
of
cultural
ceremonies,
laws,
myths,
history by
'decoding'
understanding
the first "writer on social evolution,"
artistic images" rendered him, for Marx,
or,
Berlin
celebrates
this
"the begetter
of historical
for Berlin,
anthropology."45
in the most flamboyant
achievement
terms, and his appraisal warrants
quoting at
some length as it discloses
the very
the full force and range of his interpretation,
a
some
would
have
critics
argue, may
gone beyond
plausible
qualities which,
reconstruction
of Vico's thoughts:
logical, let alone historical,
Vico

is the author of the idea that language, myths,

the various
were

refracted

theological

fashions

in which

in the minds
conflicts

or

social
of our

impassable

or

economic

ancestors;
social

taboos

so

or

antiquities,

spiritual
that what
may
are not what

directly
or

problems
appear

as

reflect
realities

profound

mechanically-minded

thinkers

have

ways
that

primitive
of the view

is most

nationalism,

some

and

or

author

is the
modern

social

to

them

taken
economic,

psychological,
"distorted"

or

pressure,

joy

be?by-products
so on,
although
of recognizing

diverse

take

may

the Principles
of material

processes,
that too?but

be

they may
social
facts

of Humanity

59

biological,

primarily,
to them. He
reacting
a rite or
or
to
of worship,
from fetishism
object
symbol
as an
to
of resistance
expression
interpreted
correctly
or admiration
or
in creation,
for power,
for unity
craving

or security or victory over a rival group


which

and

Vico,

Berlin,

forms,

and

of

(what later theorists were

mythological,

to call ideologies)

aesthetic?different

metaphysical,

types of spectacles through which reality is apprehended and acted upon. He was the
first to conceive the notion that in this fashion itwas possible to achieve a kind of
into

window
cession
or

of

some

suffering

a formal
not
view?to
reconstruct,
pro
simply
clad in their stock attributes,
the past,
great deeds
doing
societies
the style
of entire
which
and
fate, but
struggled
"inside"

the past?an
men
famous

the

of

fearful

thought,
devices

worshiped,
and occult

strange

to us,

and

and

deluded

felt,

believed,

rationalized,
powers,
yet not

and
wholly

their
put
in a fashion

themselves,
created

faith

in

which

magical
may

be

unintelligible.46

in this passage,
is the real "author
This is vintage Berlin. But is it really Vico? Who,
na
tomodern
from fetishism
of the view that a rite or symbol or object of worship,
as an expression
of ... what
later theorists
ismost correctly interpreted
tionalism,
were to call ideologies"?
It was

to associate Vico so wholly


with
this tendency
the
against
primarily
and to imbue his original views, however
tradition of Geisteswissenschaft
to be for later generations,
with so many modern
seminal they may have proven
wrote
Peter
that
Burke
his
and
meanings
implications,
study.47 As noted above,
Berlin was very much aware of this apparent methodological
fallacy in his inter
in
and
of
also
the
he
of
others whom
Vico,
interpretation
pretation
seemingly
awareness
was
His
deemed
and
seminal
this
thinkers.
of
original
problematic
in the history
revision
in the wake
of the new methodological
of
heightened
of
the
School
and
Dunn
that
became
so-called
ideas,
Pocock, Skinner,
Cambridge
and reasserted
dominant
from the late 1960s onward,
the primacy
of contextual
German

in textual interpretations.
to inflate the
Whereas
Berlin tended
new
of
the
of
school
deflated
their
actual rel
ideas,
potential
thought
significance
to
meant
what
their
makers
could
have
under
the pre
them
evance, restricting
rhetorical
limitations,
conditions,
practical
options,
vailing political
ideological
institutions
and all other historical
of their times. In the introduction
conventions,
to this new historiographical
to Vico and Herder Berlin responds
policy indirectly
considerations

but very poignantly:


The
ing,

importance
force and

of accurate
influence

of

historical
ideas

may

knowledge
be far greater

to the
of
understanding
than many
unhistorical

the mean
thinkers,

lands, have recognized, but it is not everything. If


particularly in English-speaking
the ideas and the basic terminology of Aristotle or the Stoics or Pascal or Newton or
or Kant

Hume
tion,
into

and,
the

did

indeed,
language

not

possess

transplantation,
of very
disparate

for
capacity
independent
not without,
at times,
cultures,

long

after

life,
some

for

transla
surviving
of meaning,
had
passed

change
own worlds

their

away, they would by now, at best, have found an honorable resting place beside the
of Padua or Christian Wolff, major influences in their
writings of the Aristotelians
day,

in some

museum

of historical

antiquities

... The

in the end resides in the fact that the issues which


again),
societies

and,

as

in this

of Naples

or

case

[of Vico

K?nigsberg

and Herder],
or Weimar,

importance

of past

philosophers

they raised are live issues still (or

have
in which

not

vanished
they

were

with

the vanished

conceived.48

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

60

for the historicity


Berlin's general argument
of ideas is clear, and has been
to Berlin's own testimony, he
it should be noted that, according
discussed,49
of
his peculiar
ideas"
of
derived
from Vico.50 The above
conception
"history
in "live
of ideas Berlin was more
words make clear that as an historian
interested
issues" rather than in "ideas" about them. His professional
transition from philo
a
to historical
studies of "ideas" betrays
intellectual
transition
sophical
deeper
to an historical
of
from a philosophical
"ideas."51
conception
in
he rediscovered
that crucial
transition
during
Along with Vico, whom
Berlin came to suspect, and eventually
the
the mid-1950s,
idea
and
very
reject,
ideal of Descartes'
"clara et distincta
idea."52 His deep "sense of reality" taught
norms
in
and absolutistic
him that such rationalistic
of truth are unrealistic
the meanings
and even of truths are usually
social forms of life, where
of words

While
much

to
rather than by theoretical
considerations,
by practical
according
Vico
had
that
"truth
is
rather
than
claimed
sifted
from
logical categories.
mythical
in everything
that has been preserved
for us through long centuries by
falsehood
since they have been preserved
for so long a time
those vulgar traditions which,
and by entire peoples, must have had a public ground of truth. The great frag
to science because
ments of antiquity, hitherto useless
broken,
they lay begrimed,
determined

and scattered,
shed great light when
cleaned, pieced
together, and restored."53
informed Vico's new epistemological
This perception
of "common
conception
sense"
is made
choice, by its nature most uncertain,
(senso comune): "Human
sense of men with respect to human needs
certain and determined
by the common
... Common
or utilities
sense is judgment without
shared by an entire
reflection,
class,

an

entire

an

people,

entire

nation,

or

the

entire

human

race."54

Vico

con

or "consciousness

trasted this practical knowledge


of the certain," which he calls
or scienza, and his main
of
the
the theoretical
true,"
coscienza, with
"knowledge
and rather emotional
effort was to take the former traditional
which
knowledge
we

derive

from

our

own

experience

in common

personal

and

communal

affairs

and turn it into a scienza nuova, literally his New Science of whole nations and civi
Berlin thus concluded
lizations. In his essay "Vico's Concept
of Knowledge"
that
in this form of "knowing
and imagination"
founded on memory
Vico overcame
between
the theoretical
and the technical
the classical
distinction
forms of
that" and
those which Gilbert Ryle redefined by the terms "knowing
knowledge,
social sciences of
"knowing how," and thereby paved the way for the interpretive
or
own history
much
like
Berlin's
anthropology,
sociology, which,
psychology,
are
what
Vico
"certain"
rather
than
"true"
forms
with
called
of ideas,
concerned
of knowledge.55
Such notions

and ultimately
of the practical,
commonsensical,
mythical
for Berlin's political
of social reality were
important
immensely
of such atavistic
for his rehabilitation
and history of ideas, principally
philosophy
or "nationalism."
as
Berlin
notions
found Vico es
"expressionism,"
"populism,"
are
that
all
human
associations
of
his
basic
because
assumption
pecially pertinent
nat
whose
members
"are
communities,"
(to use amodern
expression)
"imagined
to preserve
the memories
of the laws and institutions
that
urally
impelled
and other narrative
bind them in their societies" by means
of "fabulous histories"
this was a very
For all its apparent
and festive commemorations.56
conservatism,
construction

realistic and pluralistic


to the modern
ducive

theory of society,
theory of liberalism

con
and as such proved much more
than all the rationalistic
and monistic

Berlin,

Vico,

the Principles

and

of Humanity

61

in the Enlightenment.
"To a disciple
theories of "perfect society" that proliferated
the notion of even
of Vico, the ideal of some of the thinkers of the Enlightenment,
an attempt
to weld
to
is necessarily
the abstract possibility
of perfect
society,
values
attributes?characteristics,
ideals, gifts, properties,
gether
incompatible
to different patterns of thought, action, life, and therefore cannot be
that belong
to
in one garment."57
Berlin's
and sewn
detached
together
deep antipathy
and
the
"live
the
human
condition
for
issues"
of
solutions
simplistic explanations
and to all kinds of abstract Utopian "visions of perfection,"
aligned him with Vico,
man as he should be
considers
who likewise rejected such delusions:
"Philosophy
to live in the republic of
and so can be of service to but very few, those who wish
Plato and not to fall back into the dregs of Romulus."58
to explain how the primi
Vico's new theory and history of society were designed
were
"in
their
of truth and of
robust ignorance"
uomini, who
"incapable
plainly
some
to
to
and
unable
deduce
behave
rational "law"
reason" and thus
according
as Hobbes
to
create
mondo
civile by
had assumed,
nevertheless
the
managed
own
to
law
dint of their
the natural
capacities. Hence his objection
mythopoeic
from Aristotle

theorists

tual theorists of society


to explain the evolution
(or natural
the gentes,

to the contrac
followers
through his Stoic and Thomistic
in his age, primarily Grotius and Hobbes:
they all sought
of human society by "the natural law of the philosophers
[which] is that of reason," and not by "the natural law of

theologians)
[which] is that of utility and force."59 Berlin disliked Vico's
in that conservative
of "utility and force," but he still detected

ideology
an important

innovative

political
ideology

methodology:

A static model like the social contract omits sociological and psychological
facts?the
survival of the past into the present, the influence of tradition, of inherited habits
and

shapes

compounded
and buried

it

they assume;
out of many
memories,

ignores

or distorts

strands

interlaced,
of

of social
life which
patterns
an historical
the
period,

altering
and
collective

individual
we
roots

true view

the

of as the character

speak
of which

are

all

but

of

of a
lost,

ination

and

knowledge
its effects

to trace

this process
or assess

in the present

society

conscious,

reactions

remain traceable in the opaque and tantalizing past. Only


understand

of

and

as
something
semi-conscious
of
sentiments,
a tribe, a nation,

family,
to some

yet

degree

to its origins,
and so reconstruct
its values
and
prospects.60

of his New
then, Vico's definition
Ultimately
ceeds by a severe analysis of human thoughts
"a history
of social life" and thus becomes
redefine what he was aiming for in his own
only of what men of ideas thought, but also
in utterances which were not
and expressed
and all too often (as in the case of Vico) even

still

those who have the imag


it, can

Science as an investigation
that "pro
or utilities
about human necessities
of human ideas"61 helped
Berlin to
of
ideas"?the
"history
history not
of what
felt,
they
imagined, desired,
to
clear
their
contemporaries,
always

to themselves,
thus leaving them to
of ideas.62 Berlin turned
and fully articulated only by later historians
be elaborated
to the history of ideas in order to liberate those thinkers who were
in
immersed
like Vico, Hamann,
counter-rationalists
this predicament,
above all passionate
or Sorel, all of whom had, like Berlin himself, given up or gone
Herder, de Maistre,
in order to deal with
and
distinct
the
clear
"ideas" of philosophy
the
beyond
and
darker
"issues"
of
human
life
and
deeper
history.
to Berlin,
"issue" that these thinkers
the single most
important
According
was
in
human
evoked
that
of
plurality
history. To Berlin's mind, all the
commonly

62

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

other

human
of equity in society
great issues?of
identity,
liberty, and dignity,
on this basic
of the polity?depend
social condition
of a plurality
of
norms
was
and
and
of
aesthetical
forms
This
also
life.
the
ethical, political,
single
own
most
and political works.63
In
important
subject of Berlin's
philosophical
his various
studies in the history of ideas he sought to trace the origin and trans
and ultimately
of this notion of "pluralism,"
formations
concluded
that, with the
itmatured
in
of Machiavelli,
sole exception
the
the
century, with
eighteenth
only
of Counter-Enlightenment
that rejected the "monism"
intellectual movement
of
were
to
its
the Enlightenment.
first
Vico, Hamann,
Berlin,
According
champions
and

and Herder
who
dared
the monistic
and
Aristotelian,
Christian,
challenge
Cartesian
of
and
countered
the
latest
deterministic
theories of
truth,
conceptions
natural
laws in all human actions and creations, be they in history or in poetry,
with their novel observations
and plurality.64 Leaving aside
of cultural singularity
in
and historical
this conception?classical
the empirical
inherent
and
problems
in antiquity,
argue for such cultural pluralism
probably
Vico
with
and
scholars would
Pico,
surely predate
Enlightenment
au
cite Swift's Gulliver's
could simply
scholars
Travels, Diderot's
Suppl?ment
main problem
iswhether
voyage de Bougainville, or Lessing's Nathan der Weise?the
was
its distinct modern
the very notion of "pluralism," with
liberal connotations,

biblical

scholars would

Renaissance

to any of the thinkers of the Counter-Enlightenment


conceivable
mentioned
a
our
be
considered
above. While Herder might
standards,
"pluralist" by
rightly
of Vico as such seems odd. Vico was, after all, a supporter of
the characterization
a theoretician
and monarchism,
and guardian
of "order"
absolutist Catholicism
in their
and "authority,"
and a conservative
scholar who sided with the "ancients"
inNaples,
traits which his fellow-citizen,
the radical
battle against the "moderns"
social historian Pietro Giannone,
all, he
exposed already in Vico's lifetime. Above
was the author of a New Science?a work
that aspired to be a "rational civil theol
the hegemony
of the one and only
ogy" of providential
history and reasserted
over
all
full
other
of
The
title
this work?Princi
of
pictures
holy scripture
reality.
are found the Prin
a
New
the
Nature
Science
the
which
Nations,
ples of
of
concerning
by
Law
in
Another
the
Natural
the
that
he believed
ciples of
System of
of
Gentes?implies
some alternative yet equally universal
"natural laws" that dictate the cyclical mo
some critical commentators
tions of man, society, and history. Again,
have noted
in
Berlin's
the apparent
Arnaldo
interpretation:
ideological
fallacy
Momigliano
confirmation
and
thus remarked that Berlin "must have found in Vico and Herder
in
cultural
and
for
his
for
minorities,"
respect
yet
support
pluralism
life-long fight
then wondered
relativism"

whether
this "cultural pluralism" might not have entailed "moral
a defender
faith like Vico, at least, could not
of the Catholic

of which

possibly
approve.65
In his reply to this criticism, Berlin carefully distinguishes
"cultural
between
latter
"moral
relativism":
the
form
of
and
epistemological
skepticism,
pluralism"
to thinkers in the eighteenth
he claims, was as yet inconceivable
century, and in
to thinkers like Vico (and Herder) who
have been unacceptable
any case would
incommensu
their various
truths were
cultures with
did not think that different
all
but
and
but
did, espouse
rable;
(in
name) some kind of
they certainly could,
or
is
and
that
there
"which
denies
one,
only one, true morality
merely
pluralism,
or theology, and allows equally objective alternative
values or systems
aesthetics
as a "moral pluralist"?
Berlin
of value."66 Could Vico,
then, be better defined

Berlin,

Vico,

and

the Principles

of Humanity

63

to Vico, we "are
to support
he argues that, according
this option when
a
as
to
of
life
look
values,
upon
affording
plurality
equally genuine,
equally
urged
in a
above all equally objective;
therefore, of being ordered
ultimate,
incapable,
or
some one absolute standard."67
terms
in
of
timeless hierarchy,
judged
of Vico has been strongly contested by Mark Lilla. In his
This liberal assessment
Lilla attacks Berlin's presentation
G. B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern,
of Vico
even
as a moral pluralist,
to
that
if
Vico
has
contributed
arguing
inadvertently
was
an
certain modern
he
tendencies
old
"anti-modern,"
pluralistic
essentially
in the guise of a new scientist, whose main aim was to reassert
Catholic
apologist
seems

and political
the dogmatic
theological
ideology of order and authority, albeit by a
Lilla shows, for example,
that some of Berlin's most funda
novel methodology.68
with
first assertion that, for Vico, "the
about
the
mental
Vico,
starting
assumptions
or even
nature of man
is not, as has long been supposed,
static and unalterable
so
as
even
a
or
not
it
that
does
much
contain
central
kernel
essence,
unaltered;
re
through change,"69 must be revised, and ultimately
some
to
of
Vico's
doctrine
basic
truth
versed,
against
propensity
(vis veri) that has always impelled all human beings, pagans as well as Christians,
to believe
in God, however
their routes and rites may have become. This
variable
assumes
to divinity
human aspiration
the form of a common
law, then, that has
a certain unity and continuity
to
Universal
and
that
guarantees
History,
imparted
we can recognize
its metaphysical
motivation
and destination.
at least a "cultural pluralist"? This is certainly
Should Vico, then, be considered
to Berlin's definition
con
the case according
of the term quoted above, and which
a
as
some
tinues
follows: "There is finite variety of values and attitudes,
of which
which

remains
when

identical

checked

one society, some another, have made


their own, attitudes and values which mem
or
bers of other societies may admire
condemn
(in the light of their own value-sys
can
are
if they
and try hard enough,
tems) but
always,
imaginative
sufficiently
contrive to understand?that
is, see to be intelligible ends of life for human beings
situated as these men were."70 This is a more plausible
option, but it too is quite
seem
not
to
himself
because
Vico
does
of?let
have
conceived
alone
problematic,
terms
in his
liberal
of
cultural
New
equivalency
applied?those
as
Science. Vico, in other words, may have come to recognize
"cultural pluralism"
as
we
in itself. Even if
inevitable but not
valuable
with Berlin, that
acknowledge,
in practical cultural explo
Vico's pluralistic
conception was tacit, better revealed
rations than in any theoretical declarations,
the prime example
that Berlin cites,
incom
of some essential
implicit recognition
again and again, as proof of Vico's
in cultural history?the
and incommensurability
of valuable
options
patibility
so-called
of the true Homer"?hardly
sustains the argument
that this
"discovery
of the Homeric
and brutal (important as itwas
poetry as primitive
reinterpretation
as
for the historicist
revision of the common
anachronistic
of Homer
renditions
a
"sublime poet") intimates
of multiculturalism.71
genuine pluralistic
conception
For all his acute perception
of a certain "truth" in pagan mythology,
and much as
it as a "true narration"
he hailed
condition,
(vera narratio) of the primal human
its
Vico ultimately
however
and
efficient
creations,
poetic
judged
magnificent
in
to
in
of
the
the
education
uomini,
be,
themselves,
primi
they proved
utterly
"false" and "absurd," and in any case always
insisted
"barbarous,"
"primitive,"
on the priority and superiority
of biblical history over against all the classical sto
on "the essential
our Christian
ries. Vico's
declarations
between
difference

64

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

are false"72 or on the ethical and


is true, and all the others, which
religion, which
of
Christian
supremacy
contemporary
European
political
"perfect monarchies"
over all other nations, do not reveal the kind of tolerance
that one would
expect
from a "cultural pluralist;"
indeed they reveal that Vico lagged far behind
such
as Locke or Voltaire.
"monistic"
thinkers of the Enlightenment
is perhaps not altogether wrong
to argue,
Foucault
On these premises, Michel
on
was
claims
all
the
Vico's
that
Vico
behalf,
very
against
Counter-Enlightenment
insofar as he shared its basic temporal orienta
much aman of the Enlightenment
as a point of transition toward the dawn
tion: "The present may also be analyzed
a new world.
in the last chapter of the scienza
That
is
what
Vico
of
describes
ing
...
sees
'a
what
is
he
nuova;
complete humanity
spread abroad through all
'today'
a
over
for
few
monarchies
rule
world
of peoples';
it is also 'Eu
this
nations,
great
... radiant with
it
in
that
such humanity
all the good things that
abounds
rope
"73
at
life.'
make for the happiness
Vico's more fundamental
of human
Moreover,
a
common
to all the
for assigning meanings
"Mental Dictionary
tempts to discover
articulate
them all to certain units of ideas in sub
languages,
reducing
or to deduce
the universal
laws of genetic psychological
and historical
of all men and nations,75
development
imply that he shared at least some of the
of Enlightenment
naturalistic
thinkers, who
believed,
presumptions
commonly
in all na
that "there is a great uniformity
with Hume,
among the actions of men,
tions and ages, and that human nature remains still the same, in its principles
and
different

stance,"74

operations."76

of Vico along these


of Berlin's
conception
"pluralistic"
some of his "modernistic"
not
of
interpretations
might modify
only
guidelines
dichotomic
the
fundamental
of
Vico, but also the more
conception
"Enlighten
in
ment"
and "Counter-Enlightenment"
that Berlin had forged. As the virtual
ventor
of the term "Counter-Enlightenment"77
Berlin could rightly claim, in
it to mean,
fashion, that this word means
Dumpty
just what he wanted
Humpty
a
a
to
the
different
yet equivalent
reactionary
opposition
namely
Enlightenment,
to fanatical
is apt when
form of "counter-revolution."
This definition
applied
or de Maistre.
But if the "Counter-Enlightenment"
is
thinkers
like Hamann
more generally
thinkers such as Vico, Herder,
associated with
Burke, and like
minded
who
indeed
countered
the positivistic
and
antirationalists,
ideology
of
the
this
is
how
Berlin
the
presents
methodology
Enlightenment?and
actually
we would
in
to
his
do
better
liken
definitive
essay?then
Counter-Enlightenment
or with what
to the "Counter-Reformation"
this wayward
intellectual movement
critical

we

revision

aim is not to de
whose
movements,
culture?as
but
rather to offer
Reformation,
such,
they oppose?the
theories and practices
for their realization. As Charles Taylor suggests,
alternative
we must come to see the "Counter-Enlightenment"
as an immanent
aspect of the
a natural and
to
its
reaction
of rational
itself,
process
"Enlightenment"
integral
as it opens and calls up more
inasmuch
archaic sources of
maturation,
which,
to its reinvigoration
is essential
and permanent
continuation.78
experience,
or on the so-called
forms of Enlightenment,
Recent studies on the various national
now have
or, as John Pocock would
it, on the
"Religious
Enlightenment,"
even to a
were
that
viable
author
like
also offer
Gibbon,
"Enlightenments"
single
a useful
for a revision
of Berlin's
basis
rather monolithic
of the
conception
nowadays
nounce what

Enlightenment

would

call "counter-cultural"

and the Counter-Enlightenment.79

the Principles

and

Vico,

Berlin,

of Humanity

65

not antithetical,
is required,
What
of the
then, is a dialectical,
conception
two movements,
such as would
show how both shared and pursued
certain
common
to different
ideas and ideals of human amelioration,
yet did so according
essential assumptions
about human
life and history. Whereas
the thinkers of the
assumed
that all men were naturalistic
and egotistic but ultimately
Enlightenment
an
ever
more reasonable
to
and
thus
rationalistic,
concep
edify society by
sought
tion and organization,
Vico and his associates
in the Counter-Enlightenment
that all men were both "sociable" yet "weak and fallen,"80 more
imagi
native than cognitive,
and thus sought to solidify the mythopoeic
traditions by
believed

In order to see
their communities.
up and still sustain
they have made
Vico differs most
the
from
in
then, and where,
radically
Enlightenment,
a
"cultural
in
his
to
the
establish
fact,
emerges quite clearly
pluralism"
attempt
new science of man on the cultural creations of "the nations"
rather than on the
return to the passage
natural
reactions of "man," we must
from Hume
quoted

which

where

above.

Hume's

Would

know

you

Romans?

only
men

the

regular

latter.

in all varieties
which

springs

of

most

former

of

are

Mankind

life of

the observations

so much

the

the Greeks

of circumstances

we may
form
of human
action

and

our

observations

and

behaviour.81

which

and

... Its chief

particular
of human

situations,

and

and

become

you have
times
and

in all

same,

new
or
of
in this
strange
nothing
constant
and universal
principles

informs
history
to discover
the

from

course

and

inclinations,

to the

transferring
to the
regard

that

showing
materials

sentiments,

follows:

the temper and actions of the French and English: You cannot

in

with

places,
use
is

the

Study well

be mistaken
made

as

continues

reasoning

nature,

by
us with

furnishing

with

acquainted

counts
in the study of men
are not transient and
that what
assertion
different
"cultural" creations but rather permanent
"natural" reactions, was, on
an "introduction"
his own admission,
of Newton's
experimental
methodology
true
to
into human
And
his
Newtonian
convictions
he rules out any
reality.82
"hypothetical"
qualities of human nature, that is, nonelemental,
nonexperimental,
and merely
"accidental" manifestations
of human
actions and creations. As in

Hume's

Newton's

so

Principia,

too

in Hume's

"science

of man"

the

and

critical

cru

most

cial motion
is the reduction of all the phenomenal
to eternal "princi
appearances
Hume
identifies
them
and
in
certain
as,
with,
ples."
clearly
"physical desires"
even
mere
the
that
rule
the
slavish
instinctual
man,
"reason,"
powerful
"passions"
to his mechanical
set in motion
the "springs of
then, which,
energies,
reasoning,
human action." A brief and final discussion
of Vico's notion and demonstration
of the "principles
of humanity" will make
clear how he really achieved his New
Science against both the old and the new sciences of man.
As we recall, Vico sought to discover
the "principles of humanity"
in those "hu
man institutions" which have proven crucial for "the
of
the human
preservation
race."83 Here is his conclusion:
Now

since

all men

this world

agree

and

us the universal
all nations
barbarous
each

other

gion,

all

were

of nations
always

been

made
For

agreed.

founded

and

as

civilized,

in time

and

space,

solemn

still

themselves.

preserve

though
these
keep

marriages,

all

let us
by men,
these
institutions

see

in what
will

be

institutions
able

to

give

(such as every science must have) on which

and eternal principles

as well

contract

has

have

We

observe

that

all nations,

founded
remote
because
separately
some
customs:
three human
all have

bury

their

dead.

And

in no

nation,

from
reli

however

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

66

and crude,
savage
and more
sacred
the

axiom

a common

from

these

human

three

ideas,

ground
institutions

of

the
born

it must

truth,"

have

who

would

been

and

transgress

For,

other,

by
must

to all

nations

that

dictated

beware

burial.

to each

them
all,
among
... These
must
them

ceremonies

elaborate

rites

began
humanity
a bestial
wilderness

not
become
again
reason.
And
let him

should
human

with more
performed
of religion,
marriage,
unknown
among
peoples

actions

than

solemnity
"uniform

that

have

are any

so

that

be

the

lest he

the world
bounds

of

transgress

all

humanity.84

on
has been?contested
"principles" may be?and
of Arnauld,
Vico himself
cites the counter-examples
Bayle,
empirical
grounds.
even better empirical
readers could certainly produce
and modern
and Spinoza,
For
But such claims miss
the essential
refutations.85
argument.
point of Vico's
in his notion of the "principles
is
of humanity"
is really novel and important
what
not the empirical,
that any cross
the hermeneutical,
claim, namely his assertion
assume
at all, must
to be possible
and pursue
certain
cultural understanding,
of Vico's

The validity

absolute

concrete

use

or?to

norms,

a modern

notions"

phrase?"limiting

of

morality,

the range within which various forms of life can be exercised and
as human.86 Vico makes
clear that he opted for these three "civil in
be recognized
or
"natural customs" among all
rather
have
stitutions" because
are,
become,
they
at which
the
certain customs become natural marks
the peoples.87 The moment
as well as the starting-point
all
human
because
of
of
sciences,
humanity,
beginning
are
of certain rule-governed
the appearance
routines, which
manifestly
morally
in that way no longer
creatures
human
who
behave
that
the
suggest
principled,
to their own rules. These
obey their natural instincts but rather submit themselves
customs can thus be followed by us, but this is feasible only insofar as we can re
or "principled"
to our own experience,
behavior
however
late their rule-governed
an alien
in order to understand
that may be. Thus, for example,
different
religious
or knowledge.
belief or rite we must have some kind of religious experience
This,
in which people
live is a world
of
that since the world
then, is Vico's contention:
in
to
it
themselves
have
order
understand
which
cultural meaning
created,
they
we must grasp this meaning
for them and in ourselves.
The fact that we can do so
inwhich we
the cultural plurality
and usually do implies for Vico that underlying
live there is a common basic and universal morality which we know because we
which

determine

it:

have made
There

in the nature

must

which
presses
aspects
linguistic
various

uniformly
itwith
... This

as many
common

scholars
articulate

of human

institutions

be

a mental

will

modifications

diverse
mental
be

languages

enabled
living

as

these

is proper
language
a mental
to construct
and

same
to our

to all notions,

language

grasps the substance of things feasible in human


things
Science,

vocabulary

social life and ex


may

have

diverse

by whose
light
common
to all the

dead.88

as he accentuated,
this conclusion. Much
have agreed with
Berlin, I think, would
and incommensurability
of valuable
the essential
and celebrated,
incompatibility
our
if not uni
insisted
that
"there
in
he
multicultural
are,
predicament,
options
at any rate a minimum
societies
which
without
could scarcely
versal values,
this theory in three essays that he wrote
he developed
survive."89 Significantly,
around 1960, that is, exactly at the time of his first major essay on Vico. His cardi
and categories"
that certain basic "concepts
in these essays was
nal assumption
our knowledge
human
affairs to be
must
of
for
of human
experience
prevail

and

Vico,

Berlin,

the Principles

of Humanity

67

at all.90What Berlin means by these "concepts and


are not the
categories"
Kantian
of time and space, but rather, much
like in Vico's
categories
some common experiential
notions
that enable us tomake sense of human

possible
a priori
lexicon,
actions.

He

elaborates:

The basic
we

which

suffering,
truth,

(together with

categories
define

their corresponding

in terms of

concepts)

as

sense
of time and
freedom,
society,
and
and
bad,
choice,
wrong,
good
right
at random)?are
not matters
of induction

notions

men?such

happiness,
productivity,
illusion
(to take them wholly

change,
effort,
or

hy

pothesis. To think of someone as a human being is ipso facto to bring all these notions
into
truth,

play:
mean

so

that to say of someone


to him, would
nothing
not as a matter
of verbal

"man"
by
to the way
trinsic

we

think,

and

that he
be

is a man,

definition

but

of

"brute"

or

choice,

clash

with

is alterable

(which

(as a matter

that

it would

eccentric:

fact)

the notion

what

at will),
evidently

of

we

mean

but

as

cannot

in
but

think ... Thus if I say of someone

that he is kind or cruel, loves truth or is indifferent

to it, he

case.

remains

human

no difference whether
antidote
tribute

to ennui
to him

or

merely

in either

inactivity,
a different

I shall
code

but shall begin to speak of humanity


As we

But

if I find

a man

to whom

it

literally

he kicks a pebble or kills his family, since either would


not
of

be disposed,
morality

like
from my

consistent
own

or

relativists,
that

of most

makes

be an
to at
men,

and inhumanity.91

on the
these words, we recall Vico's
final words
of
"principles
"must
be
the
of
human
bounds
reason."
Indeed
"and
humanity":
they
they must,
let him who would
them beware
lest he transgress all humanity."
transgress
ponder

Notes
The essay draws on some notions
that I first raised inmy study The Rehabilita
tion ofMyth: Vico's New Science, Cambridge:
Press,
Cambridge
University
Iwrote:
1992. In the Acknowledgements
"Sir Isaiah Berlin read and discussed
with me subsequent
of this study in Oxford,
versions
and was always gener
ous with his time and comments;
to him I owe not only my greatest
scholarly
for his support during hard
debt, but also my deepest
personal
gratitude
times." Iwould
like to dedicate
this essay to Isaiah's memory,
with
the hope
that in this critical engagement
with his work
I do what he taught me to do
with works of great thinkers.
1. Peter Burke, Vico (Oxford: Oxford
Press, 1985); Isaiah Berlin, "The
University
of
Vico
17
New
Studies
Vico,"
(1999), pp. 1-5, with Peter Burke's
Reputation
to
Berlin:
Vico
pp. 7-10.
"Response
Disparaged?,"
2. Among
Berlin's previous
to
see his
defend
Vico's
attempts
"originality"
"On
The
35
in
Vico,"
(1985), pp. 281-90,
disputations
Philosophical Quarterly
to
Perez
"Vico's
of
A
The
reply
Zagorin,
Theory
Knowledge:
Critique,"
Philosophical Quarterly 34 (1984), pp. 15-30; and his reply to Hans Aarsleff's
critical
"Vico and Berlin,"
London Review
review-essay,
of Books 5-18
same
Nov.
in
an additional
the
issue
with
1981, pp. 6-7, published
pp. 7-8,
comment
in the issue of 3-16 June 1982, p. 5.
3. Berlin, "The Reputation
of Vico," p. 3. Burke inveighs against the "myth of the
in Vico, pp. 8-9, and subsequent
forerunner"
chapters.
4. Berlin's
comment
in Ramin
with Isaiah Berlin.
Conversations
Jahanbegloo,
Recollections of an Historian
1992), p. 96.
of Ideas (London: Phoenix,
5. Berlin, "The Reputation
of Vico," p. 4.

68

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

to assume
that the conversation
took place in
6. There are two good reasons
Fisch and
1949: The English
translation of Vico's New Science by Max Harold
in
and
Berlin
to
which
Salvemini
Thomas
1948;
refers, appeared
Bergin,
at
were
the
at
both
worked
where
Harvard
then
Salvemini
University,
they
on
occasions.
met
Michael
and
social
and
Widener
privately
regularly
Library
Isaiah Berlin. A Life (New York: Metropolitan
Holt,
Books-Henry
Ignatieff,
1998), p. 191.
7. Vico: A Bibliography

Black
in English from 1884 to 1994, ed. Molly
of Works
Documentation
Va.: Philosophy
Center, 1994).
Verene,
(Charlottesville,
in Art and
Ideas of Giambattista
"The Philosophical
8. Isaiah Berlin,
Vico,"
e Letteratura,
di
Storia
Edizioni
Ideas in Eighteenth-Century
1960),
(Rome:
Italy
pp. 156-233.
a History
in
of Recent Vico Scholarship
"Toward
9. Giorgio
Tagliacozzo,
I
10.
Vico
Studies
New
(1983),
p.
English,"
10. Isaiah Berlin, Vico and Herder. Two Studies in theHistory of Ideas (London: The
some bibliographical
in
revisions
Press, 1976). Now
reprinted with
Hogarth
Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, ed. H. Hardy
(London:
in the anthologies
Pimlico, 2000). The topicality of Vico at the time is evident
and H. White
Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, ed. G. Tagliacozzo
Press, 1969); Vico and Contemporary
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University
D. P. Verene,
and
M.
G.
ed.
special volumes
Mooney,
Tagliacozzo,
Thought,
Vico's Science of
3 & 4 (1976); Giambattista
of Social Research 43, Numbers
and D. P. Verne
ed. G. Tagliacozzo
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
Humanity,
to
and
the first two publications,
Berlin
contributed
Press,
1976).
University
on the third: "Corsi e Ricorsi,"
a long review-essay
Modern
wrote
Journal of
History 50 (1978), pp. 480-9.
of Human
in the History
Innovators
"One of the Boldest
11. Isaiah Berlin,
75-100.
Re
23
November
Times
New
York
The
1970,
pp.
Magazine,
Thought,"
in Isaiah Berlin, The Power of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy
(Princeton, N.J.:
53-67.
Press,
2000), pp.
University
Berlin, Vico and Herder, p. 95.
111.:
Gentile
The Social Philosophy
S. Harris,
(Urbana,
of Giovanni
Henry
286-7.
Illinois
of
Press,
1960), pp.
University
Berlin, Vico and Herder, p. 95.
Preface to Histoire romaine, quoted by Berlin from the English
Jules Michelet,
to The Autobiography
Fisch in his Introduction
of Max Harold
translation
of
Giambattista
Vico, tr. M. H. Fisch and T. G. Bergin
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
Press, 1963), p. 78, in Vico and Herder, p. 94; "One of the Boldest In
University
published
Princeton

12.
13.
14.
15.

16.
17.
18.
19.

Vico and Cultural History,"


The Power of Ideas, p. 66: "Giambattista
novators,"
the
in
in The Crooked Timber of Humanity:
History of Ideas, ed. Henry
Chapters
"The
of Vico," p. 3.
62-3;
1990), pp.
(London: John Murray,
Reputation
Hardy
107.
and
Vico
Herder, p.
Berlin,
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (London: Viking Press, 1939), p. 452.
Giambattista
Vico, The New Science, tr.M. H. Fisch and T. G. Bergin,
(Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University
Press, 1968), par. 331.
see
of this notion
formulations
of earlier
reviews
For comprehensive
tr.
R.
G.
The
Giambattista
Benedetto
Vico,
Croce,
Collingwood
Philosophy
of
II
Rodolfo
Mondolfo,
Latimer,
1913), pp. 279-301;
(London: Howard

Berlin,

Vico,

and

the Principles

of Humanity

69

Vicos
1969); Karl L?with,
prima di Vico (Napoli: Guida,
"verum-factum"
Grundsatz: Verum et factum convertuntur: Seine theologische Pr?misse und deren
s?kulare Konsequenzen
1968). For
(Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universit?tsverlag,
see Max H. Fisch, "Vico and
a forceful attempt
to reassert Vico's originality
in Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, pp. 401-24.
Pragmatism,"
20. Vico,
21. Vico,
22. Vico,

The New

Science, par.
Science, par.
The New Science, par.
23. Berlin, Vico and Herder, p.
24. Vico, The New Science, par.
The New

34.
338.
405.
61.
376.

25. Berlin, Vico and Herder, p. 26.


in
"Vico and Cultural
26. Berlin,
pp. 60-3. See also "Isaiah Berlin
History,"
Conversation
with Steven Lukes," Salmagundi 120 (1998), pp. 87-8.
27. Vico, The New Science, par. 314.
on the First Ten Books
Discourses
28. Niccol? Machiavelli,
of Titus Livius, tr. L. J.
Walker
&
1.39.1.
Paul,
1950),
(London: Routledge
Kegan
29. Vico, The New Science, par. 374.
30. Berlin, Vico and Herder, p. 27.
31. Berlin,
of Scientific
"The Concept
History,"
ed.
with
Philosophical
Essays,
Henry Hardy,

in Concepts
and Categories:
an introduction
by Bernard
Williams
"The
Pursuit
Oxford
Press,
131-4;
1978), pp.
(Oxford:
University
some
8.
For
criti
of the Ideal," in The Crooked Timber ofHumanity,
p.
pertinent
on the idealistic
in (what might
be called) the
cal observations
tendencies
see Cecilia Miller,
School of Vico studies,
Giambattista
Collingwood-Berlin
Vico.
and
Historical
(London: MacMillan,
1993),
Imagination
Knowledge

pp. 29-32,139-42.
32. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. xviii-xix.
33. Leon Pompa, Vico: A Study of theNew Science, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge
Perez Zagorin,
"Vico's Theory
of
Press,
1990), pp. 223-30;
University
A
The
34
15-30.
(1984), pp.
Philosophical Quarterly
Critique,"
Knowledge:
34. Vico, The New Science, par. 163, 238, 245.
to The New Science, XIX-XX.
35. Max. H. Fisch, "Introduction"
of
4th edition
36. Isaac Newton,
(London: G. Bell & Sons, 1931),
Opticks, repr.
pp. 401-2.
37. Vico, The New Science, par. 147, 344.
38. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. xx-xxi.
39. Berlin, Vico and Herder, p. 67.
40. Vico, The New Science, par. 338. Berlin defends his notion of "reconstructive
in Vico and Herder,
to
criticism
footnotes
imagination"
Pompa's
against
in
to
in
and
critical
The
his
"On
32-3,
Vico,"
pp.
response
essay
Zagorin's
Philosophical Quarterly 35 (1985), pp. 281-90.
41. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. 52-3.
42. Isaiah Berlin, "Vico's Theory of Knowledge
and its Sources," Vico and Herder,
as
"Sulla
teor?a
del Vico circa la conoscenza
pp. 99-142; originally
published
storica," in Lettere italiane
43. Vico, The New Science, par.
44. Vico, The New Science, par.
45. Berlin, "Giambattista
Vico

17 (1965), pp. 420-31.


349.
51.
and Cultural

History,"

p. 62.

70

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

46. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. 56-7.


47. Burke, "Vico Disparaged?,"
p. 7, referring to his Vico, pp. 78-80, 93-4.
xvi.
48. Berlin, Vico and Herder, p.
to Isaiah Berlin, Against
49. Roger Hausheer,
"Introduction"
the Current: Essays
an in
in theHistory of Ideas, ed. and with a bibliography
by Henry Hardy, with
troduction
Press,
(Oxford: Oxford
1981),
University
by Roger Hausheer
Isaiah Berlin's Liberalism
Claude
J. Galipeau,
(Oxford: Oxford
pp. xvi-xxv;
Press, 1994), pp. 26-34.
University
50. Isaiah Berlin, "The Pursuit of the Ideal," pp. 8-10; Jahanbegloo,
Conversations
with Isaiah Berlin, pp. 72-82.
51. Berlin's essays signal the transition
from the philosophical
"history of ideas"
or Koyr? that flourished
in the
of scholars
like Lovejoy, Cassirer, Kristeller,
and hermeneutical
1930s and 1940s, to the more historical
trends that emerged
in the 1960s. See the programmatic
R. Kelley,
"Horizons
of
essay of Donald
Intellectual

Journal of theHistory
Prospect,"
History: Retrospect,
Circumspect,
XLVIII
Ideas
143-69.
(1987), pp.
of
52. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. 9-12.
53. Vico, The New Science, par. 356-7.
54. Vico, The New Science, par. 142.
in Against
the Current, pp. 111-19.
55. Berlin, "Vico's Concept
of Knowledge,"
56. Vico, The New Science, par. 201-2.
in Against the Current, p. 129.
57. Berlin, "Vico and the Ideal of the Enlightenment,"
58. Vico, The New Science, par. 131.
59. Vico, The New Science, par. 394,1084.
60. Berlin, Vico and Herder, pp. 40-1.
61. Vico, The New Science, par. 347.
62. Among many
assertions
of this view
Isaiah Berlin, "The
see, for example,
of
132-3.
Scientific
See also Berlin's
pp. 103-42, esp. pp.
Concept
History,"
on his transition and vocation
in Jahanbegloo,
reflections
Conversations with
Isaiah Berlin, pp. 23-31.
63. For a vibrant exposition
of Berlin's political philosophy
along these lines see
Berlin
Princeton
Isaiah
Press, 1996).
John Gray,
(Princeton, N.J.:
University
in Against
64. Isaiah Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
the Current, pp. 4-13.
65. Arnaldo Momigliano,
"On the Pioneer Trail" (Review of Berlin's Vico and
New
York
Review
1976, p. 33-8.
Herder),
of Books, 11 Nov.
in
Relativism
66. Isaiah
Berlin,
European
"Alleged
Eighteenth-Century
in The Crooked Timber ofHumanity,
p. 87.
Thought,"
in Eighteenth-Century
67. Berlin, "Alleged Relativism
European Thought" p. 79.
an Anti-Modern
68. Mark Lilla, G. ?. Vico: The Making
Mass.:
of
(Cambridge,
1-6.
Harvard University
Press, 1993), pp.
69. Berlin, Vico and Herder, p. xvi.
in Eighteenth-Century
70. Berlin, "Alleged Relativism
71. Berlin, "Vico and the Ideal of the Enlightenment,"
Vico and Cultural History,"
pp. 63-8; "Alleged
pp. 78-9.
Century European Thought,"
72. Vico,

The New

Science, par. 1092,1110.

p. 79.
European Thought,"
pp. 120-29; "Giambattista
in Eighteenth
Relativism

Berlin,

Vico,

and

the Principles

of Humanity

71

tr. C. Porter,
in The Foucault
"What is Enlightenment?",
Foucault,
P.
ed.
Rabinow
Reader,
(London: Penguin,
1984), p. 34, citing Vico, The New
Science, par. 1089,1094.
74. Vico, The New Science, par. 445.
75. Vico, The New Science, par. 241-2.
73. Michel

76. David

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,


ed. L. A. Selby
Oxford
83.
Press, 1902), p.
University
Bigge (Oxford:
77. See Berlin's remark in Jahanbegloo,
Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, pp. 69-70.
78. Charles Taylor, "The Immanent Counter-Enlightenment,"
in Canadian Political
R.
ed.
Beiner
and
W.
Norman
(Oxford:
Philosophy: Contemporary Reflections,
Hume,

Oxford University
Press, 2001), pp. 386-400.
79. See, for example,
The Enlightenment
in National
Context, ed. R. Porter and
M. Teich
Press,
Sorkin,
1981); David
University
(Cambridge:
Cambridge
and the Religious
Moses Mendelssohn
(London: Peter Halban,
Enlightenment
Barbarism and Religion, vol. I: The Enlightenments
1996); J. G. A. Pocock,
of
Edward Gibbon 1737-1764
Press,
(Cambridge: Cambridge
University
80. Vico, The New Science, par. 2,129.
81. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,
p. 84.
A Treatise
82. David
Human
ed.
Hume,
Nature,
of
Selby-Bigge
Oxford University
Press, 1888), pp. xxii-xxiii.
83. Vico, The New Science, par. 347.

2000).

(Oxford:

84. Vico, The New Science, par. 332-3, 360.


85. Vico, The New Science, par. 334-7.
a Primitive
86. Peter Winch,
"Understanding
Society," The American Philosophical
1
322.
(1964),
p.
Quarterly
87. Vico, The New Science, par. 309. For a lucid elaboration
of this notion, see James
"Vico's Doctrine
C. Morrison,
of the Natural Law of the Gentes,"
Journal of the
History of Philosophy 16 (1978), pp. 47-60.
88. Vico, The New Science, par. 161-2.
89. Berlin, "The Pursuit of the Ideal," in The Crooked Timber ofHumanity,
p. 18.
90. See the discussions
in Berlin's
and
"The
of
Concepts
Categories:
Purpose
"The
of
Scientific
"Does
7-8;
129-30;
pp.
pp.
Concept
History,"
Philosophy,"
Political Theory Still Exist?," pp. 162-6.
91. Berlin, "Does Political Theory Still Exist?," p. 166.

The Case for

the

Enlightenment:

Comparative

Approach

JoHkiRobertson

i.
To the historical
scholar of the Enlightenment,
Isaiah Berlin's
legacy has been, at
the least, double-edged.
That he was more interested
in a Counter-Enlightenment
does not mean
that he discounted
the Enlightenment
itself. On the contrary, his
of
the
of
idea
exploration
Counter-Enlightenment
presupposed
Enlightenment's
existence and significance. He had a clear view of the nature of the Enlightenment:
a movement
it was
if not exclusively
of ideas, defined
emphatically
by its
content.
In its time, this was a view closest to what
intellectual
I shall call the
of the Enlightenment.
But Berlin did not subscribe to the
philosophers'
conception
most
as a move
Kantian
version
of
the
rigorous,
philosophers'
Enlightenment:
ment

of ideas which he associated


principally with the French philosophes, Berlin's
an Enlightenment
remained
which
could recognize.
ordinary historians
Beyond
that of the historians, moreover,
Berlin's was an Enlightenment
to the
accessible
re
educated
to
better
the
interested
audience
his
reader?or,
still,
lay
hearing
in person or over the wireless.
markable
Even though his own
lectures, whether
to his desire to explore the Counter-En
interest in itwas increasingly
incidental
was
more
it
from
Berlin
than anyone else that the postwar
lightenment,
probably
British derived
their understanding
of the Enlightenment,
and learned to appreci
ate its ideals as vital bequests
tomodernity.
Yet there is no doubt that Berlin's presentation
of its ideas was in the long run
to
the
reiteration
deeply damaging
Enlightenment's
reputation. Repeatedly?for
was crucial to the rhetorical force of his lectures?Berlin
identified
the Enlighten
ment with a small number of simple doctrines:
the uniformity
of human nature,
the timeless universality
of natural law as a code of human moral behaviour,
the
conviction
that a single perfect end for human
could
be
discovered
and
society
should be sought. Against
these doctrines
he played
off the objections
of the
were
more
that
the
nature
varieties
of
human
obvious
Counter-Enlightenment:
and valuable;
that human moral
customs
across time and
and codes differed
space; and above

all, that the attempt

to identify,

and then dictate,

single perfect

73

74

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

outcome
and profoundly
for human society was both mistaken
Berlin
dangerous.1
was careful not to "take sides"; he did not hide the darker aspect of
leading pro
in
of
de
Maistre
Nevertheless,
ponents
Counter-Enlightenment,
Joseph
particular.
to the Counter-Enlightenment
cast a shadow over
the attention which he devoted
so
the Enlightenment
whose
he summarized
ideas, by contrast,
ruthlessly.
or not he intended
the Enlightenment
offered
Whether
it, Berlin's way with
to
to
its
those
who
wished
believe
that
ideals
of
universalism
and
encouragement
some of the modern world's
human perfectibility
behind
evils.
greatest
lay
to trace a line from Berlin's
account
As a result, it is not impossible
of the
to the conclusion
that if this iswhere Enlightenment
has led us, it
Enlightenment
is time to repudiate
intellectual
foundations
for
it, and establish new, postmodern
our
In
it
to
what
of
takes
be
the
conviction
that
the
thinking.
place
Enlightenment
can be bettered
reason and the adoption of certain
lot of humanity
by the power of
universal values, postmodernity
leave different cultures to determine
would
their
own ends, refusing to discriminate
or
between
them.
morally
politically
of the Enlightenment
Historians
have tended not to engage directly with
this
unease
not
could
the
but
about
the
escape
critique;
they
prevailing
significance
to the
the volume
and value of their subject. While
of scholarship
devoted
to
continued
the
of
became
grow,
subject
study
Enlightenment
increasingly
in English-language
The last
This was especially marked
scholarship.
fragmented.
was Peter
in
The
An
two-volume
major
synthesis
English
Gay's
Enlightenment:
a
at
its
to
the
end
of
the
1960s.
Despite
attempt
Interpretation, published
develop
as
was
as
im
the
the
work
well
of
intellectual history
almost
social
Enlightenment,
soon
Gay's insistence on
judged inadequate by Robert Darnton.2 Very
mediately
the unities of the Enlightenment
had come to seem either irrelevant or untenable
on its
in the face of a new emphasis
studies on parts of the
diversity. As specialist
to
to
it was helpful
scholars
whether
many
question
began
subject proliferated,
to think in terms of a single Enlightenment.
If the tendency was to divide
continue
the Enlightenment
into as many parts as scholars could study, without
regard to
it became
easier to think of there having been "Enlighten
their compatibility,
in the plural. Even when
to satisfy
ments"
the definite
article remained,
the
it was used to characterize
demands
of textbook publishing,
the Enlightenment
in a

loose

and

inclusive

way,

as

a series

of debates

and

concerns,

rather

than

as

re
Such characterization
be an effective
intellectual movement.3
might
were
to
the
historians?who
sponse
those?they
rarely
equated
Enlightenment
success
itwas a negative
with a single doctrinaire
response, whose
"project."4 But
a
mono
on
the Enlightenment
coherent historical
depended
denying
identity. The
was
as historical
for modernity
lithic edifice held responsible
simply abandoned,
in the pluralist
scholars
refashioned
image of postmodernity.
Enlightenment
it was conceded, was dead; but "Enlightenments"
"The" Enlightenment,
might
flourish.
a case for the Enlightenment
in the
Certainly, we can do better, and still make
a definite
so doing, we could restore to the Enlightenment
In
intellectual
singular.
in the face of
content (though not that ascribed to it by Berlin). This is necessary,
and the claims of the social or "cultural"
both the doubts of intellectual historians
for whom
ideas are the arbitrary
of constructed
historians,
"representations"
on the
we
content
if
insist
intellectual
of the
social relations.
Only
original
we be able to do justice to the question
to the
its
will
of
relation
Enlightenment
unified

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

it has
In what
social contexts within which
developed.5
own "case for the
in
three
stages. First,
Enlightenment"
after 1970,
studies
which
by
Enlightenment
fragmented
to have been the three principal
to this effect.
tendencies

Approach

75

follows I shall make my


Iwill review the process
seem
and identify what

Iwill outline how


Next,
the Enlightenment
to its intellectual
be
reconstituted,
might
primacy
according
a comparative
I
shall
illustrate
my argument
originality.
Finally,
by sketching
to
in
two
the
far-removed
Scotland
of
approach
Enlightenment
parts
Europe,
and Naples,
with
two very different
social and intellectual
but one
settings,
in
both.
Enlightenment

II.
Before 1970 the Enlightenment
owed
to two types of historical
scholarship,
have now joined them, both these

its reputation,
if not its existence, primarily
and
literary
philosophical.
Though others
are
much
still
alive. The
very
approaches
or
historians
identified
the
les
almost
lumi?res,
literary
Enlightenment,
exclusively
with a small circle of philosophes and those who associated with or visited
them
in France, which usually meant Paris. The philosophes
defined
both
publications
content of the Enlightenment
the intellectual
and its chronology:
it began with the
in the 1720s and 1730s, and ended with
works
and Voltaire
of Montesquieu
the Revolution

and the death of Condorcet.6 Without


the centrality of the
denying
a
the
historians
of
added
dimension.
The best
second
philosophes,
philosophy
known and most compelling
version of this approach was that of Ernst Cassirer,
a systematic
who believed
that Kant's philosophy
summation
of the in
provided
of the entire Enlightenment,
tellectual
and could
thus be used as a
project
inwhich
to place and assess the contributions
framework
of other thinkers across
a range of fields,
and politics.7
To
aesthetics, morals,
including metaphysics,
the literary and philosophical
offered
gether, and indeed separately,
approaches
as an
what most historians
accounts of the Enlightenment
accepted were plausible
a
men
of
intellectual movement,
small
number
of
of
letters,
composed
relatively
to certain leading ideas.8
committed
After
studies moved
in several new
1970, however,
Enlightenment
rapidly
are
directions. Although
the divisions
between
them
not hard and fast, the new di
can
rections
be grouped
under three headings:
and social.
intellectual,
national,
our understanding
Each of these has enormously
of the Enlightenment;
deepened
but they have also been taken to lengths which make
it very difficult
to maintain
a coherent view of the
as a whole.
Enlightenment
The first new direction was
towards a much more
of
appreciation
complex
was the "Age
that the Enlightenment
Enlightenment
thought. The old shibboleth
of Reason" has long since been abandoned
of philosophy.
It is the
by historians
as the strongest
with
and the preoccupation
the passions
strength of skepticism
force in human nature which now command
attention. The shift is especially
clear
in moral
where
"the passions
and the interests,"
in Albert
philosophy,
Hirschman's
in this and the
the starting-point
for enquiries
phrase, have become
related fields of political
and historical
More
how
economy
generally,
theory.9
definition
of the Enlightenment
created an
ever, the loosening of the philosophical
over what
should count as Enlightenment
unprecedented
uncertainty
thinking.
on behalf of
Claims began to be advanced
subjects hitherto regarded as marginal

76

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

to its interests, notably by historians


of science. If no single philosophy
character
was
it
ized the Enlightenment,
asked, why should any area of intellectual
activity
at the time be excluded
from it?As a result, it has come to seem difficult to exclude
form of thought from the Enlightenment's
liberal
any not obviously
reactionary
so inclusive
embrace. But there is a price to pay: an Enlightenment
is in danger of
intellectual
losing any coherent, distinctive
identity.
in Enlightenment
studies has been towards writing
The second new direction
in national
contexts. The assumption
that the Enlightenment
its history
belonged
was
to
France
and
exclusively
Germany
originally
questioned
by the great Italian
account of the
historian
Franco Venturi. Venturi's
point was that the established
as Galiani and Beccaria
as
such
which
treated
Italians
Enlightenment,
effectively
in
in
virtue
of
Paris
members"
their
and
had
the
salons,
stays
"visiting
reception
by
in their own country.
In
the extent of their activities
and connections
overlooked
as indeed in Piedmont,
the Milan of Beccaria and the Naples
of Galiani,
Tuscany,
and even Venice
and the Papal States,
there existed
of
self-conscious
groups
illuministi, who did indeed look to Paris for inspiration, but who were also keen to
ideas to the problems
of their own societies.10 A comparable
apply Enlightenment
in Germany.
view
In a similarly
could be taken of the situation
fragmented
the
had
in
the
of service
context,
opportunities
political
Aufkl?rer
exploited
even
to
to
and
advance
if
administrations
discuss
their
tended
ideas,
princely
they
be less actively critical of the existing order than their Italian counterparts.
in their adoption
to
But the most whole-hearted
of the national
approach
scholars. American,
and
Scottish,
English-speaking
as
in
have
of
this
perspec
emerged
Enlightenments
subjects
study
tive. In the 1970s scholars began to take an interest in the Enlightenment
in North
it
to
but
obvious
reasons, proved difficult
America;
has, for
keep this subject dis
tinct from the development
of the Revolution
and the making
of the constitution.11
in
the
interest
the
Scottish
since 1960, when
of
By contrast,
growth
Enlightenment
at
it was
been
has
the emphasis
all,
scarcely
recognized
spectacular.
Initially,
was
on
the
the
of
renewal
Scottish
with
connections
explaining
Enlightenment
in
the
Continental
But
1980s
Nicholas
led
the
way
European
Phillipson
thinking.12
a social
in setting it in national
context, the better to facilitate writing
history of its
even a "nationalist,"
axe to
ideas.13 By 1990, Scottish historians with a national,
were
in
to
the
distinctive
Scottish
grind
giving priority
explicit
supposedly
origins
Enlightenment
even English

have

been

of the Enlightenment.14
in some danger of being eclipsed by a surge
the Scots were
By 2000, however,
in England.
The case for an English Enlighten
of interest in the Enlightenment
ment is not quite as new as recent publicity might
suggest. For some time the most
to be the
association
for
with
the
wider
candidates
seemed
Enlightenment
likely
case has
But over the past fifteen years a powerful
rational Dissenters.
alternative
now reinforced
been mounted
for the existence
by John Pocock,
by Brian Young,
a
as the English
treat
This
would
Pocock
of distinctively
Anglican
Enlightenment.
in
with Enlightenments
variant
of the Protestant
comparable
Enlightenment,
in
most
recent
in
and Switzerland;
his
Scotland, North Germany,
formulation,
a
The Enlightenments
Socinian Enlight
of Edward Gibbon, it has become
specifically
a
statement of the case he
enment.15 The late Roy Porter also provided
full-length
was
in its final form in the title of his
in 1981, which
first announced
reflected
last book: Enlightenment.

Britain and the Creation

of theModern World. The argument

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

Approach

77

and by extension
Britain, created the modern
appears to be that since England,
On the strength of this conviction,
it must have had an Enlightenment.
world,
Porter was able to include in a British Enlightenment
virtually
anything which
took his fancy.16
turn in Enlightenment
fruitful is
studies has been enormously
That the national
our
extent
of
the
doubt.
It
has
of
Enlightenment
beyond
understanding
enlarged
a
across Europe,
that it was
forever
the assumption
simply
activity
burying
to
movement
visitor
Paris
of French philosophes, afforced by the occasional
foreign
of the approach under the
and by the distant genius of Kant. But the consolidation
in national context" has also clarified its dangers.
rubric of "the Enlightenment
Its
into a series of more or
natural tendency has been to fragment the Enlightenment
as best suits national historiography.
each defined
less distinct Enlightenments,
area
as
of
intellectual
almost
Just
any
activity may be associated with Enlighten
so it has come to seem equally reasonable
to suppose
that any nation (even
ment,
must
have
had
its
Enlightenment.
England)
in Enlightenment
The third new direction
scholarship has been the study of the
and dissemination
of its ideas.
movement's
social settings, and of the publishing
to
in
of
back
Mornet's
the 1930s;
Daniel
these
work
goes
Exploration
pioneering
since the 1960s it has been taken much
further by Daniel Roche, Roger Char tier,
to be marked,
and Robert Darnton.
The work of Chartier and Darnton
continues
a
with
the
the
relation to
of
however,
question
preoccupation
by
Enlightenment's
as a result, study of the former tends to be subordinated
to expla
the Revolution;
American
critics of Darnton
have
nation
of the latter.17 In reaction, younger
to
that
Habermas
be
of
the
the
ideas
characterized
suggest
adapted
Enlightenment
new culture of
by association with the
"sociability."
seem
Two phenomena
often associated with
the Enlightenment
particularly
to explanation
in terms of a culture of sociability. One is Freemasonry,
amenable
in France,
which had many adherents among those identified with Enlightenment
a
and
such
the German-speaking
ritualistic
lands,
secretive,
Quite why
Naples.
a
men
to
were
few women)
creed should have appealed
who
otherwise
(and
to the free, public discussion
of ideas remains a puzzle; but it is at
committed
was
in accord with
to suggest
that its internal egalitarianism
the
least plausible
new
The second phenomenon
is the salon. On Dena
ideals of sociability.18
but rather
Goodman's
the salonni?res of Paris were not mere hostesses
account,
also the directors and arbiters of a distinctive
the
culture, enforcing
Enlightenment
and mediating
rules of polite conversation
Here
epistolary
exchange.
sociability
as feminine. So arguing, Good
was female-centered,
the Enlightenment
gendered
man can distinguish
from the Revolutionary
the "culture of the Enlightenment"
culture which
of the lat
followed:
association
characteristic
the forms of political
ter were
with
those
of
Enlightenment
incompatible
sociability.19
But a defense of the Enlightenment's
identity on these terms comes at a price.
a "cultural"
In setting out to write
of the
rather than an "intellectual"
history
as
attention
to
from
Goodman
directs
ideas
the
"dis
such,
away
Enlightenment,
course" of society at large. Again
the effect (if not necessarily
is
the intention)
If ideas are no longer the focus of attention,
it is much harder to
deconstructive.
a
the Enlightenment's
distinctive
define and defend
identity. Itwas as movement
its historical
of ideas that the Enlightenment
for good and
acquired
significance,
its intellectual
tend
content, as the social and cultural historians
ill; tomarginalize

78

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

into a label of convenience,


to do, is to make
with
little or no
"Enlightenment"
substantive
significance.
on the
The volume
and richness of new scholarship
plainly
Enlightenment
return
to
account
it
But if the implications
the
traditional
of
make any
impossible.
the Enlightenment
of an intellectual
of such work are to deprive
identity, to frag
a
ment it into separate national units, and to render it primarily
social and cultural
can any new, uniform
account
the
be put in its
of
Enlightenment
phenomenon,
place?

III.
at all, itmust begin with
is to be made
If a case for the Enlightenment
ideas. It is
contents
with
of
the
of
clear that the traditional
equation
Enlightenment
thought
Kantian
reinforcement
from
the philosophes' books?with
optional
philosophy?is
But the intellectual
coherence
still be
unsustainable.
of the Enlightenment
may
to understanding,
to advancing,
in the commitment
and hence
the
found
causes

in this world.
and conditions
The first part of this
of human betterment
was committed
to un
is as important as the second. The Enlightenment
on the basis of
to
to
that
is
reasoned
analysis
good arguments
leading
derstanding,
itwas not
There was a core of original thinking to the Enlightenment:
conclusions.
a matter
common
core
and
Within
that
under
of
the
values.
aspirations
simply
was pursued
across a number
of
of
human
betterment
standing
interdependent
lines of enquiry.
was human nature itself?the
the starting-point
connected
For many,
study of
and the process of moral
which
David
the understanding,
the passions,
judgment
In their systematic
of
the
under
Hume
"the science of man."
christened
study
in their skeptical subordination
of reason
as, still more,
standing and the passions,
course
were
to the passions,
of sev
of
the
heirs
philosophers
eighteenth-century
were
eral seventeenth-century
The
Enlightenment
philosophers
predecessors.20
in
to
and
moral
the
deliberate
mental
attempt
join
philosophy
original, however,
in which
in a single science,
for the investigation
the framework
of individual
behavior was provided
society rather than divine authority.
by human
A second line of enquiry was into the conditions
of material
better
specifically
on
economic
the subject matter of political economy.
ment,
Sophisticated
writing
from
the Enlightenment,
affairs of course predated
being increasingly widespread
a
can
seen
But
from
the
1740s
there
be
conscious
the later seventeenth
century.
and Scottish
thinkers to render
attempt on the part of French, Italian, German,
a
of
field
No
distinct,
economy
investigation.
systematic
longer con
political
at each other's expense,
this was
of governments
cerned with the aggrandizement
were
a
nations
the
wealth
of
the
the
of
which
(in
economy
plural)
goals
political
in
of all of society's members.
Understood
of the condition
and the improvement
was
to
what
the
the
these terms, political
economy
key
Enlightenment
explicitly
thought of as "the progress of society."
But the progress
of society was not simply a matter of material
improvement.
was a third, more
into political
the
economy
general
Accompanying
enquiry
concern to investigate
of societies at the various
the structure and manners
stages
to trace and explain the historical process from "barbarism"
of their development,
or "civilization."
to "refinement"
The scope of this line of enquiry was potentially
formula

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

Approach

79

in all their variety,


the rise and refinement
of the
wide,
ranging across manners
arts and sciences, moral relations, including
those between
the sexes, and forms of
in turn the last of these was closely related to the question of the
property-holding;
forms of government
associated with different
Given
the
stages of development.
to "polish" or even (as many
in suppos
followed Rousseau
capacity of humanity
it was widely
believed
its nature,
that the progress
of society
ing) to "perfect"
in the achievement
But given the
of a new state of civilization.
should culminate
few thought they had good reason to suppose
the progress
instability of history,
to be troubled by doubt as to
end in a state of perfection; many
continued
would
secure against "corruption."
civilization
whether
could ever be made
fully
case
intellectual
the
needs
for
My
Enlightenment's
originality
obviously
To
science
of
and
the
the
man,
economy,
progress
political
identify
qualification.
to un
threads of the Enlightenment's
of society as the connecting
commitment
a
not
to
is
that
human
betterment
constituted
suggest
they
derstanding
single,
seamless
intellectual
adherents.
project, pursued
by all the Enlightenment's
in each of the fields of
Few thinkers were equally interested,
let alone competent,
same
to
the
few
confined
their
At
interests
these fields. Many
time,
enquiry.
were
thinkers
also
students
the
natural
others were pas
of
world;
Enlightenment
inmusic.
Itwas amatter of priorities,
and what characterized
interested
sionately
was the new primacy
to human betterment,
to the
the Enlightenment
accorded
in
the
the
world.
Even
then
progress
present
inevitability?of
possibility?not
over
means
to
there remained wide
for
the
achieve
scope
progress,
disagreement
as over the definition
as well
and compatibility
of its ends. Enlightenment
in response
to fresh stimuli: the de
enquiries, moreover,
adapted and developed
bates of the 1770s and 1780s were often markedly
different from those of the 1750s.
to emphasize
It is also important
that the intellectual
coherence of the Enlight
an
enment was not predicated
denial
of
the
of revealed
upon
explicit
possibility
I
Here
differ
from
The
boldness
with
which
Israel.21
Jonathan
Spinoza,
religion.
had criticized the authority of Scripture continued
to be an
Toland, and Giannone
to
not
But
well
1750.
did
exhaust
after
materialism
the
many
inspiration
Spinoza's
resources
to
available
the
notorious
while
thinkers,
philosophical
Enlightenment
and suffering confiscation
fate of Giannone,
of his writ
kidnapped,
imprisoned,
a
was
not
in Catholic
that
be
clear
would
tolerated
open irreligion
ings,
warning
as
an
was
in
the
of
Church
world
Criticism
institution
this
Europe.
permissible,
and indeed stronger in Catholic
than in Protestant
countries. But revelation
itself
a focus on betterment
was not automatically
in this world
threatened:
carried no
about the existence of the next. What
the Enlightenment
did
necessary
implication
was
out
the
indeed
of
the
doctrine
which
held
proclaim
inadequacy,
inhumanity,
as consolation
the pleasures
of the next world
for the hardships
of the present.
in the world
to come, improvement
Whatever
the redeemed
of
might be awaiting
in this world, here and now.
the human
lot was possible
did not entail a uniformly
This conviction
of human
benevolent
conception
nature. If anything,
the contrary was true. In a striking observation,
Berlin once
that "what the entire Enlightenment
has in common
is a denial of the cen
declared
tral Christian doctrine of original sin, believing
that man is born either innocent or
and malleable
neutral
and environment,
or, at
good, or morally
by education
ra
and
defective
but
of
radical
indefinite
worst, deeply
capable
improvement
by
or
a
in favourable
tional education
circumstances,
by
reorganisation
revolutionary

80

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

But the Enlightenment


of society as demanded,
for example,
by Rousseau."22
a group of thinkers to whom
was
to
sin had mattered
indebted
original
deeply
thinkers
and
Pascal,
Malebranche,
very much?the
Bayle; more
Augustinian
was indebted to the encounter between
it
rigorism and the
Augustinian
precisely,
and
Christianized
revived,
Epicureanism
championed
by Gassendi
supposedly
that there developed
his followers.
For itwas from this encounter
the realization
that a society of purely self-interested
rather than
men, driven by their passions
survive and meet
its needs, with
little or even no
their reason, could nevertheless
and only limited intervention
external assistance
from Divine Providence
by gov
ernment. The possibilities
of such thinking were particularly
displayed
by two
in
Fable
the
Mandeville's
the
Bees
and
works
Vico's
1720s,
(1723)
of
published
did not
Scienza nuova (1725). If the second of these was the book the Enlightenment
be among
the books most
read and discussed
the first would
read,
by
its
demonstration
that a society
for
thinkers,
precisely
alarming
Enlightenment
driven by men's
and women's
"vices" could work
for the general benefit.23 The
two
inNaples
of
these
works
the
and Scotland will
for
Enlightenment
significance
in the last part of this paper.
be discussed
a case for the
to re-establishing
In addition
its intellectual
coherence,
Enlight
must also show that ideas, books, and men
enment as one intellectual movement
and did not simply stop in Paris.
able to travel across Europe,
of letters were
to
its
national
if itwas to
transcend
needed
(and other) contexts,
Enlightenment
In fact, as a growing body of scholar
Kant proclaimed?"cosmopolitan."
be?as
were
of literary and epistolary
the channels
communication
ship confirms,
the European
"Republic of Letters." Well before Paris and its
already open within
in Enlightenment
their leading position
the
salons had established
exchanges,
cities of the Netherlands
had become
the fulcrum of literary Europe: the periodi
and the translation were all aids to the international
cal press, the encyclopaedia,
in the United Provinces
circulation
of ideas whose
viability had been established
in the later seventeenth
None
of
these
aids
could
override all differences
century.24
was
in particular
of translation
of inherited
intellectual
culture. The process
En
sometimes
liable to modify
Nevertheless,
meaning,
always
substantially.25
were
men
to
letters
able
and
refine
instruments
of
these
of
adapt
lightenment
in a single, con
and participating
for their own use, generating
communication
the better to redirect the intellectual
nected discussion,
agenda towards the new
issues of human betterment.
on the intellectual
and international
character
of the
A renewed
emphasis
can
mean
not
that
raised
its
social
does
the
historians
questions
by
Enlightenment
as well as think about it,
to
in
set
had
live
the
Its
world
be
adherents
aside.
simply
careers and recognition,
Outside
and needed
along with outlets for their writings.
to be learned about the material
and cultural infrastruc
France there is still much
cannot
ture of the Enlightenment.26
But the social history of the Enlightenment
case
to
A
the
historians."
which
left
its
"social
for
Enlightenment
simply be
also needs to reconsider
contribution
the primacy of its intellectual
reemphasizes
I have already suggested
iswritten.
inwhich
its social history
that
the perspective
or
to
ideas.
cultural
tends
devalue
the vogue
for social
Enlightenment
history
to their careers and institu
thinkers themselves were not automatically
hostage
and their ideas should not be reduced to cultural discourses.
tional backgrounds,
On

the contrary,

it may

be argued,

their distinguishing

social

characteristic

The Case
was

their claim

for the Enlightenment:

to an independent

status

A Comparative
in society,

by virtue

Approach

81

of their intellectual

leadership.
This was

in Was
Kant
ist
the claim which
formulated,
very precisely,
as
or
in
In
1784.
their "private" capacities,
clergymen
professors, men
Aufkl?rung?
on their freedom to speak, which
to accept the restrictions
of letters were bound
impose. But in their "public" capac
they worked might
at large, they should expect and actively seek to advance
were
to do this, it was generally
the goals of Enlightenment.27
They
agreed, by
what
"public opinion" was may not have been
shaping "public opinion." Exactly
since. In some contexts
it
clear at the time, and has been disputed
by historians
even
was perhaps
in
than a figment of writers'
But
such
little more
imaginations.
men of letters deliber
cases a point was made by appealing
to it. Enlightenment
as the private
with
traditional
humanist
model
the
broke
the
of
philosopher
ately
advice was a secret. By choosing
counsellor
of kings, whose
instead to address an
the intellectual
educated
initiative, setting
"public," they retained for themselves
with
their
readers.
the terms on which
they engaged
the Enlightenment
This was not simply self-promotion:
thinkers had good in
reason to value public opinion
above direct political
For
tellectual
influence.
the institutions
ity, as members

for which

of society

to the study of the laws of political


and of
economy
implicit in their commitment
set
of the limits which
the progress of society was a recognition
upon politics.
they
commerce was becoming
ever more widespread
In a world
in which
and impor
were
the
lives
and
of
which
decisions
affected
tant,
many
being taken
well-being
a
out
motive
individual
of
of
with
economic
self-interest,
agents
prevailing
by
to happen.28 When
rulers wished
little or no regard for what
the Enlightenment
com
to identify the regularities
in the patterns of men's
thinkers set themselves
in
and
the
observable
relations
between
forms
of
mercial
activities,
historically
were
and
social
of
stages
organization,
they
property-holding
explaining
why
over society were effectively
and statesmen
the powers
of politicians
limited. In
the politicians were farmore likely to obstruct
this, moreover,
failing to appreciate
than to facilitate
the workings
of society.
These
conclusions
did not lead
to
I
the
of
do
not
thinkers
discount
reform;
suggest that
Enlightenment
possibility
was
most
Even
the
of
Enlightenment
philoso
apolitical.
skeptical
Enlightenment
action. But the purpose
of reform
phers left room at least for remedial political
to the optimal course of development,
not the
should be the removal of obstacles
own
of
the
of
ambitious
schemes
politician's
devising.
imposition
Enlightenment
ran counter to the traditional doctrine of "reason of state," by which
thinking thus
rulers had claimed to know what was good for their subjects, and had presumed
to manipulate
opinion" was

to "public
their affairs accordingly;
instead, the point of appealing
on
to exert an external,
influence
governments.
constraining
By
"the public" as their tribunal, the Enlightenment
thinkers could hope
invoking
as an
source of in
to establish
their own credentials
simultaneously
independent
and to educate government
and society at large in the forces
tellectual authority,
in several parts of
which were shaping the modern world.29 By the 1780s, writers
now itwas
the continent were once again addressing
governments
directly; but
with the confidence
that they spoke for "the public."
on the terms Ihave
An Enlightenment
reconstituted
does not include
suggested
recent
to
which
have
wished
associate
with
it. The
scholars
many
everything
was
both
and
The
focus
of
exclusive,
Enlightenment
intellectually
geographically.

82

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

was human society


and the subject of itsmost original contributions,
its enquiries,
in
and the physical
and moral well-being
individuals
It was also
of
this world.
to
the European world
If historians
colonial America).
find it
confined
(including
in other civilizations,
to speak of "Enlightenments"
convenient
they were not
Even within
the European
the reach of the
Europe,
original.
was
uneven.
were
areas
in
There
which
individuals
Enlightenment
bravely pur
but were too isolated to be active participants
in
sued its intellectual
commitments
was exclusive
in being a
the wider movement.30
Above
all, the Enlightenment
movement
to the
of an intellectual
elite. Its adherents were
indeed committed
to
wider
dissemination
of their ideas (and as authors were of course delighted
were also keen to engage a larger public
benefit from sales of their works).
They
in discussion.
and they looked to public
But their priorities
remained
intellectual,
an
to
in
intellectual
As
intellectual
confirm
their
movement,
opinion
authority.
was not equivalent
to a general culture of sociability,
short, the Enlightenment
one to develop.
itmay have encouraged
however
was not all-inclusive
To insist that the Enlightenment
is to set aside much
that
extensions

of

recent scholarship
has suggested
is of great interest. (It is not, of course, to suggest
that what
is set aside should not be studied in its own right.) But it is equally the
or its alternative,
case that the unrestricted
the
definition
of Enlightenment,
has
rendered
the
admission
that there were multiple
subject so
Enlightenments,
to reach any assessment
that it is impossible
of its his
blurred and indeterminate
a case here is one,
I have made
for which
torical significance.
The Enlightenment
I suggest, which
rather than as an artificial
existed as an historical
phenomenon
an Enlightenment
can be held directly
It
not
construct.
is
which
philosophical
cen
more
the
the twentieth
than
for
of
the
for
advances,
horrors, any
responsible
as a
movement
in
too
intellectual
between.
But
far
much
lies
tury:
specific
history
can be matched
which
of the eighteenth
century, it is an Enlightenment
against the
faced it in its own time. Its significance may then be assessed ac
conditions which
in society which
it
it understood
the developments
cording to the extent to which
as it found it.
to improve the human condition
and identified ways
observed
IV.
can be enhanced not
as an historical phenomenon
The case for the Enlightenment
a
its
but
of its develop
traditional
further
of
heartlands,
comparison
by
study
by
as well
ment in two of itsmost distant settings: Scotland and Naples
(the kingdom
as the city). Any historical
and
similar
both
differences
presupposes
comparison
of its argument,
ities, and focuses, for the purposes
upon one or the other. In this
case, Scotland and Naples
contexts, which may well be
present two very different
as "national contexts"; nevertheless,
Iwant to argue that they shared
understood
a common
is a sketch of this
What
follows
the Enlightenment.
with
engagement
in
at
to
future.
I
which
intend
greater length
develop
argument,
and
of context between
is no denying
that the differences
Scotland
were
in
were
there
obvious
differences
and
Not
many
important.
only
Naples
but
and
terms of geography
and respective
economic, political,
religious histories,
resources
to
in the intellectual
available
there was also a marked
discrepancy
as
to
the
with
be
from
the
bases
which
each
engage
Naples might
Enlightenment.
second city of the Counter-Reformation;
yet it had also fostered strong dissident
There

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

Approach

83

traditions

within
its Catholic
culture. By the end of the seventeenth
intellectual
the
the
of Cartesianism,
French
of
century,
exponents
writings
Augustinianism,
were more or less freely available to
and Epicureanism
Neapolitan
philosophers.31
in favor of an irenic but
The Scots, by contrast, ignored the new French philosophy
not very profound
At the beginning
of the eighteenth
Stoicism.32
century
academics
such as Gershom
Carmichael
did engage with
the
leading Scottish
ideas of Malebranche;
but Carmichael made no effort to introduce his students to
the sceptical, Augustinian-Epicurean
thinking of the Protestant Pierre Bayle.33
were
to emerge, and from these
Yet by 1700 common preoccupations
beginning
were to become
it is possible
to see how the Scots and the Neapolitans
participants
was the re
in the same movement
The first such preoccupation
of Enlightenment.
were
sult of the two countries'
of
situation.
Both
similarity
dependent
kingdoms
within greater composite monarchies,
the Spanish, Scotland within
Naples within
the Stewart monarchy
of Britain and Ireland. And in 1700 both found that what
remained of their ancient autonomy was threatened by political circumstance:
that
of Naples by the Spanish Succession
the
crisis, Scotland's by the British equivalent,
to
of
these
Jacobitism. Responding
continuing
problem
predicaments,
publicists
in the two countries debated
in strikingly sim
their causes and possible outcomes
as that of a "regno
ilar terms. Paolo Mattia Doria analyzed
the condition of Naples
was sinking to
in
Andrew
Fletcher
warned
that
Scotland
governato
provincia";
same time, Doria and Fletcher both
At
the status of a "conquered
the
province."34
to chart a way
forward for their countries by adapting Machiavellian
attempted
a
commerce
to
in
world
which
and great capital cities were making
it
concepts
to
difficult
for
small
nations
their
very
preserve
autonomy.
was more
A second common preoccupation
the chal
intellectual:
immediately
account
of
the
of
man's
In
self-interested
Augustinian-Epicurean
lenge
sociability.
was
to
Vico
had
been
this
from
the
it
in
but
the
that
1720s
1680s,
exposed
Naples
to reckon with the challenge, making his response central to the Scienza
he decided
nuova. Vico's "rational"?or
was
reasoned?"civil
theology of divine providence"
men
to
constructed
who
of
their
"because
explicitly
explain why
corrupted nature,
are under the tyranny of amor proprio, which
them to make private utilit?
compels
their chief guide," nevertheless
settle in societies.35 Vico's account of his isolation
as well as the apparent eccentricity
in his autobiography,
of his interests in early
Greek and Roman history and mythology,
have encouraged
his readers, Berlin at
to regard him as an original
their head,
born
before
his time, and
genius,
to
hostile
associated
with
the
What
presciently
principles
Enlightenment.36
should be emphasized,
is
the
of
Vico's
with
nevertheless,
engagement
modernity
and
of
his
that
human
and
its
Augustinian-Epicurean
insight
thinking,
sociability
a
a
not
be
the
"new
to
should
This
of
science."
is
of
make
Vico
par
history
subject
a movement
of which he knew virtually nothing.
ticipant in the Enlightenment,
to vindicating
His commitment
in human history,
the role of Divine Providence
in
of
the
of
and
Hobbes,
arguments
repeated, explicit rejection
Spinoza,
Bayle was, I
course
account
and
his
of
"the
in
of
nations"
think, genuine;
history discounted
was in no doubt
the idea of a progressive
in
human
But
he
affairs.
improvement
that the Augustinian-Epicurean
account of the human
condition was where
the
new

science

must

begin.

In Scotland, by contrast, the challenge


of the Augustinian-Epicurean
philoso
in
arrived
late
and
the
form
of the 1723 edition of Mandeville's
phy
abruptly,

84

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

in Glasgow,
under Carmichael
Fable of the Bees. Fresh from studying
Francis
to
it
the
and
meet
Hutcheson
danger,
immediately
recognized
attempted
came
of
the
But
this
late:
when
the
Shaftesbury.
philosophy
by strengthening
to work out the "new scene of thought" he
young David Hume was struggling
in 1729, he got no help from Shaftesbury
and Stoic morals,
had discovered
but
in reading Bayle.37 The outcome
and improvement"
did find "diversion
of his
ten years later (three of them spent in France) was of course A Treatise of
struggle,
Human Nature
the Treatise was,
(1739-40). Rigorously
among other
skeptical,
a
or
account
the
Mandevillian
of so
of
Epicurean
philosophical
rendering
things,
as
no
outcome
of
the
the
left
selfish
Unlike
Hume
Vico, however,
ciety
passions.38
room for the workings
and he agreed with Mandeville
of Providence,
that man's
included the desire to "meliorate" or improve his condition. Through
self-interest
in
the door to Enlightenment.
Hume,
short, Epicureanism
opened
lamented at the end of his life, "dead
The Treatise may have fallen, as Hume
as the Scienza nuova. Within
born from the press," but itwas never as inaccessible
five years its notoriety had cost Hume his chance of a university
chair in Scotland;
a
was
as
in
in
his
further six he
established
yet
country's
Edinburgh
leading man
and economic,
of letters, whose
Essays,
philosophical,
political,
shortly
set the agenda for others' enquiries. Hume's
followed by his History,
skepticism,
of this world
is amatter of de
his insistence that the greater part of our knowledge
we
no
to
have
claim knowledge
of the divine,
grees of probability, while
grounds
led him to be suspected,
rightly, of irreligion. But until his death, and the posthu
mous publication
in
of the Dialogues ofNatural Religion (1779), he seldom indulged
and put
of his views on religion; rather, he avoided
open expression
controversy
his fellow Scots men of letters to assume
his efforts into encouraging
the respon
as
as
well
intellectual
sibilities of intellectual
By personal
leadership.
example,
in the Enlightenment.
full participation
Hume
thus made possible
Scotland's
A similar individual
initiative brought
to Naples.
In 1753
the Enlightenment
Genovesi
issued his Discorso sopra ? vero fine delle lettere e d?lie scienze, a
Antonio
to commit themselves
to its enlighten
call to the studiosa giovent? of the kingdom
ment and economic
As Hume had done in his Political Discourses of
improvement.
In this his avowed
focused upon political
1752, Genovesi
economy.
inspiration
was
the French economic writer
Jean-Fran?ois Melon, who had been one of the
If Vico had opened,
first outside Britain to recognize Mandeville's
significance.
to
the
door
and then blocked,
Genovesi
found another
Epicurean
Enlightenment,
in his anguished
way through it.Over the next twelve years, culminating
response
was
in his endeavors
to translate,
to the famine of 1764, Genovesi
tireless
and assess the works of the best French and British economic writers.39
publicize,
came
Hume was followed by Sir James Steuart and Adam Smith; after Genovesi
assess
to
to
who
made
the
relevance
Palmieri,
attempts
Giuseppe
repeated
Naples
of physiocratic
doctrines. As the interest in physiocracy
implies, the Neapolitan
on important
from their Scottish
economists
differed
counterparts
political
issues. But they shared the underlying
conviction, which made political economy
of the Enlightenment,
that
the?central
intellectual discipline
namely,
a?perhaps
in this world was possible
the
of
material
betterment
agri
through
development
to the benefit of all society's members,
culture and commerce,
poor as well as rich.
into
the interest in political
economy was the broader enquiry
Accompanying
of
the historical progress
of society. The same enquiry of the historical narratives

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

Approach

85

and William
of the conjectural
Robertson?and
histories
of Adam
Millar?was
in
Adam
and
Smith,
Genovesi,
John
Ferguson,
pursued
Naples by
by
and by Francesco Mario Pagano
Giuseppe Maria Galanti, by Gaetano
Filangieri,
his debts to, as well as differences
from, "il nostro
(who freely acknowledged
we find optimism
about the prospects
both sets of philosophers
Vico"). Among
and Smith clearly did not
for human betterment
tempered by skepticism. Hume
or
in a perfect outcome
to the progress
of society, but nor did Filangieri
believe
were
near
whom
the
of
both
of
The
exercised
corruption.
Pagano,
inevitability
by
are not limited to their common
similarities between
the Scots and the Neapolitans
the very different contexts provided
interests. Despite
intellectual
by eighteenth
as
in the positions
and
there are further similarities
Scotland
century
Naples,

Hume

to
their societies, and in their attitudes
by the two sets of thinkers within
to
It
that
is
the
Scottish
often
observed
thinkers
have
appear
"public opinion."
into the established
been comfortably
institutions
of the universities,
integrated
the Church and the law. But many
of them also chafed at the restrictions which
career as an
and
such institutions
sought to imitate Hume's
imposed
independent
man of letters. In
did
hold
Genovesi
chairs, but the one from
university
Naples,
to the Enlightenment,
and
himself
the chair of Commerce
which he committed
to
it
to
for
and
he
free
of
had
be
used
himself
created
him,
Mechanics,
specially
sumed

and ecclesiastical
the constraints which
the university
successors were
his
Most
of
self-consciously
imposed.
means
to give
and independent
careers, publishing,
in
with
other
the
and
each
write,
associating
voluntary,

authorities

had previously
using
independent,
legal
to
themselves
the freedom

if only semipublic,
society
of the masonic
lodges.
a
In both countries, moreover,
the men of letters consciously
sought to address
was
not
to
the
which
restricted
elite.
Within
Scotland
governing
"public"
they
to generate debate
toWestminster
took advantage
of the removal of government
over specific
issues of "improvement,"
relevance
such as the continued
of a
same
militia.
At
the
the
lead
national
of Hume,
time, following
they used their dis
tance from the partisan world
to try to moderate
of London
journalism
English
it to recognize
its insularity, and to set party-political
preju
opinion, encouraging
In Naples, Genovesi
had made his
dices in amore accurate historical perspective.
of 1753. Though
it is doubtful whether
educational
clear in his manifesto
purpose
idea of how large a "public" his teaching and publishing
he had a very definite
should no longer confine themselves
reach, he was clear that philosophers
might
as
to counselling
in the traditional
ministers
ministers
manner,
especially
as
Tanucci.
The
Bernardo
ambitions
of
the
leader
of
the
second
narrowly
legalistic
of Neapolitan
illuministi, Gaetano
generation
Filangieri, were even more radical.
was to be brought "to the aid of
soccorso
If philosophy
governments"?la
filosof?a in
must be by subordinating
de' governi?it
the latter to the "invisible
tribunal" of
The only legitimate
Filangieri
government,
"public opinion."
argued, was one
in this way was "representative"
which
of "the will of the people."40
in which
the Enlighten
When
this, in the 1780s, the settings
Filangieri wrote
ment was being pursued
in the two countries were
Under
rapidly diverging.
and despite
its independent
Bourbon monarchy,
the reforming
of
initiatives
several ministers
in the 1770s and 1780s, the kingdom
remained very
of Naples
an ancien r?gime society. Scotland, by contrast, was fast
amod
definitely
becoming
ern one,
on
to
and assimilating
the modern
society of its southern
catching up

86

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

it is what
to
the Neapolitan
thinkers continued
neighbor,
England. Nevertheless,
share with
the Scots, even as their countries
to
made
which
began
diverge,
them both participants
in the enterprise
of Enlightenment.
What
they shared
was
the intellectual
commitment
to understanding
how the progress
of society
in the past and in the present?and
their
occurred,
how, therefore, to modernize
own

societies.

It can be shown,
that the same Enlightenment
in both
existed
therefore,
and Naples,
Scotland
the
of
the
contexts
difference
and
their
notwithstanding
as a
distance
from Paris. Thus, a case for the Enlightenment
coherent
intel
single,
can be made.
no
lectual movement
Itmay be objected
that I have demonstrated
more than its existence as a historical
no
new
and
assessment
have
offered
of
fact,
answer
its enduring
The
must
be
historian's
that
the
significance.
significance
of the Enlightenment
is a subject for further historical
investigation,
through
of the impact of its ideas and example on later European
exploration
thought and
the public role of intellectuals.
Assessment
of its significance,
will be
however,
on a surer
we
are
once
if
was
a
common
confident
that
there
footing
again
Enlightenment.
The case of Scotland and Naples may even make
to go a little further.
it possible
in the fortunes of the two societies
For the divergence
after 1790 raises a final
Should the comparison
of Scotland and Naples
end in a judgment of the
question.
success or failure of
in
two
the
countries? More precisely,
should
Enlightenment
we conclude
that the ideas which apparently worked
in Scotland were inadequate
in the face of the obstacles
in the kingdom
of Naples?
It is not a
they encountered
am
a
answer
a
I
in
to
question
position
yet; it is probably not
question which a his
torian can ever expect to answer at all definitely.
But if the Enlightenment
is to be
it set itself, not by events two
judged, it should be on the basis of the challenges
centuries

later.

Notes
the Tel Aviv conference
to which
this paper was first contributed,
Following
versions
of it have been given to the History
of Political Thought
Seminar,
Institute of Historical
the
Seminar at the University
Research, London;
History
of Leicester;
the Trinity College,
Dublin History
and the Central
Society;
am
I
to
the
and participants
European University,
Budapest.
grateful
organizers
at all these occasions
for stimulating
discussion.
1. Isaiah Berlin,
in the History

"The Counter-Enlightenment,"
in Against
the Current: Essays
of Ideas, ed. and with a bibliography
by Henry Hardy, with an
introduction
Press, 1981).
(Oxford: Oxford University
by Roger Hausheer
2. Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: Knopf, 1966-1969);
R. Darnton,
"In search of the Enlightenment:
recent attempts
to create a social
history of ideas," Journal ofModern History, 43 (1971), pp. 113-32.
3. Dorinda Outram,
The Enlightenment
(Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge
University
The Enlightenment. A Comparative Social
1995), p. 3; cf. Thomas Munck,
1721-1794
York:
Oxford
the
Press, 2000), p. 7, where
(New
History
University
as "an attitude of mind, rather than a coherent system
is
defined
Enlightenment
an account of
of beliefs." But as his subtitle indicates, Munck
is not attempting
as awhole;
in its comparative
to
the Enlightenment
the
social basis of
approach
Press,

The Case

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

Approach

87

a welcome
his book represents
attempt to restore a recogniz
Enlightenment,
able unity to the movement.
4. An example
is James Schmidt,
"What Enlightenment
of such a response
28
Political
Outram
with approval
(2000), pp. 734-57, quoting
Theory
project?",
on p. 737; with
the ensuing exchange
between Christian Delacampagne
and
in Political Theory 29 (2001), pp. 80-90.
Schmidt
5. An even more defiant, and substantially
longer, "case for the Enlightenment"
terms has recently been argued by Jonathan
in predominantly
intellectual
and the Making
Israel, in Radical Enlightenment:
Philosophy
of Modernity
1650-1750
Press, 2001). Israel identifies "Enlight
(Oxford: Oxford University
the philosophy
of Benedict Spinoza and his radical
enment," however, with
and many
followers,
others, thinkers of the
John Toland, Pietro Giannone,
and early eighteenth
centuries. As his dates indicate,
this
over
was
1750:
after
whatever
occurred
Enlightenment
by
by implication,
at all, was an epilogue. By contrast, Iwould
like
1750, if itwas Enlightenment
in the period with which
it is usually
to make
the case for the Enlightenment
to the 1790s. This is not to
from the mid-eighteenth
associated,
century
an
of the "early" or "pre"-Enlightenment,
the interest or importance
discount
as
to
of
which
the
is
essential
Enlightenment
understanding
understanding
a whole.
ir
itwas explicitly
But the two were not simply continuous:
because
was
never
to
"radical
able
the
Israel's
be
Enlightenment"
religious,
public
which
the Enlightenment
intellectual movement
became after 1750.
as les lumi?res continues
to have propo
This account of the Enlightenment
on
some 40 years
nents:
for a late instance
based
lectures
given
(though
les
lumi?res?
Gallimard,
Qu'est que
earlier), Alphonse
(Paris:
1996).
Dupront,
in
The Philosophy
Ernst Cassirer,
of the Enlightenment
(originally
published
in 1932), trans. Ralph Manheim,
German
Princeton
(Princeton, N.J.:
University
Press, 1951).
of
Gay's The Enlightenment: An Interpretation can be regarded as a summation
the traditional understanding
with an acknowledged
of the Enlightenment,
even as it also anticipated
debt to Cassirer,
several of the lines of enquiry
were
which
of the Enlightenment
the social historians
later to champion.
and the Interests: Political Arguments for
The Passions
Albert O. Hirschman,
Press, 1977).
Capitalism Before its Triumph (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
as "La circolazione
Venturi
first made
the point in 1953, in a paper published
41 (1954), pp. 203-22.
delle
storica del Risorgimento
There
idee," Rassegna
three edited volumes
of Illuministi
followed
lombardi,
italiani, iii, Riformatori
e toscani (Milan &
R. Ricciardi,
1958), v, Riformatori
piemontesi
Naples:
late seventeenth

6.

7.

8.

9.
10.

Giarrizzo
1962), and (with Giuseppe
napoletani (Milan & Naples: R. Ricciardi,
and Gianfranco
antiche
delle
vii,
Torcellan),
Riformatori
repubbliche, dei ducati,
e delle isole (Milan &
R.
dello Stato Pontificio
Ricciardi,
1965). The
Naples;
in
individual
threads were then woven
the
volumes
of
Settecento
five
together
the work was still unfinished when
1963-1990);
riformatore (Turin: G. Einaudi,
Venturi died in 1994. For a general review, John Robertson,
"Franco Venturi's
was a friend
Past
and
Present
137
Venturi
(1992), pp.183-206.
Enlightenment,"
of Berlin, who arranged for the translation
into English of his book on Russian
But their conceptions
of the Enlightenment
remained
very
Populism.
different.

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

88
11. Henry
Press,

F. May,

The Enlightenment
H. Meyer,

in America
(New York: Oxford University
The Democratic
(New York:
Enlightenment

1976); Donald

Putnam,
1976).
12. Hugh Trevor-Roper,
Studies on Voltaire and the
"The Scottish Enlightenment,"
lxviii
1635-58.
(1967), pp.
Eighteenth Century
in Roy Porter
and
"The Scottish
13. Nicholas
Enlightenment,"
Phillipson,
in
The
Context
U.K.:
Mikulas
National
Teich, eds.,
Enlightenment
(Cambridge,
Press, 1981).
Cambridge
University
14. Alexander
Broadie, The Tradition of Scottish Philosophy
(Edinburgh: Polygon,
1990); David Allan, Virtue, Learning and the Scottish Enlightenment
(Edinburgh:
Press, 1993).
Edinburgh University
is approached
from various points of view in
15. The Dissenting
Enlightenment
and Religion:
Rational
Dissent
in
Enlightenment
U.K.:
Press,
Eighteenth-century
(Cambridge,
Cambridge
University
alternative,
J. G. A. Pocock,
1996). For the Anglican
"Clergy and commerce.
in England,"
in R. Ajello, ed., L'et? dei lumi.
The conservative
Enlightenment
Studi storici sul settecento europeo in onore di Franco Venturi, 2 vols.,
(Naples:
Jovene, 1985), I, pp. 523-62; and now The Enlightenments
of Edward Gibbon

Knud

Haakonssen,

ed.,
Britain

I of Barbarism

and Religion
(Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge
and Enlightenment
in
Press,
1999). Also,
Young,
Religion
University
Press, 1997).
England (Oxford: Oxford University
Eighteenth-century
16. Roy Porter, Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of theModern World (London:
See pp. xvii-xviii
for his endorse
Allan Lane, 2000). The title is the argument.
ment
that we
shrewd
should
the
of Pocock's
suggestion
drop
typically
of agreement with
definite article and capital letter; this and other professions
that Porter's case for
reader into thinking
the unwary
Pocock might mislead
as
same
an
Pocock's.
is the
English Enlightenment
17. Daniel Mornet,
Les origines intellectuelles de la R?volution fran?aise
(Paris: A.
and the low-life of
"The High Enlightenment
Colin,
1933); Robert Darnton,
literature in pre-Revolutionary
France," Past and Present 51 (1971), pp. 81-115;
France (New York: Norton,
and The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary
and Part III "Do books
1996), esp. ch 3 "Philosophical
pornography,"
cause Revolutions?";
The
Cultural
of the French
Origins
Roger Chartier,
Duke
and
London:
Revolution
Press,
1991), chs 4:
(Durham
University
8:
and
"Do
revolutions
have
Cultural
Books
Make
"Do
Revolutions?,"
to
his
from this
has
distance
work
sought
Origins?" Daniel Roche, by contrast,
1737-1764,

Volume

Brian

preoccupation.

18. Margaret
Jacob, Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth
Press, 1991); Giuseppe
Giarrizzo,
century Europe (Oxford: Oxford University
e illuminismo nell'Europa del Settecento (Venice: Marsilio,
Massoneria
1994).
The Republic
19. Dena Goodman,
of Letters. A Cultural History
of the French
Press, 1994).
(Ithaca and London: Cornell University
Enlightenment
20. Susan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-century
Philosophy
Press, 1997).
(Oxford: Oxford University
see note 6, above.
21. Israel, Radical Enlightenment;
22. Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
p. 20.
Fable: Bernard Mandeville
and the Discovery of
The Enlightenment's
23. E. J.Hundert,
Society

(Cambridge:

Cambridge

University

Press,

1994).

The Case
24. Lorraine

for the Enlightenment:

A Comparative

Approach

89

in the
of the Republic
"The Ideal and Reality
of Letters
4
in
Context
Science
Anne
(1991), pp. 367-86;
Enlightenment,"
Goldgar,
in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750
Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community
and London: Yale University
Press, 1995).
(New Haven
25. Fania Oz-Salzberger,
in
the Enlightenment:
Scottish Civic Discourse
Translating
Oxford
L?szl?
Press, 1995);
(Oxford:
Germany
University
Eighteenth-century
on
"William
Robertson
and his German
Audience
Kontler,
European
LXXX (2001),
and non-European
Scottish
Review
Historical
Civilisations,"
a more
less manipulative
understand
pp. 63-89. Both develop
sympathetic,
than that offered by Isaiah Berlin in "Hume
ing of the process of translation
in Against
the Current; see
and the sources of German
anti-rationalism,"
Daston,

the Enlightenment,
p. 80.
Translating
an
A Comparative
Social History
The Enlightenment:
provides
for
of
what
is
northern
known,
conspectus
Europe.
especially
up-to-date
Is Enlightenment?
27. James Schmidt,
Answers
ed., What
Eighteenth-Century
of
and
and Twentieth-Century
Los
Questions
Angeles:
University
(Berkeley
to the
"An answer
Immanuel
California
Kant,
Press,
1996), pp. 58-64:
on
is Enlightenment?"
(1784), with an excellent
commentary
question: What
Kant:
Christian
"The
Subversive
The
253-69
Laursen,
John
pp.
Vocabulary
by
and Apublicity."
of Apublic
"Free Trade and the Economic
28. On this fundamental
theme, Istvan Hont,
Politics: Neo-Machiavellian
Political Economy
Limits to National
Reconsid
Oz-Salzberger,
26. But Munck's

ered," in John Dunn, ed., The Economic Limits toModern Politics (Cambridge,
U.K.: Cambridge
Press, 1990), pp. 41-120.
University
29. See Daniel Gordon,
Citizens without Sovereignty:
in
Equality and Sociability
Princeton
French Thought 1670-1789
Press,
(Princeton, N.J.:
1994),
University
on the relation between
as
sociabilit? and public opinion
esp. pp. 199-208,
on absolute monarchy
in the thought of the philosophes, and of
constraints
in particular.
Morellet
Greece
and the Balkans,
30. For example,
studied by Paschalis
Kitromilides,
as Social Criticism: Iosipos Moisiodax
The Enlightenment
and Greek Culture in the
Press, 1992).
Eighteenth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
Valletta.
intellettuale napoletano
Un
31. On which see Vittor Ivo Comparato,
Giuseppe
delta fine del seicento (Naples, 1970); this aspect of Neapolitan
intellectual culture
in H. S. Stone, Vico's Cultural History:
is overlooked
The Publication
and
E.
to
detri
Transmission of Ideas inNaples 1685-1750
the
Brill,
J.
(Leiden:
1997),
ment of its understanding
of its principal
subject.
and Ideas in Restoration
Scotland
32. J. C. L. Jackson, Royalist Politics, Religion
Ph.D.
David
"In the
thesis
1660-1689,
Allan,
(1998);
University
Cambridge
Grove: Sir George Mackenzie
and the Consolations
of
Bosome of a Shaddowie
History of European Ideas 25 (1999), pp. 251-73.
and Michael
Silverthorne,
eds., Natural Rights on the Threshold of
the Scottish Enlightenment:
The Writings
of Gershom Carmichael
(Indianapolis:
Fund,
2002).
Liberty
del governo spagnolo a Napoli
34. Paolo Mattia
eds.
Doria, Massime
(1709-10),
G. Galasso and V. Conti (Naples: Guida,
ed.,
1973), pp. 21-43; John Robertson,
Andrew Fletcher: Political Works
U.K.: Cambridge
(Cambridge,
University
Press, 1997), specifically
(1703), p. 133.
"Speeches"

33.

Retirement,"
James Moore

90

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

35. Giambattista
Vico, La Scienza nuova (1744), paragraph
341, in the translation
T.
M.
H.
New
and
G.
The
Science
Giambattista
Fisch,
Vico, revised
by
Bergin
of
N.Y.:
edition
Cornell
Press,
(Ithaca,
1984).
University
in Vico
36. Isaiah Berlin,
"The Philosophical
Ideas of Giambattista
Vico,"
in the History of Ideas (London: Hogarth
Press, 1976),
in the History
Innovators
of
pp. 1-142, preceded
by "One of the Boldest
in
Human
The
Power
ed.
(1969), reprinted
of Ideas,
Thought"
Henry Hardy,
Press, 2000), pp. 53-67.
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
37 The Letters of David Hume, ?d. J. Y. T. Greig
Press,
(Oxford: The Clarendon
to
12:
Hume
vol.
March
Michael
I, p.
1732; and p. 13: "Letter to
1969),
Ramsay,
a Physician,"
[March 1734].
and Herder:

Two Studies

inM. A. Stewart and John P. Wright


"Hume and Hutcheson,"
James Moore,
Hume
and
Hume's
Connexions
Press,
(eds),
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
1994), pp. 23-57.
39. John Robertson,
"The Enlightenment
above National
Context:
Political
in
and
The
Scotland
Historical
Journal
Economy
Eighteenth-Century
Naples,"
40 (1997), pp. 667-697.
Discorso dopra il vero fine delle letter e e delle scienze (Naples
40. Antonio
Genovesi,
Jovene,
1753), in Scritti economici, ed M.L. Perna, 2 vols,
1984),
(Naples:
La scienza delta legislazione (Naples 1780-1791),
pp. 47-50. Gaetano
Filangieri,
Bk. IV, Part iii, ch. 43.
38.

The Keal

Counter

Enlightenment:

The Case

of prance

Damn M. McMakon

To pose the question


"What is Counter-Enlightenment?"
to ask
is necessarily
"What is Enlightenment?"
The question
is an old one, debated
famously by Kant,
and others in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift
in the 1780s,
Mendelssohn,
but in fact also posed repeatedly by a great number of educated men and women
as well as a charac
the century.1 Both as a process and a movement,
throughout
terization of an age, enlightenment?the
from the start
Enlightenment?generated
a tremendous
on the meaning
of reflection
of the term and the time.
variety
the gaze of contemporaries,
thus has the century of lights captivated
the
Arresting
attention of posterity,
until
the present day as a set piece for rumination
serving
on the meaning
a field upon which
of modernity,
to project the fears and hopes of
a
Little surprise,
to generate
continues
then, that the Enlightenment
humanity.
and interpretations.
Si?cle des lumi?res, Aufkl?rung,
array of definitions
perplexing
low and high, radical and conservative,
illuminismo,
illustraci?n, Enlightenments
Scottish
and Jewish, Protestant
and Catholic?the
of terms begs
very number
as to whether
as a
the question
it is even possible
to speak of the Enlightenment
as
a
a
unified movement,
reified whole.
single entity,
over this question,
Scholars of the eighteenth
and probably
century disagree
a
a
to
it
is
extent
for
of definition?one,
always will,
large
problem
clearly, that
to
to
itself
understand
the
"What is
anyone seeking
presents
corollary question,
Sir
Isaiah
Berlin
constructed
his
definition
of the
Indeed,
Counter-Enlightenment?"
on
the
what
to
basis
be
of
he
took
the
doctrines
Counter-Enlightenment
principal
of the Enlightenment
in slightly different
that he formulated
itself?doctrines
the case
times, but that can be reduced
(and this is simplifying
ways at different
to
was
the following
that human nature
funda
somewhat)
general propositions:
the same in all times and all places; that local and historical variations
in
mentally
human culture and society were of relative unimportance;
and that there existed
universal
human goals and universal
human
ends, on the basis of which?and
the scientific methods
of Newtonian
could
following
physics?one
structure of laws and generalizations
that would
logically connected
dark chaos of ignorance, prejudice,
fanaticism and "interested
dogma,

establish

replace the
error" that

91

92

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

the cultivation
for so long had prevented
of virtue, truth, and human happiness.
In turn, it was over and against these common Enlightenment
that
propositions
Berlin looked for competing,
currents,
Counter-Enlightenment
finding them, of
and
in
the
strains present
historicist
course,
irrational, vitalist, relativist, organic,
a
and
of others.
in the thought of Vico, Hamann,
handful
Herder,
Jacobi, Moser,
a movement
of
in
the
ideas
the
of
(in
history
history
philosophy),
Primarily
was also
a German
con
Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment
primarily
phenomenon,
to a largely French si?cle des lumi?res (although
structed in opposition
it is true that
in the definitional
two
Berlin does mention
essay, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
and
French writers,
Bonald
Maistre).
post-Revolutionary
Itwould
be redundant here to emphasize
the importance
of Berlin's definition
both in terms of its explanatory
power, and in terms of the influence it has exerted
on subsequent
discussions
of the Counter-Enlightenment.
This being said, and
with all due respect to the memory
of a great thinker and a great man, it should be
of
that Berlin's definition has its drawbacks.
First, it tends to limit discussion
to a relative handful of great thinkers?a
le
the Counter-Enlightenment
perfectly
fails to do justice to the con
gitimate exercise, to be sure, but one that, nonetheless,
texts in which
and Enlightenment
the Enlightenment
Sec
thought were opposed.
to limit research
and discussion
of the
has tended
definition
ond, Berlin's
to Germany.
It is true that his
Counter-Enlightenment
overwhelmingly
idealist definition
of, if you will, Gegen-Aufkl?rung,
scope for
certainly provides
course Vico here is the obvious ex
thinkers
of
non-German
other,
(and
discussing
case in practice,
that Berlin's set of criteria for defining
ception), but it remains the
was overwhelmingly
suited to the German example?
the Counter-Enlightenment
a fact that may well have something
to do with the shadow under which Berlin's
own thought was formed?in
and
other words,
the experience
of Nazi Germany
noted

the Second World War. Third, and somewhat paradoxically


given what Ihave said
so far, Berlin's definition
seems potentially
to broaden
the Counter-Enlightenment
In other words,
if
boundaries.
demarcated
historical
any clearly
beyond
in contrast to a set of philosophi
is primarily defined
the Counter-Enlightenment
to locate counter-enlightenment
then it becomes possible
cal principles,
principles
and indeed, well before
the eighteenth
it
well beyond,
century. Berlin himself,
is true, for the most part avoids this trap, confining his discussion
of the Counter
century (thereby giving it a firm
by and large to the long eighteenth
Enlightenment
in general
it seems clear that there is a teleological
historical
context), although
on Counter-Enlightenment
thrust to much
of his writing
figures. In contrast, a
in this vein have been less
the Counter-Enlightenment
number of those studying
edited volume, Aufkl?rung und
cautious. To cite but one example, Jochen Schmidt's
in
der
Literatur,
europ?ischen
Philosophie und Politik von der Antike bis
Gegenaufkl?rung
as
zur Gegenwart
the title indicates, articles spanning
contains,
(Darmstadt,
1989),
to
from
the Weimar
of Western
the whole
history,
Epicurus
Republic, with forays
into the Middle
the Italian Renaissance,
literature, the thought of
Ages,
Baroque
and the painting
of Hieronymus
Bosch, to name only a
Freud, Hegel, Hamann,
of these essays, the collective
interest of a number
few. Whatever
the individual
and
the historicity
of the concepts Enlightenment
result is to obliterate completely
Counter-Enlightenment.
A more
fruitful approach
to adopt a less philosophical,

to the question
of Counter-Enlightenment
would
be
on
movement
and more historical,
the
perspective,

The Real

Counter-Enlightenment:

The Case

of France

93

and tools that have been used over the last


and to apply to it some of the methods
as Robert Darnton,
cultural
and
such
intellectual historians
years by
twenty-five
In
and
Keith
Baker.
this
Skinner,
John Pocock, Quentin
regard, the case of France
was inmany ways
For itwas here, after all, that the Enlightenment
is suggestive.
centered and based, itwas here that itwas born, and so it should not surprise us
had enemies: militant
that in France, no less than in Germany,
the Enlightenment
of
the
traditionalist
members
aristocrats,
parti d?vot, unenlightened
clergy,
conservative
recalcitrant
Sorbonne
censors,
bourgeois,
parlementaires,
journalists,
"fanatics" of the
and sundry others, the so-called
salon hostesses,
unfashionable
an
I call anti-philosophes?not
catechism, men and women
arbitrary
Enlightenment
a
as
to
it
the
host of far
it
for
used
did
term,
themselves,
philosophes, adding
they
terms.
less flattering
The term anti-philosophe appeared at roughly the same time that the Encyclope
One finds it in such
dists began to claim the mantle
"philosophe" for themselves.
Pens?es anti
Pens?es philosophiques of 1747, the abb? Allamand's
works as Diderot's
of 1764, and Louis
Dictionnaire
of 1751, Voltaire's
philosophique
philosophiques
Dictionnaire
of
1767.
Chaudon's
Indeed, the very same
anti-philosophique
Mayeul
in the form of
of the Enlightenment
the first major onslaught
years that witnessed
of the Encyclop?die, also witnessed
the first
of the initial volumes
the publication
As early as 1755, in fact, the General
opposition.
stirrings of a self-conscious
the crown of the "contagion"
of the Clergy was warning
being spread
Assembly
the
of
"so-called
realm"
the
poisonous
writings
philosophes"?men
"throughout
by
and vice,
established
who
disdained
opinions,
rejected
spread
immorality
of
and
the
truths
fostered
mocked
power,
religion,
sovereign
saintly
everywhere
a spirit of "independence
at each of
and revolt."2 They repeated these accusations
as
in
down
the
assemblies
their national
well,
century,
stressing,
through
and pulpit sermons that the spirit of "blas
countless pastoral
letters, mandements,
of the new learning would
phemy" and "sedition" fostered by the "coryphaeuses"
lead to "bloodied
thrones" and the "horrors of anarchy" if not contained.3
In the secular republic of letters, too, anti-philosophe
journalists and Grub-Street
on
own terrain. The abb?
to
hacks
combat
the
forces
their
philosophes
joined
thousands of pages of his monthly
Gabriel Gauchat,
for example, devoted
journal,
the Lettres critiques, ou Analyse et refutation de divers ?crits modernes contre la religion
to refuting the works of men who "combined
(1755-1763)
against truth
explicitly
... the salt of
of
the
of
the
bitterness
criticism,
equivocations
sophism, and
irony,
and
both
the
scale
the
of the
the blackness
of calumny."4
intensity
Decrying
in the history
of "the religion
of Jesus
attacks as unprecedented
philosophes'
and the eagerness
lashed out at their "fanaticism,"
"intolerance,"
Christ," Gauchat
their productions
of malice
and error."5 Like
with which
the public "devoured
the avocat Jean Soret and the p?re Jean-Nicolas-Hubert
wise,
Hay er sought early on
to refute impious philosophes in the pages of their twenty-one
volume periodical,
La Religion veng?e, ou R?futation des auteurs impies (1757-1763).6 Their efforts were
in a lively anti-philosophe press.7
sustained by many
in
courts of law, and the French court itself, devout magistrates
French
Finally,
and ministers
such as Antoine-Louis
S?guier and Jean-Omer Joly de Fleury made
war on what
these men saw as a concerted
effort to destroy France.8 As early as
in detail of a "conceived plan" to "sustain
his colleagues
1759, Fleury was warning
more evident
and destroy
materialism
religion."9 Eleven years later, this seemed

94

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

to cover up the fact," S?guier admonished


still. "It is no longer possible
in an
arr?t of 1770, that a "criminal league," an "impious and audacious
sect... decorat
with the name of Philosophie" has risen up. "With one hand,
ing its false wisdom
to
seeks
the
shake
altars." And unless
throne, and with the other, to overthrow
[it]
took proper measures,
authorities
the
"civil
order as well as
S?guier emphasized,
the spiritual" would
to say,
Needless
and anarchy, toppled
picture they painted
odds with what we

be destroyed.10
these apocalyptic
their invocation
of blood
warnings?with
thrones and altars?were
the
grossly overstated. Moreover,
even revolutionary
of an incendiary,
philosophie is radically at
have come to think of as the sober, if mildly
progressive,
to account for this disjuncture?
In part it stems from
How
"High Enlightenment."
of many
the firm conviction
eighteenth-century
figures (and in particular, many
that their age was one of unparalleled
Catholics)
eighteenth-century
religious
as Gauchat
commented
decline, precipitated,
above, by the single most concerted
an isolated
attack on the faith in the history of Christianity.
His was by no means
was
as
It
in
that
credence
the
one,
furthermore,
grew
viewpoint.
only
leading
in the 1760s and 1770s as an important
themselves
force,
philosophes established
rooms
and
the
salons
the
and
sinecures
of
academies,
conquering
literary
drawing
their
into
the beau monde, while
anticlerical
invective
the
mainstream
insinuating
of men like Gauchat,
of French culture. From the perspective
then, philosophie was
a potent
like a poison,
outward
and downward
from
force, one that flowed
all those who claimed to carry
the pens of a few leading philosophes to encompass
the torch of lumi?res, and from there, to French society as awhole. As the esteemed
in his noted
court preacher,
the abb? de Cambac?r?s
observed
Sermon sur les
incr?dules of the late 1760s:
Without

were
neither

we?

enormous

What
rank,

a revolution,
to
and
produced
speak
only
in the morals
of the nation.
and
character
changes
we
has affected
since become?
all classes,
Incredulity

unbelief

doubt,

it has made

have
nor

age,

nor

has

sex....

dle of this general decadence


consternation,

threatened,

Crime

itself

has

ceased

to be

a crime,

and

and the shock of all the passions, Religion

tottering

on

of France,
... What
respecting
in the mid

is filled with

precipice.11

in short, was a force ravaging society from top to bottom. Neither


sim
Incredulity,
nor
in
the
the
result
of
shifts
social
"secularization"
mores,
gradual
long-term
ply
of society, itwas, rather, the outcome of conscious, willful manipulation.12
As the
a
in
in
of
circulated
National
the
observed
letter
every
pastoral
Assembly
Clergy
centuries
there were
impious persons here
parish in France in 1775, "In previous
results. There were books that taught
and there, but without
party and without
obscure
little
read.
but
and
impiety,
Today, by contrast, the unbeliev
[they were]
as it should be, over the objects of its belief; but united
ers form a sect, divided
in
the revolt against the authority of divine revelation."13
A united front with common ends, if uncommon
means, modern
incredulity?
on a scale and with an intensity unprece
modern
religion
philosophy?attacked
in human history. In these respects, its assault was without
dented
parallel. Yet, in
of the Enlightenment,
there were, nonetheless,
the opinion of enemies
bases for
Above
of the Reformation
historical
and the
all, the cultural memory
comparison.
of the sixteenth
French Catholics
with what
century provided
Religious Wars
a terrible test case of the
Amos Hofman
has called a "paradigm of civil disorder,"

The Real

Counter-Enlightenment:

The Case of France

95

a systematic
that could be wrought
attack on the Church.14 For
consequences
by
here was a graphic illustration of how religious heresy led to political upheaval,
of
into the tangled web of
how dissent
from the one truth faith could unravel
internecine
conflict and bloody civil war. By unleashing
the tight rein of Catholic
the Reformation
and ecclesiastical
had turned men
tradition, dogma,
authority,
women
over
to the frenzy of the unbridled
human
and
them to
intellect, seducing
that they could arrive at truth independently?through
private study of
to the exclusion
of one's heart and mind
of all
scripture and the private sounding
extreme
all too
else. This was pride of the most
sort, and the results were
continual
conflict over scripture, the
limitless, subjective speculation,
predictable:
sects and
of the original protestants into an endless babble of conflicting
dissolution
the long series of religious wars that had bathed
heretical
factions, and ultimately
Europe in blood.
in the eighteenth
This memory,
then, provided many
century with a specter of
It likewise offered a ready-made
the perils of religious dissent.
that
vocabulary
to the philosophes and their fellow travelers. From the
could be easily transferred
in fact, there was
enemies
of the philosophes,
vantage
point of many Catholic
a whole.15 Did not
as
Protestant
about
the
something
Enlightenment
dangerously
the philosophes adopt as their spiritual heirs a range of Protestant
thinkers, from
to Locke and Newton?
Tindal and Collins
Was not the Protestant
demand
of
the central battle cry of the philosophes, for whom
the heretic Calas was
"tolerance"
a Voltairean
and saint? And
like their Protestant
did the
forefathers,
martyr
believe

philosophes not continually


the subjective
prompting
skewed to be sure?it was

attack the authority of the Church, placing their trust in


reason alone? From this
of individual
perspective?
to
view
fairly easy
philosophie as yet another of the de

viations

another aberration spawned by the original


by the Reformation,
wrought
with
Catholic
of the eighteenth
Indeed, Catholic
rupture
orthodoxy.
apologists
same
much
the
to
combat
of
very
century employed
philosophes as their
language
had
Lutherans
Counter-Reformation
used
and Calvinists.16
against
predecessors
The term pr?tendu philosophe, for example, mirrored
that of the pr?tendu r?form?
favored by French Counter-Reformation
the continual
references
writers, while
to the philosophes as a "sect" or "cabal" of "fanatics" also recalled earlier writings.
towards the end of the century, Louis XVI relented to long-standing
When,
pres
sure to grant limited
civil status to French Huguenots
in the 1787 Edict of
saw this as the direct result of the machina
Toleration, many orthodox Catholics
tions of a joint Protestant-philosophe
and
two?protestantisme
plot.17 The
one
in
their
minds.
philosophisme?were
Future fears of religious upheaval,
and worries
of the Protestant
past?these
were
to
and
the forces giving
the rhetoric of the Catholic
shape,
consistency,
in the second half of the eighteenth
Counter-Enlightenment
century. There were,
themes
that
surfaced
and
in the
other
central
resurfaced
however,
continually
of
the
Catholic
militants.
language
Linking together
disparate
religious apologists
and journalists,
and civil magistrates
to above,
alluded
this
pulpit preachers
a
in
final
the
decades
of
the
ancien
into
crystallized
language
r?gime
clearly de
a
marcated
reified
of
the
des
si?cle
lumi?res
consistent,
strand,
linguistic
portrait
I call an "anti-philosophe dis
and of the bright lights who gave it its name?what
a construction
it became
course."18 In other words,
the Enlightenment
of what
was. And here a number of the most
warrant
mention.
important points

96

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

of the ancien r?gime reduced


the
of the last decades
First, the anti-philosophes
a
or
to
varied and variegated
the
French
of
whole,
opinions
Enlightenment
single
in
with
atheism.
which
For
their
philosophie,
engendering
they charged collectively
countless anticlerical
of the authenticity
of scripture, and
tirades, their questioning
in the power of the human mind,
their arrogant confidence
the philosophes, so their
to doubt all," bidding men and women
enemies charged, "made pretensions
to set
to disbelief.19 Releasing
foot on the slippery slope that led ultimately
the individ
ual from the mitigating
and the tradition
certainty?revelation
yolk of Catholic
him
and authority
of the Church?the
turned
over, naked and un
philosophes
to
the
the
human
intellect.
Error and aberration
of
unchained
bound,
speculation
a
As
of every sort was the necessary
consequence.
journalist of the anti-philosophe
in 1783, "I defy you to cite for me an error, however
Ann?e litt?raire challenged
... that the
absurd
philosophes have not adopted,"
guided
solely "by the torch of
as
in his widely
of
Or
the
Barruel
affirmed
Abb?
reason,
Augustin
philosophie."20
to
"It is always necessary
selling anti-philosophe novel of the 1780s, Les Helviennes,
come back to this truth ... that the philosophie of my century is
true
but
the
nothing
Rather than question
of seeing
chaos of all possible
the wisdom
contradictions."21
as part of a single movement,
the diversity
of the philosophes' religious opinions
as evidence
their enemies
insisted instead on depicting
this very heterogeneity
of
common
common perversity
and
intent. As the abb? Lamourette
observed
typi
atheists, materialists,
theists, and
cally, "the unity of the end brings
together
them all in equal
all manner
of unbelievers
into a single class of men,
rendering
measure
the plague of virtue and the destroyers
of society."22
thus portrayed
While
enemies of the Enlightenment
atheism as the necessary
outcome
that French society was achiev
of eighteenth-century
philosophy?one
on
an
as at once the cause and effect
this
viewed
result
ing
alarming
scale?they
moral
For the men and
of another of philosophie's pernicious
qualities,
depravity.
women
in question were moved
conviction
that
the
without
by
morality
religion
was a contradiction
in terms; that secular ethics, practically
speaking, was an
that the "modern paganism"
of the philosophes was a sham. By
impossibility;
an
the fear of God and
the ramparts of Christian
afterlife, breaching
eliminating
and destroying
the philosophes had re
respect for religious
authority,
morality,
to
Bereft of the restraining
all impediments
man's
basest
tendencies.
moved
men and women
bourne of religion and the self-controlling
impulse of conscience,
manner
in
all
of depravity.
would
engage
new about this emphasis
on the
There was, of course, nothing
particularly
a
man.
of
Itwas, after all,
Christian
inherent depravity
straightforward
reading
a
in
and with
of Augustine,
tradition
of the Fall, central to the teaching
long
remove the Christian
more
did
Yet
than
Catholic
philosophie
simply
yoke
thought.
over to their naturally
It actively
and turn men and women
appetites.
depraved
for the delights
of this
The philosophes'
them as well.
apologies
encouraged
a
in
their
enemies'
them
sex?became,
among
reading,
being
world?principal
summons
to
most
"Under
the
the
pretext
passions.
lusty
indulge
frightful
a false and
human penchants,
that there are natural and necessary
dangerous
the abb? G?rard,
the most unbridled
emphasized
philosophie eulogizes
passions,"
a
The
and
read
philosophes "flatter
anti-philosophe
leading
widely
polemicist."23
in arms, the abb? de Crillon,
and urge their
the passions,"
asserted his comrade
in their gratification
to seek happiness
followers
alone.24 The general utilitarian

The Real

Counter-Enlightenment:

The Case

of France

97

in
evident
calculus of so much Enlightenment
thought, moreover?particularly
to enjoin men and women
to base their actions
the writings
of Helv?tius?seemed
on calculations
and pain, equating
of pleasure
the good with what
entirely
was pleasurable
in the here and now, and the bad with what denied
it. The result,
an
was
ethics
of
that
sanctioned
horrible
maintained,
anti-philosophes
utility
interest
the
and
made
criterion
of
As the
egotism
overriding
morality.
personal
in a typical refrain, "All the duties of men are reduced to
abb? Liger commented
to the philosophes," the Grub-Street
interest and pleasure."25
"According
personal
Bernard
Cl?ment
is arbitrary and
echoed, "everything
Jean-Marie
anti-philosophe
so personal
for our actions."26
the sole motive
interest becomes
in turn, was
the severing of all the ties
The natural effect of this indulgence,
men
in
and women
and
that
bound
of obligation,
together
duty,
responsibility
son
to
led
against father, and wife
society, which
subject turning against king,
a "universal
for ... domestic
disgust
against husband. The philosophes encouraged
duties," pointed out the abb? Lamourette.27
They "eroded, at once, all the ties that
to fathers, husbands, wives,
and children."28
bound together and gave happiness
the "horrible monster"
created by the philosophes,
"Oh discord
of families!,"
the ease with which husbands
and
lamented another typical observer, bemoaning
own
to
cast
wives
alike
their
oaths
of
their
aside
pursue
fidelity
and the facility with which
their parents'
children disavowed
pleasure,
the family was now a germi
strictures. Once a refuge from the evils of the world,
For inasmuch as "society as a whole" was nothing
nating source of its corruption.
but an "imitation"
of the order of families, the horrors within
spread abundantly
without.
"It is the domestic
the author continued,
"that prepare
the
virtues,"
a father, a son, a
social virtues. And he who does not know how to be a husband,
selfish

friend, or a neighbor, will not know how to be a citizen."29


Itwas but a small step from this latter charge to the assertion
that the philosophes
were
foundations
France.
For again, despite
the
of
political
rapidly undermining
in
the range of political views they espoused,
the collective effect of their doctrine,
their enemies' minds, was to cut the restraints that for centuries had kept subjects
monar
in check. By killing God, they removed
the spiritual basis for divine-right
on
nexus
human
dissolved
the
relations
social
self-interest,
chy; by founding
they
and
that underlay
the
deference,
respect; by weakening
duty, hierarchy,
family,
license and revolt into the very heart of civil society; and finally,
they introduced
the wisdom
of history,
and tradition?what
custom,
mocking
by continually
Burke would
later call the collected reason of the ages?the
philosophes unchained
man from all that made him decent. Just as the end result of the
philosophes' attack
on religion was atheism,
so would
It
their assault on society end in anarchy.
was a point that enemies of the
were
ex
to
with
make
Enlightenment
prepared
ceptional clarity. As the prolific religious apologist,
in a small primer
intended
Richard,
emphasized
women
of the dangers of philosophie:
Everywhere
sharpens

philosophie lights the torch of discord

swords,

lays

fires,

orders

murder,

massacre,

the Dominican
Charles-Louis
to warn
and
ordinary men
and of war, prepares
and

carnage,

sacrifices

poisons,
fathers

by the hands of sons, and sons by the hands of fathers. It directs lances and swords
at the heads and the breasts of sovereigns, placing them on scaffolds, which it yearns
to see flowing with sovereign's blood?blood
that itwill drink in deep draughts as it
feasts

its eyes

on

the horrible

specter

of

their

torn, mutilated,

and

bloody

members.30

98

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

text was singular in its graphic imagery but not in its general point. For
Richard's
in
final decade of the Old Regime,
to flood all lev
the
when,
philosophie appeared
a sort of fashionable
els of society in what became
kitsch or "modish
lifestyle,"
could only recoil in horror, decrying what they saw as the coming
anti-philosophes
As the provincial
and anti-philosophe
academician,
litt?rateur,
apocalypse.31
in
to
de
bemoaned
"the
destructive
1787,
Juvigny,
spirit that dominates
Rigoley
no
to
it.
has
has
stop
anything
Philosophisme
day
longer
penetrated
everywhere,
has corrupted
The future, to these observers,
looked dark indeed.
everything."32
One result of this apocalyptic
and apocalyptic
rhetoric?at
least in
expectation
France?was
that many
of these very same figures greeted
1789 as the horrible
fulfillment
of their worst
has important
fears, a fact that, as I elaborate elsewhere,
us
to
teach
about
the
of the French Revolution.
Here,
things
early dynamics
I want
to emphasize
another point?one
made
though,
explicit by the title of
Richard's work cited above: La Doctrine des philosophes modernes. Here, we note the
in fact, a single philosophical
the reification,
that there was,
occlusion,
implying
was
a
a
unified whole. And indeed, neither Richard
that philosophie
doctrine,
thing,
nor his colleagues
had any doubts about this. Philosophie, philosophisme,
the so
a
was
common
called si?cle des lumi?res
coherent entity comprising
assumptions,
common

aspirations,

and

most

importantly,

common

consequences.

to stress this point, because what one clearly discerns


It is important
in this
is
first
discourse
the
the
first
construction
of the
creation,
collective,
anti-philosophe
or the doctrine
of
The
philosophie,
philosophique.
reigning argument,
Enlightenment,
and Hans-Dietrich
made by Roger Chartier, Thomas
Schleich, Rolf Reichhardt,
was
is
that
the
others,
Gumbrecht,
among
Enlightenment
only constructed
an attempt
to confer paternity
the Revolution?in
and le
after the fact?during
on
we
with
comments:
not
break
the
As
Chartier
the
"Should
past.
gitimation
... that it was
that invented
the Enlightenment
consider
the Revolution
by at
a
in
to
root
texts
its
and
of
authors,
corpus
tempting
legitimacy
founding
and united, beyond
their extreme differences,
reconciled
of a
by their preparation
a
with
the
When
old
world.
without
(not
debate)
rupture
together
they brought
ancestors
and
when
of
Rousseau,
Voltaire,
pantheon
including
Mably,
Raynal,
a radically
to philosophy
critical
function
(if not to all the
they assigned
a continuity
a
constructed
that was primarily
the revolutionaries
Philosophes),
I do not disagree
and search for paternity."33
that this
of justification
process
the fact that this same process
process took place, but I believe Chartier overlooks
the Enlightenment's
Well
before Kant had
first among
occurred
opponents.
even posed
its enemies had answered,
the question,
"What is Enlightenment?,"
as light." Philosophie,
in their view, was an abomination,
"Darkness masquerading
a
an infectious virus that spread in epidemic
proportion,
eating away at
plague,
in
its
path.
everything
sense and is useful to consider these men
It is in this respect, then, that itmakes
as part of a Counter-Enlightenment
movement.
For it was not over
and women
a retro
of
and against some retrospective
assemblage
philosophical
principles,
that these authors
the Enlightenment
entailed
of what
spective
interpretation
own
own
construction
of
their
but
rather
their
combated,
against
understanding,
was. And by tendentiously
and
then
what
the Enlightenment
answering,
posing,
of course
of Lights?"
these polemicists
"What was
the Century
the question,
were
at the same time making
Their
both implicit and explicit counter-claims.

The Real

Enlightenment,

Counter-Enlightenment:

in other words,

was

largely

The Case
a foil
against

of France
which

to work

99
out

competing
counter-positions.
this side of things, the more positive
of what
I am
Now
program
ideological
a
as
a
dis
here
of
course,
is,
French, Catholic, Counter-Enlightenment
presenting
some of the more
salient points?which
cussion unto itself. I shall just highlight
in effect, was
follow naturally
from what has been said so far. The mechanism,
if
based
effective,
Thus,
upon simple,
oppositions.
rhetorically
straightforward,
the philosophes allegedly undermined
religion, tilling the soil of atheism,
to human happiness
and social
the anti-philosophes
put forth religion's necessity
the philosophes urged the satisfaction
the
of personal pleasures,
security. Whereas

whereas

stressed the incumbency


of duty,
sanctity of individual
rights, the anti-philosophes
the philosophes spoke in ungrounded
the priority of the social whole. Whereas
the speculations
of
custom, and prejudice with
abstractions,
opposing
history,
con
the
rootedness
the
the
of
of
reason, anti-philosophes
past,
primacy
emphasized
the philosophes deemed
stancy over change, of tradition over innovation. Whereas
element of society, the anti-philosophes
the basic constituent
the individual
gave
it as both the model
to
and the guardian
the
of all
prominence
family, regarding
the philosophes
advocated
the free circulation
of
Whereas
organization.
the
ideas, the tolerance of opinion and belief, the anti-philosophes
alleged
hypocrisy
the philosophes
of these claims, the danger of giving free rein to error. And whereas
the anti-philosophes
of men and women,
spoke of the natural goodness
emphasized
their capacity for evil.
one should not overemphasize
the coherence of these countervailing
Certainly,
a
was
not
out
This
worked
positions.
political platform or slate, but rather
clearly
a loose, though
set
of
articulated
with
identifiable,
propositions
ideological
this
rather
broad
of
En
cross-section
enemies
the
of
consistency
increasing
by
as
I
I
to
in
As
have
book
Enemies
refer
my
anti-philosophes.
lightenment
argued
of
it was before this common,
the Enlightenment,
negative
symbol of the si?cle des
and in certain respects otherwise
lumi?res took shape that diverse,
conflicting,
in the pro
forces began to come together in the final years of the Old Regime?and
was
an
what
but
nonetheless
cess, shaped
inchoate,
fairly consistent,
ideological
of French historians who trace the
of the right. Unlike
the great majority
position
I
right in France (or a spectrum of right-wing
positions)
solely to the Revolution,
was
to
it
that
before
the
first
and
foremost
that
the
argue
try
Enlightenment
right
in France took shape?a
held by other scholars such as Klaus Epstein,
position
social

in Germany,
James Sack, and Javier Herrero who have traced similar phenomena
and
Spain.
England,
From the perspective
of the above, however,
the most
aspect of
interesting
on the meanings
the discussion
and implications
of the Counter-Enlightenment
is
or
the negative
one?the
construction
of
the
negative
portrait
Enlightenment
Itwas, to be sure, a far cry from the much
spread by this anti-philosophe discourse.
more
critiques of the Enlightenment
sophisticated
presented
by Isaiah Berlin's,
a
all
militant
defense
of
above
German,
Gegen-Aufkl?rer.
principally
Shaped
by
the orthodox Catholic
French
this
if
few
faith,
Counter-Enlightenment
produced
or
who
be
in
considered
thinkers
could
the
that
timeless,
any
way
great,
today
or Herder. Moreover,
con
Hamann
Berlin surely considered
the anti-philosophe
struction

of the Enlightenment
and grossly unfair?a
superficial,

to say the least, overstated,


itself was,
reductive,
that
has led the great majority
fact
of students of

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

100

over the past two hundred


to dismiss
it as so
the eighteenth
years
century
men
as
much
off
and
it
such
the
who
made
fanaticism, writing
polemic
unworthy
I should add, even among
of serious attention?a
evident
scholars
tendency,
more or less sympathetic
to the study of religion. The great French scholar of
Catholic
of the eighteenth
for ex
century, Albert Monod,
theological
apologetics
more
in
of
the
virulent
of
the
commented
opponents
ample,
speaking
philosophes,
more
to be forgotten."34 Even the undoubtedly
sensitive
simply, "they deserve
in his admirable
and groundbreaking
Robert Palmer,
Catholics
and
Unbe
study,
set aside what he called "the
lievers in Eighteenth-Century
France, purposefully
more absurd productions
of the orthodox,"
that were only
"writings
excluding
cries of horror, wild assertions
and promiscuous
calling of names." He acknowl
that this process "may well give a false view of the real ideas of
edged, however,
the

time."35

Iwholeheartedly

this assertion,
for in the literally hundreds
and
agree with
of books, pamphlets,
and journals from the end of the Old
sermons,
I have consulted,
the philosophes, and more generally
the Enlightenment,
Regime
are treated in precisely
the terms spelled out above. In short, ifwe are to get at the
"real ideas" of the time, we need to take these "wild assertions"
for
seriously?if
no other reason than that they were disseminated
in such volume.
was by
that this Catholic
One must
add, moreover,
Counter-Enlightenment
hundreds

no means

to France, but rather had parallel movements


confined
throughout
in the New World
and Eastern
and even
(Brazil, Mexico,
Europe,
one has to be careful inmaking
such global claims?sensitive
Montr?al).
Clearly,
as well as to the
to regional variations,
and circumstances,
national
inflections,
an
whole.
itself was by no means
fact, of course, that Catholicism
uncomplicated
within
the complex web of tense, and even discordant,
Nevertheless,
traditions,
one can identify closely gathered
strands spun of the same intellectual
fiber, mak
a
to
it
of
Catholic
international,
ing
Counter-Enlightenment
possible
speak
given
not just by the universal
church but by the tremendous
consistency
prestige
in the eighteenth
and currency of French religious apologists
century. Ironically, a
a
moment
in
that
is
dark
the
considered
century
usually
history of the Christian
a
amount
nonetheless
of religious
apology
religion
produced
startlingly
large
in the eyes of eighteenth
and defense. And whatever
the judgment of posterity,
was the state of the art?the most
French religious apologetics
century Catholics,
on the very field
most
the
and
battle-hardened,
sophisticated
forged as it was,
a consequence,
were
the first attacks on the Enlightenment
As
and
where
waged.
in
of
the
French
the
due in part also to the international
currency
language
eigh
were
teenth century,
cited by their
French
religious
apologists
continually
in other countries who repeated, borrowed
Catholic brethren
from, and recycled
were often translated
in
and
the
these arguments
fact,
they
against
Enlightenment,
to read through, for example,
in their entirety. In fact, when one begins
Italian or
or to look at such international
as the
publications
religious
apologists,
Spanish
a
et
in
of
litt?raire, published
Jesuit exiles
Journal historique
group
by
Luxembourg
are their portrayals
in the 1770s and 1780s, it is striking, how consistent
of the En
were
ene
after
considered
the
of
the
all,
philosophes who,
principal
lightenment,
mies both within
France and without.
With
the advent and radical turn of the French Revolution,
the anti
moreover,
in
of
the
discourse
Old
power and
philosophe
Regime grew immensely
persuasive

Western

The Real

Counter-Enlightenment:

The Case

of France

101

this is tremendously
cultural resonance. And
important. For as the Revolution
radical
took on an increasingly
priests,
character?persecuting
assailing
in international
and consuming
monarchies,
Europe
conflagration?yesterday's
fanatics began to look more and more prescient.36 No longer could one dismiss out
who had warned,
of
of hand the men and women
prior to 1789, of the dangers
apostasy
they not predicted the terrible anarchy and religious
ideas? Had they not
issue from Europe's obsession with "enlightened"
in the
of straying from the path of God? Particularly
foretold the consequences
and
of the Terror?when
New
tales circulated
the
aftermath
through Europe
violence
that had placed
carried out in a country
World
of the blood-curdling
in the Panth?on,
the philosophes as their
Voltaire and Rousseau
openly proclaiming
was
logic
compelling.
spiritual forefathers?such
was
it remained so. The right, from this perspective,
For many men and women
would
be?its
of
the
had been,
analysis
dangerous
always
right, always
not simply created, by the Revolu
of Enlightenment
confirmed,
consequences
of what
the
The Revolution
corroboration
provided
tionary experience.
bloody
so
it
the Enlightenment
would do?and
followed
could do?what
Enlightenment
in great
need be fought at all cost?a
that its resurgence
conclusion
spread
philosophic
that would

Had

abundance
and European heads of state in the first third
by Catholic polemicists
of the nineteenth
further confirmed
(or at least so it seemed)
century; a conclusion
and
and
the
of
1830
the
Revolutions
of what was
1848,
gradual progress
by
by
a conclusion
bastard
deemed
child,
liberalism;
philosophie's
lurking in the back
a conclusion,
of
the
of
and restated in
and
stated
Errors,
finally,
ground
Syllabus
and pul
of
thousands
histories,
articles,
newspaper
political engravings,
literally
in
and
conservative
Catholics
Western
which
sermons,
pit
spread throughout
the image of the philosophes
the Catholic world
Eastern Europe, and throughout
the
first created in the eighteenth
Canada,
century. In Latin America,
francophone
one finds these same anti-philosophe
West
and
the
Indies,
elsewhere,
Philippines,
constructions
trotted out again and again well
into the twentieth
century. When
one comes to terms with this fact, it becomes
I think, why so
easier to understand,
a
so
seen
in
have
could
the
for
constellation
of values
many
Enlightenment
long
a
reason
not
and malignant
of insidious
of
and
source,
power,
light, but of
and despair. At
of broadening
portance
Counter-Enlightenments?to
darkness

the very least, such prodigious


the im
output suggests
our conceptions
of the Counter-Enlightenment?or
as well as the philosophically
include the pedestrian

profound.

Notes
and Michael Albrecht,
this debate, see Norbert Hinske
aus
Berlinischen
der
(Darmstadt:
Beitr?ge
Monatsschrift

1. On

Was

istAufkl?rung?
Wissenschaftliche
and commentary
translations
1973), and the fine English
Buchgesellschaft,
in
is
What
An
ed.,
Schmidt,
James
Enlightenment?
provided
Eighteenth-Century
swers and Twentieth-Century
and
Los
Questions
Angeles: University
(Berkeley

of California
Press, 1996).
2. "M?moire au roi," Proc?s-verbal de l'assembl?e g?n?rale du clerg? de France, tenue
en l'ann?e mil sept cent cinquante-cinq
? Paris, au couvent des grands-augustins,
327-9.
(Paris, 1764), pp.

102

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


de l'assembl?e g?n?rale du clerg? de France, tenue ? Paris, au couvent
en l'ann?e mil sept cent soixante-cinq et continu?e en l'ann?e
des grands-augustins,
mil sept cent soixante-six (Paris, 1773), pp. 200-2, and Proc?s-verbal de l'assembl?e
au couvent des
en
g?n?rale du clerg? de France, tenue ? Paris,
grands-augustins,
l'ann?e mil sept cent soixante-dix (Paris, 1776), p. 124.
et r?futation de divers ?crits
Lettres critiques, ou Analyse
[Gabriel Gauchat],
modernes contre la religion, 19 vols. (Paris, 1755-1763),
i, "Preface," p. 7.
Ibid.
La Religion
[Jean G. Soret and Jean-Nicolas-Hubert
veng?e, ou
Hayer],
...
une
auteurs
21
des
Soci?t?
de
Gens
de
vols.
Lettres,
(Paris,
par
impies
R?futation
1757-1763).
on this anti-philosophe world
of letters, see Darrin M.
For further reflections
in
"The
and
the
of Literature
Low-Life
McMahon,
Counter-Enlightenment
Past
Present
159
77-112.
A
&
somewhat
France,"
(1998), pp.
Pre-Revolutionary
account
in Kurt Wais,
is also provided
Das
still useful,
dated,
though

3. Proc?s-verbal

4.
5.
6.

7.

Sturm und Drang 1760-1789


(Berlin:
antiphilosophische Weltbild desfranz?sischen
Junker und D?nnhaupt,
1934).
a scion of a
8. Fleury,
served as avocat
distinguished
parliamentary
family,
in 1746, premier avocat g?n?ral in 1756,
g?n?ral at the Paris Parlement beginning
and pr?sident ? mortier from 1774-1790. He took an instrumental
role in pursu
of many of the philosophes in the 1750s and 1760s. S?guier,
ing the persecutions
likewise an avocat g?n?ral, was also a member
of the Acad?mie fran?aise (1757),
and an equally dogged opponent
of the philosophes.
9. Biblioth?que
nationale.
MS Nouv.
acq (Collection Joly de Fleury), Vol. 352,
folio 6. Arrests de la cour de Parlement, portant condamnation de plusieurs
3807-19,
livres et autres ouvrages imprim?s ... Extrait des registres de parlement du 23 Janvier
1759 (Paris, 1759), pp. 2-4.
[Antoine-Louis
S?guier], R?quisitoire sur lequel est intervenu l'arr?t du Parlement
du 18 ao?t 1770, qui condamne ? ?tre br?l?es diff?rents livres ou Brochures, intitul?s,
etc., etc., imprim? par ordre expr?s du Roi (Paris, 1770), pp. 1-4.
11. J. P. Migne,
des orateurs sacr?s, 99 vols.
Collection
int?grale et universelle
10.

(Paris, 1844-46), Vol. 65, Oeuvres compl?tes de Cambac?r?s, Sermon III, "Sur les
incr?dules," pp. 1047-8.
12. This critique frequently
led to charges of a formal philosophe conspiracy. On
see Amos
of such conspiratorial
the ancien-r?gime
accusations,
prevalence
French His
"The Origins of the Theory of the Philosophe Conspiracy,"
Hofman,
Enemies of the Enlightenment:
tory 2 (1988), pp. 152-72, and Darrin McMahon,
and theMaking
The French Counter-Enlightenment
(New York:
ofModernity
56-65.
Press,
2001),
pp.
esp.
University
de l'assembl?e-g?n?rale du
Avertissement
13. [Jean-George Le Franc de Pompignan],
aux
ce royaume sur les avantages de la religion chr?tienne
France
de
de
Clerg?
fid?les
et les effets pernicieux de l'incr?dulit? (Paris, 1775), p. 5.
14. Hofman,
"The Origins of the Theory of the Philosophe Conspiracy,"
p. 168.
later prove a central assertion of Hegel, who argued at
15. This, of course, would
was merely
of Sprit that the French Enlightenment
length in the Phenomenology
in a different
the "Lutheran Reformation
form." It is noteworthy
that this
had been put forth in considerable
assertion
detail by orthodox
Catholics
in the eighteenth
of the Enlightenment,
century. On Hegel's
understanding
Oxford

The Real

Counter-Enlightenment:

The Case

of France

103

see Lewis

Fla.:
Hinchman,
(Gainesville,
Hegel's Critique of the Enlightenment
Presses
of
Florida,
1984).
University
16. See Hofman's
analysis in "Origins of the Theory of the Philosophe Conspiracy,"
in his "The
reflections
of J.M. Roberts
pp. 163-9, as well as the insightful
of aMythology:
of the Institute

Protestants
and The French Revolution,"
Freemasons,
Historical
No.
109 (1971), pp. 80-93.
Research, xliv,
of
17. On the significant anti-philosophe and anti-Protestant
reaction generated by the
Enemies of the Enlightenment, Ch. 1.
Edict, see McMahon,
Origins
Bulletin

18. See ibid.


de Saint-Aubin
de Genlis],
La Religion consid?r?e
Ducrest
[St?phanie-F?licit?
comme
la
du
&
de
v?ritable
base
bonheur
philosophie (Paris, 1787), p. 222.
l'unique
20. Ann?e litt?raire, 1783, vi, p. 5.
ou Lettres provinciales philosophiques, 5 vols.
21. [Augustin Barruel], Les Helviennes,
156-7.
of later conspiracy
iv, pp.
Barruel,
(Paris, 1781-88),
theory fame,
on the Ann?e
litt?raire in the late 1770s and early 1780s, and from
worked
1788-1792 served as editor of the Journal eccl?siastique, the leading professional
19.

went
at least five
Les Helviennes,
through
and
1781
1788.
editions
augmented
sur la
ou
22. Antoine-Adrien
Pens?es
de l'incr?dulit?,
Lamourette,
philosophie
sur
ce
si?cle (Paris,
R?flexions
l'esprit et le dessein des philosophes
irr?ligieux de
are
1785), p. 59. ?lie Harel noted similarly that "the [the philosophes'] principles
publication

of

the

clergy.
between

so inconsistent
to atheism."
that they lead directly
Harel,
[Maximilien-Marie
le P. ?lie], La Vraie philosophie (Strasbourg and Paris, 1783), p. 13.
Le Comte de Valmont, ou Les ?garements de la
G?rard],
[Abb? Philippe-Louis
in 1774, the Comte de
raison, 6 vols.
(Paris, 1826), i, p. 212. First published
in at least seven edi
Valmont was considerably
and
augmented
republished
it one of the anti-philosophe
tions by 1784, making
"best-sellers"
of the end of
the Old R?gime.
des Balbes de Berton de Crillon], M?moires philosophiques du
[Louis Athanase
Baron De***, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (1779), i, p. 135.
Ren? Liger, Triomphe de la religion chr?tienne, sur toutes les sectes philosophiques
(Paris, 1785), p. ix. See also pp. 187 ff.
Satires, parM. C*** (Amsterdam,
Cl?ment],
[Jean-Marie-Bernard
1786), p. 165.
and his career, see McMahon,
"The Counter-Enlightenment
and
On Cl?ment
of Literature," pp. 94-8.
the Low-Life
Pens?es sur la philosophie, p. 191.
Lamourette,
iv, pp. 173-4.
Barruel, Les Helviennes,
1785, p. 163.
Journal eccl?siastique, xcviii, Part 2, February,
de la doctrine des philosophes modernes
Charles-Louis
Richard,
Exposition
called

23.

24.
25.
26.

27.
28.
29.
30.

that the philosophes modernes, to


(Maines, 1785), pp. 52-3. It isworth
stressing
whom Richard refers here, included the standard figures of the High Enlight
enment pantheon: Voltaire, d'Alembert,
Diderot, Raynal, Helv?tius,
Holbach,
Robinet, and others.
31. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

and Rolf Reichardt,


in Rolf
"Philosophe, Philosophie,"
and Eberhard Schmitt, eds., Handbuch politisch-sozialer Grundbegriffe
Reichardt
in Frankreich 1680-1820,10
vols. (Munich: R. Oldenbourg,
1985-), pp. 59-61.
De
et
la
d?cadence
32. Jean-Antoine
de
des
lettres
des moeurs, depuis
Juvigny,
Rigoley
les grecs et les romains jusqu'? nos jours (Paris, 1787), p. 452-3. Rigoley was a

104

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


conseiller honoraire of the Parlement of Metz
Sciences, Arts & Belles-Lettres de Dijon.

and a member

of the Acad?mie

des

trans. Lydia
The Cultural Origins
33. Roger Chartier,
of the French Revolution,
and
Duke
London:
G. Cochrane
Press, 1991), p. 5.
(Durham
University
De Pascal ? Chateaubriand: Les d?fenseurs fran?ais du Christianisme
34. Albert Monod,
de 1670 ? 1802 (Paris: n.p., 1916), p. 472.
in Eighteenth-Century
35. Robert Palmer, Catholics and Unbelievers
21.
Princeton University
Press, 1939), p.
in which
36. On
French
the way
Counter-Enlightenment
observers

Revolutionary
o? philosophie,
realization

interpreted
see McMahon,

France (Princeton:

and Counter
the Revolution,
from its onset, as the
Enemies of the Enlightenment,
ch. 2.

Ser

lin and

the Qerman

Counter-Enlightenment

Frederick ?eiser

I. The Basic Equation


in Germany,
the beginning
there has been one
of the nineteenth
century
for
the
of
of
issues
formula
social and political
many
very popular
interpretation
can be found among those on both the left and the
formula
This
authority.
right,
center. According
to this formula, liberal equals ratio
and even in the moderate
as freedom of conscience,
liberal values?such
fundamental
nal; in other words,
Since

toleration,
upon the authority of
liberty of press, and equality before the law?rest
or criticize
reason. Hence
in
it is often thought
that to question
this authority
manner
to
is
these
liberal
whatsoever
values
themselves.
Whether
any
impugn
by
it is to support such nonliberal
values as the sanctity of
intention or implication,
tradition and the unity of state and Church.
The source of this equation goes back to the 1790s and the advent of the French
to defend
the French philosophes attempted
those heady days when
Revolution,
their grand ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity in the name of reason. Some
critics of the Revolution,
conservative
such as Justus Moser, A. W. Rehberg,
and
the authority of reason it
Friedrich Gentz, criticized
these ideals by questioning
in
self. The disputes
between
left and right in Germany
then became
enmired
reason.
reason
issues
the
of
Can
determine
the
powers
concerning
epistemological
fundamental
of the state? And, if so, does it have the power tomotivate
principles
on these principles?
to
act
The battle lines between
left and right were
people
answers to these questions.
to their conflicting
drawn according
The left defended
its liberal principles
the powers of reason, while
the right criticized
by stressing
reason.
the
limits
of
these principles
by emphasizing
The debates of the 1790s set a powerful
and lasting precedent.
For in the 1830s
was couched
in essentially
the dispute between
the liberals and the conservatives
to defend
the same terms. While
the liberals continued
their ideals in the name of
reason, their romantic opponents would
appeal to the authority of tradition to jus
a
to
return
of
the unity of Church and state, and the preservation
tify
monarchy,
the old class-distinctions

(St?nde). The equation

persisted

well

into the 1930s, and

105

106

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

saw themselves
as the heirs of the
and have at
beyond. Marxists
Enlightenment,
some
tacked the right for its relapse into irrationalism.
Nazi
Ironically,
ideologues
the charge, but only to insist that reason is not the solution but the prob
accepted
lem. In order to uphold
the German values of community,
nation, and tradition,
rationalism.
they attacked the legacy of Enlightenment
But is it necessarily
the case that the "liberal" is the "rational"?
Is there some
connection
is
between
these
Or
this
concepts?
equation
logical
simply accidental
some historical debates as if
and historical,
the result of generalizing
they held for
at least that
all epochs? That there is no necessary
connection
between
them?or
is much more complex
than many would
the connection
admit?becomes
clear
from the Counter-Enlightenment,
that group of late eighteenth-century
thinkers
to the Aufkl?rung,
is best represented
which
J. G.
opposed
by J. G. Hamann,
were
reason
F.
H.
and
thinkers
of
the
These
critics
claims
of
Herder,
Jacobi.1
sharp
made by the Aufkl?rung; yet they also made
to defend liberal val
these criticisms
ues. They argued that the excessive
claims of reason made by the Aufkl?rer not
toleration and religious
freedom, but that they also supported
only undermined
the oppression
of ethnic identities and cultural traditions. Of course, the Aufkl?rer
in kind: they were
to these criticisms
the true protectors
of freedom,
responded
was
and it was
the irrationalism
the
Schw?rmer
that
of
liberal
undermining
fact that there is debate here should forewarn us that the
values.2 Yet the mere
it without
is problematic.
We cannot make
equation
abstracting
contexts and begging philosophical
questions.
status of the liberal-rational
While
the problematic
has been little
equation
in discussions
of the Counter-Enlightenment,
itself has
the equation
recognized
not been without
its critics. One of the most persuasive
and powerful
of these has
liberal-rational
from historical

and the Counter-Enlightenment,


Influenced
by Romanticism
that has been the traditional
the Enlightenment
rationalism
questioned
he rejected the Enlightenment
doctrine
support of liberalism.3 More
specifically,
to which
of natural
there is a single universal
law, according
system of values
a liberal,
as such. Nevertheless,
for mankind
Berlin remained
holding
insisting
an
to
that fundamental
be
liberal principles
have
based upon
of a va
acceptance
For
incommensurable
and
values.
the
of
fundamental
Berlin,
riety
competing
in the postmodern
for liberalism
world was how to justify its central
problem
been

Isaiah Berlin.

Berlin

values without
the problematic
It is to Berlin's great credit,

of Enlightenment
rationalism.
assumptions
I believe, not only that he questioned
the dogma of
but
that
the liberal-rational
he also recognized
the challenge posed by the
equation,
to the Enlightenment
faith in reason. For Berlin, thinkers
Counter-Enlightenment
and Jacobi were not simple relics from that old curiosity
like Hamann,
Herder,
as
the history of philosophy:
innovative
and powerful
crit
they were
shop known
so common
in all its forms who have questioned
ics of rationalism
the belief?still
are resolvable
to philosophers
the basic social and political problems
today?that
reason.
is
indeed
still
with us
The
German
much
very
Counter-Enlightenment
by
in
The
criticisms
the
of
of
rational
form
today
"postmodernism."
Enlightenment
ism in the work
in almost all
of Richard Rorty and Alasdair Maclntyre
were,
fundamental

and Jacobi. While


their
Herder,
respects, anticipated
by Hamann,
a
now
reason
their
criticism
of
resonates.
is
relic
still
faith
of
pietistic
history,
all his sympathy with Hamann,
and Jacobi, and despite
Herder,
Yet, despite
his being so deeply
influenced by them, Berlin still remained a harsh critic of the

Berlin

and

the German

Counter-Enlightenment

107

of what he regarded
He especially
disapproved
it for its "obscurantism,"
its de
thus censuring
and myth,
and its hatred of science. Though Hamann,
fense of prejudice
Jacobi,
to
the label, Berlin did not hesitate
and Herder
themselves
against
protested
as "anti-rationalism"
and "irrationalism."4
characterize
their philosophy
More

German Counter-Enlightenment.
as its extreme anti-intellectualism,

of the political
intentions and conse
Berlin was suspicious
however,
importantly,
reason.
of
Time and again in
behind
the
quences
critique
Counter-Enlightenment
"a reactionary"
for his opposition
his TheMagus of theNorth, Berlin labels Hamann
was a
to the reforms of Friedrich
and
maintains
that
Hamann
II,
persistently
Berlin himself
had
bitter opponent
of liberal culture.5 The irony is that while
to
thanks
the
doubts about the liberal-rational
equation
Counter-Enlightenment,
and Jacobi as if their thought was still
of Hamann,
he sometimes wrote
Herder,
in this formula. It is as if their critique of reason were still antiliberal, both
by intention and by implication.
is not to examine
the liberal-rational
here
itself?
equation
My purpose
a gargantuan
to
Berlin's
the
task?and
still
less
tackle
about
question
obviously,
one: Iwish to
of liberalism. My task is amuch more modest
historical
foundations
stuck

of the German Counter-Enlightenment,


and more
interpretation
as
to
accurate
it
is
it
and
describe
"irrational."
whether
"reactionary"
specifically
it is tempting
to dismiss
these terms as mere "slurs" or Schimpfw?rter,
Although
to be
behind
there are complex
need
them, which
interpretive
assumptions
to
and exposed. Unfortunately,
these labels have stuck, contributing
examined
some very widespread
about
the
misunderstandings
Counter-Enlightenment.
as
here is that, in regarding
the Counter-Enlightenment
argument
My main
not
Berlin's
and
is
anachronistic
but
also
irrational,
reactionary
interpretation
only
as "reactionary"
is to ignore Hamann's,
tendentious.
Herder's,
Simply to label it
to basic liberal values. And to brand it as "irra
and Jacobi's deep commitment
over their own strident
or "antirationalism"
is to ride roughshod
tionalism"
examine

Berlin's

it is to beg the question


about the limits
protests against these labels. Even worse,
of reason and the nature of freedom, and involves the taking of sides in some com
to see that, for all their criticisms of the
thereon. It is important
plicated disputes
never
and
the value and necessity
Hamann,
Herder,
Jacobi
questioned
Aufkl?rung,
in dispute
its limits. But, of
concerned
of reason itself; for them the only question
and delicate dialectical
course, just how we draw these limits is a very difficult
even incompatible,
task. Since there are different,
of defining
these limits,
ways
one

person's

rationalism

becomes

another's

irrationalism.

is that the fundamental


of Berlin's interpre
weakness
My argument, however,
tation is that it fails to see the liberal inspiration behind the Counter-Enlightenment
and Jacobi's criticism of the
Herder's,
critique of reason.6 Ifwe place Hamann's,
we
can
see
in
its
historical
that its purpose was not to
context,
proper
Aufkl?rung
toleration
and
but rather to support basic liberal values,
undermine,
especially
and Jacobi believed
that the Aufkl?rer
freedom of conscience.
Hamann,
Herder,
had betrayed
their own liberal values of toleration and of freedom of speech and
their religious and political beliefs with the standards of rea
press by identifying
son itself. The Aufkl?rer saw their own form of rationalized
as the
Protestantism
saw
as
and
modern
the
form
of
values
faith,
European
only legitimate
they
as such. Worst of all, however,
au
the
universal values of mankind
sanctioned
they
that oppressed
traditional
tocratic policies of absolutist governments
liberties and

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

108

In short, the Aufkl?rer were


guilty of "the tyranny of reason"
of
der
different
(Alleinherrschaft
Vernunft),
oppressing
religions and cultures in the
name of reason. That
summarizes
the
cri
phrase
perfectly
Counter-Enlightenment
same
at
of
and
the
the
time
the
captures
tique
Aufkl?rung
Counter-Enlightenment's
ethnic

identities.

essentially

liberal spirit.

II. The Politics

of the Counter-Enlightenment

I proceed
to examine
To clarify this contention,
the first of Berlin's labels, his claim
was
that the Counter-Enlightenment
There are two senses inwhich
"reactionary."
accurate.
that are perfectly
Berlin uses
this phrase
First, Berlin refers to the
as reactionary
"in
strict
the
sense" because Hamann,
Counter-Enlightenment
to
return
to
and
"wished
tradition
the
older
of the ages of
Herder,
Jacobi
a
over
in
which
consisted
of
that
faith,"
way
thinking
emphasized
quality
over
over
concrete
the
the
and
the
the abstract.7 There
quantity,
simple
analyzable,
is some truth to this point; but it has no political
In another
significance.
sense Berlin states that the
was
because
Counter-Enlightenment
reactionary
Herder
and Jacobi were
II of
of the reforms of Friedrich
Hamann,
opponents
Prussia and of Joseph II of Austria.8 This point too is indisputable.
It iswell known
that Hamann,
and Jacobi despised
the increasing
centralization
and
Herder,
bureaucratization
and Josephine
of the Frederician
reforms, which
put more
in the hands of the central government
at the expense of ancient liberties,
power
traditions, and identities.
so often
Neither
of these points entail, however,
what
the term "reactionary"
a
in
belief
the
for
need
of au
traditional
forms
antiliberalism,
suggests: namely,
a
new forms of human
and
all
to
of
Berlin
freedom.
attempts
thority
suspicion
secure this added conclusion,
that
the
and
Frederician
however,
by implying
Josephine

reforms

were

liberal,

modernizing,

and

progressive,

in

way

that

it seem as if all opposition


to them had to be reactionary.9
makes
But it is simply
to assume
bad history
that these reforms were
liberal in spirit. Their purpose
was not to guarantee
the rights of man, or liberty, equality, and fraternity, but to
consolidate
the control and power of the central monarchy.
To understand
and Jacobi's critique of the Aufkl?rung,
it
Hamann's,
Herder's,
is of the first importance
that we place it in the context of their opposition
to ab
of the Aufkl?rung
solutism. They were such sharp critics of the rationalism
chiefly
it
with
Friedrich's
and
associated
because,
they
justifiably,
Joseph's
perfectly
of Friedrich's
absolutism.
The Aufkl?rer were indeed in the vanguard
and Joseph's
name
reason.
in
the
of
defended
Such
reforms, which
they
Aufkl?rer as Carl G.
in Prussia, and Josef von Sonnenfels,
Svarez, E. F. Klein, and J.A. Eberhard
J.H.
G. von

Justi, and C. A. Beck in Austria, would


appeal time and again to the prin
to
to be
the
reforms.
These
natural
of
law
defend
principles were supposed
ciples
as
so
true
and
of
mankind
that
who
those
valid,
self-evident,
such,
universally
to their private
dared to protest against them had to be acting according
interests
and Jacobi, the imposition
rather than the public good. But, to Hamann,
Herder,
of these laws was leading to increasing uniformity,
and centraliza
bureaucracy,
a
to a brutally
state where
citizen
became
efficient
tion, and ultimately
every
a
in
in
machine.
these
their
reforms
view,
because,
cog
against
They protested
they
were
leading to the loss of local liberties, ethnic identities, and cultural traditions.

Berlin

and

the German

109

Counter-Enlightenment

of the rights of man


theirs was not a defense
against
tyrannical
was it the conservative
but
rationalism
neither
critique of enlightened
oppression;
found among the "Hannoverian Whigs"
(writers like Justus Moser, Ernst Brandes,
interest was to defend
the old St?ndesstaat; and
and A. W. Rehberg), whose main
of the 1790s, the
still less was
it a critique like that of those reactionary writers

To be

sure,

reforms in the name of the traditional pre


Eudemonisten, who attacked absolutist
and
the
the
of
church
Rather, Hamann's,
rights of the aristocracy.10
rogatives
Herder's,

and

Jacobi's

main

concern

was

much

cultural

religion

itself.

absolutist

more

"postmodern,"

centralization

namely,

to

and bureaucratic
against
pluralism
the
and
Saxons tomain
of
advocated
the
Latvians, Poles,
They
rights
uniformity.
own
and
the
and
tain their old ways
values
of
their
of life,
unique
languages
cultural traditions.
Itwas because of the Aufkl?rer alliance with absolutism
that Hamann, Herder,
and Jacobi accused them of "the tyranny of reason." This phrase was given a very
reason arose, he explained,
definite meaning
from the
by Jacobi.11 The tyranny of
or party alone represents
one
sect
of
that
the
which
claims
principles
Sektengeist,
error because
reason. This was a dangerous
if the views of only one party or sect
were
be no point in listening to, or tolerating anyone else,
rational, there would
views would
irrational and so beneath discussion.
whose
be by definition
Jacobi
was
not
that
but
this
view
undesirable
contended,
very plausibly,
only politically
he contended,
is only a formal power,
fallacious.
also philosophically
Reason,
than the inferential
which
relations between
determines
proposi
nothing more
or
in specific
consists
which
tions; it is not a substantive
power
principles
standards. As just such a formal power, reason is neutral with regard to all parties,
and is a tool to which
it
everyone has a claim simply as a partner in a discussion;
to mention
to
absurd?for
that
their
is therefore
claim
intolerant?not
anyone
to Jacobi, it was Lessing who
alone is rational. According
first de
standpoint
fended this broad formal concept of reason, which permitted
toleration between
views. This explains how Jacobi, despite his critique of the Aufkl?rung,
opposing
could still identify so strongly with that most radical of Aufkl?rer.
for the Counter
That the critique of absolutism was an important motivation
reason
not least
of
from
becomes
clear
several
sources,
critique
Enlightenment
from Hamann's
diatribes against Friedrich II, and from Herder's
tirade against the
state in his Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte derMenschheit. Nowhere
is
machine
itmore evident, however,
than from a neglected
his
1780
early essay by Jacobi,
since it marks
the
"Etwas, da? Lessing
gesagt hat."12 This essay is important
a
start of Jacobi's campaign
the
Berlin
that
against
Aufkl?rung,
eventually
struggle
in his famous controversy
in 1786, the so-called
with Mendelssohn
culminated
over the
The impetus behind Jacobi's essay was his indignation
Pantheismusstreit.
had
which
traditional
of
Catholic
institu
reforms
II,
swept away
Joseph
religious
new
not engaged
in education were
tions in Austria. Monasteries
closed,
posts
were filled with candidates
in rationalist
and the many
schooled
rituals
theology,
and holidays
reduced or abolished.
In Joseph's Austria,
the
of the Church were
Church had a merely
secular and social function: its sole purpose was to educate
to teach them the basic precepts
and the rewards of good conduct.
the people,
was
a
a theocrat, he felt that these re
not
still
less
While
himself
Catholic,
Jacobi
a threat to religious
to the very existence
and
forms were
indeed
of
freedom,
defend

HO

Isaiah Berlins

Counter-Enlightenment

an exten
Jacobi's later attack upon the Berlin Aufkl?rer in 1786 was essentially
sion of his critique of the Josephine
reforms in 1782. Jacobi was suspicious
of the
Berliners?Friedrich
and J. E. Biester?not
Gedike,
J. J. Engel, Friedrich Nicolai,
in league with Friedrich
II and all too happy
to enlist his
least because
they were
own
narrow
in
their
version
of
rationalized
Protestantism.
support
enforcing
His suspicions were especially
reinforced by the so-called
"Crypto-Catholicism"
two leading Aufkl?rer, Biester and Gedike,
in
1784
when
which
controversy,
began
wrote
articles in the Berlinische Monatsschrift
the Protestant
practice of
criticizing
to
in
Protestant
Biester
and
Catholics
Gedike
feared
churches.13
allowing
worship
that this practice was the product of "false tolerance,"
for the Catholics were only
a foothold for their reconquest
of lost Protestant
lands. They
using the churches as
the public
had never renounced
warned
that the Catholics
their claim to be the
their ideal of reuniting
only saving faith, and that they had never abandoned
in their view, Protestants who
Christendom
under one banner. Hence,
tolerated
were naive,
to be reconquered
in the name of
Catholics
themselves
allowing
to profess their be
Biester and Gedike continued
freedom of conscience. Although
so
it
lief in toleration,
that
has
clear
that
force should be
limits,
very
they argued
and conspire for Catholicism.
used against those who proselytize
There followed
a very
in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift
lively debate about the meaning
of toleration
itself.
arose from this earlier debate. Accord
Jacobi's later dispute with Mendelssohn
their cardinal sin of the tyranny
ing to Jacobi, the Aufkl?rer had again committed
the views of their own party for those of reason in general.
of reason, mistaking
see that reason could not lie in the principles
of any particular party
They failed to
common
to all parties. They also had a false view about
but only in the reasoning
the basis of toleration:
its foundation
lies not in the mistaken
belief that all people
are the same, sharing in some universal
human nature, but in the recognition
that
are
and
that
itself
valuable.
different
difference
is
inherently
people

III. The Religion

of the Counter-Enlightenment

was not the


of absolutism
for the Counter
only motive
that played
critique of the Aufkl?rung. There was another motive
Enlightenment
an even more
role: the defense
of faith and religious
It is
values.
important
here to discuss briefly Hamann's,
and Jacobi's religious be
Herder's,
necessary
an understanding
liefs because
of their liberalism, and for their
they are crucial for
are pinned down,
absolutism.
Once
of
their
there
critique
religious
sympathies

Of

course,

the hatred

cannot be any doubt about their liberal intentions.


of Counter-Enlightenment
The common
interpretation
piety, which Berlin fol
as "one of the
in pietism.
its origins
Berlin characterizes
lows, stresses
pietism
austere
most
and
all
the
inner
currents
self-absorbed
of
of
introspective,
... laid stress on the
as "that wing of German Lutheranism
which
Lutheranism,"
faith and direct union with God, achieved
depth and sincerity of personal
by
self-examination,
passionate,
intensely
introspective
scrupulous
religious
feeling,
and prayer."14 This is a fine general description
self-absorbtion
and concentrated
to explain
of pietism,
but it does not really help
the religious
of
origins
is that pietism,
The problem
like so many
the Counter-Enlightenment.
"isms," is
an umbrella
term that covers all kinds of groups. One still needs
to know
the

Berlin

and

the German

Counter-Enlightenment

111

of the Counter-Enlightenment.
characteristic
Only then is it
the depth of its liberalism.
all influenced
strand of
and Jacobi were
Hamann,
Herder,
by one extreme
in
the
Radical
Reformation
of
the
sixteenth
whose
pietism,
origins
lay
well
into
the
the
its
ideas
Radical
century,
persisted
eighteenth
century.15 Though
to
back
the
of
the
Reforma
Reformation
antedates pietism
itself, going
early days
were Sebastian
tion. Some of its chief exponents
Franck, Caspar Schwenkfeld,
Valentin Weigel,
and, last
Jakob Boehme, Gottfried Arnold, Christian Edelmann,
stream of
from the main
but not least, Lessing.
The radical reformers differed
in at least one fundamental
founded
respect:
pietism
by Spener and Francke
so that it could
a
was
not
to
the
Church
their aim
from within,
reform
play
simply
to
cut
state
the bond between
better role in the state, but rather
and Church. As
radical champions
the very idea of a state
of religious
liberty, they opposed
specific form of pietism
to understand
possible

Church and advocated


instead the idea of toleration. The radical reformers clung
to Luther's grand ideals?the
of all believ
the priesthood
liberty of the Christian,
that
Luther
had
his
ideals
the princes.
ers?but
believed
before
compromised
they
of
Peace
the
eius
The fundamental
of
religio?
principle
Augsburg?cuis
regio,
in all religious matters;
meant
this destroyed
that the prince was sovereign
any
state
true
and
and
for
for
the
Church
of
thus
free
any
prospect
separation
hope
to these radical reformers,
dom of conscience. According
the essential spirit of the
the
heart of the believer,
from
Reformation
entails that all true faith must
spring
to enforce faith destroys
it. Any kind of state
that any attempt
and that means
in matters
faith is therefore not only counterproductive
interference
of religious
but also impious.
Now
it was
this spirit of the Radical Reformation
that was so central to the
and political values of the Counter-Enlightenment.
and
Herder,
Hamann,
so
to
not
want
to
reform
the
and
did
the
Church,
Jacobi
accept
unity of
merely
were
state and Church of orthodox Lutheranism;
also
they
perfectly happy with
and ready to recognize
and freethinkers
the idea of toleration,
Jews, Catholics,
too
of
within
the state. Like the radical reformers,
insisted
that freedom
they
is sacrosanct,
and that no official religion should ever impinge on its
conscience
to absolutism.
domain. This was indeed the chief source of their opposition
They
not
must
stem from the
that
but
also
all
and
virtue
only piety
argued
happiness
to compel a person
to be
inner heart of the individual.
It was no more possible
or
was
to
to
it
than
force
them
be
virtuous
pious.
happy
to the radical form of
and Jacobi's adherence
Given Hamann's,
Herder's,
not
to
it
is
find them endorsing
Luther's principle
of Christian
liberty,
surprising
one of the fundamental
the
what
Kant
of
called "the right
principles
Aufkl?rung:
to
the
of
the
individual
examine
of self-thought"
all beliefs ac
(Selbstdenken),
right
own reason and conscience.
was
to
in
his
their
it
the Aufkl?rer
view,
But,
cording
is this critique of the Aufkl?rung
this principle.
who had betrayed
Nowhere
more apparent than in Hamann's
letter to C. J.Kraus of December
18,1784, where
he attacks Kant's
famous essay "Was ist Aufkl?rung?"16
Kant's distinction
be
means
one
tween the private and public use of reason, Hamann
that
complains,
social

an article for the Berlinische


really has freedom only when writing
Monatsschrift,
in one's vocation
and daily life one remains a hypocrite
and a slave. In the
while
amounts
to nothing more
ideal of the Aufkl?rung
than a paraphrase
end, Kant's
of Friedrich's
itwas all too
dictum: "Say what you want but obey!" To Hamann,

112

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

to think for
in Prussia
the common man does not have the power
why
Friedrich had a huge disciplined
his
command.
every
army enforcing
Hamann, Herder, and Jacobi all endorse the principle of self-thought,
Although
as that of the
it is important
to see that they do not give it the same meaning
not
with
do
criticism
rational
alone, that is, the
equate self-thought
Aufkl?rer. They
to
the
evidence.
beliefs
of
Rather, they see it in terms
power
assessing
according
obvious
himself:

It is not that
of the individual's
need to test all beliefs
through inner experience.
we must have sufficient reasons for our beliefs, but that they inter
that
they deny
terms from those of the rationalists. Their terms are
pret these reasons in different
in propositions,
not only discursive,
and so can be formulated
but they are also in
or
In
sensations.
either case, no matter
tuitive, resting upon inarticulable
feelings
we
it should be clear that Hamann,
how
of self-thought,
interpret the principle
and Jacobi embrace it as much as the Aufkl?rer did. For this reason alone,
Herder,
we have

IV. The

to recognize

their profound

commitment

to liberal values.

Issue of Irrationalism

of the accuracy of Berlin's other epithet: "irrational


reasons for applying
this term to Hamann,
plausible
and Jacobi, and each of them deserves
careful consideration.
Herder,
because
First, one might
they limit the
charge these thinkers with irrationalism
one of their favorite
It
the
realm
of
faith.
and
extend
is
of
rational
criticism
sphere
or refute even the most
that reason cannot demonstrate
arguments
ordinary be
in the existence
of other
of tables and chairs, in the existence
liefs?one's
beliefs
that all such beliefs ulti
and even in the existence of one's own self?and
minds,
rest upon faith alone. What makes
these beliefs true is simply some special
mately
no more
or sensation,
to criticize such feelings or sensa
it
and
is
possible
feeling
tions than it is to question
tastes, sounds, colors. Either one has had the experience
or one has not, in the same way
that one cannot know whether
oranges have a
or
I
taste
taste
is
than
blue
unless
red
whether
oranges and see red
tangy
brighter
and blue. In thus limiting the powers of rational criticism, and in thus conflating
and Jacobi seem to be
beliefs with ordinary
ones, Hamann,
Herder,
religious
to
all beliefs, no matter
the
dear
the
Enlightenment?that
violating
principle?so
how sacred, must submit to criticism.
is that itwould
be irrational
behind
this argument
The underlying
assumption
to limit the rights of reason in any manner, or that the right of criticism has to be
But that this assumption
is deeply
unrestricted if reason is not to be undermined.
There

remains the question


are three very

ism." There

was one of the central insights of the greatest Aufkl?rer of them all,
It was one of the basic teachings
of the first Kritik that the
Kant.
own
reason
and that reason must re
its
of
self-constraint,
depends upon
authority
unreason.
If reason transcends
strict itself if it is not to turn into its very opposite,
unreason
it naturally
and necessarily
because
its own limits, then it becomes

problematic
Immanuel

as the paralogisms,
and anti
amphiboles,
lapses into all kinds of fallacies, such
reason
with
Kant's
of
and
nomies. Hamann's,
Herder's,
Jacobi's critique
begins
of reason?hence
their critique is entirely immanent?
for the sd/-critique
demand
it into the meta-critique
of reason. They
but they take it a step further and make
for radical criticism,
then itmust
insist that if reason is to follow its own demand
criticize criticism itself, for the practice of criticism too has its presuppositions.

Berlin

and

the German

Counter-Enlightenment

113

Another problem with this argument


is that it plays fast and loose with the term
it
"irrationalism."
applies only to that doctrine which
enjoins us
Strictly speaking,
case of
In this precise sense, the paradigm
to hold beliefs contrary to the evidence.
is
irrationalism would be Tertullian's
"Credo
absurdam."
This
how
not,
adage
quia
and Jacobi. They contend that those beliefs
of Hamann, Herder,
ever, the position
we hold as a matter of faith have no evidence
against them at all, so that reason
can neither

the old medieval


distinction
of be
support nor refute them. Applying
to reason, those contrary to reason and those above reason, they are
liefs according
in effect arguing
that most of our beliefs are above reason and not contrary to it.
This might be called "supra-rationalism"
but hardly "anti-rationalism."
and Jacobi are irrationalist
is
The second reason for thinking Hamann, Herder,
of knowledge
that they elevate the intuitive component
and denigrate
its discur
sive or rational component.
They elevate the intuitive component when
they claim
is the senses. It is only our senses that
that the main source of all our knowledge
of reality itself, they argue, because
(a) reality is par
give us a direct knowledge
a particular
and (b) only the senses perceive
ticular and existence
is determinate,
as a particular. They denigrate
source of our
the discursive
when
knowledge
they
are abstract and hence removed
maintain
that all concepts
from particular
and
Hamann
determinate
On
these
and
would
often
dismiss
Jacobi
grounds,
reality.
as artificial and arbitrary, as resting upon a mere manipu
discursive
knowledge
us insight into
lation of signs. To think that discursive
knowledge
gives
reality
itself, they claim, is to lapse into the oldest and worst of all fallacies: hypostasis.
It is this belief in the reality of abstractions,
that characterizes
the
they contend,
reason.
in
faith
Aufkl?rung's
to beg the question,
To call this doctrine
"irrationalist"
and at the
is, however,
its sources. True to their Protestant
roots,
very least it is to fail to appreciate
and Jacobi were all the heirs of the nominalism
of Ockham
and
Hamann, Herder,
the via moderna, a tradition that forms the cornerstone
of Protestant
spiritualism
to the nominalist
and of Luther's and Calvin's
tradition,
theology.17 According
an eternal
terms do not designate
universal
any special kind of entity?whether
in a Platonic heaven or a substantial
form inherent in things?but
rather
archetype
to any of a class of particulars.
refer indifferently
Since the general terms give us
no insight
reason is limited
to the sphere of sense
into an intelligible
world,
It
is
nominalism
that
alone.
this
the
basis
of so much of the
experience
provides
as Berlin rightly appreciates.
of
The no
reason,
critique
Counter-Enlightenment
tion that reason suffers the illusion of hypostasis,
that it grasps only the inferential
between
from its linguistic
signs, that a concept is indistinguishable
relationships
that only the senses grasp reality itself, and that reasoning
is only a
embodiment,
of symbols?all
manipulation
out of the nominalist
tradition.

these themes of the Counter-Enlightenment


it imposes upon
Because of the limitations

grew
reason,
the ages.

the nominalist
tradition has been accused of irrationalism
down through
to meet
the validity
of this charge, it is necessary
the chal
yet to establish
one of the most subtle and
of
the
Middle
lenges posed by
sophisticated
logicians
in
It
to
is
Venerabilist
Ockham
himself.
other
words,
necessary,
Ages?the
inceptor,
reason.
restricts
the
show that nominalism
of
less
powers
unduly
Nothing
justifies
the use of the irrationalist
label.
And

The third and final reason for thinking


and Jacobi are guilty of
that Hamann
reason and
is that they seem to think that there is a conflict between
irrationalism

114

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

so,
faith, and that one should choose one's faith contrary to reason. If this were
in the strict sense because
then they would
indeed be irrationalists
would
they
faith even if itwere contrary to the evidence
of reason. In this respect,
champion
and Jacobi did not hold the classical Protestant doc
Berlin points out that Hamann
as if reason is valid for the
trine that reason and faith are valid in distinct domains,
and natural realm whereas
faith is legitimate
and super
for the heavenly
and balancing
the claims of reason and
realm.18 Rather than separating
us with
a dramatic
them insofar as they present
faith, they seem to oppose
either we accept a rational atheism and fatalism or we take an irrational
dilemma:

earthly
natural

to argue during
the
Jacobi appears
leap of faith. Indeed, this is precisely what
us
to
when
all
he
tells
that
rationalism
leads
the
atheism
controversy
pantheism
to escape
and fatalism of Spinozism,
and that the only way
such an abyss is
a salto mortale.
through
some of Hamann's
is that it confuses
and
The problem with
this objection
as
write
if
with
final
While
do
sometimes
rhetoric
their
Jacobi's
position.
they
reason and faith,
ameans
think
there were a conflict between
also
that
there
is
they
to the satisfaction
of resolving
that conflict
of both sides in the dispute.
They
maintain
that if reason does lead to atheism and fatalism, then it has gone beyond
which
its legitimate boundary,
propositions.
tionships between

consists

only in determining
final position
is not

rela
the inferential
reason
that
Their
leads to
a
in
to
it
atheism and fatalism but that
of all
ends
suspension
complete
skepticism,
In this case, any leap of faith will
claims pro and con about any claims to existence.
not be contrary to reason because
either for or against it;
there will be no evidence
reason.
it is perhaps
true that
While
rather, it will simply be above and beyond
and Jacobi do not accept the classic Protestant
Hamann,
Herder,
theory of two
a kind of
or Zweiweltentheorie,
it is noteworthy
that they also establish
worlds,
reason
and faith to their respective
all of their own, which
dualism
assigns
domains.
Thus they maintain
that all faith deals with existence,
and that it alone
reason determines
reveals facts?whether
natural or supernatural?while
only
the inferential
between
about these facts. For them, the
propositions
relationship
discloses
all
facts, when
great fallacy is to think that reason reveals, or somehow
Inmore
that it really can do is determine
the relationships
between propositions.
is hypothetical:
it determines
modern
terms, they are saying that all reasoning
never
P.
that
that
but
if P, then Q
only
in applying
to the Counter
the term "irrationalism"
The difficulties
are
we
when
that
Hamann
and
consider
Enlightenment
compounded
are
if
this
label.
Even
ulti
Jacobi themselves
against
protested
vigorously
they
as charged,
into
alone show that we have entered
their protests
guilty
mately
reason
one
is
that
stated explicitly
of
treacherous waters. Hamann
philosophically
it by extending
it beyond
but that we misuse
the greatest
gifts of humanity,
the tree of our
is the source of all truth and illusion,
its proper
limits.19 Reason
curse it
of good and evil, he told Jacobi, so that both those who
knowledge
that
For his part, Jacobi protested
and those who praise it are right and wrong.20
to examine
beliefs
that
"blind faith"?that
he was not advocating
is, refusing
we can evaluate according
to reason?but
out that we hold many
simply pointing
In
to
beliefs we cannot evaluate
reason.21
"Etwas,
da? Lessing gesagt
according
in
he had
the
the
Pantheismusstreit,
hat," before his campaign
against
Aufkl?rung
reason. As if to forestall
toward
the
his
attitude
charges of
already
explained

Berlin

and

irrationalism
that he knew would
remarkable
lines:
Obviously,
of all our
reason

we

reason
powers,
cannot

immovably
more

than

be raised

Counter-Enlightenment

true life of our nature,


is the proper,
the
eternal
of
image
unchangeable
but act against
do
possibly
anything

ourselves
that

conviction

We might
conclude with
irrationalist
interpretation.

... The desire

it can be

these

lines:

found

the soul

for they

cause

the

of

ourselves

path

serve

in some

the bond
the spirit,
...Without
truth

of all

for happiness

along

115

Jacobi wrote

him,

against

an

at one with
the

the German

... With

of reason

as a

it we

are

is based on nothing

fitting

alone..

epitaph

.22

for the

Notes
1. There is some debate, of course, as to whether Herder
should be considered
an opponent
of the Aufkl?rung, given that so much of his thinking is indebted
to the Enlightenment
to it. Some scholars have stressed Herder's
allegiance
tradition; see, for example, Robert Norton, Herder's Aesthetics and the European
have
Press,
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University
1991). Others
the
distance
from
the
during
emphasized
Enlightenment,
especially
His
and
for
Robert
see,
Clark,
Herder,
period;
example,
Life
B?ckeberg
of California
Press, 1969), pp.
Thought (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University
179-214. In his "Herder and the Enlightenment,"
Three Critics of the Enlighten
Enlightenment

his

ment, ed. Henry Hardy,


(London: Pimlico, 2000), pp. 168-242, Berlin brilliantly
to the Enlightenment.
Herder's
ambivalent
While
very
captures
relationship
on
in
Herder's
this
this
ambivalence
issue,
essay I have
fully recognizing
I
him
within
the
tradition.
have
done so be
placed
Counter-Enlightenment
cause (a) there can be no doubt that Herder was also a passionate
critic of the
(b) his criticisms are very
Enlightenment,
is not accidental
cobi, and (c) the similarity

similar
because

to those of Hamann
and Ja
of Herder's
debt
profound

to Hamann.

2. This argument was made most notably by Kant. See the close of his essay
in Kant, Gesammelte Schriften, ed.
"Was hei?t: Sich im Denken
orientiren?",
et.
Wilhelm
al.
de
(Berlin:
1902-), VIII, p. 144.
Gruyter,
Dilthey
see John Gray, Isaiah Berlin
3. On Berlin's
criticism of traditional
rationalism,
Princeton
Press,
(Princeton, N.J.:
1993), pp. 5-10.
University
4. Isaiah Berlin,
The Magus
the
North:
and the Origins
J. G. Hamann
of
of
Modern
Irrationalism
121. See also his
4,
23,
(London: Murray,
1993), pp.
in the Fine Arts, 1965,
The Roots of Romanticism,
the A. W. Mellon
Lectures
ed. Henry Hardy
Press,
(Princeton: Princeton
1999), pp. 48, 55,
University
61, 67.
5. Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, pp. 4,30,46,52,56,
68,108.
to say, the term "liberal" here is anachronistic.
6. Needless
In its modern
sense it did not come into common use in
until
the 1820s.
political
Germany
see Fritz
On the early use of the term in Germany,
Die
Valjavec,
Entstehung der
in
Deutschland
(Munich: Oldenbourg,
1952), pp. 426-9.
politischen Str?mungen
sense see the article
On the formation of the word "Liberalismus" in a political
and H. Dr?ger
in the Historisches
"Liberalismus"
by U. Dierse, R. K. Hoevar,
W?rterbuch der Philosophie, ed. K. Gr?nder
et. al. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft,

1980), V, 256-71.

116

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

7. Isaiah Berlin, "Hume and German Anti-Rationalism,"


in Against
the Current:
a
in
the
ed.
and
with
Essays
History of Ideas,
bibliography
by Henry Hardy, with
an introduction
York:
Hausheer
(New
1980), p. 170.
by Roger
Viking,
the
125-6.
"Hume
8. Isaiah Berlin, The Magus
and German
Cf.
North, pp.
of
165.
Anti-Rationalism,"
p.
9. Berlin,

TheMagus of theNorth, p. 125. Berlin writes of the ideals of the Prussian


regime as "reason, progress,
liberty or equality."
see my Enlightenment,
and the Eudemonists,
10. On the Hannoverian
Whigs
Revolution
and Romanticism
Press,
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University
1992), pp. 288-309, 326-34.
on this theme, see Jacobi to La Harpe, May 5,1790,
11. For Jacobi's reflections
in
Jacobi, Werke (Leipzig: Fleischer,
1812), II, 516-9, 529-30, and his "?ber den
frommen Betrug," Werke II, 485,486,488-90,491-3.
12. Jacobi, Werke, II, 327-88.
are collected
in Was ist Aufkl?rung?,
13. Some of the main articles of this dispute
Hinske
ed. Norbert
1981),
(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft,
pp. 139-369.
14. Cf. "Hume and German
p.

Anti-Rationalism,"

p. 165 and The Magus

of theNorth,

5.

see
accounts
of the Radical
15. For some good
Reformation,
introductory
A. Koyr?, Mystiques,
alchimistes
du
XVIe
Si?cle
Allemand
(Saint
spirituels,
The Radical Reformation
Amand: Gallimard,
1971); G. H. Williams,
(London:
Weidenfeld
& Nicholson,
1962); and R. M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th
and 17th Centuries (London: Macmillan,
1914).
16. Hamann,
ed. Arthur Henkel
Insel, 1955-79),
V,
(Frankfurt:
Briefwechsel,
inWhat is Enlightenment?,
289-92. The letter has been translated and reprinted
of California
ed. James Schmidt
Press, 1996), pp. 145-53.
(Berkeley: University
17. On the significance
of the via moderna for the Protestant
tradition, see my The
Reason
Princeton
Press,
(Princeton:
1996), pp. 33^5.
Sovereignty of
University
68.
18. Berlin, The Magus
the
North,
p.
of
to J. F. Hartknoch,
19. Hamann
25, 1786. Cf. Wolken,
Briefwechsel,
September
in Hamann, Werke, ed. Josef Nadler
Herder,
1949-57) II, 108.
(Vienna:
to Jacobi, April 29-30 toMay 1,1787.
20. Hamann
21. Jacobi, David Hume, inWerke II, 147ff.
22. Jacobi, Werke, II, 343-4.

Berlin's
SSsaiah

Joseph

de

Maistre

Qraeme

Qarmrd

I. Introduction
The publication
of Isaiah Berlin's essay "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of
in 1990 was one of the most
most
controver
Fascism"
important?and
certainly
in the normally
of Maistre
sial?events
Berlin may have
quiet world
scholarship.
toMaistre with this one essay than did everything
to attract attention
done more
else written
about him in the last 100 years put together, for better or worse. This
a
somewhat
version of part of a BBC radio series on "Freedom and
modified
essay,
first broadcast
amount of
Its Betrayal"
four decades
earlier, sparked a surprising
in print in three successive
it appeared
interest inMaistre when
issues of the New
York Review of Books and as a chapter of Berlin's The Crooked Timber ofHumanity.1
In Italy amajor newspaper
(supposedly
inspired by Berlin's essay) printed a piece
and Hitler
side by side.
which was
illustrated by pictures
of Joseph de Maistre
that Maistre
has been an unjustly neglected
Those who believe
figure in the his
now
must
if
bad
is
to no
of
ideas
be
tory
wondering
publicity
really preferable
at all.
publicity
is that something
The principal
claim of Berlin's
dark and sinister
essay
the classical, conservative
of
lurks beneath
Maistre's
fa?ade
writings,
something
of the German ultra-nationalists,
the worlds
of the enemies of the
"approaching
of Nietzsche,
Sorel and Pareto, D. H. Lawrence
and Knut
Enlightenment,
of Blut und Boden ...Maistre's
Hamsun, Maurras,
d'Annunzio,
deeply pessimistic
of both left and right, of our terrible cen
vision is the heart of the totalitarianisms,
the thought of an ultramontane
claim?that
Catholic
tury."2 It is this provocative
has "an affinity with the paranoic world of modern
Fascism"?that
has stirred up
attention
and controversy.3
about the views and actions (and
Recent revelations
some
the
Vatican
the
Second
World
War may have played
of
inactions)
during
in
in
interest
Berlin's
Maistre's
ultramontanism.4
thesis, given
part
stimulating
an even
But this bold claim and the debate
that it has aroused have eclipsed
more
a
of
Berlin's
that
Jewish liberal
essay:
striking aspect
twentieth-century
would
credit a notorious
Catholic
like Maistre
eighteenth-century
reactionary

117

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

118

re
"genius" for "the depth and accuracy of his insight into the darker, less
an
in
and
but
Nor
is
this
decisive
factors
social
behaviour."5
political
garded,
on Maistre
are
with
words
isolated remark. Berlin's comments
liberally spiced
such as "bold," "uncannily
"brilliant,"
penetrating,"
"original,"
"sharp-eyed,"

with

"in
"lucid," "exceedingly
realistic,"
"effective,"
pungent,"
"sharp[ly]
This
"acute."
of
Berlin's
view
Maistre
has
and
dimension
of
positive
sightful,"
over his assertion
amid the controversy
of Maistre's
link with
been obscured
is hardly
interest in Maistre
Fascism. Yet Berlin's
surprising
given his general
fascination with the Panth?on inconnu of marginal
like
Hamann
and Fichte,
figures
in the dark corners of the history of ideas.
lurk largely unnoticed
who
It is true that Berlin thought
that Maistre was playing with very dangerous
"deep,"

in
and traditional conservatism
ideas that took him beyond orthodox Catholicism
a
with
But
sinister "ultra-modernism"
Fascist "affinities."6
he also
the direction of
some important,
were
if unpalatable,
what
he believed
truths in
perceived
in with a great deal that is hyperbolic,
and
Maistre's
thought, mixed
polemical
true of Maistre's
This is particularly
frequently
repulsive.
political
psychology,
as very often "astute" and
if at times
which
Berlin described
"penetrating,"
overblown.
The
"realist"
liberalism
that
Berlin
pro
pessimistic,
grotesquely
some
of
the
dark
of
shares
Maistre's
some)
assumptions
reactionary
pounded
(only
most forms of
outlook while utterly rejecting its illiberal prescriptions.7
Although
trace their origins back to the Enlightenment,
Berlin's has roots in soil
liberalism
that nurtured many
of the Enlightenment,
such as Maistre.8
of the opponents
to reactionary
led Maistre
Whereas
these pessimistic
for
conclusions,
assumptions
in the opposite
towards a liberal politics of plural
Berlin they pointed
direction,
to secure as tolerable a life as possible
in
ism, tolerance and self-restraint
designed
in which human beings unavoidably
find themselves.
the tragic circumstances
Berlin's
controversial
of Joseph de
The present
essay assesses
depiction
on
as
one
as
not
the
it
is
its
title suggests
Maistre,
that,
hand,
concluding
negative
tendencies
and, on the other, that it fails to do justice to some of the conflicting
most
of
the
within Maistre's
One
of
is
features
Maistre's
work
intriguing
thought.
its mixture
of traditionalism
and modernism,
and
realism
scandal,
orthodoxy
account understates
and extremism.
Berlin's
and mysticism,
the
pragmatism
in a misleadingly
him
first of each of these, resulting
one-sided
that
of
portrait
on the dark
tends to overlook his more conventional
side. Yet Berlin's emphasis
vision
is entirely appropriate,
of Maistre's
that
modernism
his more
something
orthodox

interpreters

II. The Apostle

tend to downplay.

of Darkness

For Berlin, Joseph de Maistre


is first and foremost a great "apostle of darkness"
side of things" lies at the core of his
"the
whose
of
nocturnal
dark,
appreciation
an
at the
he
there
is
dark" mystery
For
Maistre,
argues,
"impenetrably
thought.
reason
can
never
human
of
heart of man that the weak
hope to
"flickering
light"
In
his
"The
and
the
Berlin
claims
that
Maistre
Fox,"
essay
penetrate.
Hedgehog
reason as noth
had, "[m]ore clearly and boldly than anyone before him," depicted
more
instrument
when
the
than
"a
of natural
feeble
power
ing
pitted against
conduct
seldom explained
of human
forces; that rational explanations
anything.
it defied explanation
that only the irrational, precisely because
He maintained
and

Isaiah Berlin's

Joseph de Maistre

119

not be undermined
by the critical activities of reason, was able to
and
be
is distinctive
Maistre
Berlin's
persist
by dint of his acute sense of
strong."9
the almost mystical
subterranean
forces that influence human behaviour
from
"below the level of consciousness."10
Berlin believed
that Maistre's
of man and
terrifyingly dark and vivid depiction
was
an
not
while
without
nature,
grotesquely
important kernel of
exaggerated,
in
truth often denied
thinkers
the
tradition
that Maistre
by
Enlightenment
as
what
Berlin
he
Maistre's
clearly appreciated
opposed.
regarded
psychological
he compared
realism in particular, which
that of the philosophes
favorably with
the power of reason. He did not merely
who, he thought, tended to overestimate
extent he subscribed to it
describe Maistre's
"realism"; to a surprising
psychological
as well. This can best be seen in the following,
revealing passage, which deserves
to be quoted in full:
could

therefore

all around him there was talk of the human pursuit of happiness, he [Maistre]
again with much exaggeration and perverse delight, but with some truth,

While

underlined,
that

the desire

deed

before

to immolate
superior

to suffer,

oneself,

no matter

power,

to exert

to pursue
power
authority,
as
as the desire
at
least
strong
cally
His
realism
takes violent,
equality.

whence

its own

for

for peace,
rabid,

realism nevertheless ... Blindly dogmatic

to prostrate
it comes,
sake?that

oneself
and

before
the desire

these

were

authority,
to dominate,
forces

in

histori

prosperity,

liberty,
justice,
happiness,
it is
limited
but
forms,
savagely

obsessed,

inmatters

of theology

(and theory generally),

... No
a
one who
he was
has
lived
the
pragmatist
practice
clear-eyed
through
that Maistre's
first half of the twentieth
after
and,
indeed,
that, can doubt
century,
in

political

psychology,

counter-revolutionary
structive
tendencies?what

for

all

its

paradoxes
has proved,

absurdity,
the German

and
if

romantics

the
only

occasional

descents

by revealing,
called
the dark,

into

sheer

de
stressing,
nocturnal
side of

and

a
to want
to see, at times
humane
and optimistic
tend not
persons
things?which
or at any rate can
to human
in reason;
conduct
than
the
faith
of
better
believers
guide
no means
a
to their
antidote
useless,
and, more
sharp, by
often over-simple,
provide
superficial
than once, disastrous
remedies
[my emphasis].11

some
As this passage
Berlin credited him with
reveals, even when
insight into
dark truth about the human condition, he believed
that Maistre had a dangerous
to "push things too far with his ultra-verit?s."12
to exaggerate,
For
tendency
Berlin, Maistre's was what might be called an "exaggerated
realism," from which
we can draw something useful. This ambivalence
is encapsulated
in Berlin's claim
to
that Maistre
"revealed
central
truths,
(and violently
exaggerated)
unpalatable
his contemporaries,
denied
his
and
successors,
indignantly
by
recognised
only in
our

own

day."13

Not

in
Maistre's
fascination with violence
features prominently
surprisingly,
It was above all his "grimly unconventional
Berlin's account.
and misanthropic
view about the nature of individuals
that was the most distinctive
and societies"
and captivating
for Berlin.14 He believed
that Maistre's
aspect of his thought
as
constant
mature writings,
with
their notorious
of
descriptions
blood-letting
a
even
were
to
most
the
natural,
and,
beneficial,
up
among
point,
inescapable
accounts of the ruthlessness
and pessimistic
and violence of nature to be
powerful
Berlin unequivocally
found anywhere.
rejects the common view that reduces this
a
to
with
blood
and
death
fascina
defect; Maistre's
preoccupation
psychological
tion with
these dark themes, Berlin writes, was "not a mere
sadistic meditation
about crime and punishment,
but the expression
of a genuine
conviction."15

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

120

Berlin's
fluenced

to Maistre's
response
positive
thought was
surprisingly
of
The
Russian
his
novelist
great
Tolstoy.
by
reading

in
probably
was much

by Maistre, whose work he read while writing War and Peace. This is
impressed
in the battle scenes, and Maistre
the book, particularly
apparent
throughout
name
in
Berlin's
is even mentioned
Historical
it.16
essay on "Leo Tolstoy's
by
a
in
to
devotes
attention
first
considerable
1951,
Scepticism,"
compari
published
son of the ideas of Tolstoy and Maistre,
and is Berlin's first significant
engagement
with the latter's thought. He describes both as "sharp-eyed
foxes" and "acute ob
servers of the varieties of experience."17
The essay that eventually
became "Joseph
was
as
and
the
of
Fascism"
first
de Maistre
broadcast
Origins
part of a radio series
on
same
wrote
time that Berlin
his essay
It is hard to imagine
around the
Tolstoy.
did not signifi
that Tolstoy's
interest in and generally
favorable view of Maistre
Berlin's
of him, particularly
reception
given that Berlin speaks
of
of
those
Maistre's
that seem to have made
outlook
very
aspects
appreciatively
war.
on
as
account
such
his
the greatest
of
impression
Tolstoy,
not only described this
for claiming
that Maistre
Berlin has been criticized
law" of violence, but actually subscribed to it. This is the view of Owen
"universal
in A Modern Maistre:
The Social and Political Thought of
argues
Bradley, who
de
that
Maistre's
and irrational
Maistre,
Joseph
"deep lifelong interest in violence
an obsession,
at
not
which
indeed
be
called
does
all
might
necessarily
ity,
imply
he praised them. The step from the one to the other, which Berlin nowhere
doubts,
case quite
accounts
For Bradley, Maistre's
is inMaistre's
disturbing
precarious."18
nature
and the dark forces that dominate
both human and nonhuman
of violence
are purely descriptive.
that "the reader should
He therefore
concludes
remain
...
that 'these gloomy doctrines
inspired nation
skeptical when Berlin concludes
in
most
and
and
their
violent
alism,
form,
finally,
imperialism,
pathological
dark
Fascist and totalitarian doctrines.' On the contrary, we shall see that Maistre's
him instead to defend
vision encouraged
limit
that
the
of
every
against
spread
cantly

influence

darkness."19

It is true that most of what Maistre


is descriptive.
says on the subject of violence
went
But Berlin is right when he claims that Maistre
further.
This is
occasionally
on France (1797). After a shock
than in his Considerations
nowhere more apparent
a consequence
law" of violence?as
of the "universal
of
ingly brutal account
in the world"?Maistre
which
"the effusion
of human blood has never ceased
this violent destruction
adds that "there is room to doubt whether
is, in general,
such a great evil as is believed." He argues that, under some circumstances?when,
the human
soul "has lost its strength through laziness,
for example,
incredulity,
and
and the gangrenous
vices that follow an excess of civilisation"?individuals
an
can
He
then
blood."
draws
be
between
groups
by
"retempered
analogy
is continually
"an invisible hand
and
mankind
and a tree, in which
pruning
A
"skilful
will
which
often profits from the operation
[my emphasis]."
gardener"
the real fruits of human
avoid pruning
the fruits of the tree. "Now
carefully
nature?the
arts, sciences, great enterprises,
lofty conceptions, manly virtues?are
to the state of war. We know that nations have never achieved
due especially
the
are
and
of
which
after
of
the
capable except
greatness
point
they
long
highest
in this analogy
like any good horticul
is God who,
bloody war."20 The gardener
it is sometimes
to
that to cultivate
the fruit of mankind
turalist, knows
necessary
a "terrible purification"
tree. This view
in
of the human
is repeated
undertake

Isaiah Berlin's

Joseph de Maistre

121

in the year of his


the St. Petersburg Dialogues, published
"masterpiece,"
In
writes
the
character
the
Senator
of
he
that, "in the vast
it,
(1821).
through
... [F]rom the
violence
domain of living things, there reigns a manifest
maggot
law of violent destruction
of living things is unceasingly
up toman, the universal
an immense altar
fulfilled. The entire earth, continually
steeped in blood, is only
on which
must
be
without
immolated
without
restraint,
end,
every living thing
of the world,
until the extinction
without
of evil,
respite until the consummation
itmay be objected that the Senator does not
until the death of death."21 Although
that he says on this subject is consistent with
here, everything
speak for Maistre
was himself a senator.
elsewhere
views expressed
by Maistre, who
it is also
is not only healthy
For Maistre,
violent
destruction
(sometimes);
a
a
uses
to com
with
blood-red
thumb
who
God
is
both
violence
moral.
gardener
war
means
as
a
such
and
bat sickness
and
violent
moral
employs
judge who

Maistre's
death

to punish
the innocent too). Maistre
the guilty (and occasionally
held
in the larger context of a di
affairs can only be properly understood
is forever beyond human understanding.
of which
vine plan, complete knowledge
It is precisely
this larger context that was missing
from the prevalent
interpreta
to
tions of contemporary
Maistre.
One
of
the fun
events,
revolutionary
according
on
was
to
in
France
fill
of
his
Considerations
this
damental
objectives
missing
"big
revolution

that human

of the 1790s in providential


the violent circumstances
picture," thereby explaining
an "invisible hand"
the crimes of the modern
terms, inwhich
age are punished
by
are mere
French
who
of
"instruments
Revolutionaries,
operating
through
mere
own
and
his
God." Maistre
(in
description
thereby goes beyond
legitimizes
as a form of
and bloodshed
of the French Revolution
the violence
Christian mind)
out on Europe for the crimes of the eighteenth
meted
divine punishment
century.
It is because
accord
"Europe is guilty" that "she suffers." This ismoral because,
can have no other end than the removal of evil."22 He
to
Maistre,
ing
"punishment
itwas "gratifying
that during the French Revolution
amid the general
confessed
a presentiment
to
in
of
This
have
the
of
plans
upheaval
providential
Divinity."23
to
the
of
Maistre's
German
of
the
Revolution
is
closer
position
terpretation
than it is to Edmund
he is often associ
Burke, with whom
contemporary
Hegel
ated. Like Hegel, Maistre was seeking to interpret the epochal events of his times
a perspective
as a
that led them both to affirm everything, even violent
theodicy,
to the degree of being a consequence
of God's will. Hence his view of
revolution,
as a reflection more of God's
intentions
than those of men, a per
the Revolution
more
it
to do with human folly
whom
had
unlike
that
of
for
Burke,
spective quite
than divine wisdom.
Burke was much more
of a counter-revolutionary
than
in this sense.24
Maistre
did not deviate
from this line in his St. Petersburg Dialogues, which he
Maistre
on the Temporal
Government
of Providence."
In this
subtitled
"Conversations
in the
he seeks to account
for "the ensemble
of ways
of Providence
work,
war
is
the
of
moral
One
of
these
like
violent
world."25
which,
governance
ways
... whose
defines as a "department
direction Providence
has
revolution, Maistre
toMaistre,
is in its
of war, according
reserved to itself."26 The "moral" dimension
function as an instrument
the Senator explains
of divine justice. In the Dialogues,
it"
that war is divine "in the mysterious
that
and "in its results,
surrounds
glory
which
of
human
Maistre
the
reason."27
escape
absolutely
speculations
Although
was fascinated by war, itwas less amorbid
than a religious fascination
fascination

122

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

that comes

from witnessing
(as he genuinely
thought he was) the hand of a divine
human
affairs.
Berlin's
claim that Maistre
judge working
through
"glorifies war,
is therefore substantially
and divine"
and declares
it to be mysterious
correct.28
stress
While he did not explicitly glorify war as something
he
did
inherently good,
its divine power and acknowledge
both its beneficial
effects and itsmoral function
a scheme of Christian
are in some
within
and bloodshed
Violence
providence.
sense

for Maistre
sanctified
God.
by

by

their

incorporation

within

a plan

designed

and

executed

III.Maistre

the Modernist?

not only disturbingly


dark at the heart of Joseph de
Berlin perceived
something
as well. It is this that dis
Maistre's
but
modern"
thought,
something
"terrifyingly
more
him
traditional
and apologists
from
conservatives
of
tinguished
decisively
as
and
Bossuet
his
"twin"
such
Louis
de
Bonald.29
religious orthodoxy
supposed
in a "violent preoccupation
For Berlin, Maistre's
"modernism"
resides principally
with blood and death," a trait that was absent from the "rich and tranquil England
at the heart of things" is, he
of Burke's imagination."30
This "doctrine of violence
"frozen
the
reactionaries
from
who
immured
themselves
claims, far removed
of freedom or revolution within
the thick walls of medieval
against the champions
is "our contemporary"
because he criticised
the impotence
of
dogma."31 Maistre
and scholastic methods
which predominated
among pious Catholic
and
intense
anti-intellectualism
"violent
hatred
of free traffic in
apologists.32
not the orthodoxy
and loy
ideas" were, Berlin tells us, "not mere conservatism,
was
to
state
in
and
which
he
but
the
church
[Maistre]
up,
alty
brought
something
at once much older and much newer."33 On this view, Maistre
has moved
far be
con
traditional
the
Aristotelian
authoritarianism,
yond
"symmetrical
leaving
or Suarez"
structions
far behind.34 According
of Thomas Aquinas
to Berlin, the
virulent pessimism
him from tradi
of Maistre's
outlook not only distinguishes
the
tional conservatives
but, more
gives him "an affinity with
controversially,
of modern
Fascism."35
paranoic world
Maistre's
in a variety
link with
Berlin
characterized
Fascism
of different
In
most
account
its
his
credits Maistre with having
formulation,
ways.
positive
the advent of which
"visualised"
twentieth
century totalitarianism,
prophetically
as "a remarkable
of Maistre
and terrify
"has vindicated
the depth and brilliance"
of our day."36 Berlin's most negative
formulation
of the link has
ing, prophet
a "dominant
on "reactionary,
influence"
Maistre
obscurantist
and, in
exercising
abstractions

His

of this claim also appears in his essay on "The


it is argued that Maistre's
"gloomy doctrines"
in
most violent and
and
their
nationalism,
imperialism,
finally,
actually "inspired
in
and
totalitarian
Fascist
doctrines
twentieth
the
form,
pathological
century."38
to support the more critical of these two formula
Berlin offers no real evidence
on any prominent
had little (if any) direct
tions. Maistre
influence
certainly
and I am not aware
the Action fran?aise
Fascists beyond
(least of all in Germany),
that was anything more
than negligible.
of any evidence
of an indirect influence
extensive his influence may have been in such circles, itwas certainly far
However
in the second half of
from "dominant."
His posthumous
influence
peaked
some
was
the nineteenth
and
Catholics,
among
century
inspired principally
by his
ideas."37 A version
in which
Counter-Enlightenment,"
the end, Fascist

Joseph de Maistre

Isaiah Berlin's

123

in Du Pape (1819), a conservative


in which
defense
of ultramontanism
work
and fascination with violence are least in evidence. He also
Maistre's
"modernism"
on many
thinkers who could not reasonably be classi
made a strong impression
or even straightforwardly
fied as Fascist, protofascist
conservative.
on Maistre's
link to Fascism are those that lie
More typical of Berlin's comments
somewhere
between
these two extremes, and stress the "unmistakable"
ideologi
cal resonance between
them that falls short of a direct causal connection
yet goes
as
near the
of
beyond mere foresight.39 Berlin depicts Maistre
standing
beginning
a broad current of thought,
ruthless applica
the "richest flowering
and the most
did not come until the twentieth
rather than in the
tion" of which
century,
as
with
conservatism
of traditional
Bossuet,
figures such
Aquinas,
and Burke.40 Maistre
is therefore best understood,
"not as the last voice of a dying
but as "the first theorist in
culture, as the last of the Romans
(as he saw himself),"
a precur
in
culminated
the great and powerful
tradition which
Charles Maurras,
sor of Fascists,
and of those Catholic
and supporters
of the
anti-Dreyfusards
as
were sometimes
described
before they were
being Catholics
Vichy regime who
in this stream with Maistre
and Fascism are figures such
Christians."41
Standing
as Carlyle, Fourier, Sorel, Cobbett, Proudhon,
Pareto, D. H.
Bakunin, Nietzsche,

mainstream

and
Lawrence,
d'Annunzio,
Drumont,
Belloc, Maurras,
Barres, Drumont,
all of whom
and articulated
themes that
used a similar vocabulary
Deroulede,
were
in twentieth-century
echoed
Fascism.
For example, Maistre's
strongly
as
violent anti-intellectualism
is hyperbolically
described
"what is per
sounding
note
militant
the
earliest
the
anti-rational
of
Fascism
modern
of
times."42
haps
Berlin argues that Maistre
"assembles
for the first time, and with pre
Elsewhere,
movement
the list of the enemies
of the great counter-revolutionary
cision,
that culminated
in Fascism,"43 a list that includes Protestants,
Jansenists, deists,
atheists, Freemasons,
democrats,
liberals,
utilitarians,
Jews, scientists,
Jacobins,
anti-clericals,
materialists,
idealists,
egalitarians,
perfectibilians,
lawyers, journal
Berlin also claims that Maistre's
terrible
ists, secular reformers, and intellectuals.
vision of life, obsessed with "blood and death," has an unmistakable
"affinity"
with Fascism.44
as it is underdeveloped.
Berlin's case here is as overstated
The association
of
Maistre
to
not
with Fascism
has a distinctly
it
sensationalistic
and
is
it,
ring
of what
is meant
the precise
supported
by much
explanation
by "Fascism,"
on
more
He
is
in The Roots
of
which
still
contested.
sheds
this
meaning
highly
light
even
a
Berlin
short
here
and
the con
of
Romanticism,
definition,
stops
of
although
are
nections
that he makes
movements
between
ideas
and
very
disparate
as "an inheritor of
at best. In this work,
is depicted
loose and vague
Fascism
romanticism,"
the notion

with which

of the unpredictable

in some

forward

fashion

sible to rationalise.
how

tomorrow,

it shares

the

that

is

either of a man

will

impossible

That is the whole


spirit

will

move

to

organise,

or of a group, which
impossible

heart of Fascism: what

us, where

we

shall

go, what

to

forges
impos

predict,

the leader will


we

shall

say

do?that

cannot be foretold. The hysterical self-assertion and the nihilistic destruction of ex


isting institutions because they confine the unlimited will, which is the only thing
which
his

will

garbled

counts

for human
the superior
person
beings;
are a direct
is stronger:
these
inheritance?in
but still an inheritance?from
form, no doubt,

who

crushes
an
the

the

inferior

distorted
extremely
romantic
movement...

because
and
to

124

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


this extent romanticism

existentialism

and

Fascism,

in its full form, and even its offshoots


seems

to me

to be

in the form of both

fallacious.45

This anthropocentric
of Fascism is actually the opposite of Maistre's
the
conception
a
more
in which
istic providentialism,
is
than
human.
agency
property
godly
a
are dominated
What
by a mysterious
they do share is belief that human affairs
will
that defies rational human understanding
and control. But in Fascism
that
inMaistre's
it
is
will is principally
racial and ethnic, whereas
fundamen
writings
of Maistre
is "theologically
Berlin's
interpretation
tally religious.
irreligious
as
once
views
cannot
Weber
said
himself.
Maistre's
be fully and
of
unmusical,"
in
terms
link
and
of
faith.
Maistre
understood
his
The
between
except
properly
at best, and probably would
not
that Berlin asserts is extremely weak
Fascism
have been made had Berlin had more of an ear forMaistre's
religious convictions.
it comes
that Berlin posits between Maistre
and Fascism,
Given the association
as no surprise
as anti-Semitic.
that he regarded Maistre
He writes
that Maistre
classed Jews among the ranks of "the sleepless
enemy that never ceases to gnaw
at the vitals of society."46 This view is shared by E. M. Cioran, who writes
that,
in St. Petersburg,
"when Maistre
realised that the Jews in Russia,
faithless
certain ideologies
toward their own theocratic tradition, were echoing
imported
from France, he turned against
them, calling them subversive
spirits and?the
in his eyes?comparing
them to Protestants."47
depth of abomination
does claim in his posthumously
Letters on
To his discredit, Maistre
published
the Spanish Inquisition (1822) that in the fifteenth century "Judaism deeply shot its
... The Jews
to kill the national plant
roots into the soil of Spain, and threatened
...
were nearly masters
An insurrection broke out in the year 1391, and a
of Spain
... it was
to establish
ensued
the
dreadful
necessary
indispensably
slaughter
cure
cancer
was
as
to
best
the
which
calculated
Inquisition,
political
rapidly
the heart of the nation."48 However,
this is, as far as I am aware, the only
corroding
run to over a
which
remark inMaistre's
published
writings,
overtly anti-Semitic
was "the
dozen volumes.
Also, these Letters boast that the capital of Catholicism
nor
of
where
the
feels
himself
neither
maltreated
humbled
Jew
part
Europe
only
"49
...
In
at
of
'the
title
Maistre's
the
fact,
Jewish
paradise.'
by
glorious
distinguished
are
that
titude on this subject compares
with
of
whose
Voltaire,
writings
favorably
with
anti-Semitic
his admiration
remarks.50 Maistre
professed
peppered
one of the few great legislators of
wonderful
man"?as
forMoses?"a
antiquity.51
a priori, Maistre
or written
no
can be made
that
constitution
Despite
arguing
one
that of "the Divine mission
of the great
exception,
granted just
"magnificent"
ex
even some truth to Cioran's
There
is
Hebrew
characteristically
Lawgiver."52
were
with
the
of
the
Old
Testament
that
Maistre's
"affinities
claim
spirit
aggerated
so to speak,
so deep
that
imbued with
that his Catholicism
seems,
Judaic,
a faint trace in the
but
the
of
which
he
of
found
gentle mediocrity
frenzy
prophetic
a "transient
as
is
this
all
Yet
Cioran
finally unimpressed,
dismissing
Gospels."53
on Maistre's
that he "dares not imagine the invectives
enthusiasm"
part, adding
later to
reserved for them [the Jews] had he [Maistre] foreseen the role they were
as
as
in
in
Russia
in
much
the
movements
social
of
emancipation,
Europe."54
play
to back up this claim, although
it does
Cioran offers no evidence
Unfortunately,
while

not sound far-fetched.55


as a "modernist"
is that he does
One problem with Berlin's portrait of Maistre
term.
not define what he means by this notoriously
A
strong case could
slippery

Joseph de Maistre

Isaiah Berlin's

125

an antimodernist
as a modernist,
or
that Maistre was at least as much
was
in the service of antimodernism.
If he really was a
that his "modernism"
man ahead of rather than behind his times, then this only served to strengthen his
tomany of the central features of modernity,
such as secu
implacable opposition
be made

and equality,
individual
that he
larization,
autonomy,
pluralism,
democracy
an ever greater part in Europe's
future.
feared would
play
their case against him in this
Even so, some of Berlin's critics have overstated
to
that
"blame
for the dangers
For
Owen
Maistre
regard.
example,
Bradley objects
in our disenchanted
world has been the error of almost every rejec
he perceived
tion of his thinking. Berlin repeats itwhen he tries to connect him more directly to
... In turn, the existence
of those evils that
cultural politics
twentieth-century
seem
to imply that Maistre
themselves
Berlin seeks to trace back toMaistre would
was all too correct that political order is irrationally maintained
and underwritten
that the achieve
by cultural discourses?by
language, Maistre would
say?and
ments
have done little enough to change that so far."56 But
of the Enlightenment
as Bradley claims. At most, as we
Berlin did not blame these dangers on Maistre,
to
offered some inspiration
have already seen, he claimed that Maistre's writings
in
most
their
and
violent
and
"nationalism,
finally,
imperialism,
pathological
in the twentieth
form, Fascist and totalitarian doctrines
century."57 To this Bradley
and impe
"offers trenchant criticisms of nascent nationalism
replies that Maistre
of democracy
that destroy
rialism alike as consequences
cultural
traditions."58
that Berlin is wrong.
Bradley may well be right here, it does not mean
some of which would
contain contradictory
works
elements,
appeal to
on
not
not.
of
others
which
would
Considerations
nationalists
(if
imperialists),
criticizes
the universalist
of
the
"Declaration
of
France, for example,
pr?tentions
an
is
that
the
of
"mankind"
ab
the Rights of Man and Citizen,"
idea
very
arguing
stract creation of the eighteenth-century
"Now there is no such thing
imagination.
as man in the world,"
in one of his better-known
he wrote
"I have seen
passages.
in my lifetime Frenchmen,
and so on. Thanks to Montesquieu
Italians, Russians
I even know that one can be a Persian. But as for man, I declare that I have never in

Although
Maistre's

to me."59 Maistre
life met him; if he exists, he is unknown
also claims in
my
are "the two great thaumaturges
this work
that religion and patriotism
of this
to modern
the antidote
which
involves
"the
of
substitution
world,"
philosophy,
for the national mind."
the individual mind
must
be merged
and political
Religious
dogmas
reason
common
or national
strong
plete
enough
is the mortal
of its nature
reason, which
enemy
All known
only divergent
opinions.
produces

and mingled
to form a com
together
to repress
the aberrations
of individual
it
of any association
whatever
because
nations

to the extent that they have very faithfully obeyed


ing
reign

other

than

of national

the

of

annihilation

dogmas,

that

individual

is to say,

dogmas

of useful

have

been

happy

and

powerful

this national reason, which


and

the

absolute

... Man's

prejudices

is noth

and

general
is that
first need

his nascent reason be curbed under a double yoke, that it be abased and lose itself in
the national
existence,

so

that

as a river

that

reason,
just

it
changes
into
flows

its

individual

the ocean

always

existence
continues

into

another
to exist

common
in the mass

of water, but without a name and without a distinct reality. What is patriotism! It is this
national reason of which I am speaking, it is individual abnegation.60
even when
It is not at all difficult to imagine how such words,
read in their proper
could offer inspiration and support to nationalist
thought. At most, Berlin

context,

126

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

one that does justice


is guilty here of failing to give a complete picture of Maistre,
to the internal development
and complexity
of his thought. Sometimes,
by not
too
in
to
far
his
far
of
Maistre.
But
Berlin
goes
portrait
deny that
going
enough,
in Maistre's
element of nationalism
there is at least a strong (and quite potent)
even if, in Maistre's
with his own declamations
later
are
an
on a
Du
such
sentiments
Pape,
eclipsed by
writings,
particularly
emphasis
the
Catholic
civilization
headed
Pope.
pan-European
by
more
this conclusion
To many
admirers
does not go
orthodox
of Maistre's
a grotesque
is
For
Berlin's
of
Maistre
far
them,
portrait
nearly
enough.
simply
is
Darcel
that
believes
Maistre
under
caricature.
For example,
best
Jean-Louis
tradition to which he
stood within
the context of his own time and of the Catholic
as a
viewed
from this perspective,
Berlin's picture
adhered. When
of Maistre
a
of
Fascism"
turnaround"
his
of
represents
"precursor
"disquieting
thought,
counter-sense
and intentions of the author
"a complete
of the philosophy
making
in contrast to Berlin's, was "inspired by the con
of the Soir?es." Darcel's Maistre,
stant theology of the Church,
that of the Greek Fathers, that of St. Augustine."61
Far from having an affinity with twentieth-century
"anal
Maistre
totalitarianism,
name
in
the
of
Christian
the
first version
of state
values,
ysed and denounced,
of Public Safety."62 Darcel
further objects that
terrorism, the Jacobin dictatorship
thought

is inconsistent

from Maistre
invoked by Berlin?always
passages
many of the most
incriminating
extracts on war and execution?have
been unfairly
taken out
the same notorious
in a distorted
and anachronistic
of their proper contexts,
interpretation.
resulting
should "rather be interpreted within
the framework
of a
These dark passages
and free intellectual
Christian
speculation."
gnosis that ismade up of orthodoxy
from a loy
Thus situated, Darcel asserts, itwill be seen that, "without departing
lived and many
times proclaimed,
he [Maistre]
intimately
alty to the Church,
and Modernity."63
the past and the present, Antiquity
threw out bridges between
Finally,

Darcel

complains

that

Berlin's

on

over-reliance

one

most

of Maistre's

un

reactionary works, Quatre chapitres sur la Russie (posthumously


compromisingly
in 1859, although
dated December
the fact that itwas
1811), obscures
published
a
situation.
and, in Maistre's
eyes, very volatile
particular
addressing
highly
of state violence
is "to
Berlin's attempt to depict this piece as a general apology
the intentions
of the author for whom war is in all cases a
betray on all points
"64
scourge, even if it is 'a law of the world.'
an image of Maistre
that is remarkably
By contrast, E. M. Cioran presents
to
is
"our
Maistre
because he
Berlin's. For Cioran,
similar
contemporary"
precisely
a
to
not
him
be
attracted
of
his
is "monster." We should
because
reasonableness,
but rather because
of "his pride, his marvelous
moderation
and humanity,
If he did
and occasionally
of decency.
insolence, his lack of equity, of proportion,
not
ern

constantly
age

resides

irritate us."65 Cioran


in his

repulsiveness,

argues
excesses,

that Maistre's
and

"outrages

relevance
to

for the mod

common

sense."

our superstitions
our principles
or upbraids
in the name of
"Every
to rejoice: the writer
then excels and
"we have occasion
his own," he writes,
enfold
it in a light,
the more he will
The darker his vision,
outdoes
himself.
is
far
like
from
the moder
Cioran's
Maistre,
Berlin's,
transparent
appearance."66
ate conservatism
of Darcel's Maistre.
of theocracy"
Rather, he is "the Machiavelli
rather than by sentiment,
who was
"Christian by persuasion
quite alien to the
time he insults

figures

of the New

Testament."67

Isaiah Berlin's

Joseph de Maistre

127

his conservative
side in this debate over Maistre
orthodoxy
emphasizes
stresses
the
other
his
and
while
(Berlin,
(Darcel
Lebrun),
reactionary modernism
because
and Bradley).
There is some truth in both of these positions
Cioran,
on the one hand a very hard-nosed
Maistre's
thought contains elements of both:
that even
times
"realism"
that
he
took to violent extremes
brutal)
(at
occasionally
Hobbes might have found shocking; on the other hand amore restrained Burkean
to convey so ef
faith. What Berlin manages
traditionalism
and a genuine Catholic
a defense
on
in
the
Maistre
did
write
Maistre
is
his
former.
After
all,
essay
fectively
of
the
of the Spanish Inquisition,
offer a providential
justification
slaughter of the
in
of war, claim that there is "nothing but violence
innocent and the "divinity"
the deliberate
the universe"
and that this is not an entirely bad thing, prescribe
One

in Russia, and call for the integration of church and


retardation of enlightenment
state. Darcel, by contrast, succeeds where Berlin and Cioran do not in recognizing
faith and the conventional
of many of
of Maistre's
conservatism
the importance
his

views.

IV. Conclusion
or
Not all forms of liberalism derive either historically
logically from the Enlight
a
that there is distinctive
enment.
form that has
Indeed, I have argued elsewhere
in the reaction against the Enlightenment,
and that Isaiah Berlin is one
its genesis
of this view.68 Although
of the foremost
the philosophes were, he
representatives
on the whole
from naive
and
well-intentioned
admirable,
they operated
thought,
were
to
truth
human
and
that
about
nature,
prove
quite
assumptions
morality,
reasons
for Berlin's
when
One of the principal
disastrous
put into practice.
is his dissent from what he sees as its implausibly
criticism of the Enlightenment
to
nature
and its unwarranted
human
of
optimism?beliefs
conception
benign
immune. Simplistic
which Maistre was completely
assumptions
Enlightenment
on Berlin's
in the
have been
about human
nature,
view,
replaced
rightly
and unstable
and twentieth
centuries by "an increasingly
complicated
as
new
about
the
action were
and
of
springs
disturbing
hypotheses
picture
and anthropologists."69
advanced by psychologists
to Berlin, many
of the political disasters
of the last two centuries,
According
in
the
with
the
of
Terror,"
originated
project to
"Reign
Enlightenment
beginning
to make
it conform to a single, univer
unbend
"the crooked timber of humanity"
that "the great eighteenth-century
sal ideal. That iswhy he believed
philosophers
were ultimately
in the Soviet
for a lot of intellectual
tyranny, ending
responsible
in the gulag; ... these good men, who were against superstition,
falsifica
Union,
had nevertheless
and were great legislators,
doctrines
tion, authority,
preached
which
led, albeit in a somewhat
form, to tragic consequences."70
perverted
arose in opposition
to this monistic
liberalism
Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment
as the philosophes unintentionally
about
that
Just
consequences
brought
project.
their own goals, many of the thinkers of the Counter-Enlightenment
undermined
nineteenth

ends in spite of their reactionary


liberal, pluralistic
promoted
inadvertently
and is one of
This idea features again and again in Berlin's work,
intentions.
the major themes of his thought. It is the law of unintended
consequences
applied
to both the Enlightenment
and is one of his central
and Counter-Enlightenment
insights.

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

128

after all to find that Isaiah Berlin, the "patron


this, it is not so surprising
was
not
of
in, but actually had some
liberalism,"71
sage
only interested
English
In some of his
"lion
of
the
de
antiliberalism."72
Maistre,
for, Joseph
appreciation
he is remarkably
close to the "realist" enemies of the Enlight
basic assumptions
views of history have been in
enment such as Maistre, many of whose
pessimistic
in the twentieth
in
his
view
his
eyes, particularly
century.
tragically vindicated
that it is
Berlin believed
most
Unlike
figures, however,
Counter-Enlightenment
because of these grim realities that we must cultivate the liberal virtues of
precisely
he had a grudging
tolerance, and mutual
self-restraint,
respect
respect. Although
some
truths about human
to articulate
of the unpalatable
forMaistre's willingness
in
to deny, he also found Maistre's
works
in his age preferred
that many
beings
come
us
that
from blowing
about the potential dangers
structive for what they tell
is the real reason that he insisted on
such truths out of proportion.
That, I believe,
to those who might
and Fascism, as a warning
the link between Maistre
stressing
be tempted to swallow Maistre whole.
Given

Notes
in The Crooked
of Fascism,"
and the Origins
1. Isaiah Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
ed. Henry Hardy
Timber of Humanity,
(Princeton, New
Jersey: Princeton
was
in the New York
of
this
A
version
Press,
1990).
essay
reprinted
University
1990.
Review of Books on 27 September
1990, and 25 October
1990,11 October
as the introduction
to a translation
was
of
version
Another
published
on France, trans. R. A. Lebrun (Cambridge: Cambridge
Considerations
Maistre's
have been published
radio broadcasts
Press, 1994). The edited
University
and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty, ed. Henry Hardy
and Windus,
Chatto
2002).
(London:
of Fascism," pp. 126-7.
Maistre
and the Origins
de
Berlin, "Joseph
of Fascism," pp. 112-3.
and
the
Maistre
de
Berlin, "Joseph
Origins
The
and Furio Colombo,
of this literature are: Susan Zuccotti
Recent examples
Italians and theHolocaust: Persecution, Rescue and Survival (Lincoln: University
Hitler's Pope: The Secret History
of Nebraska
Press, 1996); John CornweH's
New
York:
XII
and
Pius
Braham, The
1999); Randolph
(London
Viking,
of
and the Holocaust
Vatican
Press,
2000);
(New York: Columbia
University
Genesis
the War and the Pope (Columbus, Missouri:
Ronald Rychlak, Hitler,
The Catholic Church and the Holocaust,
Press, 2000); and Michael
Phayer,
Indiana
1930-1965
Press, 2000); Garry Wills,
(Indiana:
Papal Sin
University
The
His
Windows:
Under
Susan
York:
Zuccotti,
2000);
(New
Very
Doubleday,
in Italy (New Haven: Yale University
Vatican and the Holocaust
Press, 2001);
Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History
(Boston:
James Carroll, Constantine's
A Moral Reckoning: The Role
and
Daniel Goldhagen,
Mifflin,
2001);
Houghton
and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (New
of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust
York: Knopf, 2002).
of Fascism," p. 166.
and the Origins
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
of Fascism," p. 96.
Maistre
and
the
de
Berlin, "Joseph
Origins
M.
Cioran:
"His [Maistre's] observations
E.
This attitude iswell expressed
by
inhuman
and erro
seem to us exact; his theories and his value
judgments,
in
Anathemas
An Essay on Reactionary
de
Maistre:
neous"
Thought,"
("Joseph
as Freedom

2.
3.
4.

5.
6.
7.

Isaiah Berlin's
and Admirations,

trans. Richard

Howard

Joseph de Maistre

[New York:

Little,

Brown

129
and Co.,

1986], p. 38).
in my
in detail
8. I develop
"The Counter-Enlightenment
this argument
Liberalism
of Isaiah Berlin," Journal of Political Ideologies, 2 (1997), pp. 281-96.
and the Fox," in Russian Thinkers, ed. Henry Hardy
9. Berlin, "The Hedgehog
and Aileen Kelly (Harmondsworth:
1994), p. 59.
Penguin,
and Its
10. I explore this theme in depth in my "Joseph de Maistre's
Civilisation
the
57
429^6.
Discontents,"
(1996), pp.
Journal of
History of Ideas,
11. Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of Fascism," pp. 167-68.
and the Origins
12. Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
of Fascism," p. 169.
in Against
the Current: Essays in the
13. Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
Press, 1981),
(Oxford: Oxford University
History
of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy
174.
p.
and the Fox," pp. 57-8.
14. Berlin, "The Hedgehog
and the Origins
15. Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
of Fascism," p. 118. The common
view of Maistre's
with violence
that Berlin rejects is typified
preoccupation
for whom
"Maistre's extreme, not to say macabre,
theory
by Stephen Holmes,
a strain of near-dementia
in his works"
discloses
of the executioner-priest
Press,
(The Anatomy of Antiliberalism
[Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
1993], p. 31).
of writing War and Peace,
16. Berlin writes
that, inNovember
1865, "in the middle
am
in
"I
wrote
down
his
and on 7 September
Maistre,"
diary
reading
Tolstoy
to the editor Bartenev, who acted as a kind of general assistant
1866 he wrote
...
to him, asking him to send the "Maistre archive,"
i.e. his letters and notes
the Soir?es, as well as Maistre's
correspondence
Tolstoy possessed
diplomatic
to be found in the library at Yasnaya
and letters, and copies of them were
case quite clear that
inWar
Poly ana. It is in any
Tolstoy used them extensively
in the
and Peace. Thus the celebrated
Paulucci's
intervention
of
description
is reproduced
almost verbatim
debate of the Russian General Staff at Drissa
at Mme.
from a letter by Maistre.
Prince Vasily's
conversation
Similarly
de m?rite" about Kutuzov,
Scherer's reception with the "homme de beaucoup
in which
all the French phrases
is obviously
based on a letter by Maistre,
is sprinkled are to be found. There is,moreover,
with which
this conversation
a note in one of Tolstoy's
early rough drafts, "at Anna Pavlovna's Maistre?
and an
refers to the raconteur who tells the beautiful H?l?ne
Vicomte," which
of Napoleon
admiring circle of listeners the idiotic anecdote about the meeting
at supper with
actress Mile, Georges.
the celebrated
with
the Due d'Enghien
habit of shifting his bed from one room to an
Again, old Prince Bolkonsky's
tells about the similar habit
other is probably
taken from a story which Maistre
name of Maistre
occurs
in the novel itself, as
the
of Count Stroganov.
Finally
to
that
would
those
who
it
be
and senseless
agree
being among
embarrassing
more
and
of
eminent
this
marshals
since
the
army,
capture
princes
Napoleon's
create diplomatic
and the Fox,"
difficulties"
("The Hedgehog
merely
pp. 57-9).
17. Berlin, "The Hedgehog
and the Fox," pp. 80, 77.
18. Owen Bradley, A Modern Maistre: The Social and Political Thought of Joseph de
Maistre
of Nebraska
Press, 1999), p. xvi.
(Lincoln and London: University
would

19. Bradley,

A Modern Maistre,

p. xvi.

130

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

20. Maistre,
21. Maistre,

Considerations
St. Petersburg

on France, pp. 28-9.


trans. R. A. Lebrun
Dialogues,

(Montreal and Kingston:


216-7.
Press, 1993), pp.
McGill-Queen's
University
in Richard
22. Maistre,
St. Petersburg Dialogues,
Lebrun,
quoted
"Joseph de
in
the
Annual
View
of
Maistre's
War,"
Proceedings of
Meeting
'Philosophic'
of the
7
French
46.
Western Society for
(1979), p.
History,
on France, p. 31.
23. Maistre,
Considerations
on this subject, see Richard A. Lebrun's
24. For a particularly
good comparison
in Joseph deMaistre's
and Edmund Burke: A Comparison,"
"Joseph de Maistre
Life, Thought, and Influence: Selected Studies,
Press,
University
Kingston: McGill-Queen's
25. Maistre,
St. Petersburg Dialogues, p. 7.
26. Maistre,
St. Petersburg Dialogues, p. 220.

ed. R. A. Lebrun

27. Maistre,
St. Petersburg Dialogues, pp. 218-9.
and the Fox," p. 66.
28. Berlin, "The Hedgehog
29. See W. J. Reedy,
"Maistre's Twin? Louis de Bonald
in Joseph deMaistre's
Life, Thought and Influence.
30. Berlin,
31. Berlin,
32. Berlin,
33. Berlin,
34. Berlin,

38.
39.
40.
41.
42.
43.
44.
45.

"Joseph de Maistre
"Joseph de Maistre
"Joseph de Maistre

and the Origins


and the Origins
and the Origins
and the Origins
and the Origins
and the Origins

and the Enlightenment,"

of Fascism,"
of Fascism,"
of Fascism,"
of Fascism,"
of Fascism,"
of Fascism,"

pp.

126-7.

pp. 126-7.
pp. 171-2.
p. 150.
pp. 126-7.

pp. 112-3.
of Fascism," p. 174.
of Fascism," pp. 134-5.
Berlin,
24.
"The
Berlin,
p.
Counter-Enlightenment,"
and the Origins
of Fascism," p. 158.
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of Fascism," p. 155.
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of Fascism," p. 170.
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of Fascism," p. 150.
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of Fascism," p. 119.
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins
of Fascism," pp. 112-3.
Berlin, "Joseph de Maistre
ed. Henry Hardy
Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism,
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton
145-6.
Press,
1999),
pp.
University

35. Berlin,
36. Berlin,
37.

"Joseph de Maistre
"Joseph de Maistre
"Joseph de Maistre
"Joseph de Maistre
"Joseph de Maistre

and

(Montreal

2001).

and the Origins


and the Origins

this
46. Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
pp. 22-3. Berlin also attributes
in "Joseph de Maistre
and the Origins of Fascism," p. 119.
view toMaistre
47. Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre,"
pp. 47-8.
48. Maistre,
Letters on the Spanish Inquisition, trans. Thomas
J.O'Flaherty
(Delmar,
N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles
and Reprints,
1970), pp. 22-3.
Letters on the Spanish Inquisition, p. 33.
49. Maistre,
in The Party of Humanity:
"Voltaire's
50. Peter Gay,
Anti-Semitism,"
and Nicolson,
Weidenfeld
in the French Enlightenment
(London:

Studies
1964),

pp. 97-108.
51. Maistre,
Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions,
reprint
1847 ed. (Delmas, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles,
1977), p. 93.
52. Maistre,
p. 94.
Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions,
48.
53. Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre,"
p.
54. Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre,"
pp. 47-8.

of

Isaiah Berlin's

Joseph de Maistre

131

summarizes
and persuasively
the "case for the de
55. Owen Bradley eloquently
is to ignore that Maistre
fense": "This [the view that Maistre was anti-Semitic]
of Judaism ex
himself was an ?migr? intellectual who showed an admiration
rare
tradition
and
within
the
Catholic
wholly
tremely
lacking, for example,
one of the favourite
from Burke. That 'the barbarism
is
of the Hebrew
people
a sure
for Maistre
of the 18th century' was
all, these charges ignore his unrelenting
nullity. Above
revolutionaries"
(AModern Maistre, p. xvii).
56. Bradley, A Modern Maistre, pp. xvii-xviii.
57. Berlin, "The Counter-Enlightenment,"
p. 24.
58. Bradley, A Modern Maistre, p. xvi.
on France, p. 53.
59. Maistre,
Considerations
theses

of that century's
to right-wing
hostility

sign

in Against Rousseau, trans. R. A.


"On the Sovereignty
of the People,"
Press, 1996), pp. 87-8.
(Montreal: McGill-Queen's
University
in Joseph deMaistre's
"The Roads of Exile, 1792-1817,"
61. Jean-Louis Darcel,
Life,
29.
and
Influence, p.
Thought
62. Darcel, "The Roads of Exile, 1792-1817," p. 29.
63. Darcel, "The Roads of Exile, 1792-1817," p. 30.
reference here to the
64. Darcel,
"The Roads of Exile, 1792-1817,"
p. 29. Darcel's
on France: "There is only one
war"
Maistre's
Considerations
is
of
from
"scourge
the disorders
the scourge of war, and that is by restraining
way of restraining
that lead to this terrible purification"
(p. 29).
65. Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre,"
p. 23.
60. Maistre,
Lebrun

66. Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre,"


p. 70.
67. Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre,"
p. 33.
68. See note 8 above.
the Current, pp. 323-4.
69. Berlin, "Georges Sorel," in Against
The Envy of theWorld (London: Weidenfeld
70. Berlin, quoted inHenry Carpenter,
and Nicolson,
1996), p. 127.
71. Martin

review of TheMagus
Bull, "God, creation and the genitals,"
26
Isaiah
The
October
1993, p. 15.
Guardian,
Berlin,
by
72. Stephen Holmes,
"The Lion of Antiliberalism,"
The New Republic,
32-7.
1989, pp.

of theNorth
30 October

Benjamin
and Love

on Liberty

Constant

?oKiel Qossvnan
In memory

of Jack Lively

I. Introduction
on Benjamin
of my knowledge,
Isaiah Berlin never wrote
directly
This is the more surprising as there is general agreement
among Berlin's
a
on
on
was
influence
his
that
Constant
decisive
reflections
interpreters
liberty.
it
is
Berlin's
Besides scattered references
true, in a list
throughout
essays?usually,
as Madame
de Stael, Jeremy Bentham,
James Mill,
along with other figures such
to the
and Guizot?Constant
is singled out on two occasions
for his contribution

To

the best

Constant.

of modern
liberal thought: first in the celebrated Oxford
articulation
inaugural
lecture on "Two Concepts
of Liberty" of 1958 and again in the essay on "Liberty"
a
in 1962 (but published
drafted for a BBC program
only in 1995). But itwas in let
ter to Conor Cruise O'Brien, dated 10 April 1991, that Berlin made
the most ex
to Constant.
In an otherwise
favorable
of his indebtedness
plicit acknowledgment
in the New York Review of Books,
review of Berlin's The Crooked Timber ofHumanity
to task for including
Edmund
had taken Berlin
Burke "in a list of
O'Brien
'reactionary'

thinkers,

along

with

Hamann,

Moser,

and

Maistre."

Berlin

re

that he knew "virtually nothing about [Burke] except what


sponded by confessing
most people know?the
image handed down in history books and conversations,"
to
and therefore "really should not argue" with O'Brien about him. A postscript
the letter left no doubt that Constant, not Burke, had helped Berlin to articulate his
ideas on liberty. "That cold, perceptive,
civilised Swiss wrote better
independent,
about the destruction
of individual
liberty and the horrors of both the Terror and,
to some degree, of Bonapartist
"I cannot deny
he claimed.
rule, than anybody,"
the conceptions
of liberty in the
that his famous essay on the difference
between
did have a pretty strong influence on me." He went
ancient and modern worlds
so far as to suggest
it was Benjamin Constant who
that "perhaps
showed
the
the
Revolution
and
into
French
its
aftermath"
sharpest penetration
and?hedged
round by parentheses?that
be "in some ways more
Constant's
writings might
interesting
of Constant

than even Burke's."1 As far as political


ideas are concerned
seems
to
and Berlin thus
be beyond dispute.

the affinity

133

134

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

Those who knew Berlin well will be able to judge whether


there is any founda
to Berlin more broadly,
tion in fact for my hunch that Constant may have appealed
in the way that Alexander
to him, because of his almost debili
Herzen
appealed
to
understand
and
with
tating capacity
sympathize
points of view.
conflicting
a
to
not even men
Berlin
did
devote
of
brilliant
whom
is
Herzen,
essays,
couple
in C. J.Galipeau's
Isaiah Berlin's Liberalism (Oxford, 1994). Yet the profound
as conviction,
as
of
intellectual
well
the extraordinary
temper
liberality
honesty
and the vast range of sympathies
and openness,
of the author of My Past and
as great an impact on Berlin,
as he was
in Russian
Thoughts surely had
steeped
as the more
to literary values,
literature and highly
sensitive
formal theories of
inmy view, isHerzen
in a different key?
liberal political philosophers.
Constant,
as
Berlin
it
somewhat
"cold"
rather
than
romantic, Swiss
classical,
himself,
put
rather than Russian,
but equally
and
with
the same
endowed
cosmopolitan
one
on
for
the
world
others'
In
of the essays
Herzen
eyes.
capacity
seeing
through
Berlin himself placed the two in the same
without
Fanaticism")
("A Revolutionary
category of "enlightened
sceptics," along with Erasmus and Montaigne,
Bayle and
and
the English Philosophical
Radicals.
Fontenelle, Humboldt
Like Berlin, Constant
did not shrink from taking positions,
but he did so, like
the ease and assurance
of the party man or dogmatist,
and his
Berlin, without
or line of action, now
often tactical, favoring now one position
choices were
to him to require, and never,
seemed
another, as the situation and the occasion
the sense of being fully at one with himself
that is the unde
therefore, enjoying
and self-righteous.
While his aim was to achieve
served privilege
of the dogmatic
as much
individual
that there were
freedom as possible, he always acknowledged
individual
freedom and that these were not
other human needs and goods besides
tioned

security, solidarity. Constant's


irony and
always compatible with it: love, heroism,
a
as well as the discomfort
sense of "not
caused
the
him,
ambivalence,
they
being
as he put it,might well have struck an even deeper chord in Berlin
real person,"
than his political
ideas as such. It is hard to imagine that Berlin was not as drawn
to the Constant
of Adolphe, the Journaux intimes, and the wonderful
letters to his
friends as he was to the author of the essay on "The Liberty of the Ancients
Com
some
in
with
that
the
There
after
truth
of
Moderns."
Gas
is,
all,
y
Ortega
pared
more
a
is
that
"liberalism
far
view
set's potentially
assertion
of
dangerous
general
life than a question
of politics."2
texts by Constant
that will be the focus of
The two generically
disparate
de
(De
my attention?a
l'Esprit
conqu?te et de l'usurpation) and
political pamphlet
a short novel
in
de
the
French
classical
(Adolphe) composed
syle of Mme.
same time (1806-1807)
written
about
the
La
Princesse
de
Cl?ves?were
Lafayette's
a couple of years of each other. The pamphlet
within
and published
appeared
two weeks
in 1814, in Hanover
and London,
and then in Paris, within
of
in
in
An
the
novel
London
and
Paris
1816.
abdication;
English
Napoleon's
a friend of Constant's
translation
of the novel, by Alexander
from his
Walker,
in 1816, only two months
also appeared
after the
student days in Edinburgh,
text
and
I
then
consider
elements
shall
take
each
French.
up
separately
original
common
to both.
There is a copious
about Constant
literature on
himself.
First, a brief word
his extraordinarily

active

and varied

public

and private

life and numerous

love

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

135

as exhausting
to read about as they must have been for him to
affairs?almost
are
two excellent biographies?a
in.
In
there
engage
particular,
truly elegant one
a
more
recent
and
Harold
much
detailed
volume
Nicolson,
by
by Dennis Wood.3
itwill have to be sufficient
to emphasize
For our purposes,
that Constant was a
French ancestry; Swiss birth (in 1767) and family connec
thorough cosmopolitan:
as writers);
tions (including
several relatives who had distinguished
themselves
in Germany
in
of
and
education
the
Scotland
(at
(at
University
Erlangen, briefly)
the University
of Edinburgh,
1783-85?"the
happiest years of my life"); close ties
in Switzerland,
to and much
travel and residence
Scotland,
Germany,
England,
as
as
and
and Holland
well
France; two marriages
(both to German women)
in
love affairs with German,
French, English,
Irish, and Swiss women,
and
with
the
redoubtable
stormy
notoriously
relationship
cluding
long-standing
a member
Mme. de Stael; and an active political
of the
career, as a pamphleteer,
a member
Conseil d'Etat
Tribunat at the time of the First Consulate,
of Napoleon's
Days, and a parliamentary
deputy and leading liberal under
during the Hundred
the Restoration
(1818 until his death in 1829). With all that, the author of transla
tions from the German,
essays, a large treatise on political
literary and political
on
a
of
and
another
short
novels, a tragedy, and various au
theory
religion,
couple
to
the
the memorable
from
Cahier
Journaux intimes.
Rouge
writings,
tobiographical
to European
culture in the Age of Goethe far
Like Mme. de Stael, Constant belongs
more
at home
in
than to French culture as such, and of course he was as much
as
in
two
In
and
French.
his
German
the
of
influence
years
English
particular,
countless

at Edinburgh University,
and debating
discussion
alive
Adam
Smith was

in lively student
during which he participated
actively
a number of scholars.
societies, has been emphasized
by
was
at the time and Adam
still teaching.
Ferguson
A French translation of the latter's widely
read Essay on theHistory of Civil Society
in Edinburgh
arrived
the year Constant
of 1767 appeared
(1783) and, judging
in
its
broad
distribution
libraries
France today, appears
throughout
by
public
on Constant
to have reached a large public. The impact of Smith and Ferguson
reason
to
is
but
there
believe
that itwas
has not been carefully
every
investigated
considerable.4

In lieu of a visual portrait of Constant,


vivid verbal
let me cite one particularly
a
comes
to
It
Harold
Nicolson's
introduction
from
description.
popular English
just after the Second World War:
language edition of Adolphe, published
Constant
Benjamin
not prepossessing.

at
His

that date

was

carroty

hair

twenty-seven
over
hung

his

of age. His
years
in
forehead
wisps,

appearance
his white

was
face

was blotched with yellow patches; his little eyes glinted within half-closed eyelids
and behind green spectacles; his lips were mobile and slim. He had a weedy body,
and white freckled hands which jerked nervously; his finger was constantly in his
mouth.

He

had

a thin,

rather

effeminate

voice,

and when

he uttered

his

epigrams,

the

sibilants hissed and whistled.5

IL De

l'Esprit de conqu?te

et de l'usurpation

The material Constant


drew on for this pamphlet was first set down around 1806
a liberal theory of politics,
in a large manuscript
which
Constant
outlining
an
was
not
in
under
abbrevi
(It appeared
simply
publishable
Napoleon.
explains
in its entirety
ated version as Principes de politique, in 1815, but was not available

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

136

until quite recently).


Constant
the
By late 1813, however,
evidently
thought
was opportune
a topical turn
moment
for giving some of his general reflections
and injecting them into the contemporary
and historical
situation.
"The
political
author has cut out all the purely
theoretical discussion
and extracted only what
of immediate
and interest," he stated in the preface,
relevance
dated
appears
31 December
references
and

usurper

1813, to the first edition of the pamphlet.


in the pamphlet
to the Terror, the Jacobins,
par

This accounts
and Napoleon,

for the many


as conqueror

excellence.

I shall touch on a variety of points, the underlying


like to
theme Iwould
in
is
that
of
for
Constant
insisted
that
there
the
explore
following pages
modernity,
was a radical difference
between
the modern
and
earlier
classi
age
ages, notably
cal antiquity, which was still, in Constant's
time, a point of reference and even a
While

model

for many

thinkers and artists.


theme itself is old enough. Earlier phases of the Querelle des Anciens et des
in the sixteenth and seventeenth
Modernes
centuries had been centered on the idea
as
we
and
Moderns
intellectual
scientific
stand on the shoulders of the
of
progress:
we
see
more
of
the
Moderns
and further. The order of
the
ran,
Ancients,
argument
we
nature itself, however, was unchanging;
it better. Likewise,
understood
simply
common
as
the
from
perception
regards human nature, politics, and government,
to the end of the eighteenth
the same
the Renaissance
century was of repetition:
The

it was
the same behaviors,
the same arguments,
the same situations,
problems,
or masks.
Even the Moderns
held, recur in constantly
changing guises, costumes
refined masks,
claimed only that the arts of civilization?more
codes of
costumes,
a kind of cosmetic that had mitigated
the
and
behavior?were
harshness
language
of earlier times without
fundamentally
altering nature.
to construct a secular "science" of politics rested on this
ambition
Machiavelli's
view of history as repetition. Whoever
studies "current and past affairs will rec
ognize how the same desires and the same characters recur in all cities and among
so that "whoever
all peoples,"
he claimed,
studies past situations
and
carefully
to foresee and
events will find it easy, by virtue of the similarity of occurrences,
forestall, in any state, those of the future." As the Spanish censor of a book
possibly
drawn
from Tacitus noted: "Nos ha de ense?ar
of aphorisms
junto con lo que
casos" ("Our task is to teach, along with what
pass?, lo que passera en semejantes
in the past, what will happen
in the future in similar conditions").6
happened
view of history as repetition and
with
links
this
neo-classical
Despite
lingering
human nature as unchanging
it, for instance, in the taste for max
(we can observe
in Adolphe),
of precise temporal and geographical
definitions
an
idea
for
whom
the
by
develops
already anticipated
Montesquieu,
of virtue,
like some prelapsarian
is
ancient republic and its principle
humanity,
to
recreate
in
and
world:
the
lost
contemporary
irretrievably
impossible
namely,
from the ancient world
and that history
that the modern world
is truly different
is
not simply a succession
of different masks worn by essentially
the same players, as
Thus customs and institutions
that
Voltaire
claimed, but is real and constitutive.
as "abuses" when historical
have
served one age well are experienced
changes
use
made
them no longer useful or effective.
"Everything has had its function and
was
is abusive
of progress. What
fulness in the movement
today
indispensable
is subject to the same
Our own modernity,
Constant notes reflectively,
yesterday."
some of the principles
that seem to us beyond
law of historical
change: "Perhaps
ims and the absence

Constant

on Liberty

Constant

Benjamin

and Love

the same fate." The fact that a custom or


dispute will meet with
once useful in no way justifies attempting
to resurrect it. "As long
it is because
it crumbles,
it has lost
it stood firm on its own. When
and destructive
In fact, the most dangerous
of all policies
consists
to
turn
with
the
back
the
clock.
Scottish
trying
Along
champions

137

institution was
as itwas useful
its usefulness."7
in deliberately

of "commerce"
and well before the Hegelians
and of the 1707 Treaty of Union with England,
and
the Marxists,
Constant was already arguing that the policy-maker's
task is to un
of history?"l'esprit
derstand
the movement
g?n?ral" of his time, as Montesquieu
as tomake
so
to
it
the
best of the opportunities
it affords
it?and
expressed
adapt
in the natural world runs its course. Men follow it,
at any given point. "Everything
accelerate the pace, or slow it down, but they cannot escape it."8 For Constant, hu
man nature itself is historical. The progress of civilization,
Constant declared,
"has
for man

created

new

relations

with

his

fellows

as

and,

a result,

a new

nature."9

as amodel

In light of these considerations,


Constant
for mod
rejected antiquity
ern politics. To him there is little to be gained from weighing
the
up theoretically
of Sparta, the model
of the Ancients,
and
and disadvantages
relative advantages
or from arguing for this or that form
the preferred model
of the Moderns,
Athens,
manner
In practice, history
of the Enlightenment
of society in the
philosophers.
limits the range of our options and the ancient republic is simply not one of them.
It is not suited to modern
forms of govern
life; and as historically
inappropriate
create
ment can only be imposed by violence,
but
and in the
misery
they
nothing
run

long

cannot
are

There
This

truth

endure.

things
is often

are

that

possible
never
neglected,

who hold in their hands

in one

age,
without

but

danger.

the destiny of the world

...
was
read history
and see what
They
possible
...
now
it can still be done
sider whether
[S]ince
interests,

the entire

moral

existence

of

their

that no

longer
It is a great

are mistaken
done
they

remain

so

in another.
the men

evil when

about what

is actually

and do not stop to con


earlier,
are at odds with
the moods,
the

contemporaries,

these

react

forces

against

them. And within a span of time all too long for their victims, but extremely short if
we consider it historically, nothing is left of their enterprises but the crimes they have
committed

and

the

sufferings

they

have

caused.10

at the Jacobins (though it has a strikingly


Constant's
critique is clearly directed
are confronted
resonance
to
those
who
today
by another?religious?kind
topical
his critique
is equally
clear: the
The principle
of fundamentalism).
underlying
and
of aristocratic,
Jacobins' rejection of the limits set by centuries
provincial,
to
it
of
and
liberties
the
be
that
the
monarch
power,
privileges
sovereign
municipal
or that of his replacement,
the sovereign
of the modern
state, their transgression
the state and civil society, their failure, in short, to acknowl
between
boundary
in complex modern
limits of state power
the
societies, betrays
edge the proper
of their program. You cannot revive the ancient Roman republic in the
and Mably would have
conditions
of late eighteenth-century
Europe, as Rousseau
to the
would
liked to do, Constant
Constant's
criticism
implies.
apply equally
or
of
Novalis
oder
the
fantasies
Christenheit
(Die
1799)
Europa,
medievalizing
in
Fichte
Der
Handelsstaat?
dreamed
self-contained
up by
community
geschlossene
anachronism

about which

Constant

God bless them, with


material

needs

had

this to say in 1804:

their Spartan ideals in themidst

that have

become

part

of our

existence,

of our modern
of bills

civilization,

of exchange,

etc.

of

They

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

138

are madmen
again,

if ever

who,

all with

they
intentions

the best

came

to power,
in the world.11

would

begin

over

all

Robespierre

Its anachronism
is also the basis of Constant's
critique of the Napoleonic
regime.
It is simply, he claims, unsuited
to an age in which what people
aspire to is no
or the
comfort and
longer glory
challenge and exaltation of combat, but individual
no
as
it
in
Adam
his
Essay on the
regretfully
wellbeing;
longer virtue,
Ferguson put
was
one of the
but
that
the
of
which
Civil
Society,
of
pursuit
History
happiness,
in
enshrined
the
American
Declaration
of
rights
Independence.
I have

sometimes

Cambyses,
nature

has

confronting

given
and

you

one

what

wondered

or Attila would

Alexander
a

eye,

quick

surmounting

of

these

men

wish

who

reply if his people

to repeat

the deeds

... and an inexhaustible


energy
... But
we
should
for these?
pay
why

boundless

danger

of

spoke to him and told him:


thirst
... Are

for
we

here only to build, with our dying bodies, your road to fame? You have a genius for
fighting: what good is it to us? The leopard too, if itwere transported to our popu
lous cities, might complain of not finding the thick forests, the immense plains where
it

in

delighted

played

another

climate,
wish
... Man

pursuing,

seizing

and

devouring

its prey,

its

where

vigour

in the speed and dash of the chase. Like the leopard, you belong
to

reign
from

land,

from our own.


species
if you wish
Learn
peace,
age.
this one.12
world,
stop despoiling
another

in a civilized
another

Learn
to rule

to be
over

was

dis

to another

civilized,
peaceful

if you
peoples

to a more primitive
in 1815, is a throwback
observed
Constant
stage of
Napoleon,
human history: "He is Attila, he is Genghis Khan."13
of historical
of the real importance
time and
On the basis of his affirmation
a
et
in
I
De
de
de
of
Constant
offers
part
conqu?te
l'Esprit
l'usurpation
critique
change,
as anachronistic,
of satisfy
of war and conquest
ways
inappropriate
historically
of usurpers,
and in part II, a critique
and the
desires;
dictators,
ing human
a
on the
seizure
and
with
exercise
of
sustained
reflection
power, along
arbitrary
kind of government
that is appropriate
to modern
times?that
is, to a bourgeois,
his vision of politics and
these critiques, he develops
commercial
society. Around
for
the
nineteenth
century.
society
A series of contrasts between
ancient and modern
life is generated by the argu
no longer needs
to be stolen from others by
ment
times wealth
that in modern
commerce
or created by industry; that
violence but can be acquired peacefully
by
an age of commerce has replaced the age of war.14 First, ancient warfare
is said to
in
to
and
addition
have developed
of
the
heroism,
greatness
spirit
enriching
as
as
all
victors
the
well
victors. In contrast, modern warfare
impoverishes
parties,
"the new way of fighting, the changes inweapons,
the vanquished.
Moreover,
[the
use of] artillery have deprived military
life of ... that pleasure of the will, of action,
and moral
of our physical
of the development
faculties, that made hand-to-hand
or
so attractive
to
the knights of the Middle Ages."
the
heroes
of
antiquity
fighting
or
an age "which values
in
accord
"interest
without
passion,"
everything
Waged
as one attempts
move
as
soon
out
to
of
this
to
its
and,
sphere, opposes
ing
utility
a
war must become
its irony to every real or feigned enthusiasm,"
horrifyingly
must
if
I
As
too
affair.15
the lesson of
and
sadistic
love,
may anticipate
cynical
second short novel C?cile (written around 1810, but
both Adolphe and Constant's
and not published
until 1951).
left unfinished,
concerns politi
A second contrast between
the ancient and the modern world
cal organization.

Constant

sets the ancient

polis and

the medieval

city-republics

and Love

on Liberty

Constant

Benjamin

139

state. The former were small, autonomous,


internally ho
was entirely
in
which
each
individual
he
communities,
claims,
(male)
his role and identity as a citizen and there was virtually no sphere of
in his
"To the ancient Greek, or the Roman," Ferguson had asserted
was
and
the
To
the
"the
individual
the
modern,
Essay,
public every thing.
nothing,
In the ancient world,
individual
is every thing and the public nothing."16
differ
ences were not between
citizens, Constant
again following
explained,
Ferguson,
cities or poleis. The modern
but between
state, in contrast, is part of a commercial
inwhich differences
ironed
of culture and ethnicity are being progressively
world
out by similar interests and desires and people are becoming more and more alike.
one state from another but
and divides
Difference
here no longer distinguishes
man
states.
of
all
A
is no longer fully iden
has been internalized within individuals
as
as
a
to
that one), but is rather a private
tifiable
citizen (of this polis
opposed
an
a
Constant
individual. Optimistically,
believes
this devel
person,
bourgeois,
states anachronistic.
after
opment ought to make war between
(Understandably,
and 1939, Berlin did not share Constant's
the wars of 1866,1870,1914,
optimism
on this score and did not evoke this aspect of his work.)

over against
mogeneous
absorbed by
life.
private

Our world
nation

the modern

in the past each

is, in this respect, the opposite of the ancient world. While


an

formed

isolated

the born

family,

of other

enemy

families,

mass

great

of

human beings now exist who, despite the different names under which they live and
in their
their different forms of social organization, are essentially homogeneous
nature.

mass

This

toward
above
every

peace.
all the
day

is strong

It is sufficiently

barbarous.

To

be

errors

itmakes

sure,

to have

enough

to fear

nothing

from

to find war a burden.

civilized
the warlike

tradition,
slow

of governments,
further
progress.17

down

heritage
the effects

of

this

still

is

tendency

distant

from

are

that

hordes

Its uniform

and

ages,

but

tendency,

and poleis were unified


around a shared
fact that the ancient communities
are
or
whereas
modern
societies
characterized
tradition,
by interest and
myth
a
in
of advantage,
results
between
the
rational calculation
difference
significant
to the state and the ancient citizen's attachment
attachment
individual's
modern
to the polis. The patriotism
of the Ancients was a kind of family loyalty; modern
a
cos
to Constant
to
the
man's
attachment
state, according
(himself
perfect
we observed earlier), is conditional
on the advantages
accrue to
as
that
mopolitan,
all that was dearest to aman.
him from it. To the Ancients,
"fatherland
embodied
The

To lose one's country was to lose one's wife, children,


But
and social enjoyment."
nearly all communication
the age
liberty,
activity,

that sort of patriotism


of whatever
is the property
a thousand
sorts
glory,

of

is over;
we

what

possess,
of happiness

we

love
our

friends,

now

security,
... Individual

all affections,

in our

country,
the possibility
existence
today

as

and

in our
of

rest,

is less

submerged in political existence; individuals can take their treasures far away; they
can carry with them all the enjoyments of private life. Commerce has brought nations
closer together and has given them virtually identical customs and habits; monarchs
still be
may
was
ancients
them

it is quite

enemies,
a

but

punishment,

peoples
is easy

are
for

compatriots.
the moderns;

Expatriation,
and
far from

which
being

for
painful

the
to

agreeable.18

and excesses
and
of the late nineteenth
the nationalistic
passions
(Again, with
was
in
to
not
centuries
Berlin
take
twentieth
still
fresh
inclined
memory,
up
early
in the age of economic migrations,
the
of Constant's.
this argument
However,

140

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

"brain drain"

from poorer

of Constant's

argument

to richer countries,
and the "global
seem
more
than
may
compelling

parts
half a

economy,"
they did

century ago.)
distinction
led to the famous
Above
of ancient and modern
all, Constant's
or between
distinction
between
ancient and modern
liberty
"political" and "civil"
a
to
had
familiar
distinction
with
which
have
he
become
liberty,
during his years
in Edinburgh,
since it is central to the thought of Hume,
and
Smith, Ferguson,
and which,
in turn reflects the
other leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment,
two strains, in Constant's
of
Rousseau
and
This was the
Montesquieu.19
thought,
most
to formu
work
that
him
of
Constant's
part
strongly engaged Berlin, helping
were
late the two concepts of "positive" and "negative"
which
the
liberty
topic of
I quote at length from
the 1958 inaugural
lecture on "Two Concepts
of Liberty."
the distinction
is elaborated.
the chapter of De l'Esprit de conqu?te in which
in collective power rather than in
[Ancient] liberty consisted in active participation
the peaceful enjoyment of individual independence. And to ensure the former, itwas
the

for

necessary
for this

to exact

impossible

In the republics of antiquity,


citizen

to sacrifice

citizens
and

sacrifice

deal
good
it at the

the

stage

But

latter.

it is absurd

have

people

to ask
now.

reached

small scale of the territory meant

the extremely
a

of

that each

exercise
The
of the
importance.
personal
politically
speaking,
so to
the occupation
of citizenship
the amusement
of
and,
represented
speak,
rights
all. The whole
to the
contributed
of the laws, pronounced
people
making
judgments,
on war
was
in national
and peace.
share
decided
The
of the individual
sovereignty
... It follows
no means,
as it is now,
an abstract
an
from
this
that
the
supposition
by
in order
to conserve
and their share
cients were
their political
importance
prepared,
in the administration
to renounce
their private
of the state,
and to per
independence
mit
maintain
increase
institutions
which
the
of
fortunes,
prevent
equality,
proscribe
had,

and

distinctions,

Thus

... The

peoples

now

call

citizen

had

... But

to be

citizen

It is quite
that of

the

government

they

sovereignty

ancient
adopt,

republics,
no
have

representation,

through

men

as many
rifices would

cial

[now]
of

tendency
to be

dertakings,

active
that

left

in

their

be much

the

age,

the

the means
perfect
sphere

Because
of

their

their

that
enough

sovereign,
for each

is much
territory
whatever

inhabitants,
are called

in it.
part
They
is to say in a fictitious

of power
any of the enjoyments
to win
and maintain
sacrifices

plied and varied


only

states.

the mass

of the

of the sovereign,

and
legislator
in a nation
small

at most

larger
form
of

to exercise

manner...

[of liberty] is [thus] less vivid among them [since] it does

The immediate pleasure


include

to the
of the ancient
majority
of the nation
of which
he

that

worth

Clearly

slave

to the decisions
himself

was

all that his suffrage


pride
a power.
a different
matter
in modern

than

not

entirely

that he was

was

virtue.

security.

was
unknown
liberty
in a way made
himself
the

the reason

even

and

talents,

individual

civil

formed part. He submitted himself


legislator
and felt with

of wealth,

influence

limit liberty and endanger

we

what

the

obstruct

such institutions

great

more

... It would
this kind
the progress

painful:
communication

among

of individual happiness.

independence
of activity,

in all
their

be
of

that

to exact

impossible

liberty. Moreover,
of civilization,

peoples,

have

the

their

multi

infinitely

occupations,

sac

commer

To be happy, men need

concerns

from

these

[now]

their

un

fantasies.

and sacrifice has thus become


The relation of liberty to pleasure
the exact reverse
itwas in antiquity.
"In the past, where
of what
there was liberty, people could en
it is necessary
to enslave people
there is hardship,
dure hardship; now, wherever
to get them to put up with it. The people most attached to liberty inmodern
times

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

141

ismost attached to its pleasures.


It holds to its liberty above all
is also that which
see
in
to
it
it is enlightened
the
of its pleasures."20
because
guarantee
enough
In part II, chapter 7 of De l'Espirt de conqu?te Constant warns of the danger of at
tempting to recreate ancient liberty in conditions which are no longer appropriate
to it. The result, he says, will be an inauthentic community,
which will be main
and terror. So the attempt to recreate a historically
only by dictatorship
in the destruction
will
result
of liberty. Among
Constant's
inappropriate
liberty
one
no
to
could
have
mistaken
the
here
reference
the
Jacobin
contemporaries,
reign of terror.
In light of those reflections,
Constant
the very terms of political
redefines
so much
matters
not
the
traditional
the
What
is
between
distinction
thought.
who
different
forms of government
etc.)?i.e.
aristocracy,
(monarchy,
democracy,
tainable

exercises

power?as

the manner

in which

government,

any

exercises

government,

at the opening
power
"My aim in this work," he writes
power?how
no
means
et
de
"is
II
De
de
that of under
of part
of
conqu?te
l'Esprit
l'usurpation,
by
to contrast
forms
I
the
of
the
wish
examination
different
of government.
taking
one
a
I
not
to
with
that is not;
do
propose
compare
regular
regular government
is exercised.

21

themselves."

among

governments

von Humboldt
concern is the same as that expressed by Wilhelm
in
Constant's
some
his Limits of State Action (written in the 1790s, but not published,
for
except
fragments, until 1851):
a
or
to frame
constitution,
attempt
reorganize
political
... to be
in view:
to determine,
for
first,
distinctly
kept
objects
to arrange
shall be governed,
and
who
shall govern
and who
In every

and
the administration;
once
ment,
constructed,
which

more

determines
ultimate

secondly,
should

immediately
of his
the limits

purpose;

the

affects

former

free,
is

to

there
the nation
the

actual

to which
the exact
prescribe
sphere
or confine
extend
its operations.
The
life of the citizen
the private
and, more
spontaneous
a necessary

only

activity,
means

are

two main

in question,
working
the govern
latter

is, strictly
speaking,
at this
for arriving

of

object,

especially,
the true,
end.22

that far more attention has traditionally


Humboldt
been paid
goes on to complain
to the former than to the latter, i.e. to the question of the form of government
rather
than to that of its scope and limits.
For Constant,
is not between
the significant distinction
then, as for Humboldt,
of
whatever
kinds of government
but, first, between
legitimate governments
stripe
that can be said in one way or another to rest on the will of the
(i.e. governments
and consent or by constitutional
people, whether
by a long tradition of acceptance
in which power has been
and illegitimate governments
(governments
or even against the will of the peo
is
consent
and
the
exercised
without
usurped
that acknowledge
governments
ple); and, second, between
legal limits to state
enactment)

that do not, i.e. governments


that claim absolute power.
power and governments
to
For Constant
the
which he almost cer
subscribes
modern
distinction?of
fully
as a student
in
in
heard
much
the
1780s?between
the varied
tainly
Edinburgh
in
and
the
and
civil
he
holds
the
of
of
the
that
state;
society
sphere
sphere
sphere
indi
of civil society?private
life, culture, religion, economic
activity, etc.?the
vidual has a right to freedom, and that no government,
of any stripe, is entitled to
that freedom. The sway of government
should extend no further
interfere with
than the protection
from external enemies and from other indi
of each individual
viduals who might
seek to diminish his freedom.

142

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

Two
tected

things
from

for a society
and

are needed
internal

is to suppress

task

Government's

to exist
two,

disorder,

and

to

and

disorders

repel

itmust

One,

enjoy happiness.
be protected

it must

from

foreign

be pro
invasion.

invasions.23

In advocating
strict limits on the power of government,
Constant deliberately
goes
a more
wants
of
He
further than Montesquieu's
reliable de
powers.
separation
to me is
of powers.
"What matters
fense of individual
liberty than the separation
one
source
cannot
not that my personal
be
violated
of
without
the
power
by
rights
cannot
that
be
but
violated
whatso
of
another,
my rights
by any power
approval
toMontesquieu,
ever."24 Or again: "According
liberty is the right to do whatever
is not
citizens cannot do what
the laws permit. No doubt there is no liberty when
so
law.
But
the
well
laws
that
there
many
by
might
prohibit
things
prohibited
would be no liberty even under law."25 And just before his death in 1829, Constant
wrote:

in all things: in religion,


For forty years Ihave defended the same principle?freedom
in literature, in industry, and in politics. ... The majority has the right
in philosophy,
to oblige theminority to respect public order, but everything which does not disturb
which
is
order,
everything
personal,
public
to our opinions,
in giving
does
expression
or

violence

physical

obstructing

contrary

as our

such
no

opinions,

does not prevent a rival industry from flourishing


vidual

and

cannot

be

everything

which,
everything
either
by provoking
in
which,
industry,

to the indi

freely, all that belongs

to the power

surrendered

legitimately

opinions,
to others,

harm

of

the

state.26

or even
as for most early liberals like Humboldt
The essential
thing for Constant,
to conclude,
is "negative
Mill, one might want
liberty"?that
liberty from govern
as distinct
from the civic humanist
tradi
from the jurisprudential,
ment, derived
as appropriate
most
of
the
writers
Scottish
tion, and presented
by
Enlightenment
to modern
be they republics
like the German
commercial
societies,
city-states
lectures on jurispru
evoked by Adam Smith in his 1762-63 Glasgow
University
admired by Hume.27
"The axiom of popular
dence or the "civilised monarchies"
a
as
wrote.
But in a
of
Constant
has
been
taken
liberty,"
sovereignty
principle
one
recourse
to
to
other
the ex
has
determine
modern
"unless
principles
society,
be
the
of
tent of ... sovereignty,
could
lost,
despite
principle
popular
liberty
or

sovereignty,
when

no

even

limit

is set

on

account

to the power
of

of
of

it."
the

28 For
state,

the

leaders

the people
the exercise

of

in a popular

...
tyranny
liberty
government
as?more
is as
The
that can do anything
than?any
dangerous
dangerous
people
or the
It is not
that constitutes
number
of governors
the small
tyranny
large
tyrant.
what
the
of state power,
that guarantees
number
of governors
liberty.
Only
degree
a constitution
ever
is free or a
in which
it is
determines
whether
the hands
placed,
a
once
it
is
has
been
the more
and
established,
tyranny
government
oppressive;
as the
are more
numerous.29
tyrants
frightful
are not

defenders

but

candidates

for

of

So any form of government


may claim absolute power and destroy
liberty: democ
no
form
is
and
less
than
of
any
racy
government
aristocracy.
Equally,
monarchy
A
would
liberal
be
limited
with
power.
democracy
government
compatible
as much power as is necessary to ensure the
"power placed in the hands of all, but only
be
order and safety of the association." A liberal aristocracy would
correspondingly
one in
in a few; a liberal monarchy
one inwhich
is vested
the same limited power
can transfer its
in a single person.
"The people
limited power
is vested
which

on Liberty

Constant

Benjamin

and Love

143

is as limited as that
to a few or to a single individual,
but their authority
authority
of the people which gave it to them."30
is on the protection
In sum, the emphasis
of the private sphere, private activi
concern with
This seemingly
ties, private beliefs, private pleasures.
overriding
was by the experience
as it undoubtedly
of the Terror,
"negative
liberty," inspired
a
even
to
view
Constant
take
of
led
fairly benign
regimes that did not
occasionally
not
too
in the private
did
interfere
much
support, provided
they
enjoy popular
same
in
Berlin
would
the
1958
Isaiah
the
lecture,
argue
way,
inaugural
sphere. (In
at the height of the Cold War and in the shadow
that
of Stalinism,
delivered
or at any
some kinds of autocracy,
not
with
"is
negative
incompatible
liberty
In Constant's
Red Notebook (a fragment
rate with the absence of self-government.")
in 1811), the narrator recounts an episode
narrative composed
of autobiographical
on Bernese
rule in the French-speaking
from the 1780s, and comments
pays
an
canton only
became
de Vaud?Constant's
independent
birthplace?which
as a result of Napoleon's
of Switzerland
restructuring
by the Act of Mediation

(1803).
The Bernese with whom Iwas travelling belonged to one of the aristocratic families
of Berne. My father detested this government and had brought me up to do the same
... [He]
spent his life declaiming against [it] and Iused to repeat his declamations. We
did not reflect that our very declamations proved their own falsehood, by the mere
that we

fact

monopoly
to treat him

them

without

them

unattended

always
faults were

only
caused

utter

could

however,

by
and

to ourselves.

inconvenience

inconvenience:

by

insolence,

of

which

cost

unjustly;
last twenty-five

dint

injustice
him his

place,
life.

his

of his
years
hatred
of Bernese
all my
father's
rule, Iwas
to repeat
all the well-known
than I began
chaise with
this Bernese
of the
its
the usurpation
rights,
against
against
people's
policies,
I did not
to promise
etc.
fail
that,
my
travelling-companion
ity,
ful existence

during
as Iwas with

Filled

Iwould

offered,

nity

the

deliver

the

triots. Just such an opportunity


had

of Vaud

from

oligarchs,
father
my
and

fortune

no

not,
whose

finally
a peace
in a post

sooner

arguments
against
author
hereditary
if ever
the opportu
the oppression
of his compa

itself eleven years later; but by this time I

a ... witness
a rev
I had been
where
of what
the experience
of France,
as far as
I
is
and
from
refrained
concerned;
any
liberty
carefully
really
to revolutionize
Switzerland.
me

before

olution

means,

effort
What

portance
the tolerance
views,

I recall

conversation
with
this Bernese,
my
to
the
attached
of any sort
days
expression
If one
the period.
that characterized
nowadays
expressed
one would
not be safe for half an hour.31

strikes

me,

that was

such

canton

presented

were

They

of accusing
and tyranny,

when

in those

is the
of

small

opinion,
one
quarter

im
and
of

of this decidedly
A few lines in the middle
passage
un-revolutionary
("They were
...
an
unattended
inconvenience
emit
not, however,
")
by
important warn
always
not
that
An
does
ing signal.
"illegitimate,"
"foreign" government
enjoy popular
allows for considerable
support but nevertheless
personal
liberty may in practice
a
to some supposedly
In the end, however,
be preferable
popular
regimes.
nor
not
to
the
is
answerable
neither
that
government
people provides
security
and without
restraint the moment
liberty, for it will act ruthlessly
to it.
out of indifference no longer seem harmless
it permitted
In fact, Constant
that
be
something may
missing
acknowledges
in modernity
in general. This
liberty"?and
liberty" or "modern
illustrated

by three passages

from three very different

works.

the freedoms
in "negative
point can be

144

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

first is from one of our two principal


texts, De l'Esprit de conqu?te et de
to
and anomie of the
attention
here
the isolation
draws
Constant
l'usurpation.
freedom is enjoyed.
citizens of large modern
states, even where negative
Inspired
no doubt in part by the strong particularist
and
tradition of his native Switzerland
in part by the image of ancient Greece as a land of countless
poleis,
independent
the
that there is a continuity between
Constant
argument
anticipates Tocqueville's
more
state of the ancien r?gime French monarchy
and the
and more
centralized
state in that both aim to eliminate
the local identities
modern
post-Revolutionary
The

In all
All

states

those

are

interests

ert

in the way

that stand

and communities

where

rest

the

a little state
in their center.
is formed
life is destroyed,
to ex
in the
make
their way
There
all
ambitions
capital.
in an unnatural
inert.
lost
remain
isolation,
Individuals,

local

concentrated

themselves;

of their hegemony.

strangers

the past, living only in a

contact with

in the place of their birth, without

an immense
flat plain,
detach
themselves
from a
cast like atoms
upon
present,
hasty
a
see.
can
matter
to
Its
of
indifference
nowhere
becomes
that they
fatherland
entirety
... One
come
cannot
to rest on any of its parts
cannot
since
them
their affection
help
numerous
with
and vigorous
covered
times when
the earth was
those
regretting
in a
to its
in every way
suited
stir and exert
itself
could
and mankind
sphere
peoples
capacity.32

comes from De la Religion, a text on which Constant worked


The second passage
It
than any of his other writings.
he himself valued more
all his life and which
bitter triumph of Enlightenment:
the somewhat
describes
in the battles he has fought, man

Victorious

and
powers,
tary, turns upon
this earth
up. On

He

itself.

appear,
they
the life of those

they
into

engulfed

by
between

the past

hope,
is excluded?33

finds

follow

they

die

... No

and
living,
silence.
eternal

still

same

the

... His

victory.
himself
alone

the generations
suffer,

looks on aworld

at his

is astonished

tive

by which

on

each

other,

voice

the voice
What

he has

been

of

those

of

the

shall man
abandoned

In the

future.
strive
the

age

of our

extremely
The

civilization,

difficult. Fathers

relations

of life from the generations

may

and

soli
him

swallow

isolated;

prolonged
soon
must

be
generations
without
do, without
memory,
and a future
he
from which

living

on an Italian work

between

and

fathers

of 1794

children

have

live in the past. Their children's domain

... the theater


of a great
is
but
nothing
to hasten
of what
others would
the collapse
and
ambitions
affairs,
separates
pleasures,

present

ceaselessly
torrent
of

possession

excessive

of protec

idle now

fortuitous,
transitory,
that are no more
is

is from a text of 1824, a commentary


The third passage
entitled Scienza delta legislazione:
become

depopulated

imagination,
an earth which

combat

is the
some

in which

like

to retain.

the

generation

Each

day

taking

that life is abandoning.34

seem to be saying, tends to destroy both the


life, these three passages
to separate genera
and the bonds of history and tradition,
of community
time into discrete
instants. By eroding
and decompose
tions, isolate individuals,
or parts of a larger whole,
as members
it deprives
their sense of themselves
peo
an object for the passion, dedication,
that are the hallmarks
and
enthusiasm
of
ple
be it in the form of love of another in
of the human desire for self-transcendence,
or love of God. Continuous
self-reflection
love of a larger community
dividual,
and
and cut the
conviction
also destroy
and the habit of skepticism
spontaneity

Modern
bonds

Benjamin
modern
individual
off from the wellsprings
his own affective
life.
We

have

lost

in

imagination

what

we

have

on Liberty

Constant
of energy

gained

in

and Love

and feeling

knowledge;

145

in himself,

as a result,

we

from

are

even incapable of lasting emotion; the ancients were in the full


youth of their moral
life, we are in itsmaturity, perhaps in its old age; we are always dragging behind us
some

sort

of

which
is born of experience,
and which
defeats
enthusiasm
afterthought,
so afraid
of being
are
and above
all of
like dupes,
that we
dupes,
looking
even
our most
in
ourselves
com
violent
emotions.
The
ancients
had
always
watching
we have
a weak
in all matters;
conviction
and
conviction
about
plete
only
fluctuating
almost
We
to this
ourselves
in vain.35
but
try to blind
everything.
deficiency,
... We

are

To be sure, there is no going back to the ages of community,


convic
unreflecting
are
no
more
and
"These
times
and
is
it
to
tion,
spontaneity.
regret
pointless
them."36 However,
Constant
does appear to believe
that something
needs to be
of the ancient in order to sustain the modern and to secure the liberties
preserved
modern
individuals
Smith himself
that "there are
enjoy. Adam
acknowledged
some inconveniences
a
from
commercial
of men are
[:] the minds
arising
spirit...
contracted
and rendered
or at least
is despised
education
incapable of elevation,
and heroic spirit is almost utterly extinguished."
Smith remarks
that
neglected,
"To remedy these defects would be an object worthy
of serious attention."37
So, while he regards the attempts of the French Jacobins to reinstate the ancient
as Ferguson
and dangerous,
Constant
also recognizes,
in
republic as misguided
particular had done,38 the human value of the old ways, of the old republics, even
of war, in developing
of courage,
and dedica
personal
qualities
independence,
tion. He therefore protests his respect for the motives
of those who had attempted,
to revive those qualities
however misguidedly,
and the conditions
that once sus
even
tained them. "Woe betide
a
not
does
whoever
feel
commitment,
today
even while
the errors of the friends of humanity,
to the principles
recognizing
have
to
from
critical
of
Constant
Rousseau,
age
they
professed
age."39 Though
does not join the anti-Rousseauist
he
the limi
Instead,
bandwaggon.
emphasizes
tation of interest alone as amotivation
for defending
in
the
and
freedom,
Principes
de politique he criticizes Bentham's
utilitarianism.
in
to unite together
"For men
face of their destiny,
more
mere
need
than
need
self-interest;
they
something
they
real beliefs."40 When
he wanted
to truly insult Napoleon,
he described
him as
"le calcul personnifi?."
In other words,
there is, after all, a need for something
of the old "political
lib
tomodern
as Ferguson had
"civil liberty." Otherwise,
erty" in addition
repeatedly
those who enjoy
pointed out in his Essay, "civil liberty" itself might be lost while
it are busy pursuing
their private interests.41 "While in this work we have consid
ered only matters pertaining
to civil liberty," Constant
toward the end of
explains
his Principes de politique, "we have in no way intended
to imply that political
lib
is
Those
who
would
in
sacrifice
order
erty
superfluous.
something
political
liberty
to enjoy civil liberty in greater peace are no less absurd than those who would
sac
rifice civil liberty in the hope of ensuring and
Provided
expanding
political
liberty.
the people
is happy,
it is sometimes
that it be free politi
said, it is not important
... But to declare
freedom useless
is to declare
that the edifice in
cally
political
which we live has no need of a foundation."
In Stephen Holmes's
pithy summary,
can
Con
"private independence
only be guaranteed
by political responsibility."42
stant explains his anxiety in a
of
to
the
De
la
Preface
passage
prophetic
Religion:

146

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

tous sont isol?s, il


"Quand chacun est son propre centre, tous sont isol?s. Quand
a que de la poussi?re.
est de la fange."
la
Quand
poussi?re
l'orage arrive,
n'y
all are isolated,
there
"When every one is his own center, all are isolated. When
It is from anomic
is only dust. When
the storm comes, the dust turns to mire."
that the "mass" arises.43
individuals
out the dangers
In his Principes
of
de politique Constant
points
repeatedly
warns
or
in
of
indifference.
He
the
face
against turning away,
a-politeia
political
in the hope that one will not be personally
he
defends
blatant abuses,
affected;
a
that it permits
and encourages
of the press on the grounds
freedom
lively
concern
and a watchful
interest in public affairs, a spirit of criticism
for rights
in a restricted way among
the highly
such as flourished
independent
formerly
the
of feudal times; he justifies love, religion,
pursuit of glory?"toutes
nobility
in
et profondes"?as
well as the joy we experience
les passions
nobles, d?licates
a
? l'instinct
habituel
de notre
"le d?vouement,"
joy that is "contraire
?goisme."44

some Romantic
What
is going on here, it seems to me, is not so much
critique
as a reaffirmation
to
of
his
Constant
commitment
the
ideals
of Enlightenment
by
won by the Revolution,
an
with
and
the
freedoms
of Enlightened
modernity
along
as
concern
about
the
those
of
"virtue,"
who,
sustaining
expression
qualities?the
some fidelity
to the old civic humanist
tradition might
retained
like Ferguson,
to hold on to these freedoms.45
said?needed
career was devoted
to defend
entire political
One could argue that Constant's
to
the
Revolution
threats
them
the left
the
freedoms
achieved
from
against
by
ing
and the right?and
this argument has in fact been used to account for his appar
to serve under Napoleon
the Hundred
ent opportunism
Days,
during
(agreeing
of De l'Esprit de conqu?tel). It is also
after the publication
for instance, only months
insisted that all of life should
worth noting how much of the life of this man, who
not be politicized?that
the spheres of economic
activity, artistic activity, religious
are autonomous
in poli
and should not be engulfed
belief, and private emotions
in fact taken up with politics, and with political action as well as writing.
tics?was
scholars about the relative place
of opinion
There is some difference
among
and uni
well as about his views on democracy
Constant
ascribes to politics?as
declared
versal suffrage. This was no doubt inevitable, given Constant's
explicitly
a state ismonarchical,
aristocratic or demo
focus less on who governs (i.e. whether
is carried out. For the late George
cratic in traditional
terms) than on how government
a
"Constant's
of
liberty is not, all things considered,
portrait
Armstrong
Kelly,
so
as
summons
in
must
to political participation,
far
do
to the individual
he
except
this to ensure his full exercise of rights in the private sphere. There is no surplus
in contrast,
to be gained
from a public
role." Stephen Holmes,
of exhilaration
a means
was
to
civil
"not
holds that for Constant
liberty"
liberty
merely
political
Constant
looked forward to
but "an integral part of civil liberty"?that,
moreover,
a time when
be "ennobled"
"all citizens, without
by it.46 Ac
exception" would
universal
that
Constant
arguments
against
suffrage?
presented
knowledging
claims that
these were no more
add, than Mill's?Holmes
stringent, one might
were
In principle,
all citizens
for Constant,
such arguments
strategic.
always
have

in politics. To those who objected that the majority


participate
were
to act as members
of a jury, he responded
France)
incompetent
in
become
the
jurors.47
responsible
jury system people
participation
should

of people
(in
that through

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

147

In the same way, no doubt, participation


in politics will itself make
the people,
more
at present judged incompetent
to participate,
to do
competent
progressively
own words,
a
so. In Constant's
"It has been objected that political
thrusts
liberty
it
not
to
nation
into a condition
of perpetual
But
would
be
difficult
agitation.
demonstrate
that if the acquiring of liberty intoxicates
of it
slaves, the enjoyment
it."48Above all, only free men will care about the
of possessing
forms men worthy
institutions
that preserve
freedom. "Citizens will take no interest in their institu
are called to participate
in them by voting."49
is
tions unless
So Constant
they
"In
matters
most
about
the
future
of
of
the
government,
optimistic
democracy:
absolute equality of rights ... must be and soon will be in all civilized
countries,
... and all those who
the prime condition
for the existence
of every government
to co-operate
in their defense,
that is to say,
those rights will be authorized
possess
to participate
inmaking
the laws that determine
the action of government."50
seems to be consider
In fact, political
for
Constant,
("positive
liberty"),
liberty
ameans
more
than
civil
and
of
securing
ably
simply
defending
liberty ("negative
on those
et profondes"
It both depends
d?licates
nobles,
"passions
liberty").
are
the
which
for
dedication,
self-transcendence,
etc.),
(enthusiasm,
capacity
and at the same time stimulates
and promotes
them,
self-interest,
his
and
and
the
talents
his
individual,
saving
developing
personality,
enriching
him from the isolation, mediocrity,
and lack of "elevation"
that Adam
uniformity,
Smith himself allowed were the "disadvantages
of a commercial
spirit."51 And the
eroded

by

and development
is ultimately
Constant's
of our humanity
ideal, as it
promotion
was Humboldt's.
in his lecture on "Ancient and
Constant
declared
"Gentlemen,"
Modern
of Ferguson's
Essay, "I call
Liberty" in 1819 in tones strikingly reminiscent
to witness
that pursues
this better part of our nature, the noble restlessness
and
our
our
to extend
torments
and
us, the eagerness
understanding
develop
to
but
faculties. Our destiny does not call us to happiness
alone,
self-perfection,
and the most energetic means
of self
and political
liberty is the most powerful
...
to
heaven
all
without
citizens,
By submitting
granted by
exception,
perfection
the care and assessment
of their most sacred interests, [it] enlarges their spirit, en
their thought, and establishes
nobles
among them a kind of intellectual
equality
which
forms the glory and power of a people." Political
liberty, "positive
liberty,"
in politics
turns out to be what will save individuals
active participation
from be
to
the look-alike puppets
that a highly developed
civilization
threatens
coming
once
turn them into. "There are no more
to
his
Constant
lamented
individuals,"
younger
battalions
turning
stagnant,

and fellow-liberal,
friend, fellow-author,
Prosper de Barante, "but only
in uniform."
Political
he
could save society
from
believed,
liberty
a
into another China, i.e. in the metaphoric
of
the
time,
lifeless,
language
uniform

mass.52

III. Adolphe
As we

common
themes might
be found in Constant's
bitter love
inquire what
a young man who engages
a
in
love
of it, but
tires
affair,
story?about
casually
cannot either break decisively with the woman
he has detached
from her former
on con
to her?and
lover and protector or commit himself
his political pamphlet
we
own
note
in
and
should
take
that
the
writer's
the
view,
quest
usurpation,
pub
lic and the private, while
intended for
separate, were linked. In a remark originally

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

148

"It is not only in the ties of the


the preface to the 2nd edition of Adolphe, he wrote:
to develop
and an incapacity
enfeeblement
heart that we can observe moral
in love is an
Faithfulness
in nature is interconnected.
durable feelings. Everything
for freedom. Well, we have no en
faith or the passion
energy similar to religious
or will. Everyone
or
no
now.
to
doubts
know
how
We
believe,
love,
ergy
longer
and
the truth of what he says, smiles at the passion he professes,
feels."53
he
of
emotions
the
waning
is an image of modern
life
to all Constant's
Common
writing
and isolated. We
alienated
and of modern man as emancipated,
in De l'Esprit de conqu?te et de l'usurpation
from two such passages

one

Ellenore

"Never

we

suggested
I should

mind.

was

Everything

was

there

bare;

nature

resigned

and

and

no

was

sky
cleaved

bird
was

to be heard

sound

learn

hearts

on to her knees

words

whispered

our

too?"

resignation

and buried her head


she was

realized

and lean

"it is so pleasant
clear, but the

said,

The

silence.

the

and we

arm

of

the

the

a boulder,

I heard

in her hands.

grass

"Look how

sat on

She

air.

still

frozen

our feet. "How calm it all is!" said Ellenore.

is! Shouldn't

then dropped

she

"No,"

into

the only

over

light

it has ceased to

she walking with difficulty

relapsed
a breath
of wind

and

motionless,

a dismal

to cast

for a moment?"

stop
We

again."
not

crunched beneath

being

seems

loneliness,

nature),

in pity upon a world

saying aword,

we

"Shall
once

support

were

trees

me.

upon

insensate

I said.
cold,"
go out. "It is very
She
took my
with
for a walk
you."

might
to go

like

went on for a long time without


ing heavily
to feel your

sun

the

when

days

as though looking down

countryside,

greyish
warm.

winter

those

of

as a wasteland,

already quoted
and in De la Re
sun
of wintry
their evocation

are the final pages of Adolphe, with


ligion. Here now
frozen grass (lifeless,
shine (light without warmth),
and desolation.
It was

the

anticipates

a few

praying...

My grief was dismal and solitary. I knew Iwould not die with Ellenore, but would
live on without her in the wilderness of this world, inwhich Ihad so often wanted to
be

an

confidences;

ing my

atmosphere
seemed
harsher,

the

faces

her death, Adolphe

the

crushed

been

alone

already
which
she
of

one who

had

the men

was

still

me,
more

seemed

broken

me,

in tireless
but

alive

this heart

affection,
past

already

no

and

in the world
surrounded

Imet

loved

to mine

devoted

unfailingly
Ellenore
loneliness.

by
I was

love with

of

With

had

soul

overcome

Iwas

already

I had

traveller.

independent
like a twin

which

and
shar

in that
living
air I breathed

longer
the very
unconcerned.
and

relates,

I felt the last link snap and the awful reality come between her and me for ever. How
irksome
had

this

felt

restless

ments

and

watch

over

my
for

comings
no
Iwas

liberty
and

that

now

another's
movements

my
and

longer

was,

goings,
loved.

that
that

resentful

I had

so desired

a benevolent

eye

happiness
depended
interested
now,
they
no voice
to call me back
Iwas

stranger

to retrieve!
was

upon
nobody;
as Iwas

to the whole

...

watching
them.
There

Only
over

recently
all my move

was

there was

none

out.

Iwas

going
world.54

nobody
to dispute
free,

... I

to

truly,

as
and the capacity for commitment
of enthusiasm
The lament over the dimming
as essential
to
is
the
fic
a result of ever increasing
and
Enlightenment
rationality
at the end of chapter 3 of the novel
as to the political. A passage
tional writing
in De l'Esprit de conqu?te (referred to earlier) about the erosion
echoes the warning
in the first moments
of a love affair
"Woe to the man who
conviction:
of political
to him who even in the arms of the
that itwill last for ever! Woe
does not believe

on Liberty

Constant

Benjamin

and Love

149

an awareness
to him maintains
who has just yielded
of trouble to come
and foresees that he may later tear himself away."
in the Principes de politique, inspired by the
A curiously matching
observation
concerns
the political
French Revolution,
and
effects of modern
reflectiveness
to
in
of
be
modern
the
modern
any
irony,
incapacity
wholeheartedly
engaged
in the an
of the people
thing. "Whatever has been said about the inconsistency
cient republics," Constant writes,
mistress

If, during the outbreak of the best


nothing equals the mobility we have witnessed.
watch
the
obscure
ranks of the blind and subju
carefully
prepared upheaval, you
gated

you

populace,

will

observe

that,

even

as

it follows

its leaders,

the people

casts

a glance ahead toward themoment when these leaders will fall. And you will observe
a strange combination of analysis and
in its artificial exaltation [italics mine?L.G.]
mockery.

People

seem

to distrust

their

own

convictions.

They

try

to delude

them

selves by their acclamations and to reinvigorate themselves by jaunty raillery. The


truth is that they foresee, so to speak, the moment when the glamour of it all will
pass."55

modern
by

poets.
some

appear
tion

violent

concerns

... defeats
that
It seems
fear to
enthusiasm.
that they
arri?re-pens?e
Rather
than
to an irresistible
and gullible.
themselves
surrendering
on their own
their readers.
The first condi
poetry
they reflect
along with
to observe
too much
is not
with
wit
But
oneself
and
enthusiasm
cunning.
sort

of

naive

movement,

modern

in part perhaps
observation,
inspired
by Schiller,
are
declares,
They
"always haunted," Constant

similar

Another

for

individuals

observe

themselves

even

in the midst

of

their most

sensuous

and

passions.56

or sure in his
and an inability to be spontaneous
self-observation,
Irony, unceasing
as a true child of
character Adolphe
affective life stamp Constant's
Enlightenment
a mother. He
Like Constant himself, Adolphe
and modernity.
grows up without
amocking,
at
has only a father?and
who
father
that,
represses emo
self-mocking
son.
with
his
tion and cannot communicate
The
female
presence
affectively
only
woman whose
in Adolphe's
remarkable and highly original
early life is "the aged
mind had begun to influence my own" (a character usually assumed
to have been
and
Constant's
friend
confidante
Isabelle
de
but by the
Charri?re),
inspired by
to bear on the hero, she has already been defeated,
time she brings her influence
and rendered
"disillusioned,"
society.57 So,
"joyless" by an artificial, "civilized"
or continuity,
reason but not love
not
from the outset,
isolation,
community
as woman
defines
the world of the modern
anti-hero Adolphe?inasmuch
rather
as
as the
the
than man traditionally
and
of
life
well
represents
totality
continuity
to
to
in
another.
will
this
be
devote
oneself
sense,
Woman,
repre
capacity
totally
an
as the past of
later by Michelet,
sented somewhat
early admirer of Constant,
mer (la m?re), in Michelet's
man, as man before Enlightenment?la
terms, before
so
the too obviously
Michelet
admires
much
have been
phallic
lighthouses
to illuminate
and control it. And Ellenore's
constructed
and
death in
suffering
Constant's
novel can also be read as the defeat of the "feminine"
love,
(of passion,
religion,

totality,

spontaneity,

nature),

its inevitable

victimization

in the modern

world.

If Adolphe
consciousness

refers to the irresistible


frequently
that eats like aworm at his capacity

habit of self-analysis
and self
for love, faith, and spontaneity,

150

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

narrator of the letters and Journaux intimes, describes


the first-person
Constant,
in the same terms: "I have some excellent qualities: nobility of mind, gen
himself
(Jene suis pas tout ?fait un ?tre r?el.)
erosity, loyalty. But I am not quite a real person.
in one
in me, one of whom
There are two people
the other."58 Likewise
observes
letters to his friend, the historian
of the remarkable
and fellow-admirer
of Mme.
de Stael, Prosper
"One discovers
that there is nothing
de Barante:
real in the
a
au
rien
the
de
r?el
des
of
self"
?mes). It ismod
(On s'aper?oit qu'il n'y
depths
fond
em civilization
itself and the very progress of reason that appear to turn men into
to check whether
I touch myself
I am
of artifice. "Sometimes
seem
as
to
to
out
I doff
Barante. "I
still alive," Constant
confides
live
of politeness,
I do not know."59
my hat in the street to people who greet me but whom
is reflected in the form of Constant's
The irony of the protagonist
novel. People
and events are not presented
Schiller might have said?
objectively?"naively,"
but as reflected in the consciousness
is also one of the princi
of the narrator who
are known
in particular,
The
other
action.
of
the
Ellenore
characters
characters,
pal
to us only through him. Likewise, Adolphe
is at one and the same time the prose
in his own confessional
com
cutor, the accused, and the defense
story, constantly
on
it
and
of
text
the
But
the
the
reader.
itself
is as
menting
pre-empting
judgments
as its hero. It is framed, at the
and
self-judging
beginning,
by two
self-observing
note explaining,
to
author's prefaces
and by an editor's or publisher's
according
was
the conventions
of eighteenth-century
fiction, how Adolphe's
manuscript
the "editor" and an indi
found, and at the end, by an exchange of letters between
vidual who had supposedly
known Adolphe
and Ellenore, whom
the "editor"
in
to
had subsequently
encountered
chance
and
whom
he had sent
by
Germany,
mechanical

creatures

the manuscript
These multiple
textual framings allow the text
for authentification.
to read itself and comment on itself, now this way, now that. There seems to be no
truth of the text, nothing
that has not already been reflected on, filtered
objective
a
it
that
consciousness?be
of Adolphe,
that of the "editor," that of the
through
or that of the author himself
in Germany,
latter's "correspondent"
in the prefaces.
In case we should be impatient with Adolphe,
the text has already pre-empted
our impatience:
"I hate the vanity
it
of a mind which
thinks it excuses what
writes
to the correspondent
in Germany.
the "editor" of the manuscript
explains,"
"I hate the conceit which
is concerned
with
itself
while
the evil it
only
narrating
tries to arouse pity by self-description
has done, which
and which,
soaring inde
it should be repenting."
In case we
structible among the ruins, analyses
itself when
in one of the author's prefaces
should be tempted to agree with the suggestion
that
are the cause of the failure of
are
we
social conventions
love
affair,
Adolphe's
are quite unimportant;
in another place that "circumstances
reminded
character is
as
In case we should be skeptical of the argument
from usefulness
everything."60
a

to the German
for publishing
the story (according
justification
correspondent,
the story warns
of flouting
of the dangers
social convention
and of irregular
the seductions
and literature of love), the
of the language
liaisons, and exposes
editor takes care to indicate in his answer that he is skeptical of such claims of use
ever learns except at his own expense."61 Finally,
in the world
fulness: "Nobody
as if to pre-empt
serious
time by the voice
any
judgment at all, we are told?this
to an artistic chal
of the author?that
the whole work was simply the response
a story in which
there are only two characters and nothing hap
lenge: to write
wrote
B?r?nice. What
claimed
he
Racine
resulted should consequently
pens62?as

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

151

be viewed as a pure product of French classical art: few characters, minimal


action,
no precise historical dates or places, only the most general descriptions,
frequent
use of maxims.
is secondary;
from this perspective,
the artistry
The subject matter,
is all. So the reader who,
his
ironical
takes
the
story too seri
perspective,
losing
a
a
art?an
to
it
is
that
work
of
and
fails
illusion,
perceive
deception?will
ously
to be taken in, as Ellenore was taken in by Adolphe.
have allowed himself
There are several accounts of a curious scene at Juliette de R?camier's, where
in Lon
of many
Constant
gave a reading of his novel in the spring of 1815?one
to the due de Broglie,
and 1816. According
don and Paris in the years 1814,1815,
of Mme.

the son-in-law
There were
The

hours.

de Stael,

twelve to fifteen of us present. The reading had gone on for almost three
author

was

tired. As

and

burst

one was
had

into

sobs.

he

the denouement

approached

of the story,

his

emo

intensified by fatigue. By the end he could no longer contain it

tion increased visibly,

The

and
weeping
become
convulsive,

entire

groaning.
turned

also

audience,
Then,

suddenly

into nervous,

in. Soon
moved,
every
joined
deeply
... the
and sighing,
which
heaving
uncontrollable
laughter.63

that the
It is as though the audience had been brought up short by the realization
were
no
more
had
than
the
intense feelings by which
been
moved
they
product of
an
was
that
and
clever
"real,"
fiction,
imaginary
unusually
everything
nothing
as they were,
in.
had
been
and
well
taken
that, sophisticated
they
truly
To ensure that the reader will remain in uncertainty
about the significance
he is
a final pirouette.
to attribute to the work,
the preface to the third edition performs
to "this little work"
that he attaches almost no importance
The author announces
to republish
not have "bothered"
it not that he had heard a
and would
it, were
in Belgium.64
pirated edition was being prepared
With their exacerbated
reflection, and civilized
self-consciousness,
intelligence,
text itself and its hero produce
in the reader a sense of "uncer
both Constant's
as Constant
once put it himself.65 It is as though civilized
tainty about everything,"
man is living off a dwindling
natural capital. Constant
has a beautiful
image for
so
on
a sort of
to
this at the end of chapter 6 of Adolphe: "We were
living,
speak,
to
the
make
the
of
of
heart, strong enough
memory
separation painful, but
thought
... Iwould
in being together
too weak for us to find satisfaction
have liked to give
Ellenore
tokens of my love that would
have made her happy, and indeed I some
and this language
times went back to the language of love, but these emotions
resembled
the pale and faded leaves which,
like remains of funeral wreaths,
grow
tree."
listlessly on the branches of an uprooted
in
The sense of the second-hand,
is overwhelming
the worn,
the warmed-over
as
can
en
to
And
its
anti-heroic
hero
be
taken
insofar
modern,
Adolphe.
represent
in the modern
the reader may begin to suspect that everything
lightened man,
world
and secondary;
is derivative
that nothing
is natural or original; that feelings
do not come before the signs and words
that supposedly
them, but are
express
the
of
and
themselves
words.
The
stage seems set
produced by
signs
manipulation
for the desolate world of Flaubert.
To sum up and conclude: On the one hand, an elegiac sense of modern
life as
man
a
as
a real
and
of
"not
modern
diminished,
alienated,
shadow,
impoverished,
on
even
the
of
the
and
of
other, repeated warnings
person";
futility
danger
trying
to recreate enthusiasm
love, faith) that can no longer be spontaneous
(patriotism,

152

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

or authentic,
of that situation. Thus bourgeois mar
and, on the whole,
acceptance
to the disorders
is
in
of passion, which,
the
Constant
claims,
end,
preferable
riage,
inmodern
if you
in any case, can no longer be authentic
circumstances.
Wolmar,
over Saint-Preux.
luke-warm
"Made more and more
will, has triumphed
by the
ease with which
what
it can be pursued
and subject in real life to calculation,
the entirety of a person's
of love no longer determines
remains of the passion
cases. Love has been
and discouraging
except in a few mostly
unhappy
destiny,
itself. How many
generation
put in its place, in France at least, by the younger
men
in
their
and
future
order to marry
convenience
their
would
sacrifice
young
of
for the abatement
for love? Yet so far from being inclined to rebuke civilization
am
a once disorderly
to
that
have
be
I
admit
morals
passion,
improved
happy
cause

of

it...

Habit

and,

above

all,

a common,

shared

interest

sometimes

produce

an affection of minds"
in the absence of passion.66
takes
In an interesting passage of his superb book on Constant,
Stephen Holmes
intermittent
and
"nihilism"?his
of
the
Constant's
world-weariness
up
question
or meaning
of life. He refers to an anecdote, much
loss of a sense of purpose
ap
to
of the eighteenth
which
the watchmaker-God
according
preciated by Constant,
leaving his work unfin
century died half way
through his creation of the world
stranded. "We are like watches which have no dial," the story
ished and humanity
in 1790, "and whose wheels,
it to Isabelle de Charri?re
recounted
runs, as Constant
wear
turn
without
until
with
endowed
out,
why
they
knowing
intelligence,
I
must
I
have a purpose." No
and constantly
therefore
themselves:
turn,
telling
is to be found.67
however,
et ?nigmatique,"
and human
"un ?tre double
thus remains
nature,
a
la
ineradicable
De
includes
to
the
author
of
Religion,
seemingly
according
to do with
to reach beyond
toward ends that have nothing
ourselves
"tendency
us
in
or
that
of
the
and
direction
calculated
transport
utility
rationally
advantage

purpose,
Man

an

unknown,

invisible

centre,

unrelated

to

our

day-to-day

lives

and

mundane

iswhat sustains, against all reason, a residual capacity


interests."68 This tendency
and a desire for fame and reputation. Even
for faith, love, dedication,
self-sacrifice,
most
world
this irrational
of a desacralized
denizens
the
among
skeptical
if never
maintains.
be
It
Constant
however,
survives,
may,
corrupted,
tendency
in the
and
manifest
itself
and
utilitarianism,
may
by skepticism
entirely destroyed,
the empire of reason
most degraded
and degrading
forms. "We have proclaimed
are
All our systems
of philosophy
is unhinged
and the world
by madness.
and appeal to our interest, yet our acts of waywardness
founded on calculation
In a prophetic
shameful or our passions more unruly."69
have never been more
one
to
his version of
Constant
writes
de
letters
of
his
of
Barante,
passage
Prosper
seen men who believe
in
into magic.
rush
"I
of
Reason.
have
nothing
Goya's Sleep
are weary
and incapable
of putting
I have seen men who
of their incredulity
that
and excesses
in its place except ecstasies,
unbridled
enthusiasms,
anything
are the more
and being methodically
incurable for having sprung from reasoning
deranged."70

in part a re
liberalism was
that Constant's
argues plausibly
Stephen Holmes
man?an
to
nature
the
dual
of
to
of
this
the
cope with
sponse
attempt
challenge
strove to fash
and purposive
cosmic order. "Constant
surrender of a meaningful
or theological
ion a humane,
stable, and self-regulating
ontological
polity without
was con
he
writes.
"Liberal
freedom,
foundations,"
including
self-government,

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

153

as a morally
of nature's
reaction to the sudden disappearance
responsible
to
I
would
love
of
and
dedication
add,
Likewise,
liberty, patriotism,
purposes/'71
as appropriate
in
the public weal appear to have been seen by Constant
channels
in
to guide essential human energies
that civilized
life had anaesthetized,
which
or
and
that
if
his view, but could never completely
deaden,
might,
repressed
ceived

thwarted,

find new

and monstrous

applications.

NOTES
*

to the Tel Aviv seminar was developed


from a segment of an
on "Writers and Politics
course
in
France
which
1750-1950/'
undergraduate
at
in the Romance
I had been teaching
Princeton
Department
Languages
on a number
of
for a couple of decades.
The course
focused
University
whose
embraces
both literary and political
French writers
work
writing
Rousseau,
Constant, Gobineau,
Renan, Montherlant,
Sartre) or
(Montesquieu,
the literary and the political
The aim
explictly combines
(Hugo and Michelet).
the political dimension
of literary texts and the
of the course was to investigate

My

contribution

and so to challenge
of political writing
the anti-rhetorical
literary dimension
and was later rein
that accompanied
Romanticism
definition
of "literature"
At the same time, the class on Constant was
forced by academic
specialization.
to point toward one of the great themes of nineteenth-century
also intended
French literature, among liberally inclined as well as conservatively
inclined
the
association
writers
of
(Stendhal, M?rim?e,
Flaubert), namely
post-Enlight
vision
enment modernity
with
My concern here is Constant's
inauthenticity.
as
an
to
civil
the
distinct
from
antidote
smooth
of political
liberty (as
liberty)
and the stifling of spontaneity
ing out of differences
produced
allegedly
by
and modern
civilization.
modern manners

Notes
1.

The Great Melody:


A Thematic Biography
and
O'Brien,
Burke
Edmund
1992),
(London: Sinclair-Stevenson,
of
Anthology
("An Exchange with Sir Isaiah Berlin"), pp. 605-18, on p. 615.1 am
Appendix
to Professor
Brian Cowan
of the Department
of History,
Yale Uni
indebted
to
attention.
this
for
my
versity,
bringing
exchange
in Gesammelte Werke
2.
"Socializaci?n
de Hombre,"
Jos? Ortega
y Gasset,
4
vol.
Deutsche
1, p. 537.
Anstalt,
vols.,
1952-56),
(Stuttgart:
Verlags
3. Harold
Constant,
Nicolson,
Constable,
(London:
1949), Dennis
Benjamin
A
In addition,
Constant:
Wood,
(London:
1993).
Benjamin
Biography,
Routledge,
See Conor

Cruise

Commented

John Cruickshank,
1974) and Tzvetan
Benjamin Constant, (New York: Twayne,
La
Constant.
Todorov,
(Paris: Hachette,
1997)
passion d?mocratique,
Benjamin
life and work. The intro
offer highly readable general accounts of Constant's
to Ephraim Harpaz's
of articles and pamphlets
ductions
editions
many
by
the
of the Esprit de conqu?te in the
edition
French
Constant,
including
popular
series (Paris, 1986), provide excellent summary accounts
Garnier-Flammarion
to be made
of his political
needs
of two
thought. Finally,
special mention
and
studies
of
Constant's
penetrating
scholarly
comprehensive
political
Holmes's
classic Benjamin Constant
and the
philosophy?Stephen
already
Haven:
Modern
Liberalism
Yale
and
the
Press, 1984)
(New
University
Making of

154

4.

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


late George A. Kelly's The Humane Comedy: Constant, Tocqueville, and French
Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge
Press, 1992).
University
In his classic study of a century ago, Gustave Rudler held that the two chief in
on Constant were "Tune, celle de la France; l'autre celle de l'Ecosse."
fluences
... ses id?es
et religieuses;
France "fournit ? Benjamin
l'Ecosse
philosophiques
ses
entre au moins
la
id?es
moiti?..dans
formation
de
pour
politiques."
(La Jeunesse de Benjamin Constant [Paris: A. Colin, 1909], p. 184) More recently,
a
has again underlined
the
leading authority on Constant's
political writings
and in particular
"the overwhelm
influence of Scottish thought on Constant,
in the background
of Constant's
ofNations
political
in the
"Commerce
and
Civilisation
Fontana,
(Biancamaria
Annales
5
of
[1985], pp. 3-15,
Writings
Benjamin Constant,"
Benjamin Constant,
at p. 4) Likewise
Lothar Gall, Benjamin Constant: seine politische Ideenwelt und
F. Steiner, 1963), pp. 2-3: "Die in unserem
der deutsche Vorm?rz (Wiesbaden:
of the Wealth

ing presence
reflection."

5.
6.

er nicht
so sehr in
aber empfing
wichtigsten
Zusammenhang
Impulse
an
Frankreich
als w?hrend
seines Studiums
der Universit?t
Ac
Edinburg."
friend and sometime
rival for the favors of Germaine
de
cording to Constant's
on Constant
Stael, the historian Prosper de Barante, the influence of Germany
was also deep and enduring:
"il eut toute sa vie quelque
chose de l'?tudiant
...
la
solitude
distraite
r?veur,
studieuse,
allemand,
par les plaisirs
pr?f?rant
et la soci?t? des salons."
sensuels ou les ?motions du jeu, ? la vie du monde
(Quoted by Rudler, p. 161)
an introduction
Constant,
Adolphe & The Red Notebook, with
Benjamin
by
Harold Nicolson
1948), p, ix.
(London: Hamish Hamilton,
Discorsi
sopra la prima de?? di Tito Livio, ?d. Giorgio
Inglese
in his censor's
de Covarrubias
(Milan: Rizzoli,
1984), I, 39, p. 145; Antonio
report on Baltasar Acarnos de Barrientos, Aforismos de Tacite (1614), quoted by
in der Geistesgeschichte
des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts
Etter, Tacitus
Else-Lilly
1966), p. 109, note 91. (All translations by L.G.
(Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn,

N. Machiavelli,

unless
7.

otherwise

"Dans

indicated.)

le mouvement

tout

progressif,

servi,

et

...

les

abus

d'aujourd'hui

sort est-il r?serv? ? quelques-uns


lem?me
?taient les besoins d'hier. Peut-?tre
nous
As for customs
des principes
incontestables."
and
qui
paraissent
"tant qu'ils sont utiles, ils se conservent
d'eux-m?mes.
ils
institutions,
Quand
"De la perfectibilit?
c'est que leur utilit? a cess?." Constant,
de l'e
s'?croulent,
et al., (T?bingen: M.
Oeuvres
completes, ed. P. Delbouille
sprit humain,"
8.

9.

1998), vol. III, I (Ecrits litt?raires 1800-1813),


pp. 442,443.
Niemeyer,
Les hommes
la suivent, l'acc?l?rent ou la re
"Tout dans la nature a samarche.
to Ferguson,
s'en ?carter." (Ibid,, p. 443) Likewise
tardent, mais ne peuvent
are indeed the result of human
"nations stumble upon establishments,
which
of any human design."
action, but not the execution
(An Essay on theHistory of
Forbes
Civil Society, ed. Duncan
Press,
University
[Edinburgh:
Edinburgh
section
ii,
1966], part III,
p. 122)
"The

age

of

de Filangieri,
by Holmes,
p. 188.

commerce

has

given

man

a new

nature."

Commentaire

sur

l'ouvrage

2 vols.
1822-24.
de la L?gislation,
Both passages
cited
and
the
Constant
Modern
Liberalism
Benjamin
Making
of

Science

Benjamin

on Liberty

Constant

and Love

155

to 4th ed. Quoted


from the
l'Esprit de conqu?te et de l'usurpation, foreword
in
"The
of
and
translation,
Constant,
Conquest
Spirit
Usurpation,"
English
trans, and ed. by Biancamaria
Fontana
Political Writings,
(Cambridge: Cam
48^9.
SC
Hereafter
Press,
1988), pp.
(with occasional
bridge University
slight

10. De

of the translated
modifications
in
mind.
g?n?ral"

text). Constant

clearly has Montesquieu's

"esprit

11. Benjamin
and Charles Roth
Constant,
Journaux intimes, ed. Alfred Roulin
same
27
91.
The
(Paris: Gallimard,
1804) contains a
1952), p.
entry (for
May,
a member
on August Wilhelm
of
similar comment
(like Constant,
Schlegel
one
never
Mme. de StaeTs circle at Copper):
is
those
of
"Schlegel
people who,
can be
to do with
had anything
real life, believes
that everything
having
never
and
of
the
that
ordinances
laws,
by
struggle
accomplished
dreaming
or of the ensuing
citizens and the authorities
vexatious
laws provoke between
more
so that in the
for the laws to become progressively
necessity
rigorous,
in a country."
end they embrace all the individuals
12. SC, 1,15, p. 82. See also Constant's
Principes de politique (version de 1806-1810),
ed. Etienne Hofmann
(Paris: Hachette,
1997), VI, 5, p. 135.
1815.
13. Constant,
Journal des D?bats, 19March
14. SC, I, 2, p. 53. For a modem
confirmation
of the crucial importance
of war in
see
the economy
the recent study by Aldo Schiavone,
of the Roman Empire,
Ancient Rome and theModern West, trans. Margery
J. Schneider
(Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 2000).
15. SC, I, 2, p. 51; I, 3, p. 55. See also 1,4, pp. 56-57 and 1,15, p. 81.
16. Ferguson,
Essay on theHistory of Civil Society, part I, section viii, ?d. cit., p. 56.
such as Sparta
Likewise,
part III, section vi, p. 158: in the ancient republics,
to the dismay of Hume
and Smith), "the citizen
(much admired by Ferguson,
was made
to consider himself as the property of his country, not as the owner
of

private

estate."

17. SC, I, 2, pp. 52-53.


here echoes
the concluding
18. SC, II, 18, p. 141 and p. 141n. Constant
para
on
the
Civil
of
Essay
History of
Society, part I, section iii, p.
Ferguson's
graphs
to say, the antithesis
19. Needless
of the "sanguine
affection which
every
of an early Roman,"
Greek bore to his country" or "the devoted
patriotism
to the affection binding
of a family, and
the members
compared by Ferguson
modern

"valuing

society

on

account

of

its mere

external

conveniences"

(i.e.

as described
in
of "virtue" and "commerce,"
the antithesis
by John Pocock
Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Re
his The Machiavellian
Press, 1975]), corre
[Princeton, N.J: Princeton University
publican Tradition
a number of similar antitheses
at
to
aimed
the identity of
discerning
sponds
and fields. They
the modern
that can be found in a variety of other writers
an essential
are
device
of a good deal of thinking
structuring
seemingly
of naive and senti
about history,
and
culture:
Schiller's
categories
society,
Lukacs'
(and their twentieth-century
counterpart,
epic and
poetry
in
in the
and
Walter
Scott's
sable
evoked
novel);
(black),
gules (scarlet
heraldry)
to set off the old forms of conflict?war,
to Kenilworth
introduction
courage,
heroism?from
the newer forms in which blackrobed
lawyers fight court bat
of this in The Red and the Black; T?nnies's
Gemein
version
tles; Stendhal's

mental

156

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment


bezauberte and entzauberte Welt. In their
schaft and Gesellschaft; Max Weber's
various ways,
all these match
Constant's
distinction
between
"impulsion
or
on
one
the
and
"calcul
civilis?"
and "ironie,"
"enthousiasme,"
hand,
sauvage"
on the other

(SC, I, 2, p. 53 and I, 3, p. 55).


see Duncan
and "civil" liberty in the Scottish Enlightenment,
"political"
Hume's
Politics
U.K:
Forbes,
Philosophical
(Cambridge,
Cambridge
University
was also important
to Constant's
Press, 1975), pp. 155-66. The distinction
the Genevan
Simonde de Sismondi, who was for a time
friend and compatriot,
a follower of Smith, and who may have been the first to use the term "libert?
to describe "modern" or "civil" liberty. (Jean-Charles L. Simonde de
n?gative"

19. On

Histoire des r?publiques italiennes du moyen ?ge [Paris, 1840; 1st ?d.
to Sismondi,
19 vols., vol. 10, ch. 8, p. 340) According
1809-18],
liberty in this
sense was unknown
to the ancient republics,
the Italian city-republics
of the
or
cantons.
Middle
the
German
free
cities
Swiss
the
the
"Until
High
Ages,
was
as
seventeenth
the
of
the
citizen
understood
par
century
liberty
always
Sismondi,

in the sovereignty
ticipation
British constitution
which

of his country, and it is only the example of the


a protection
of
taught us to consider
liberty as
and
domestic
Sismondi
defines
"civil
lib
repose, happiness,
independence."
that guarantees
erty" as "that passive
faculty, claimed by the moderns,
against
in whatever
hands it is lodged," while
the abuse of power
the term "political
... in the
for an active faculty,
liberty" should be reserved
"participation
in sovereignty."
the association
of free men
Such "political
power exercised,
a
to
whether
restricted
Sismondi
out,
caste, as in
points
liberty,"
particular
Venice, or shared by all citizens, as in Florence, was entirely compatible with
a form of government
to our current principles,
which
could be
"according
no limit to the extent of the power
since
it
"set
considered
that
tyrannical,"
in the name of the nation."
could be exercised
the
(pp. 330-32) Ultimately,
goal
of ancient liberty, "like that of ancient philosophy,
is virtue." In contrast, "the
end of modern
is happiness."
liberty, like that of modern
philosophy,
(p. 363)
20. SC, II, 6, pp. 102-104,105.
See Todorov's
in his Ben
of
the
summary
argument,
is
jamin Constant: La passion d?mocratique, p. 40: "The most eloquent distinction
as described,
that between
the liberty of individuals
i.e. modern
civil liberty,
from interference by the state in all areas where
freedom
one's activity does
not threaten others, and a quite different
form of social action, which
consists
can also be
of participating
in the political
life of one's country, but which
sense of the term
in a different
identified
by the word
'liberty.' In order to
new opposition,
this
Constant
sometimes
of civil liberty and
designate
speaks
or
of
and
political
negative
positive
liberty,
liberty
liberty, or, again, as in a
lecture he gave at the Ath?n?e Royal in 1819, of the liberty of the Moderns
and
as
a
means
the liberty of the Ancients."
On political
of
civil
liberty
ensuring
n. 46 below.
true goal?see
liberty?the
21. SC, II, 1, p. 85.
von Humboldt,
22. Wilhelm
The Limits of State Action, ed. J.W. Burrow
(Cam
Press, 1969; rprt. The Liberty Fund, Indi
bridge, UK: Cambridge
University
3.
Constant
does not mention
he must
Humboldt,
1993), p.
anapolis,
Though
have known him through Madame
de Stael, to whom Humboldt
taught Ger
man
an
to
Mistress
A
Madame
de Stael
Herold,
(J. Christopher
Age:
Life of
was
con
Bobbs
Humboldt
also
Merrill,
1958], p. 268).
[Indianapolis:
closely

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

157

de Stael's circle at Coppet, as, inevitably, was Constant.


nected with Madame
She thought well of him: "Il est difficile de rencontrer nulle part un homme
et d'id?es."
dont l'entretien et les ?crits supposent
(cit.
plus de connaissances
son
et
in
Carlo
"Corinne
Mme
de Stael et l'Eu
aspect politique,"
by
Pellegrini,
as the au
rope [Paris, 1958], p. 257) In De l'Allemagne (ch. xii), he ismentioned
on Goethe's Her
thor of "the most philosophical
and stimulating
comments"
mann und Dorothea (Paris, 1958), 5 vols., 2:170-71.
Principes de politique (1997 ed.), II, 5, p. 59.
Constant,
Principes de politique, II, 3, p. 56.
Constant,
Principes de politique, I, 3, p. 5.
Roulin
de la
uvres, ed. Alfred
Constant,
(Paris: Biblioth?que
Benjamin
801.
Pl?iade, 1957), p.
27. Report of 1762-63,
in Adam
Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed. R.L. Meek,
D.D. Raphael,
and P.G. Stein (Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 1982), The Glasgow
edition of the Works
and Correspondence
of Adam Smith, vol. V, p. 289. On
see
the jurisprudential
and civic traditions,
The Scottish En
John Robertson,
23.
24.
25.
26.

Constant,

Press, 1985)
lightenment and theMilitia Issue (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Seton and the supporters
and
of Union with England)
pp. 48-50 (onWilliam
72-73 (on Hume).
28. Constant,
Principes de politique, I, 3, p. 35.
29. Constant,
Principes de politique, I, 6, pp. 47,44 (in order of citation).
30. Constant,
Principes de politique, p. 46 (italics added).
31. Constant,
Cf. A remark of Gibbon,
Adolphe & The Red Notebook, pp.148-49.
most
in the 1780s, in which
Lausanne
the
resident
of
perhaps
distinguished
to his friend Catherine
de S?very that at Lausanne,
"la
suggests
... vaut
vous
ne
assez
sentez
du
dont
le
pas
gouvernement,
tranquillit?
prix
mieux peut-?tre que notre orageuse
libert?" (Letters of Edward Gibbon, ed. G. E.
3 vols. [London: Cassell,
Norton,
1956], vol, 3, p. 71 [letter of September
1787]).
32. SC, 1,13, pp. 76, 78.
33. Benjamin
De la Religion,
and notes by Pierre D?guise
Constant,
preface
romande,
(Paris,
1971), pp. 65-66; also in Oeuvres
(Lausanne: Biblioth?que
1426.
1957), p.
sur Filangieri,
34. Benjamin
Commentaire
vol. 2, p. 82, quoted
Constant,
by
the historian

Liberalism, p. 187.
Holmes,
Benjamin Constant and theMaking ofModem
35. SC, II, 6, pp. 104-105.
(Translation
emended)
slightly
36. SC, 1,13, p. 78.
37. Adam
also
Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence,
report of 1766, pp. 539-41;
on
The Wealth of Nations,
"Education
of
York:
Modern
Youth,"
(New
chapter
1937), pp. 732-40.
Library Edition,
38. Ferguson,
Essay, part II, sec. I, ed. cit., pp. 74-81. Cf. Smith, Lectures on
Jurisprudence (report of 1766), pp. 540-44.
39. SC, II, 7, p. 106.
see Constant,
40. SC, I, 4, p. 58. On the critique of Bentham's
utilitarianism,
de
61-64.
II,
7,
pp.
Principes
politique,
41. "If to any people
it be the avowed
in all its internal refine
object of policy,
to secure the person
and the property
of the subject, without
ments,
any
the constitution
indeed may be free, but its
character,
regard to his political
members
likewise become unworthy
and
of the freedom
may
they possess,

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

158

to preserve
it. The effects of such a constitution may be to immerse all or
ders of men in their separate pursuits of pleasure, which
they may now enjoy
or of gain, which
without
with
little disturbance;
any
they may preserve
to the commonwealth.
If this be the end of political
attention
the
struggles,
means
in
to
the
individual
his
when
and
the
estate,
executed,
securing
design,
of subsistence, may put an end to the exercise of those very virtues that were
on the
its execution."
required in conducting
(Ferguson, Essay
History of Civil
sec.
ed.
iii,
cit., pp. 221-222). Similarly, Dugald
Stewart, Fergu
Society, part V,
in the Chair of Moral Philosophy
at Edinburgh,
son's successor
maintained
"the
bulwark
of
that
tyranny is to be
only effective
against the encroachments
in
to
the governed,"
found
the political privileges
secured by the constitution
unfit

it is necessary
to possess political
for the people
that, in other words,
liberty in
order to place their civil liberties beyond
the danger of violation.
(See Duncan
Forbes, Hume's Philosophical Politics, pp. 166-167). Ferguson kept coming back
to the difference
the "order of free men," which
between
does not exclude a
and agitation,
and the "tranquillity,"
which
considerable
degree of dissent
to go about their private business,
not
allow individuals
but is ultimately
in
with
of
"Our
notion
order
civil
is
fre
incompatible
"despotism."
society
... we consider commotion
as contrary to its nature.
and
action
false
quently
... The
a
fixed in the places
good order of stones in wall, is their being properly
were
are
to
must
stir
the
fall: but the order
for which
hewn;
they
building
they
are
to
in society, is their being placed where
of men
they
properly
qualified
act. The first is a fabric made of dead and inanimate parts, the second ismade
of living and active members. When we seek in society for the order of mere
...
our
tranquillity, we forget the nature of
subject, and find the order of slaves,
on the
not that of free men."
(Essay
History of Civil Society, part VI, section v,

may

pp. 268-69, footnote)


42. Constant,
Principes de politique, XVII, 3, p. 388; Holmes,
Benjamin Constant and
41.
theMaking
Modern
Liberalism,
p.
of
43. Constant, De la Religion, Preface, p. 23.
44. Constant,
Principes de politique,V, 3, p. 92 and VIII, 1, p. 141.
45. The "excesses" of the Revolution
did not shake Constant's
faith in its ultimate
a Democrat,"
seem
not
to
wrote
to
be
in
"You
he
Mme
de Charri?re
Tightness.
I agree with you that what we are witnessing
1790. "However much
is funda
knavery and fury, I still prefer the knavery and fury that overthrow
mentally
... to the
titles and similar follies
and
fortified castles and destroy
knavery
are deployed
in
monstrosities"
and
that
defence
of
"wretched
fury"
"As between
scoundrels
and scoundrels
I am for the
"barbarous
stupidity."
and Barnaves
rather than the Sartines
and Breteuils"
Mirabeaus
(Letter of
in
de
Oeuvres
ed.
10 December,
Isabelle
Charri?re,
1790,
Jean-Daniel
compl?tes,
et al. [Amsterdam: Oorschot,
Candaux, C.P. Courtenay,
1979-84], 10 vols., vol.
3, pp. 250-251)
46. Kelly, The Humane Comedy: Constant, Tocqueville, and French Liberalism, p. 44;
Holmes,
Benjamin Constant and theMaking ofModern Liberalism, p. 43. The pas
sage quoted is from "De la libert? des anciens compar?e ? celle des modernes"
in Constant, Cours de politique constitutionnelle,
ed. Edouard Laboulaye
(Paris:
2
vol.
1872, rprt. Geneva,:
Slatkine,
vols.,
2, p. 559. Holmes'
1982),
Constant would
appear to be closer to the still quite "republican"
Ferguson,

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

159

to Duncan Forbes, "happiness


Kelly's to Dugald Stewart, for whom,
according
is of intrinsic value, and what
is the only object of legislation which
is called
means
one
is
of
the
of
that
end"
(Hume's
political
liberty
only
obtaining
in his Histoire des
describes
this position
Philosohical Politics, p. 167). Sismondi
[? la libert? civile] pour garantie
R?publiques italiennes: "On a cherch? ? donner
non plus
Ils ont d?s lors ?t? consid?r?s,
les droits politiques
des citoyens.
comme ?tant eux-m?mes
une de ses
la cause de la libert?, mais
seulement
Sismondi
retains great re
(vol. 10, p. 340). But, like Constant,
sauvegardes"
and
for
the
of
power
spect
inspiring
elevating
"republican
liberty." Though
the latter is by no means
like civil liberty, with "happiness,"
"elle
identifiable,
au nectar des dieux; une
l'effet que les poetes attribuaient
fait sur les hommes
toute nourriture humaine; mais aussi
fois qu'un mortel en a go?t?, il d?daigne
en
et une
il trouve
lui-m?me
nouvelle
de nouvelles
forces
vertu;
sa nature
est chang?e,
? leur table, il sent qu'il s'?gale aux
et, s'asseyant
immortels."
(p. 350)
47. Constant, Cours de politique constitutionnelle,
ed. Laboulaye,
vol. 1, pp. 235,238.
48. Constant,
Principes de politique, XVII, 3, p. 392.
49. Constant,
Les "Principes de politique"
de Benjamin Constant,
ed. Etienne
Hofmann
(Geneva: Droz, 1980), XV, 5 (additions), p. 397: "Les citoyens ne s'in
t?ressent ? leurs institutions que lorsqu'ils sont appel?s ? y concourir par leurs
pour former un esprit public, cette
suffrages. Or cet int?r?t est indispensable
... Sans l'?lection
sans
nulle
n'est
durable
libert?
puissance
laquelle
populaire,
les citoyens d'un pays n'ont jamais ce sentiment de leur importance,
qui leur
comme
et
la
la
leur
de
la
la
libert?
pays
pr?sente
gloire
portion
plus pr?cieuse
L'on a, je le sais, [con?u parmi nous] dans ces
de leur patrimoine
individuel.
contre les ?lections
derniers
de pr?ventions
temps beaucoup
populaires,
nos jours, toutes les exp?riences
en leur
N?anmoins,
jusqu'?
d?posaient
faveur."

50. M?langes
De la libert? des mod
de litt?rature et de politique (1829), in Constant,
ernes. Ecrits
ed.
Marcel
Gauchet
Livre
de poche,
(Paris:
1980), pp.
politiques,
517-612, at pp. 520-21.
51. Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, p. 541.
52. Passage
from lecture on ancient
and modem
liberty in Cours de politique
on individuals
ed. Laboulaye,
vol. 2, p. 559. Passage
and
constitutionnelle,
in "Lettres de Benjamin Constant
? Prosper de Barante," ed. Baron
battalions
de Barante, Revue des Deux Mondes, vol. 34,1906, pp. 241-72, 528-67, letter of
to China
25 February
1808, p. 250. References
("La Chine! La Chine! Nous y
? grands pas") ibid., p. 251; also letter of 21 October
tendons, nous y marchons
and letter of 1810, p. 537.
1808, p. 268 ("La France est une Chine europ?enne"),
Cf. the famous passage on China in John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 3 (Every
man
on
in Essay on theHistory
ed., pp. 128-31). Ferguson
^Library
happiness
sec.
cit.:
most
Civil
ed.
"The
occasions
of
viii,
I,
Society, part
of
animating
to safety and ease:
human life, are calls to danger and hardship, not invitations
in his excellence
is not ... destined merely
and man himself,
to enjoy what
... to follow the exercises
to
the elements
his
but
of
his nature,
use;
bring
are called its
in preference
to what
"That
enjoyments"
(p. 45).
mysterious
... is not the succession
...
of mere animal pleasures
thing called Happiness
can fill up only a few moments
in the duration
which
of a life" and "on too

160

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

turn to satiety and disgust." Nor is it "that state of re


frequent a repetition,...
or
at a distance
from care, which
that
freedom
is so frequent
pose,
imaginary
...
an
but
with
its
of
tedium."
arises,
desire,
Happiness
approach brings
object
than from the attainment
of any end
claims, "more from the pursuit,
Ferguson
to which we arrive, ... it depends more
and in every new situation
whatever;
are properly
on the degree to which our minds
than it does on the
employed,
are
to act, on the materials
in which we are destined
circumstances
which
our hands, or the tools with which we are furnished."
in
placed
in Adolphe, ed. Gustave
Rudier
53. Quoted
(Manchester: Manchester
University
terms
"now" and "no longer" imply comparison
Press, 1919), pp. xii-xiii. The
an earlier,
with
culture. Such a comparison
had already been
pre-modern
as
in a passage of the Principes de
life is concerned,
spelled out, as far
personal
the exacerbated
yet somehow
politique (p. 368) that also clearly anticipates
in
nature
of
the
of
is com
nerveless
modern
hero
Adolphe:
sensibility
"Nothing
else. Literature
separate from anything
always bears the mark of the
an age. Less worn down by civilization,
the Ancients
had
of
character
general
Their
of
bellicose
life
them
with
love
of
filled
way
greater vivacity
expression.
in their own strength, fearlessness
before death, and
of action, firm confidence
to pain; whence
indifference
energy, nobility of spirit. We
greater dedication,
a
and for that reason more
have
wearied
sadder
Moderns,
by experience,
we are more
to
emotions
and more
often
delicate
susceptible
sensibility;
pletely

that accompanies
that capacity for feeling may corrupt it,
it. To resist the power that suffering has over us, we have
in contrast, faced up to itwithout
to avoid the sight of it. The Ancients,
fear
and bore itwithout
pity."
trans. Leonard W. Tancock
54. Constant,
(Harmondsworth:
Penguin
Adolphe,
are from this transla
All quotations
Classics,
1964), pp. 116,117-118,120-21.
tion, with occasional
slight modifications.
55. Constant,
de politique
XVI,
7, p. 372. Cf. SC, II, 4, p. 100;
Principes
"If one could scrutinize
the obscure ranks of a people apparently
subject to the
as
one
see
some
is
would
them
confused
who
them,
usurper
oppressing
by
instinct fixing their eyes in advance on the moment when
this usurper
should
seem to be trying at one
faith in their own convictions,
fall. Lacking much
they
with
time to stupefy
themselves
relieve
and the same
acclamations,
moved.
The egoism
but cannot eliminate

themselves
be

by

raillery,

and

anticipate

the moment

when

the glory

will

past."

56. Les "Principes de politique" de Benjamin Constant (1980 ed.), p. 430.


57. Constant, Adolphe, chapter 1.
58. Constant,
Journaux intimes, ed. Alfred Roulin and Charles Roth (Paris, 1952),
novel C?cile,
76
(11 April 1804). The hero of the strongly autobiographical
p.
in the latel940s and first published
of which was rediscovered
the manuscript
in the early 1950s, also shares with Adolphe
the same suggestibility,
the same
or
to
with
for
stick
any feeling
engagement.
incapacity
long
? Prosper de Barante," ed. Baron de Barante,
59. "Lettres de Benjamin Constant
1812): "Je me
1810); p. 562 (letter of 23 Sepember
p. 534 (letter of 8 August
encore.
vivre
si
vis
l'air
de
t?te quelquefois
savoir
J'ai
par politesse,
pour
je
comme
j'?te mon chapeau dans la rue aux gens qui me saluent et que je ne
connais

pas."

Benjamin

Constant

on Liberty

and Love

161

60. Constant, Adolphe p. 125.


to the 2nd and 3rd editions at the beginnng
61. See the prefaces
and the letter from
at the end of the novel.
in Germany
the correspondent
62. Constant, Adolphe (Penguin Classics
edition), Preface to 3rd ed., p. 30.
structure
et destin d'Adolphe (Paris: Edition
in Paul Delbouille,
63. Quoted
Gen?se,
in his journal for 19
les Belles Lettres, 1971), p. 388. Constant
himself noted
mon
roman.
"Lu
Fou
rire"
1815:
(p. 387).
April
64. Constant, Adolphe, preface to 3rd ed., p. 30.
65. See Holmes,
Liberalism, p.161.
Benjamin Constant and theMaking ofModem
sur la trag?die" (1829), Oeuvres, ed. Roulin, pp. 939-40.
66. Constant,
"R?flexions
67. See Holmes,
Liberalism, p. 163. The
Benjamin Constant and theMaking ofModem
is from a letter toMme. de Charri?re of 4 June, 1790,
story of the watchmaker
first cited by Gustave Rudler in his La Jeunesse de Benjamin Constant 1767-1794,
tout promet
pp. 376-77: "Je sens plus que jamais le n?ant de tout, combien
et rien ne tient, combien nos forces sont au-dessus
et
de notre destination,
... Un Pi?montais,
doit nous rendre malheureux
combien cette disproportion
? La Haye, un chevalier de Revel,
homme d'esprit dont j'ai fait la connaissance
...
de
c'est-?-dire
l'auteur de nous et de
Dieu,
que
pr?tend
envoy?e
Sardaigne
nos alentours,
est mort avant d'avoir
fini son ouvrage;
qu'il avait les plus
et les plus grands moyens;
beaux et vastes projets du monde
qu'il avait d?j?
comme on ?l?ve des ?chafauds
mis en oeuvre plusieurs
des moyens,
pour
b?tir, et qu'au milieu de son travail il est mort; que tout ? present se trouve fait
dans un but qui n'existe plus, et que nous en particulier, nous sentons destin?s
? quelque chose dont nous ne nous faisons aucune id?e; nous sommes comme
des montres

o? il n'y aurait point de cadran, et dont les rouages, dou?s d'in


et
tourneraient
jusqu'? ce qu'ils fussent us?s, sans savoir pourquoi
telligence,
un
se disant toujours: Puisque
me
donc
but.
Cette
id?e
tourne,
je
j'ai
para?t la
more
more
et
la
ouie."
feel
and
the
("I
que j'ai
plus spirituelle
plus profonde
is
of
how
much
and
how
little
fulfilled,
everything,
promised
nothingness
how much higher we are able to think than our actual destination,
and how
... A
us
is
to
that
bound
make
Piedmontese
witty
unhappy
disproportion
I got to know at The Hague,
the envoy of Sardinia, a chevalier Revel,
whom
we
is to say the author of us and of the environment
argues that God?that
live in?died
and the
before finishing his work; that he had the most beautiful
as well as the greatest means
of executing
them; that he had
grandest plans
use
some
to
like
of
those
that is put up in
means,
already begun
scaffolding
order to raise a building,
and that in the midst
of his work, he died; that
thus made
for a purpose
that is no more,
presently
existing was
everything
and that we, in particular,
feel we were destined
for something
of which we
have no idea; we are like watches
which
have no dial and whose wheels,
turn until
with
endowed
out, without
intelligence,
they wear
knowing
I
Imust have a pur
and
therefore
themselves:
turn,
why
telling
constantly
I
and most profound
pose. This conceit seems tome the wittiest
extravagance
have ever heard.")
68. Constant, De laReligion, in Oeuvres, ed. Alfred Roulet, p. 1414. Cf. p. 1413: "The
a virtuous
action, a glorious
sacrifice, an act of courage in the face of
sight of
a
individual
to the
assisted
and consoled,
danger,
being
suffering
superiority
to
to
of
devotion
the
resistance
those
vice,
unfortunate,
impulses
tyranny?all

162

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

in the soul
things awaken and nourish
rise above all individual
and particular
69. Constant, De la religion, p. 1425. Cf. the
at a
orders and excesses of the Romans
ligious skepticism.
70. Letter of 2 December
Barante,"

71. Holmes,

p.

1811,

of man

the mysterious

disposition

on pp.
description
time of widespread

in "Lettres

de Benjamin

and theMaking

ofModern

1423-24

of the dis
and re
incredulity

Constant

? Prosper

549.

Benjamin Constant

[to

thoughts]."

Liberalism, p. 163.

de

Berlin's Marx:

Enlightenment,
and
Counter-Enlightenment,

10

the Historical
Cultural

Construction

of

identities

^olnn t. Toews

an invitation
from H. A. L. Fisher to write
the volume
accepted
for the Home University
years
Library in 1933. He was twenty-four
was completed
five years later, in the summer of 1938, and
old. The manuscript
it to one half of its original size, itwas
after radical editorial cuts which
reduced
as Karl Marx: His
in 1939. A new edition with only
Environment
and
published
Life
re
in
1948
minor corrections
and
editions
with more significant
further
appeared
in 1963 and 1978. Michael
and additions were published
visions
has
Ignatieff
Isaiah Berlin
on Karl Marx

that the five years of extensive


claimed
for this volume,
preparatory
reading
not only of Marx's
texts but also of the texts that constituted Marx's
intellectual
on which
and
Berlin
with
"the
intellectual
environment,
heritage
provided
capital
he was to depend
for the rest of his life."1 The distinctive,
breathless
prose style
and the signature Berlin ability to combine perceptive
reconstruction
of personal
the historical
and critical exegesis
of ideas, to examine
identity with
conceptual
as
were also
of
inherited
of meaning,
individualized
worlds
systems
re-makings
or
at
to
least
from
talk
written
in
the
word.
this
book,
transposed
developed
In writing
the Marx
book Berlin
discovered
of ideas as the
the history
concerns and
his philosophical
his
genre for examining
appropriate
articulating
a
a
was
in
for
It
different
genre
positions,
philosophical
key.
doing philosophy
that allowed
for a more
and open-ended
ambivalent,
richly textured, nuanced,
in which he had been trained, and that was
than the Oxford philosophy
analysis
suited to illuminate
the historically
and categorial
especially
shifting conceptual
the sets of fundamental
which
individual
within
frameworks,
assumptions
to address and resolve the ba
thinkers in different epochs and cultures attempted
our experience
sic existential
of who we are, how we should organize
questions
into meaningful
lives, how we should live together, and where we are going.2
to view Karl Marx as both a point of
For all of these reasons it seems legitimate
a continuous
center
and
of
Berlin's
later
talks and essays. The most
origin
impor
can be seen as
tant and influential of these later works
revisions,
amplifications,
or at least
and clarifications
in this youthful
of themes first presented
suggested
on
work. Lengthy
both
Marx's
historical
the
essays
precursors,
shapers of his

163

164

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

and on his historical


intellectual
whose
alternative
inheritance,
contemporaries
own
choices highlighted
the historical
of
Marx's
constructions,
particularity
returned to the problem of defining
and redefining
and
the distinctive
persistently
at
center
that
Berlin
the
Marx's
historicism
found
of
both
inheritance
troubling
and the Marxian
legacy.
a
was
The Marx book, however,
negative
origin and center for
peculiarly
to intellectual history. He wrote about Marx in order to
Berlin's own contributions
and clarify his distrust of, and critical opposition
to, Marx's
particular
frameworks
his
envi
transformation
of the conceptual
intellectual
provided
by
so
to the various
ronment and, by extension,
and practical Marxisms
theoretical
own environment
in
his
the
1930s.
Most
he
used
during
predominant
strikingly
to turn Marx on his head, by asserting
examination
the historical
of Marx
that
own attempt to refute the power of ideas in history was in turn refuted by
Marx's
in which men
in which his ideas permanently
think
the ways
altered "the ways
neces
the
and act,"3 and by showing how his claims about
historical
impersonal
the meaning
human
of all individual
from
identities
sity that defined
emerged
a viable historical
Marx's own personal and particular
struggle to achieve
identity.
examine

as oppos
and Counter-Enlightenment
between Enlightenment
men
think
about
"the
and
of
historical
act," a
way
patterns
ing
assumptions
so crucial to Berlin's own intellectual
that became
distinction
project, emerged
an
within
with Marx. Marx provided
the critical context of his Auseinandersetzung
avenue
the problematic
the
distinctive
for probing
espe
implications,
dangers,
as
in
of human freedom and human solidarity,
cially
they related to the questions
The distinction

and particularly
for analyzing
the ambiguities
of the
the
of
and
values
that
historicization
truths,
meanings,
Counter-Enlightenment
defined
the nature of human existence.
was not yet a part of Berlin's
The term "Counter-Enlightenment"
vocabulary
toMarx's
in the 1930s. In the chapter of his Marx book devoted
dual intellectual
or "scientific
rationalism"
Berlin
the "semi-empirical
inheritance,
juxtaposed
of
and
"romantic
the
French
the
against
empiricism"
Enlightenment
English
phi
in Germany,
like Fichte and Schelling
and especially
losophy" of post-Kantians
Historicism"
of Herder
and Hegel.4
against what he called the "metaphysical
the
of
enunciated
The title of this chapter?"The
Philosophy
Spirit"?clearly
was
most
the
influential
Berlin's view at this time that Hegelian
philosophy
to
the
and the
of
the
German
historicist
proponent
opposition
Enlightenment
in
the
dominant
the
"counter-attack"
universalist
traditions
of
epitome
against
both

cultural

Western

stances,

culture.

the assumptions
of the
Berlin was not yet ready in 1939 to characterize
in
set
the
somewhat
formulaic
of
succinct,
propositions
Enlightenment
content of that
the substantial
which became such a familiar part of his later work,
was clearly present in this initial assessment.
As an "independent
characterization
the
and grounded
Voltaire
and
of
by
Encyclopedists,
system"
thought propagated
in amerger of the positions
of
of seventeenth-century
rationalists
(the subsumption
a
or
under
"transcendent"
formal
all existential
timeless,
pattern of
particularity
Although

this tran
critics (who transformed
truth) and their empiricist
an
on
into
immanent
universal
truth
truth
of
based
the
empirical
pattern
order governed
of man as an object in a natural and historical
examination
by
was based,
the Enlightenment
all natural beings),
first of
the laws determining

universal
scendent

rational

Berlin's

Marx

165

to have universal
of man as a part of nature that was assumed
all, on a conception
across
The
and integral core
and
cultural
boundaries.
essential
all
validity
temporal
of passions,
of human characteristics,
interests, and purposes, was deemed know
that had proved so suc
able like all objects in nature, and by the scientific methods
about
the laws of the natural world. Every legitimate question
cessful in grasping
man and the world
not
which
did
transcend
boundaries
the
(that is, every question
could be
of immanent earthly or natural existence) had "one true answer" which
and rational analysis, and all
"infallibly discovered"
through empirical observation
as ultimately
in harmony with each other. Human be
such answers were perceived
within
the system of
havior, both personal and collective, could be fully understood
the mechanical
order of all natural existence. Human
laws that defined
purposes
like security, happiness,
the pursuit of values
and intentions,
solidarity,
equality,
as physical objects and events
and freedom, could be known by the same methods
the terrestrial
and were inherently compatible with each other and realizable within
flawed or somehow misplaced
within
the world of
realm. Man was not inherently
nature and thus in need of transcendent
redemption.
and ful
As was true with every object in nature, the possibilities
of satisfaction
among

humankind

were

commensurate

with

its desires

and potentiali
or conflicts be
and human actualization
ties. Disparities
between human potential
were
in cultural
tween different
values
due to
(as exemplified
differences)
or
on
dif
willful
The
historical
and
cultural
based
ignorance
deception.
practices
were
evanes
human
each
other
from
ferences which
beings
ultimately
separated
cent. Rational knowledge
could and
of the world given toman in sense experience
the unity or harmony
demonstrate
would
among all values
inherently grounded
nature
in human
between
the achievement
of those
and
the identity
that followed
the inherent impulses or laws of
values and the empirical behavior
one major paradox
interference.
Berlin discerned
that nature without misguided
in the set of assumptions
construction
that characterized
the Enlightenment
of
in which
all
the world. On the one hand, it tended toward a scientific positivism
man as an
human actions were determined
by the laws governing
object within
that through the discovery
of
the natural world. On the other hand, it assumed
to liberate themselves
could freely choose
from the
those laws, human beings
and inequality,
from the
chains of unnatural
artificial
authority,
prejudice,
and
of
the
laws of
frustrated
desire.
Rational
of
conflict
of
knowledge
irrationality
nature could form the ground for criticism and judgment of that which had been
cor
in the empirical world by unreason
and justify policies
that would
produced
to error. Human
rect error and reform a social world constructed
according
beings
as the agents of rational knowledge
were seen as capable of a freedom in relation
to the actual existing world
institutions
and relations which
of historical
seemed
to be denied
them as the objects of rational knowledge.5
in terms of Marx's
The "Counter-Enlightenment"
that Berlin presented
was focused on the historicization
in
1939
of the Enlighten
inheritance
Hegelian
The historicism
immanent
rational perfectibilianism.
ment's
articulated
by the
late
and
of
German,
thinkers,
array
eighteenthearly nineteenth-century,
mostly
was first of all a
In Berlin's terms this meant
that it assumed
position.
metaphysical
an
that the empirical world was an epiphenomenal
real
of
expression
underlying
sense
course
was
not
to
not
did
which
of
accessible
experience. Hegel
ity
jettison
in human values or full rational knowledge
the assumptions
of
of universality
fillment

166

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

in ways
the total system of beings. But he conceived
these organizing
principles
new
in
that opened
radical
human
for
up
grasping
experience
possibilities
was
essence
no
con
and
The
human
differentiated
time.
space
progressive
longer
as the
ceived as an unalterable
object in nature but
constantly
changing embodied
on the
of a suprahuman
agency or purpose which was conceived
representative
an individual
a
or self
of
character,
personal
analogy
purposefully
acting subject
that developed
of
directed
and
The
teleologically
meaning
through stages
growth.
of
the
of
rational
accessible
of
individual
identity
objects
knowledge,
empirically
in the world
and different
of
cultures, as well as of objects and events
persons
were
or
not
in
terms
in
of
construed
traits
mechani
nature,
generalized
empirical
units in which
cal relations of cause and effect between
unalterable
such traits
were
as
common
individualized
of
but
forms
of
inherent,
life,
unique,
expressions
or cultural organizations
that represented
of experience,
stages in the develop
ment of the metaphysical
of empirical
subjective agency. Rational understanding
in
to
existences
involved
those
existences
relation
the purposes
of the
construing
or
the idea or spirit, the "cultural
that was expressed
"personality,"
impulse,"
that the thoughts and acts of
communicated
through them: "Hegel had asserted
men who belong
to the same period of a given culture are determined
by the
an identical spirit which manifests
in
in
them
all
of
itself
the
working
phenomena
nature
in this schema was
of the period."6 Human
and historically
culturally
or were
Not only what men perceived
able to know, but what
particularized.
men were,
as human beings,
at each stage of cultural
their identities
differed
within
the internal relations of specific and
development:
they were produced
common
forms
of
life.7
particular
In this earliest formulation
of the idea of the Counter-Enlightenment
Berlin's fo
cus seemed
to be on the assumption
in
determinism
of a contextual
("organic")
sense.
All
both a cross-sectional
and a progressive
cultural
temporal
expressions
a particular
to each other not through
within
historical
connected
epoch were
or forms of the same
relations of cause and effect but as diversified
expressions
or agency.
were defined
characteristic
Individuals
purpose
by the organizing
were
frame of the cultural epoch in which
situated.
The
horizons
of human
they
were
same
to
At
and
human
values
time
and
tied
the
how
time,
place.
knowledge
a unified
within
and knowable
ever, the claim to organic development
pattern
to take away the sting of this intimation
seemed
of a human nature defined by
The "universal" meaning
inherent historical
and pluralism.
of an indi
diversity
was
as
an
vidual existence
accessible
of the way that
retroactively,
understanding
was assimilated
into
historical
the
any and every particular
epoch
unity of an
or teleology which moved
in a necessary,
devel
overall purpose
law-governed,
one
one
to
to
and
another
culture
another.
There
from
pattern
epoch
opmental
was little analysis of any actual Hegelian
text or particular
claim in these passages:
in particu
in general rather than Hegel
and Idealist Historicism
Itwas Romantic
The analysis of "spirit" or
lar that seemed to be the object of Berlin's descriptions.
the redefining
of
the "cultural impulse" as creative, self-transforming
subjectivity,
reason and freedom in terms of self-determination
and self-mastery,
for example,
from Berlin's descriptions.
was
in Hegel
the general
that cultural
principle
were not the result of de
in human value and meaning,
differences
differences,
fects in rational understanding
and practices based on that understanding
but the
seemed
What

absent
noticeably
Berlin discerned

Berlin's

Marx

167

of an historically
The individual
could not
consequence
necessary
development.
man
contexts
to
the
which
is
be what
made
historical/cultural
escape
every
"by
are the man, are what he is; to wish
to escape from this is to wish
to
he is, which
lose one's proper nature, a self-contradictory
which
could
made
be
demand,
only
one whose
what he is demanding,
idea of per
by one who does not understand
sonal liberty is childishly
and rationality within
Freedom
the as
subjective."8
in
of
historicism
consisted
the
self-conscious
sumptions
metaphysical
primarily
into the cultural totality and histor
integration of one's own values and purposes
ical epoch to which one belonged,
of
(rational assimilation)
through a knowledge
the historical necessity
of one's own nature. All other behavior was not only futile
in different
but inherently
values embodied
cul
irrational. The conflict between
tures and epochs could not be resolved by removing
resis
constructed
artificially
as stages in a
tances to the unity of mankind
but by understanding
the differences
of mankind
evolution
toward the perfected maturity
of complete un
necessary
was
a
a
Like the philosophes, Hegel
and
rationalist, but
perfectibilian
derstanding.
reason and
to the necessity
of cultural and temporal
by connecting
perfectibility
in
rather than the universality
of nature, he derogated
the contingent
dividual
choiceof values and action based on such choices to the realm of irrele
vant subjective opinion and futile, pointless
irrelevant) practice.
(historically
and analysis of Marx's
Berlin's description
theoretical positions
in 1939 focused
on the 1840s and
on the formation
the
of
particularly
theory of historical
in 1845-1846.
in Berlin's
materialism
first articulated
Historical
materialism
as
a
evolved
critical
of
the
form
of
historicist
merger
interpretation
Hegelian
with
that
traditions
Marx
had
inherited
Enlightenment
Counter-Enlightenment
from his father and which had apparently
"inoculated"
him against the most ob
inmetaphysical
idealist elements
and thus also prepared him
historicism
viously
to join the critical attack on Hegel's
in the
doctrine of the Spirit led by Feuerbach
to
contrast
In
1840s.
historical
with
its
early
Hegel's
assumption
phenomenology
of a suprapersonal
itself in the empirical particulars
of his
spirit that embodied
in good Enlightenment
torical existence, Marx
that only the
asserted,
fashion,
concrete, "real objects in space and time" and their "observable
empirical relations
to each other"9 were
of
rational
and that all expla
knowledge
legitimate objects
must
nations of historical
"be
the
evidence
of scientific
processes
supported
by
observation."
The edifice of rational knowledge
of the whole must be built "solely
in accordance with the results of this empirical method
of investigation."10 Marx
stance toward all of those symbolic as
also maintained
the critical Enlightenment
a reality of
or
to provide
pects of culture which purported
insight into
underlying
difference

transcendent
value-laden
and that evaded naturalistic
and
purpose
explanation,
thus distorted human knowledge
of the immanent realities of historical
existence.
were explained
use within
All such phenomena
in terms of their instrumental
the
relations.
sphere of secular, worldly
inwhich
Berlin was most interested in the ways
the fundamental
However,
pat
terns of the Hegelian
sustained
within Marx's
themselves
Counter-Enlightenment
ex
and in his insistence on reductive naturalistic
scientific empiricism
apparent
core
The
of
cultural
of
phenomena.
planations
Hegelian
Counter-Enlightenment
was
within
the belief (a metaphysical
historical materialism
Berlin
assumption,
called it) that the history of mankind
to
laws
that
necessary
proceeded
according
or
common
determined
the formation of epochal sociocultural
forms
of
life
systems

168

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

and the progressive


human
historicized

transitional
conflicts between
them. Historical
materialism
in two senses, according
to the Hegelian
existence
pattern.
in the sense that individual
existence was al
First, human existence was historical
in and defined by the particular
contextual
relations of epochal
embedded
ways
of
and
"what man
is."
different
ways
systems,
organizing
experience
defining
were
now
as
such
defined
of
social
based
systems
systems
Although
organization
on modes
of production,
that is, in terms of differing
of the
historical modes
relations between man and nature rather than as cultural expressions
of divergent
relations between human
identity and the developmental
logic of absolute spirit,
worlds
which
remained
contained
their own cate
self-contained
they
particular,
one
and
values
of
The
of
historical
interpretation
gories
understanding.
epoch
in the developmen
could not be applied to another because
they were grounded
all systems
of value and
forms of social practice which
defined
tally distinct
a
Like
Marx
the
that
belief
unified system
meaning.
rejected
Enlightenment
Hegel,
and could be used to judge
of rational truths transcended historical differentiation
in any culture or historical
individual
actions, thoughts, and purposes
epoch. The
a
man
a
in common nature rationally known was
ideal of brotherhood
of
grounded
in the sense that the relations
shattered. Secondly, human existence was historical
of existence were historically
determined
between
such organizations
by imper
acts based on contextually
individual
sonal forces beyond
control. Not individual
framed choices among alternative values, but general laws governing
the histori
of social systems were
the motive
force of historical
cal transformation
develop
ment. Human
dialectical
law in which
the
existence was subject to a necessary
in
within
social
articulated
the
conflict
classes
of
contradictions
systems
evolving
that replaced one system of class
transformations
eventually
produced
cataclysmic
were
another.
Individual
human
reduced to representatives
agents
by
hegemony
laws that operated with the inexorability
of objective
forces, instances of historical
of

laws

of nature.11

in structural
conceived
The combination
of the idea of historical
necessity,
terms with
the idea of the conflict of incommensurable
social worlds,
produced
of Marxian
the peculiar
ethical implications
of right and
theory. No standards
or truth and error existed outside of the social systems
inwhich
individu
wrong,
ac
Human
of production.
als were
inserted by their relations to historical modes
tions and human thoughts were shaped by the determinants
of their concrete, ma
had no access to universal
truths
terial situation within
each system. Individuals
or values outside
determined
situation. There were no natural
their historically
are those conferred
by his
rights but only historical
rights: "the only real rights
on
to
act
the
which
is
one's
the
There
class."12
part
historically
imposed
tory,
right
were no universal
terms for truth or value
that cross the boundaries
of social
or accommodation
the his
between
compromise,
systems of class rule. Dialogue,
were
im
of
human
and
distinct
unique organizations
reality
inherently
torically
between
determination
behavior
the
distinction
of
Moreover,
empirical
possible.
or value was demolished:
of
and the purposeful
pursuit of meaning
"Judgments
from those of value; all of one's judgments
fact cannot be sharply distinguished
are conditioned
in a given
social milieu."
For an ethical
activity
by practical
to
it
to refer "to
to
claim
would
have
Marx,
objective validity,
according
judgment
to
and
be
them."
The
verifiable
reference
only meaning
by
empirical phenomena
or not
of good or bad, right or wrong, was whether
left to judgments
something

Marx

Berlin's
Individual
the historical
"accords or discords with
process."13
was identified with "knowledge
of the laws of necessity":

169

human

freedom

If you know inwhich direction the world process isworking, you can either identify
yourself with it or not; if you do not, if you fight it, you thereby compass your own
certain destruction, being necessarily defeated by the forward advance of history; to
choose to do so deliberately is to behave irrationally. Only a rational being is truly
free

to choose

tion,

he

cannot

is to

term,

between
choose

deny

that

alternatives;

where

one

to say
because
it freely,
it is contrary
to reason.14

of

these

that an act

leads
is free,

to irresistible
as Marx

destruc

employs

the

of Marx's
However
much Berlin may have insisted on the brilliance
insights into
the social transformations
theoretical power of his
of his age, on the concentrated
or
and on the intensity of his search for empirical verification,
conceptualizations,
on
at
in
influence
and
his
social
the
social practice
marveled
pervasive
theory
itwas quite obvious
the creation of historical materialism,
century that followed
was seen
in 1939 that the Marxist
Historicism
form of Counter-Enlightenment
an
war
more as a danger
reason
than
little
The
for
years provided
inspiration.
to change his views. The 1948 edition left the portrait of Marx as the rigid
as a kind of positivist
of all individual
determinist
identity,
Hegelian,
in
the
Berlin
devoted his ener
1950s,
however,
firmly
place. During
increasingly
clarification
of the issues raised by his Marx book and thus to a
gies to a historical
between
historical
self-clarification
of his own views of the relationship
identity
re
or eventually
who
criticized
and freedom. Those of Marx's
contemporaries
Herzen
the
and
drew
his
Hess,
paradigm,
particularly
jected
Hegelian-Marxian
to examine
At the same time he began
the great variety
of
special attention.
of
rational
truth
and
hu
universal
of
systems
critiques
Counter-Enlightenment
man values, both among
thinkers like Vico and Herder
(for
eighteenth-century
and cultural difference was not assimilated
whom
the recognition
of historical
into a linear teleological
of the
historicists
pattern), and among the non-Hegelian
Berlin

historical

Romantic

movement.15

in 1954,
In the well-known
first published
essay "Historical
Inevitability,"
more clearly than he had in 1939 between
Berlin distinguished
scientific-empirical
of historical necessity.
Both patterns
and teleological models
reduced
individual
actions and choice of values to determinations
of the inexorable
lawful movement
of suprapersonal
entities, but in different ways. The Hegelian
teleological model,
now
saw
as
to
he
back
the
whose
of human
reaching
origins
"beginnings
was perceived
as more
an interpretation
fundamental
of Marx's
for
thought,"16
than
the
naturalistic
mechanistic
of
social sci
position
empiricism
Enlightenment
ence. In fact during the mid-1950s
Berlin began a process of differentiating
Marx's
so
in
the
scientism
influential
from
nineteenth
the
late
position
Enlightenment
century orthodox
was
determinism
rather
vidual

Marxism

propagated
by Engels and Plekhanov.17
Teleological
the
model of narrative meaning
Judeo-Christian
upon
grounded
than the classical and Enlightenment
model
of a cosmic mechanism.
Indi
ameta-narrative
life stories were inserted as functions and purposes within

patterns
identity was defined by their role in the preconceived
the
nation
cultures, states, religious communities,
imposed by
history of peoples,
etc. Such meta-stories
the
all
individual
of
alities, classes,
meaning
provided
stories. Individual
identities were scripted by the story-teller. This was not to say
structure,

their

170

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

that Berlin suddenly


abandoned
his previous
of Marx's
completely
conceptions
to scientific empiricism,
but the emphasis had shifted toMarx as the
commitment
narrator of a salvational
in the meanings
interested
that provided
story, more
existences with
individual
historical
than
the
construction
of a unified
identity
causal order among the empirical
realities of the evolution
systematic,
objective,
a
not
of mankind's
is
social existence.
he in
theory, or a hypothesis,"
"Teleology
in terms of which
sisted in 1954, "but a category or framework
is, or
everything
and described."18
Berlin's
should be conceived
evaluation
of
relatively positive
in
terms
which
of
1939
and
Marx's
the
the
1948
editions
had
empiricism,
kept
aMarxist
as his followers,
as schematic and dogmatic
Marx from becoming
began
a commitment
to fade. What Marx
to providing
lacked was not so much
empiri
of social formations
and their transformations
but
for his descriptions
a
of
the indeterminacy
of
understanding
"reality,"19 that is, sympathetic
and converging
stories constructed
historical processes marked by diverging
from
constructed
traditions and cultural formations)
alternative
scripts (historically
by
individuals making
value-choices
within
the temporal and cultural parameters
of
historical worlds
that had no discernible
The emergence
of this
single meaning.
the old was undoubtedly
influenced
"new" Marx
alongside
by the emergence
in
of Marxist
scholars (some of them Berlin's own students)
of a new generation
humanism
of the early Marx, as well as by the historical
terested in the Hegelian
cal evidence
a sense of

of the late 1950s in Hungary,


Poland, Russia, and the Suez that shaped the
and outlook of this new generation.
Itwas also deeply marked by Berlin's
as the creative activity
in
notions
of
human
existence
interest
Romantic
growing
and of "positive" human freedom as the subjective
of self and world
construction,
events

interests

and self-determination.20
But it did not lead Berlin to a
agent's self-sufficiency
more sympathetic
it clarified and amplified his
Marxian
of
Rather,
reading
theory.
as the most
reasons
Marx
formidable
of his own
for viewing
opponent
on
and
defined
nature of
the
historical
refined)
positions
inherently
(increasingly
human existence.
Itwas not so much
the emancipatory
of
the New
hopefulness
Left as the "totalitarian"
that shaped Berlin's views of
threats of the Cold War
Marx in the late 1950s.
in the extensive
The shifts in Berlin's position during the 1950s were articulated
to the chapter on "Historical Materialism"
in the third edition of Karl
additions
in 1963. The analyses of Marxian
Marx, published
theory from the 1939 and 1948
from this new edition.
Instead Berlin simply inserted
editions were not deleted
two new sections within
the old chapter, virtually doubling
its length.
nar
Marx's
of
The first insertion reconceptualized
theory
history as teleological
the
into
rative which
translated Hegel's
of
spirit
phenomenology
"semi-empirical
as the story of human
terms." Marx,
like Hegel,
constructed
history
beings' strug
as free self-determining
beings by
gle to "realize their full human potentialities"
a
and of the natural world
of which
of themselves
they were
becoming masters
as
or
was
not
the
of
construed
This
activity
part.
struggle
thinking
struggle
come to self-conscious
of individual
transparency
through the medium
"spirit" to
ethical and symbolic worlds,
but as the
human
constructing
objective
beings
a
to
construct
in its
human
material
creative
world
of
labor,
subjectivity,
struggle
own image through the medium
In
of
both
of historical
cases,
systems
production.
the "harmonious
of all human
the goal of the story was
realization
however,
a
in
the
of
that
involved
with
both
accordance
reason,"21
powers
principles
goal

Berlin's

Marx

171

or self-mastery,
as the
and unity, defined
freedom, defined as self-determination
uncoerced
of
the
the
individual
into
universal
human
of
integration
community
the victory
of that form of self-creation
and self-determination
ity through
the essential human activity of material
represented
by the class that incorporated
industrial
Itwas creative labor (a translation of
the
self-determination,
proletariat.
the Romantic
doctrine of the self-transforming
rial and social terms) that now appeared as the
the identity of human beings as
transformed
As the core of social practice,
labor externalized
world
of
its
objective
products. The division of
the process of class conflict arose as instruments

and self-making
subject into mate
center of the Marxian
story. Labor

it transformed
the natural world.
human creative potentials
in the
the
formation of classes, and
labor,
of this deeper struggle of man to
in the world
in his product as a free and
and recognize himself
produce himself
was
social being. It
the "constant
self-transformation
is at the heart of all
which
work
and creation, which
rendered
absurd
the very notion
of fixed timeless
an
and
unalterable
eternal
universal
human
The
principles,
goals
predicament."22
was
in
the
factor
this
transformative
process
permanent
only
dynamic
activity of
man himself.
in
"Work
the
cosmic
vision
Berlin
of
"is
Marx,"
claimed,
laboring
what cosmic love had been for Dante?that
which makes men and their relation
invariant factors of the external world
ships what
they are, given the relatively
are
into which
For
the empirical phenomenal
born."23
real
therefore,
Marx,
they
core
of
found
in
individual
historical
existences
its
the
of
ity
meaning
teleology
as a laboring
man's
creative powers
and
himself
being constantly
transforming
in the struggle
the world
to be both free and at home
in the world
of nature
and society.
In the second inserted passage Berlin reinterpreted
the Marxian
of
conception
freedom in terms of the laws of the dialectic as a self-determining
that
is,
process,
as a process
inherent to the subject of labor.24 The dialectic was now construed
as
a story of alienation
and its overcoming.
As human
externalized
beings
themselves
in their products
social,
they produced
historically
specific economic,
of their collective exis
political, and cultural structures, generalized
organizations
tence that first articulated
and then hindered
the process of self-transformation.
That which had been created as an instrument
to actualize human purposes
be
came an objective hindrance
to further development:
it took on the character of a
on the
law, modeled
self-imposed
prison. Dialectics was not simply the objective
in the world of natural forces, of the tension and confrontation
laws pertaining
be
tween opposing
as it had been described
forms of social organization,
in 1939 and
and self-transfor
1948, but an internal process of self-production,
self-criticism,
mation. Alienation,
Berlin now insisted, was forMarx "the heart of history itself."25
Classes were objectifications
of mankind's
that
struggle at a particular moment
as
from
natures
their
demand."26
[human
prevented
"artificially
beings]
living
Romantic
and historicist
of the self-transforming
character of human
conceptions
nature were thus ultimately
to universalist
subordinated
teleological
conceptions
inwhich all human values were
a perfect social form. Historical
integrated within
once again
as individuals
evanescent
difference
their
proved
finally achieved
as
a
essential
"members
of
unified
of
the
identity
society, capable
understanding
reasons for doing what
own
and
of
the
of
fruits
their
free
united,
enjoying
they do,
and rational activity."27 Human
identity was not simply determined
by the indi
vidual's place in particular
and social organization.
There
systems of production

172
was

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

a deeper
own
in which
universal
man's
inherent
determination,
was
nature
that
which
his
who
he
and
what
defined
he did.
"craves,"28
purposes,
Yet Berlin was skeptical of the "freedom"
that defined human history
in this
as
of
human
for
self-determination.
the
self-fulfillment
story
teleological
struggle
as determined
The struggle
laws that controlled
itself was defined
by inexorable
in their creative activity; individuals were still seen
the purposes humans pursued
as actors in a single plot. They were not "mechanically"
determined
(that percep
a
was
in bourgeois
tion
of human practice
part of the alienated
objectification
as par
but determined
and goals over which,
scientific conceptions),
by meanings
no
ticular individuals,
control. Freedom had only one form, recognition
they had
of the collective
labor as one's own essential
story of Promethean
story. Freedom
a
was identified with full self-conscious
in
collective
social practice
participation
and world-mastery.
to fall
of self-mastery
To reject one's role in this story was
also

out of the historical


narrative
to be less than human,
to forfeit one's
altogether,
essential human
identity.
to integrate his new
Berlin apparently
did not feel the need self-consciously
more
Marx
into his older, more
and teleological
Romantic
Enlightenment
oriented
because
he did not see the Enlightenment
Marx
and the
analysis,
as
in
A
Marx
fundamental
contradiction.29
Counter-Enlightenment
lengthy essay
in 1964, "Marxism and the International
in the Nineteenth
published
Century,"30
to be
needed
clearly revealed why he did not feel that his earlier assessments
was not the crude scientific materialist
Marx
revised.
that
and
Recognition
was
to
in
that
be
in
determinist
the
later
he
sociological
occasionally
portrayed
a
not
and
of
Plekhanov
of
unveiled,
terpretations
prophetic
conception
Engels
but a "terrifying vision" of spiritual despotism.
As rational
human emancipation,
Marx and Hegel were now situated in a tradition ofWestern
think
perfectibilians,
of the pre-Romantic
ing that could be traced back to Plato and included members
and Romantic Counter-Enlightenment
like Rousseau
and Fichte. What differenti
ated Hegel
and especially Marx within
this tradition was
the combination
of a
answer
in one knowable
in universal
to all questions
rational values,
belief
of
a
commitment
to
with
and
historical
determinism.
value,
meaning
evolutionary
in the Marxian
The doctrine of the unity of theory and practice articulated
concept
of man as creative labor identified both truth and value as inherent products
of so
cial practice. However,
this notion
of the historical
of
standards
of
diversity
was
a
to
and
ethics
tied
the
that
identified
par
assumption
knowledge
teleological
and full human self-realization
ticular group with the goal of complete knowledge
actualization
of all human values).
(the harmonious
within
the framework
Conceived
collective
Romantic
of a self-determining,
a
in
who
of
kind
collective
artist
found
his
the
creation
of a
freedom
of
subject,
his total self-sufficiency
and self-mastery,
the incommen
that articulated
were
to a belief in
existence
tied
and
of
of
systems
organized
surability
plurality
in the absolute validity
the ultimate universality
of one of those systems,
of one
an
of
and
truth.
This
marked
claim
abso
meaning
group-construction
particular
of truth and authority with the activ
lute break with the past. "The identification
an identifiable
group of human beings had hitherto
ity, theoretical or practical, of
never been maintained
into
Marx's
secular
thinkers."31
by
theory split mankind
two worlds,
in
the universal
what
those who possessed
simply
being
they were,
and hindered
and those who were
left behind
the realization
of the universal

world

Berlin's

Marx

173

to
Since knowledge
and value were bound
of what
they were.
simply because
or
no
communication
these
different
accommodation
between
group practice,
of man as the maker of his
worlds was possible.
By tying the Romantic
conception
own self and maker of his world
to the historical
of modes
evolution
of social or
a
Marx
of
inevitable
that
had
hatred"
ganization,
theory
produced
"historically
wars
in
democratic
Even
all
values.
the
undermined
humane,
completely
religious
had been imagined as a possibility.
of the Middle Ages, conversion
Like National
as a
Berlin
described
Socialist doctrines
of racial determination
(which
actually
mas
translation of Marxism
into racial terms32), Marxist historicism
the
justified
sacre of those not among
moral
and spiritual
the elect; it was an "unparalleled
truth is a terrible new weapon,
for its truth entails
"The Marxist
catastrophe."
are literally expendable."
there are sections of mankind which
This "terrifying vi
not self-consciously
in Marx's
and articulated
texts,
sion," although
recognized
of Marx's enemies or disciples, but a le
Berlin claimed, was not just a construction
of Marx's original theory. The moral recoil
of the implications
gitimate explication
or exaggeration
but on "Marx
from Marxism was not based on amis-recognition
ism itself," on the "real Marx."33 Stalin's Gulags were the legitimate product of the
as self-determination
and mastery
contained with the Marxian
theory of freedom
texts of the 1840s.
an epitome
of all the negative
thus became
ethical and
Isaiah Berlin's Marx
of
both
and
of
the
discourses
Counter
Enlightenment
political
implications
of
Marxian
But
Berlin's
what
the
also
clarified
project
Enlightenment.
analysis
and future. Although
be salvaged
from these traditions
for the present
that
transformed
Marxian
and Hegelian
the
his
rejected
mono-causality
not
he
their
of
toricism into a teleological
did
system,
reject
critique
Enlightenment
on the basis of an historicist
and self-transformative
of
universalism
conception
in two senses. First,
human existence. Human
identities were inherently historical
the particularity
of diverse forms of common
they were always constructed within
in these
of
social
The diversity
traditions, ethnicities,
life,
cultures,
organizations.
not subordinated
to a single teleological
forms was inherent and unreconcilable,
It was not labor or spirit but individual
determinant.
freedom
of choice that
nature
existence.
of
human
The
the
historical,
pluralist
objectification
undergirded
in common
and
of value choices
forms of life could be empirically
examined
was clearly possible
to understand
human values through appro
understood?it
for reconstructing
communicative
and empathetic
methods
priate interpretive
in such historical
the value-choices
embedded
cultures or
cultural systems?but
and inherently diverse.
Individuals were situ
discourses
remained unpredictable
ated in such cultural forms, but never completely
determined
by them. Individual
some
of
involved
self-identification
element
of rationally unpre
processes
always
or transforming
it
inherited cultural forms. And
dictable
choice in assimilating
was
to
the
the
difference
sustained
inherent
choose
by humanity's
ability
precisely

might
Berlin

live by that also sustained Enlightenment


of uni
conceptions
they would
of mankind.
The process of self-fashioning
standards and the brotherhood
and be
that created the incommensurable
human beings
differences
between
ra
tween human communities
became
itself the common element
that sustained
and ethical standards across cultural difference. Difference
tional communication

values
versal

was articulated
became
the sign of identity. Our common
humanity
in the struggle
to create self-identity
and sustain itwithin
communal

precisely
systems of

174

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

were
determined,
shaped, but not ultimately
by
and
cultural
traditions
social
forms.
Freedom,
historically
objective
equality,
or
justice, etc., could be reconstituted
solidarity,
(although never fully harmonized
as
our
and
universal
values
both
of
oth
integrated)
objective
through
knowledge
ers as contextually
of their own identities and stories, and our
shaped self-makers
and story-makers
of them as identity-constructors
like us.
recognition
In 1968, five years after the revisions of his Marx biography,
Berlin applied the
an
own
to
had
from
his
with
he
drawn
Marx
insights
struggle
analysis of Marx's

mutual

struggle

recognition.

for identity.
Marx was

Identities

In the essay

"Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx and the Search for


not so much
from the point of view of the ways
in the Enlightenment
dual
his
inheritance
and
by

Identity,"
approached
inwhich his theory was shaped
of why Marx chose to
traditions, but from the perspective
Counter-Enlightenment
as he
in
and
transform
those
inherited
value-frameworks
shape
particular ways
in terms
his own set of values. Here Berlin saw Marx's development
constructed
as a
choices based on his own insecurities
of negative
of a number
culturally
on
and
his craving for recognition
for the hu
homeless
for compensation
exile,
on his group of historical origin, the first generation
miliating wounds
perpetrated
in
central Europe.34 Unlike Moses Hess, Marx could not ac
of emancipated
Jews
life which was his traditional
inheritance,
cept the values that framed the common
and this gravely
Those who

are born

members

it, and

of

his social perceptions:

distorted

look

in the social
it as

upon

security
their

of a settled

natural

of social reality; to see public life in a reasonably


escape

into

political

fantasy

or

romantic

home,

tend

society,
to have

and remain
a

stronger

just perspective, without

full
sense

the need to

invention.35

the cultural pluralism


of the historical
Instead of recognizing
reality into which his
had thrown him, and building his mature
self on the firm ground of the
and conflicted)
that had been given to him within
attenuated
identity (however
in
of his birth, Marx chose to create a new, completely
the cultural community
in
that
disavowed
rather
vented
self that could secure self-mastery
only
fantasy,
the doubts
than built on the identities he had inherited. To destroy within himself
of his own Jewish origins, Marx built a theory that made
about the importance
evanescent
The intensity and ex
phenomena.
ethnicity,
religion, and nationality
of
of
the
intellectual
inheritances
of
and
Marx's
Enlightenment
clusivity
remaking
a meta-narrative
into
of
heroic
self-determination
group
Counter-Enlightenment
and the freedom of choice on
difference
all historical
reduced and assimilated
situation

to be empirical or "objective" required


which difference was grounded. However,
a
as
a sense of human
the activity of human beings
that
embodied
reality
reality
as culturally
but not fully determined
contextualized
agents of their own values
an unempiri
was thus ultimately
in
Berlin's
and identities. Marx's
view,
theory,
human
that
the objective
existence
disavowed
of
cal and subjective
explanation
as
to
act
and
the
of
diverse
of
individuals
free agents
cultural
forms
ability
reality
in transforming
and those forms, a theory of the type whose
both themselves
func
to describe or analyze reality, but rather more to comfort,
tion was "not primarily
a
for defeat and weakness,
resolution,
generate
compensate
fighting
strengthen
in
Marxian
the
the
authors
of
doctrines
themselves."36
theory
spirit, principally
was a historically
of a world
and sustained
that reproduced
situated construction
a particular
kind of choice of personal
and sociocultural
Berlin's
identity.
from
of Marx, we might
similar
construction
suffered
characteristics,
suggest,

Berlin's

Marx

175

by different values. Berlin's Marx was inmany ways a vehicle for


of his own moral positions
and historical
identity and should be
as
as the story it tells
it
much
the
tells
for
about
Isaiah
Berlin
read, perhaps,
story
about Karl Marx.
though guided
the construction

Notes
1. Michael

Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (New York: Henry Holt, 1998), p. 71. See
also p. 70: "To write about Marx was to join the swim of the major ideological
current of his age and to take the measure
of the challenge
that it represented
to his own inchoate liberal
allegiances."

2. "The Purpose
Essays, edited

of Philosophy"
(1962), Concepts and Categories: Philosophical
by Henry Hardy and with an introduction
by Bernard Williams
is to a large
(London: Hogarth,
1978), p. 9: "Its (philosophy's)
subject matter
are viewed,
in which
but the ways
the
degree not items of experience,
they
or semi-permanent
in which
is
conceived
permanent
categories
experience
and classified."
3. Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment
(London: T. Butterworth,
1939), p. 249.
4. Berlin, Marx
(1939), pp. 41,42,49.
5. Berlin, Marx
to a
(1939), pp. 40ff, but especially
pp. 43-4. In his introduction
in 1956 (The Age of
texts published
selection of Enlightenment
Enlightenment:
The Eighteenth Century Philosophers, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1956, pp.
the Enlightenment
in terms of the reduction
of
11-29), Berlin characterized
about
the
conditions
statements
of
questions
philosophical
(meta-questions
and value) to formal and empirical
about meaning
"sci
(i.e., unphilosophical)
entific" questions, which produced
the illusion that all questions
could even
tually find single answers.
6. Berlin, Marx
(1939), p. 77
7. Berlin, Marx
the concept of the personal
char
(1939), p. 54: "Hegel transferred
acter of the individual which gradually
aman's
unfolds
itself throughout
life
to the case of entire cultures and nations, he referred to it
as
Idea
the
variously
or Spirit, distinguished
and pronounced
it to be the mo
stages in its evolution
factor in the development
of specific peoples
and civilizations
tive, dynamic
as a whole."
and so of the sentient world
8. Berlin, Marx
60.
(1939), p.
9. Berlin, Marx
(1939), p. 79.
10. Berlin, Marx
(1939), p. 87.
11. Berlin, Marx
(1939), pp. 117-34.
12. Berlin, Marx
(1939), p. 133.
13. Berlin, Marx
(1939), p. 134.
14. Berlin, Marx
(1939), p. 136.
15. In "The Romantic
A Crisis
in the History
Revolution:
of Thought"
(1960),
in
The
Sense
Isaiah
in
Ideas
Studies
and their History,
Berlin,
printed
of Reality:
edited by Henry Hardy and introduced by Patrick Gardiner
(London: Chatto
and Windus,
Berlin
"The
German
historical
1996), pp. 172-3,
distinguished
school" which
included Herder
and Savigny as well as Edmund Burke, from
Romanticists
con
the ideal of the ultimate
proper because
they maintained
some
of
in
historical
and
cultural
difference
vast
harmonious
vergence
unity.

176

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

16. Berlin, "Historical


(1954) in Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (Ox
Inevitability"
ford: Oxford University
Press, 1969), p. 51.
17. Berlin, "Historical
p. 79.
Inevitability,"
18. Berlin, "Historical
p. 53.
Inevitability,"
in Berlin, The Sense of Reality,
19. Berlin, "The Sense of Reality"
(1953), printed
1-39.
pp.
20. Berlin, "Two Concepts
of Liberty"
(1958), in Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, p.
or at any rate to
in the
131: "The desire to be governed
participate
by myself,
a
as
a
as
which
life
is
controlled
be
wish
that
of
free
my
may
process by
deep
area for action, and perhaps historically
older." In 1958 Berlin claimed that this
idea of "positive
freedom" "rules over half our world."
21. Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment,
3rd ed., (New York: Oxford Uni
new
are inserted on pp. 127-34.
130.
The
passages
versity Press, 1963) p.
22. Berlin, Marx
130.
(1963), p.
23. Berlin, Marx
(1963), p. 131.
24. Berlin, Marx
25. Berlin, Marx
26. Berlin, Marx
27. Berlin, Marx
28. Berlin, Marx
29.

(1963), pp. 136-43.


(1963), p. 137.
(1963), p. 139.

(1963), p. 139.
(1963), p. 143.
In "Two Concepts
of Liberty"
their own vitalistic
substituted

and Marx
(1958), Berlin stated: "Herder, Hegel
models
of social life for the older, mechanical
no less than their opponents,
that to understand
the world
ones, but believed,
from them in stressing
the part played by
is to be free. They merely
differed
in what made human beings human"
(p. 142).
change and growth
in The Sense of Reality, pp. 116-67.
30. Printed

in the Nineteenth
31. Berlin, "Marxism and the International
p. 120.
Century,"
and the International
in the Nineteenth
32. Berlin, "Marxism
p. 139:
Century,"
into
cannot
this
the
elect
and
the
who
"When
evil
separation
was
our
in
into
it
translated
themselves
racial
terms,
led,
century, to an
help
enormous
massacre?a
in
and spiritual
moral
catastrophe
unparalleled
human history."
in the Nineteenth
33. Berlin, "Marxism and the International
pp. 139,
Century,"
141.
34. Berlin, "Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx and the Search for Identity," Against
the
in the History of Ideas, edited by Henry Hardy,
Introduced
by
crav
(New York: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 259, where Marx's
as "an effort to escape from the weakness
is analyzed
and
ing for recognition
or wounded
humiliation
social group by identifying
oneself
of the depressed
with some other group or movement
that is free from the defects of one's orig
an
in
inal condition:
and that
attempt to acquire a new personality,
consisting
a
a
new
new
new
set
set
with
of
of
which
it,
habits,
values,
goes
clothing,
on the old scars left by the
armour which does not press upon the old wounds,
Current: Essays
Roger Hausheer

chains

35. Berlin,
36. Berlin,

one

wore

"Benjamin
"Benjamin

as

a slave."

Disraeli,
Disraeli,

Karl Marx,
Karl Marx,

and The Search


and The Search

for Identity,"
for Identity,"

p. 258
p. 286.

Ssaiah

??erlin, Alexander
and Russia's
Elusive

Herzen,
Counter-

Enlightenment

Michael Confino

were
The Enlightenment
and the Counter-Enlightenment
complex phenomena
and nineteenth-century
left their mark on eighteenthEuropean
thought
and culture. They become even more intricate subjects of study when
linked to the
context of intellectual
seem that
life in Russia at the time. On the surface, itmight
there is little scope for such a topic, given the major differences
between Western

which

and Russia
associated
normally
Europe

I. Russian

and given
the latter's seeming
lack of concepts
and ideas
with these two great constellations
of European
thought.

peculiarities?

such an impression? With


scholars, whatever
Why
regard to Western
Europe,
and interpretations,
on the termi
their approaches
are, more or less, in agreement
nus a quo of the Enlightenment
and on the main
tenets of its beliefs and theories.
a shared
There
of the
is, to say the least, a common
ground,
understanding
as
not
the
of
differences
of
for
essentials,
to,
instance,
regardless
negligible
opinion
was "a movement,"
as Isaiah Berlin assumed,
or an
whether
the Enlightenment
a wide
of
of
ideas
and
called
for
range
assemblage
together
lumped
assume
convenience's
sake "Enlightenment."
most
scholars
that
the
Similarly,
Counter-Enlightenment

was

counter-ideology,

or a counter-movement;

in either

case

its basic ideas within


certain agreed-upon
they succeed in outlining
temporal
and theoretical
this conceptual
limits. Finally,
it
unity would
prevail
(although
one
as
be
if
I
term
that
the
"Counter
considers,
do,
shaken)
might
seriously
a convenient
a
is essentially
and elegant metaphor
Enlightenment"
signifying
even
set
on
and
sometimes
of
thinkers
and
or,
connected,
ideas;
loosely
opposed,
the contrary, if one believes
that this is a powerful
paradigm which
imposes order
and hierarchy on the intricate taxonomy of the eighteenthand nineteenth-century
Western world of ideas and ideologies.1
But when we turn to the Russian
to these preliminary
scene, the answers
no
an
is
there
that
sufficient
basis
for
examination
of the "En
questions
suggest
we know
in
view
of
what
lightenment/Counter-Enlightenment"
problematic

177

178

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

life in Russia, and the course of its history of


about the parameters
of intellectual
ideas. This is not to say, of course, that Russia
is and has always been sui generis.
re
That attractive but worn-out
notion has been disproved
by extensive historical
sui
search and empirical
evidence.
discrete,
By definition,
generis entities?being
not comparable
to any other, yet we know that in all
unique, and unrepeated?are
areas of historical
and scholarly
stands the test of
development
enquiry Russia
In
with
the
other
countries.
this
European
comparability
regard Berlin's writings
on Russia
it
not
demonstrate
and
that
time
is
sui generis, but rather
again
brilliantly
to
and
and
the
to,
in,
events, the currents
Europe,
belongs
participated
responded
of ideas, and "the spirit of the times," that reigned in Europe at any given moment.
In his view Russia was not "aworld apart" (asMichael
Ignatieff interprets Berlin's
nor a different
the other European
countries. On the
species vis-?-vis
opinion),2
a
coun
and
with
Russia
shared
basic
other
contrary,
unity
European
commonality
same
own
at
its
had
tries and,
the
national and religious peculiar
time, like them,
ities and differences.
a
On this subject, there is nowadays
revival of the metaphysical
stereo
puzzling
russe
of old?now
often referred to with trendy
type of the "Russian soul"?l'?me
or the "bur
terms such as the "Russian cultural heritage,"
the "Russian mentality,"
It is the "Russian soul" that supposedly
den of history."
explains why "Russia is
so different."
It is the root cause of why,
for instance, Russia cannot have amarket
a democratic
economy,
r?gime, or a civil society. "Russian culture," like "culture"
tout court, is one of many
that are increasingly
used and badly misused,
concepts
at
too
and
all.
which
much
should
be treated with caution,
explain
nothing
They
like "race," "genes," "national
for they are often used in lieu of specious notions
character," and the like: such usage marks a cultural U-turn which, paradoxically,
is leading back to such utterly discredited
and reactionary pseudo-explanations.
"L'?me russe et ses myst?res": in a kind of parody of eternal return, fin-de-si?cle
themselves
after a hundred-year
fashions are repeating
interval, this time with no
Ballets Russes or Rasputins
around to serve as alibis. But even if some aspects of
state of Russia's
and society are more
the present
reminiscent
of Al
economy
times than of John Maynard
after
Keynes'
theory, it is not the Russians,
or
the
invented
the Mafia
borrowed
word)
system (although
they
jungle
a human face). True, Russia's
economic
devel
(i.e., capitalism without
capitalism
or not?
business management
wizards
inspired by Harvard
opment?whether
reminds one at times of the raw, early capitalism described by Karl Marx and bol

Capone's
all, who

stered now by the current globalization.


in this; other countries
have trodden
hypothesis

the "Russian

soul" clich?

II. An Eighteenth-century

But there is nothing peculiarly


Russian
this path before,
and as an explanatory
is less than adequate.

Russian

Enlightenment?

was indeed dif


"a world
In the eighteenth
century
apart," but it
same
can
in Russia the reason was
be said of the Enlightenment
ferent; and if the
or
not its sui generis quality
"Russian soul." In short, no matter
the unfathomable
no
in Russia.3 To
such phenomenon
how one defines the Enlightenment,
appeared
a handful
there were
of enlightened
be sure, in the eighteenth
century
people,
Alexander
Alexander
them Catherine
II, Nikolai
Novikov,
Radishchev,
among
in the sense that Berlin
Betskoi, and some others, but there was no "movement"
Russia was

not

Berlin,

and Russia's

Herzen,

Elusive

179

Counter-Enlightenment

this term. Logically,


then, one might be inclined to say: no Enlightenment,
no
Yet
this
is not necessarily
the case.
Counter-Enlightenment.
one
is
not
that
how
this
could
have
there
been
so, and
Indeed,
possibility
explains
that a Russian Counter-Enlightenment
could have existed, namely,
that it devel
inWestern
oped as a reaction to the Enlightenment
Europe. This is neither an idle
nor
as
in
events
counterfactual
Russia,
elsewhere,
exogeneous
hypothesis
fancy:
and ideas have often generated
of
schools
indigenous movements,
thought and
a Russian
is
not
it
that
have
there
been
Thus,
ideologies.
impossible
might
a Russian
without
Counter-Enlightenment
Enlightenment.
a
The late Alexander
Gerschenkron,
good friend and admirer of Isaiah Berlin,
to the "advantages
such a development
would perhaps have attributed
(or disad
a
of backwardness,"
But in the
elaborated.4
concept he magisterially
vantages)
educated
century this did not occur. At that time, Russian
eighteenth
society's
in
interest
the ideas of the philosophes created lively conversations
and a certain de
a flow of
mand
for foreign books and publications
(thus generating
import dues
for Catherine's
customs); but in practical terms, in "real life," this interest came to
The main reason for the impracticality
of the Enlighten
naught and led nowhere.
ment
in Russia was
the widespread
conviction
that its otherwise
lofty and ad
in that country (at least?as
mirable
ideas were not applicable
the clich? goes?not
"for the time being"), and that they had no practical
role in the "cursed Russian
and
serfdom.
in
This
illustrated
by autocracy
reality" epitomized
point is well
of Herzen's
Berlin's description
father:
used

hence

Shrewd,

and

honourable,

neither

in

Prince

Bolkonsky
Tolstoy's
a
recollections
self-lacerating,

his

household

windows
and

his

locked,
own

with

unfeeling
and Peace,

grim,

shut-in,

his whims

the blinds

brothers,

War

saw

and

permanently
virtually

nobody.

nor

a 'difficult'
character
like old
unjust,
Ivan Yakovlev
from
his
son's
emerges
half
frozen
human
who
terrorised
being,

sarcasm.

his
drawn,

and,

In later

He

years

kept
from

apart
his

son

all doors
a few

old

described

and

friends
him

as

the product of the 'encounter of two such incompatible things as the [western] eigh
teenth century and Russian life'?a collision of cultures that had destroyed a good
many among the more sensitive members of the Russian gentry in the reigns of
Catherine

II and

her

successors.5

In addition,
the philosophes' advocacy
of "enlightened
had in Russia a
despotism"
was
rather paradoxical
which
effect, condoning
any
very palpable
despotism,
to some distant future. Additional
circum
way, and postponing
enlightenment
stances which
to endorse
seemed
this state of affairs included,
for instance,
visit to St. Petersburg
Diderot's
and his long (and well publicized)
conversations
with Catherine
with Voltaire, whose
II; the latter's assiduous
correspondance
letters to her are a model
and
of obsequiousness;
Catherine's
public "confession"
to having
"plagiarized
(j'ai pill? sans vergogne) Montesquieu's
shamelessly"
Esprit
des lois inwriting her new Code of Laws, the Nakaz of 1767 (which in any case was
never put into
These and other public
were
relations moves
practice).6
quite
had a flair for public relations management
and for make
successful; Catherine
believe
(whether the philosophes really believed her or not is an open question, but
"as if"), and her success
in this respect
behaved
in
they
greatly mitigated
Russia the radical, humanistic,
and revolutionary
elements of the Enlightenment.
After
1789 Catherine?together
with most
of Russian
educated
society?
the
French
that
"monstrous
of perverse
child
and
Revolution,
repudiated

180

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

subversive
Prussia
vantage
swallow

but while
she energetically
teachings,"
to wipe out the "Jacobin pest"
and Austria
of the fact that their armies were positioned

the kings of
encouraged
in Paris, she herself
took ad
in
to
order
France,
against
was
that
she
pretending
routing

territory,
large chunks of Polish
...Warsaw
in
the Second and Third Partitions
of
Jacobinism
(!), thus orchestrating
and diverting
Prussia's
and Austria's
attention
from the battle against
Poland
was more
to the spoils
in Poland.
Russia's
France
than
expansion
important
up

of Polish
Thus, Finis Poloniae and the eradication
fighting French revolutionaries.
a fact of life for 125 years, and Jacobinism
a
certain
became
(to
independence
was to haunt Europe for the next two hun
extent because of Catherine's
strategy)
to everybody's
dred years, until Fran?ois Furet announced
relief: "la R?volution
one more
est
Mikhail
and
Gorbachev
about
termin?e,"
Fran?aise
brought
tangible
it.
of
proof

III. The Decembrists


came in the
cen
The following
stage of intellectual development
early nineteenth
a
was
the
of
reaction
what
and
tury
against
represented
strengthening
perceived
as the result of Enlightenment
ideas: the Revolution's
the execution
of
excesses,
of the nobility,
and fi
Louis XVI, the abolition of the monarchy,
the persecution
was
The court historian Nikolai
Karamzin
the
nally the rise of "Buonaparte."
a
sans
once
of
the
of
of
Parisian
mood:
this change
culottes,
epitome
sympathizer
to
le talent en moins. The opposition
he became a kind of Russian Chateaubriand,
was moral
these developments
(because of the Jacobin Terror), social (because ed
was
in
of noble rank and had a sense of
Russia
almost exclusively
ucated society
and finally, political
and nationalistic
the French aristocracy),
solidarity with
born during
sentiments
the wars
of the strong anti-French
(because
against
was a sort
In a way,
and psychological
this intellectual
phenomenon
Napoleon).
but one that obviously
bears no relation to that
of bastard Counter-Enlightenment,
in
discussed
this volume.
new political
A qualitatively
and ideological
occurred with
the
development
secret societies
of the Decembrists'
from 1814 onward up until their
formation
I in December
the
unsuccesful
rebellion against Nicholas
1825, when he ascended
I. Strictly speaking, however,
the Decembrists
throne with the death of Alexander
were not disciples
of the philosophes. They disagreed with many of their concep
and ideological
and rejected
the political
tions and theories,
path that led to
rise to power and "despotic
regime."
Napoleon's
in Soviet historiography
have argued
scholars and specialists
Several Western
were
followers of the Encyclopedists,
and that they
that most of the Decembrists
were influenced by the revolutionary
movement
in France and in other countries.
ideas from their foreign tu
The Decembrists
did indeed acquire some enlightened
tors (mainly Frenchmen)
and from foreign books, but the authors who
caught
their attention were Adam Smith, Condorcet,
Beccaria, Ben
Benjamin Constant,
exactly propo
Say, Jeremy Bentham,
Byron?not
Jean-Baptiste
jamin Franklin,
nents of the Jacobin type of catechism.7
the Decembrists
had travelled
abroad
Like other young Russian
noblemen
were exposed
to
and studied in foreign universities
where
Western
the
latest
they
But their universities
fashions.
of choice?Leipzig,
intellectual
European

Berlin,

Herzen,

and Russia's

Elusive

181

Counter-Enlightenment

not hotbeds of
Berlin, and K?nigsberg?were
G?ttingen,
Strassburg,
Heidelberg,
It is typical that in Pushkin's
the
radical thought.
Eugene Onegin
protagonist
a course of studies at G?ttingen
and, inspired
Lensky returns to his estate after
to alleviate
the burden of his
ideas acquired
there, decides
by the enlightened
to
treat
to free them, as one might
but
them
less harshly and
serfs?not
expect,
more humanely.
than these studies abroad (which were in a sense part of
Much more influential
were the Russian
the customary
abroad. Many
campaigns
Army's
"grand tour"),
and
the military
had served as officers during the Napoleonic
Decembrists
wars,
across
tense
and
these
them to
years brought
Europe during
campaigns
long
the Berezina, Leipzig, and to the heart of Paris, where
Austerlitz,
Friedland,
they
on
made
the
(the wide park that extends
camp
Champ de Mars
today from the
to the Eiffel Tower). Victorious,
Ecole Militaire
they then returned all the way
in contact
these army officers
home through Europe. That long march brought
strata of society, quite different
and wider
with foreign peoples
from their closed
in Russia and in G?ttingen.
It upset many of their notions and led
nobiliary milieu
and of managing
them to discover new ways of life, of behavior,
public affairs. At
same
the
time, the ethos of war, the ordeals of battle, and hatred of the enemy,
even nationalistic,
attitude. At the end of it
created a strong national,
Napoleon,
as
returned home
"national liberals," for lack of a better term.
all, the Decembrists
that characterizes
It is this existential mindset
and not some
them collectively,
vague links to the Enlightenment.
In the Decembrists'
intellectual
the existential
formation and mentality
dimen
than were abstract ideas and philosophical
sion was of much more consequence
soldiers was different
from that
theories. Their "grand tour" in Europe as Russian
as part of the traditional
undertaken
noblemen
?ducation
young
usually
by
sentimentale. At the end of the journey their return home was ecstatic. Here is how
Pushkin, who had several
in the "Snowstorm":

tory:
talked
their

The
'Vive

people
Henri

among
gaily
conversation.

were

ended. Our regiments were

to meet

running

Quatre,'

Tyrolean

their homecoming,

them, describes

among

the war had been gloriously

Meanwhile
abroad.

close friends

them.

waltzes,

themselves,
continually
A never-to-be-forgotten

The

bands

airs

from

mingling
time.

were

returning from

playing

'Joconda'
and
German

of vic
songs
... The
soldiers

French

words

in

Russian
soldiers and officers had seen in Europe more civility, more justice, more
that Russia would
freedom. This is what many
of them hoped
adopt after these
wars.
not
to
did
turned
When
this
their
disappointment,
transpire,
glorious
hopes
and anger, and finally to the uprising
then to frustration
against the regime on
14 December
1825. But their rebellion was first and foremost an existential
one, a
rebellion of men
tones (everything

of action, not of thinkers. Certainly,


it had philosophical
under
in that d?but de si?cle) and some
had "philosophical
undertones"
it was more
than
ideas, but essentially
enlightened
psychological
were rebels, as Albert Camus conceived
The Decembrists
this notion,

disparate
ideological.
not revolutionaries.
They thought of reforms, and they wanted
in 1826 from his jail to Nicholas
I:
them wrote
After
give

the end of the Napoleonic


his

attention

to questions

wars we were
of home

government.

all hoping
We

were

change. As one of

that the Emperor would


impatiently

expecting

182

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

a constitution
passed

They

and

and
nothing

a reform
has

then attempted

of

been

the

law

changed

change

through

courts.
except

What

have

the

colour

insurrection.

we

seen?

of our

They

Twelve

years

have

uniforms.

failed, but

their

legacy

endured.

were not, as some historians


The Decembrists
think, a "proto-intelligentsia,"
rise
the
famed
and
turbulent
immanent
of
Russian
the
heralding
intelligentsia.8
were
were
nor were
not
not
intellectuals;
army officers,
They
they
intelligenty,
they
hommes de lettres, with the exception
of the poet Ryleev and the generous
dreamer
more
men
The remaining
than one hundred
sentenced
K?chelbecker.
by
were
courts?five
of whom
Nicholas's
(unreformed)
hanged and the rest exiled to
some of them were well-educated
Siberia?were
and
soldiers, although
primarily
were profes
in philosophy,
well-versed
history and literature. Nevertheless,
they
not "pupils of the Enlightenment."
If so, what
sional soldiers, not intellectuals,
and of the Counter-En
makes
them relevant to the search of the Enlightenment
lightenment

in Russia?

IV. The next stage: Herzen

and friends

Past and Thoughts, a young Alexander


Herzen writes
that his
events
dated
from
the
the
Decembrists'
political awakening
surrounding
uprising
and its aftermath, which
left a deep imprint on him and on his lifelong friend
Nikolai Ogarev.9 This holds true for other eminent people of Herzen's
generation,
and leads to the third intellectual development
relevant to the search for a Russian
and Counter-Enlightenment.
Enlightenment
In his memoirs,

My

It takes place in the 1830s and 1840s, which


include the well known
"remark
on center stage Alexander
there appeared
able decade,"10 when
Ivan
Herzen,
Vissarion
Mikhail
Bakunin, Nikolai
Stankevich,
Turgenev,
Belinsky,
Ogarev,
as well as the influential
Timofei Granovsky,
and not less original group,
the
one
in
In
of
the
that
from
fact,
gets
Slavophiles.
spite
impression
history books, the
not
be
with
should
confused
the
included an array
(who
Panslavists)
Slavophiles
of powerful
and
of
scholars
and
personalities
philosophy,
history,
ethnography,
Ivan
the
and
Ivan
Aleksei
brothers
Konstantin
Khomiakov,
Aksakov,
theology:
and others.11
Iurii Samarin, Alexander
Koshelev,
Kireevsky,
in a Counter-Enlightenment
the most
movement
Logically,
likely participants
in Russia should have been the Slavophiles:
bred by German Romanticism,
they
an ensemble
were
re
of organicists,
and explicitly
conservatives,
evolutionists,
of the eighteenth-century
and universalism
jected the rationalism
Enlightenment.
But what may seem logically sound turns out to be historically wrong,
for in spite
the Slavophiles
did not espouse
of these similarities,
the main
ideas usually
even
to the Counter-Enlightenment,
and were
to
attributed
strongly
opposed
core
were
a
not
the
of its Weltanschauung.
of
Russian
representatives
They
no one but themselves,
and in fact they represented
for,
Counter-Enlightenment,
... is
as Walicki
doctrine
intractable to
aptly pointed out, "Slavophile
particularly
... traditional
classifications
intellectual
by
taxonomy"12
This being the case, one must ask whether
there were other possible
represen
as some
tatives
in Russia?
of Counter-Enlightenment
Is Herzen,
scholars
a
the
Russian
for
thinker?
candidate
One
missing
imply,
Counter-Enlightenment
on Berlin's conception
commentator
writes:
of Counter-Enlightenment

Berlin,
Berlin's

and Russia's

Herzen,

intellectual

Vico,

Johann

are

heroes

schauung from within

those

Elusive
thinkers

Herder,

Johann

who

183
Weltan

pluralist

it: Giambattista

and against
or Alexander

Hamman

Georg

formulated

movement

the Enlightenment

Gottfried

Counter-Enlightenment

... In

Herzen

spite of the considerable differences between them, these thinkers and others, whom
were united in the
to the "Counter-Enlightenment,"
Berlin defines as belonging
that

assumption
for

of man

the sciences

the object

ences,

of

their

are different

in their

essence

one more

not

enquiry?man?is

from
atom

to fixed physical attributes of its nature and thematerial needs


but

and

also,

above

all,

acting

out

of spiritual

yearnings

and

the natural

acting

sci

according

that ensue from them,


cultural

traditions.13

This

invites two remarks. First, Berlin's assumption


that
interesting
interpretation
cor
the sciences of man are different
from the natural sciences, although basically
as a basis for
or for
the Counter-Enlightenment
rect, seems insufficient
defining
more
a
set
that matter,
coherent
of
ideas
bound
other
than
few
any
general
by

I would
to include Herzen
in this company
hesitate
of
propositions.
Secondly,
and therefore could not have
thinkers, for he did not belong to the Enlightenment,
it "from within."
been against
Before explaining
this proposition,
let me add
as "belonging
that Isaiah Berlin, so it seems, never defined Herzen
to the Counter
and I have found only one instance in Berlin's writings
where
Enlightenment,"
ismentioned
in the company
Herzen
of Vico and Herder.
It appears in the essay
"The Pursuit of the Ideal," and it reads as follows:
If the old perennial belief in the possibility of realising ultimate harmony is a fallacy,
and the positions of the thinkers I have appealed to?Machiavelli,
Vico, Herder,
Herzen?are
cannot

valid,
live

then,

ifwe

allow

even

that Great

others
though
as well
as in
in
thing,
principle
practice?and
a
of mutually
exclusive
choices:
variety
together,

asked, "What is to be done?" How


how

What

much

must

we

sacrifice

to what?

Goods

can?in

do we
There

short,
if human

then,

as

can

collide,

that

one

cannot

that

may

creativity

and

Chernyshevsky

choose between
is, it seems

some

of

have

them
every

depend
Lenin

possibilities? What

to me,

no

clear

upon
once

and

reply.14

can we

learn from this quotation,


its context and, for that matter,
from the
on
whole
of
I believe
Berlin's
Russia
and on Herzen?
that
corpus
writings
Herzen?whom
Isaiah Berlin admired
and with whom
than
he identified more
about?stood
any other thinker he wrote
high in Berlin's esteem on account of
four major positions which Herzen
adhered to: the notion of individual
gradually
to
the
the
refusal
sacrifice
for
the
future; the rejection of great mag
present
liberty;
a
nificent
and
about
the
and value of abstract
abstractions,
skepticism
meaning
sense of
ideas as such15; and, finally, Herzen's
will
examine below their
reality.161
on
role in defining Herzen's
the
of
the age, after a few
spectrum
place
ideological
remarks on the historical
and intellectual background
of the formation of ideas in

Herzen's

time.

In terms of both temperament


and theoretical works, Herzen was a thinker who
came close to the kind of radical
Isaiah Berlin has expounded?
pluralism which
or
most
of
his
As
with all the members
of the
writings.
explicitly
implicitly?in
source
Moscow
and
the
the
of
chief philosophical
too,
Circles,
Slavophiles
was
were
Herzen's
His
intellectual
at
formation
theories
debated
Hegel.
length
both in private meetings,
and in public,
for instance at Mme. Elagina's
salon lit
of the Slavophiles.
the many episodes
recounted
t?raire, the headquarters
Among
was
friends
Herzen's
the story of how hard Bakunin
toiled in translating
and
by
texts for Belinsky who did not read German.
his
annotating Hegel's
Incidentally,

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

184

one of the reasons for Bakunin's mastery


of Hegel's
critique de texte is perhaps
on
to
account
is
that
Marx
have
and
said
that
the
ideas,
thought
only redeeming
(whom he deeply hated) was that he was one of the few peo
quality of Bakunin
the
century who really understood
ple in the nineteenth
Hegel.
(Notwithstanding
a constant fixture in his Weltan
hatred
of
Marx
remained
Bakunin's
compliment,
a sort of chain reaction?a
it also engendered?by
schauung-, unfortunately
persis
tent and deplorable
and anti-Semitism.)
anti-Germanism
In spite of having
such a gifted teacher, Belinsky
(unlike Herzen)
got Hegel's
and at a certain point he conceived
dialectics muddled
the (erroneous)
idea that
real is ideal. This confusion
led to his
ideal is real, and that everything
everything
notorious?but
tenet, as he

short-lived?"crisis
of conscience"
since Hegel's
(in 1840-1842),
meant
that
all
the
it,
miseries,
oppression,
interpreted
"political orgies"
and corruption
of Nicholas
I's autocratic
(as he put it later in a letter to Bakunin)
a
were
and
the
the
"rational
and ideal
serfdom
of
peasantry
regime
political
was
some
For
Herzen
this
and
had
harsh
he
nonsense,
dangerous
reality."17
re
words both for Bakunin and Belinsky. The latter, after painful
soul-searching,
with
announced
his "reconciliation
distanced
himself
from
canted,
reality,"
he now called "the German book"?and
theories?which
ceased spinning
Hegel's
to revolu
his attention was
drawn
"the German web." Thereafter,
increasingly
a
on
and
like
he
of
embarked,
Herzen,
Proudhon,
Fourier,
tionary thought,
study
and Louis Blanc.
Saint-Simon,
Herzen himself was at no time an orthodox Hegelian,
neither of the
However,
serious (Marx and Bakunin) brand, nor of Belinsky's
tragicomic variety. As, with
all the ideas he came across in the course of his life, he transformed
Hegel's
his own, mixing
into something
them with other (different
doctrines
peculiarly
to form his particular Weltanschauung
and often contradictory)
blend. As
views
took from thinkers such as Hegel, George
Isaiah Berlin aptly remarked: Herzen
and the others just "what he needed,
it into
and poured
Sand, Fourier, Proudhon,
the

torrent

vehement

of

own

his

wrote

Herzen

In

experience."18

his memoirs,

"almost

any

adds

case,

when

Berlin,

all traces of Hegelian

influence

eventually
[were] gone."19
is that out of the philosophical
The important point in Berlin's analysis
Tower
it into the ... tor
and poured
of Babel of his time Herzen
"took what he needed,
in the formation
rent of his own experience."
Life experience was thus paramount
to existential
of Herzen's
connected
issues.
ideas, for they were always intimately
of Herzen's
The centrality of existential
factors in the formation
ideas explains
over time
and fluctuations
of his views
the changes
also, to a certain extent,
to the next in connection
with his personal
and political
and from one period
There is a concrete example of this point in Berlin's explanation
life-experiences.
commune
in
the Russian
attitude
toward
of Herzen's
(formulated
peasant
to
to
and
attributed
the
of
letter
Herzen's
influence
Jules Michelet,
open
usually
to the Romantic Zeitgeist, or to Counter-Enlightenment
Herder,
tenets):
...

in exile,

[While

member
native

of

outward

peace,

followed

by

whelming,

a life
long

filled

periods

omnivorous,

the

life

an

of

and more

specifically
a settled
existence

to achieve

unable

soil,

lived

Herzen]

the Russian,

with

occasional

of misery,
bitter

nostalgia.

affluent,
Moscow,
or even

Itmay

of hope
self-criticism

be

this,

of

as much

and
and
as

even
most
objective

letters,
from

gentry,
uprooted
the semblance
of

moments

corrosive

man

well-born

his

inward
exultation,

of

all

over

reasons,

or

Berlin,
that

to

him

caused

the

central

and Russia's

Herzen,
idealise

question
the oppressor
of both
commune.
He
peasant

humanisation
the Russian

to dream
and
that the answer
peasant,
of growing
inequality,
exploitation,
in the preservation
and
the oppressed?lay

time?that

in it the

perceived
socialism.20

semi-anarchist

non-industrial,

185

Counter-Enlightenment

to

the Russian
of his

'social'

Elusive

of

seeds

de
of
of a

the development

In other words,
in the formation of this major aspect of Herzen's worldview?the
earned him the title of "father of Russian
commune?which
socialism,"
peasant
so
in
that is, "populism," which
Isaiah Berlin described
his
introduction
brilliantly
to Franco Venturi's
II populismo russo,21 the role played by personal
circumstances
was much greater than any supposed
influence of Herder
and Romanticism.
him so
between Herzen's
life and ideas is what makes
connection
so in
and
his
blend
of
and
renders
different,
"particular
Weltanschauung"
original
was
was
not
He
sui
but
he
tractable for classification
purposes.
generis,
unique; he
was not individualistic,
to say that
him
but he had an anarchistic
which
led
streak,
in aminority
he felt good only when he found himself
of one?another
expression
cannot be
For this reason Herzen's Weltanschauung
of the feature of uniqueness.
as either an offshoot of the
or as a representative
of the
classified
Enlightenment
was both and neither. Given
it
la
limite
this
?
Counter-Enlightenment.
paradox
Sir
Berlin was right in saying that "Herzen is neither consistent nor systematic."22
it as a reproach, and he may have seen in it a trait common
to
Isaiah did not mean
a point to which
Iwill return below.
and himself,
Herzen
or to the
to the Enlightenment
The question
of whether
Herzen
belonged
some
to
bears
another
vexed
issue, namely,
Counter-Enlightenment
similarity
was Berlin himself a fox or a hedgehog? Whoever
in answering
succeeds
the one
a
one
to
hold
clue
with
the
other.
the
also
has
Indeed,
may
regard
impression
This

close

that very often inwriting


indicating how he would

about Herzen Berlin


like to be perceived

a brilliant
and
[H]e was
irrepressible
and
from
the waste,
images;
immense:
he had no Boswell
and no
ideas

he

a man

form

of

heightened
gressions
memory
argument;

who

would

talk, with

have

the vices

point
Eckermann

suffered
and

...

talker
the

such

virtues

tones

is speaking
by others:
always
of view

in an

overwhelming
...
of posterity
to record
his conversation,

probably
nor was

His

and exaggerations
of
into a network
themselves
carry him
or
but
to the main
stream
of
returning
speculation,
always
but above
has
the vitality
of spoken
words.23
all, his prose
which

of

flow
is

a
is essentially
prose
liable
to the
spontaneous,
to resist
unable
long di
of intersecting
of
tributaries

relationship.
talk: eloquent,
the born
story-teller,
of

or at least

about himself,

the

story

or

the

is not a description
of Sir Isaiah, as those who knew him might
an excerpt from his
but
rather
Similar
assume,
portrait of Herzen.
immediately
in Berlin's writings,
abound
and I wonder
if in some of them
passages
was
Sir Isaiah was providing
food for the thought that he, perhaps unconsciously,
himself.
depicting

The above

citation

V. Three

stages

in the formation

of Herzen's

worldview

of Herzen's
noted, it is no easy task to give a rigorous definition
more
once
in
than
his
which
shifted
lifetime.
Berlin, we
Weltanschauung,
Following
were
main
in
modo
three
that
the
evolution
of
there
Herzen's
grosso
may say
stages
ideas and worldview.24
At the beginning?in
the Moscow
circle and during
the
As

I have

already

186

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

had an ideal vision of human


decade"?he
life, and ig
years of the "marvellous
it from the present,
nored
the chasm which
divided
the Russia
of
whether
or
in
the
constitutionalism
the
West.
At
that
Nicholas
time
he
I,
corrupt
its opponents
in Russia?and
and condemned
radicalism
glorified
enlightened
to
blind
the
and the cau
conservatism,
tendency
Slavophile
especially
nostalgia,
as well
and
tious gradualism
of his friends, the westernizers
Granovsky
Turgenev,
as
to
to
and
rational
the
patience
appeals
conformity
Hegelian
inescapable
to him designed
to ensure the triumph of the
seemed
rhythms of history, which
new
class.
bourgeois
The second stage began around
left Russia
for Western
1847, when Herzen
amore critical outlook. All
at
toward
and
first
tended
Europe,
genuine
change, he
is
to
the
of
tradition
is
slow;
think,
very great; men are
power
necessarily
began
in the eighteenth
than had been believed
less malleable
century, nor do they truly
is but tsarism in differ
Communism
seek liberty, only security and contentment;
ent garb, the replacement
of one yoke by another. At this stage (notwithstanding
as the prototype
of the future society),
his faith in the Russian peasant commune
no
the enlightened
?lite and the masses
he
longer felt certain that the gap between
an
in
obsession
later Russian
could be bridged
(a view which becomes
thought
i narod," the intelligentsia
and the people),
the label "intelligentsia
since the
and
for
de
unalterable
reasons,
may,
psychological
sociological
people
a
never
which
will
civilization
have
the
and
of
spise
reject
gifts
enough meaning
fears were shared even by such radical populists
for them. (In this regard Herzen's
even more
as Chernyshevsky
Later on, he spoke of something
and Mikhailovsky.)
a
ever widening
sense
the
and
of
haunting
unbridgeable
gulf between
disquieting,
under

awakened

free and civilized ?lites (to which he knew him


the human values of the relatively
self to belong) and the actual needs, desires and tastes of the vast voiceless masses
of mankind.25
If these doubts were justified,
asked himself:
Finally, in the third stage, Herzen
or desirable?
is radical transformation
From this followed
either practicable
sense of obstacles
that might be insurmountable,
his growing
limits that may be
a
to
him
and
latent
and
skepticism,
empiricism,
pessimism
leading
impassable,
in
most
The
document
which
this
of
the
mid-1860s.
way
conveys
eloquent
despair
an Old Comrade, addressed
are
to
To
his
letters
who
Bakunin,
open
thought
In these letters,
is also an act of creation.
that the act of destruction
proclaimed
in 1869, one year before his death, Herzen
written
his
for
admiration
expressed
to
dared
do
of
instead
Peter the Great and the Jacobins because
they
something
the behavior
of Attila,
and the
Yet he says also that Petrogradism,
a word,
in
of
Public
1793?in
method
which
of
the
Committee
any
Safety
policy
the
of
and
radical
solutions?in
end
the
presupposes
always
feasibility
simple
and collapse.
leads to oppression,
bloodshed,
But this three-stage
intellectual development
presented
by Berlin invites some
it
it is to associ
how
difficult
indicates
remarks and qualifications.
(again)
Firstly,
or
in any case
ate Herzen with
and
the Enlightenment
Counter-Enlightenment,
or that idea attributed
to
extent
what
he
his
the
of
when
and
shared
question
begs
even if it
to one of these two movements.
this three-stage development,
Secondly,
nu
some
not
intellectual
does
order
Herzen's
for
evolution,
explain the
provides
merous
in
and
existed
view,
inconsistencies,
contradictions,
my
paradoxes which,
at each and every given moment.
it illustrates
in Herzen's
Thirdly,
thought
nothing.

Berlin,

and Russia's

Herzen,

Elusive

Counter-Enlightenment

187

are reflected
on two levels: his capacity
to
insights, which
deep
a
and
very complex and intricate picture of Herzen's
present at times
personality
one subject (for
thought, and at other times to do the opposite, namely,
single out
on
a
tour de force of extreme reduc
views
instance, Herzen's
"liberty"), and, by
stand in complete
the core of Herzen's
isolation from important
tionism, present
Berlin's

aspects

of his whole

mindset,

ignoring

thereby

these contradictions.

VI. Conclusion
to these brief

By way of conclusion
one
and personalities

remarks
recall

should
which

on such
complex and elusive
topics
in Herzen's
the four main elements
the tortuous path of his intellectual

perhaps
help explain
Berlin
and
and which
described
time
again,
stressing
development,
nor
was
that Herzen
"neither consistent
and
the
therefore?like
systematic,"
in
to
Walicki's
words?"intractable
classification
traditional
Slavophiles,
by
Hence
his equal distance
from Enlightenment
and
intellectual
taxonomy."
a
each
of
these
four
elements.
reinforced
alike,
position
Counter-Enlightenment
by
to all kind of abstractions. Although
The first element was Herzen's
opposition
he believed
in reason,
individual
scientific methods,
action, and empirically
to
in
he
tended
that
faith
and pre
discovered
truths,
suspect
general formulas,
an
were
in
affairs
to
human
sometimes
escape
attempt,
scription
catastrophic,
and unpredictable
from the uncertainty
variety of life.
that human problems
believed
Like Isaiah Berlin and Ivan Turgenev, Herzen
are too
or
to
to
answers
demand
receive ready-made
simple solutions
complex
thought

and mindset

from abstract

and recipes. On the contrary, he held that in principle


principles
to any genuine
there could be no simple or final answer
human problem
and
that if a question was serious, the answer could not be clear and neat. Above
all,
answers could never consist of some symmetrical
set of conclusions,
drawn by de
to Herzen's
ductive means
from a collection
of self-evident
axioms. Central
was the notion that the basic problems
are
thought
perhaps not resoluble at all.26
the absolute value of life. Although
idea concerned
Herzen
be
The second
a social group,
lieved in human progress, he rejected the view that a generation,
or an indidividual
should be sacrified today for the sake of progress
and happi
ness tomorrow. His skepticism
about the meaning
of abstract ideals as such was
in tune with
the value he began to attach to the concrete, short-term,
immediate
imme
reward for the day's work,
freedoms,
goals of living individuals?specific
diate acts of justice. In Berlin's words,
He believed
ends
that

that the ultimate goal of lifewas

in themselves,
remote

the

present
lead
always

This meant

ends
or

a means

not
were
the

to cruel

a dream,
immediate
and

that

faith

life itself; that the day and the hour were

or another
experience.
day
a fatal illusion;
in them was

and

foreseeable

future

forms

of human

sacrifice.27

to

these

He
that

distant

believed
to sacrifice
ends

must

with
doctrines
fundamentally
disagreed
revolutionary
one or more
the
sacrifice
of
for the hypothetical
generations
required
in the future. He distrusted
benefit of humankind
those who asked for sacrifices
now and promised
des lendemains qui chantent, a singing tomorrow,
for he knew
is a day of mourning.28
that almost always the day after tomorrow

which

that Herzen

futile

to another

188

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

The third element consists inHerzen's


idea of liberty, a topic to which Berlin re
verts
time and again
to Herzen's
and which
also
is closely
linked
life
experience:
alternate

moods

[Herzen's]
cleansing,

revolutionary

invasion likely to destroy all the values


his old
reproaches
not
understanding
stones
of a prison....
and violence
haste

to

that

take

he believes
the

of

form

in a great,
a barbarian

that he himself holds dear. At other times he

... for
wanting
for free men

Bakunin

friend

Sometimes

[writes
Berlin].
even
were
it

sharply
storm,

to make
cannot

dwellings
has her own
tempo.
History
the Great?can
of a Peter

too

the revolution
be

soon;

out

constructed

of

for
the

and

the
gradualism?not
a
about
permanenent
bring
At such moments
to the free,
he wonders
transformation.
whether
the future
belongs
or to the bold
or com
and ruthless
anarchistic
[whether
peasant,
planner
capitalist
to
returns
of
Then
he
his
moods
disillusionment
and
wonders
munist].
again
early
men
a few do so in each
in general
whether
desire
freedom;
only
really
perhaps
most
while
human
generation,
beings
and he echoes
de Maistre's
whose
hands;
has

Rousseau

less

it is that men who


why
to ask
if one were
why
sheep,
Herzen
nibble
grass."
develops

everywhere

that

in

fish

turns

were

general
surface

the

below

to his

earlier

this

are born
theme.

everywhere
neverthe

carnivorous,
Men

no

freedom

desire

optimism

or are not
to
to
content
fly,
quite
stay
fundamentally
sun
from
the
and
forever
the
Then
he re
away
light.
and
that somewhere?in
the thought
Russia?there

the peasant with his faculties

human being,

and

corruption

created

the water,

of

lives the unbroken

The

who

at

"Monsieur

than fish desire to fly. The fact that a few flying fish exist does not demonstrate

more

the

no matter

want

government,
good
about Rousseau:
epigram
are born
free are nevetheless

only
bitter

asked

it is as

in chains;

Patience

alone

of

sophistication

intact, untainted

by

the West.29

in this case means


also the insidious
and constant
of the
growth
and of the petit bourgeois
character of society, whose main feature
in theWest as poshlost', philistinism,
Vladimir Nabokov
made known
vul

"West"

middle

classes

iswhat

and

kitsch,

garity,

nouveau-riche

and

arrogance

taste.

bad

The

petit

bourgeois,

"has two talents, prudence


and punctuality.
The life of the middle
Herzen,
it is self-restrained,
class is full of petty defects and petty virtues;
often niggardly,
... a life self-satisfied
is extreme, what
and shuns what
its
is superfluous
with
narrow mediocrity
The
middle
and
classes
the
[and] vulgarity."30
petit bourgeois
are neither
fighters for liberty nor its guarantors.
nor bearers of culture, the middle
Neither
classes and the pe
fighters for liberty
are in Herzen's
tit bourgeois,
aristocratic
the
and
the curse of the
scourge
eyes

writes

new world.
In a memorable
face of the West:

of our age, he summarizes

reminiscent

passage,

this

new

All
at

trade,
all

Tula

on

especially
as

quality,

with

pen-knives

ready-made,
but does

in England,
old-fashioned
an

not

of

hundred-thousand-headed
round

a corner,

to be dressed

ready

hydra

and
everything,
without
culture.

mediocrity'
so dominates

on

and cheapness,
and not
quantity
when
imagine
they
buy
reverently
on them.
a wholesale,
has
Everything
is within

everything
distinction

aesthetic

to listen

in anything,

'conglomerated

trademark

character,

allow

now

Russians

English

conventional

one,

is based

or

[the petit bourgeoisie]


to look

to everything,

to be fed on anything?this
(to use
everything.

Stuart
The

Mill's
crowd

the

at

reach
taste.

personal

of almost
Everywhere

lies in wait
everything

close at hand

indiscriminately,

is the all-powerful
expression)
is without

every
the

which

crowd of

purchases
but also
ignorance,

Berlin,

Herzen,

and Russia's

Elusive

189

Counter-Enlightenment

is the caf? chantant, "an amphibious


The zenith of the crowd's cultural creation
and
half
the boulevard
between
beer-cellar
the
theatre."31
way
product,
sense
is
of
his
The fourth key element of Herzen's
thought
reality. His initial
man
in
of
the
innate
becomes
less and less
faith
goodness
Rousseau-inspired
secure as he grows older, both because of the tragedies
in his family life,32 and as
a result of his acute sense of reality:
His sense of reality [writes Isaiah Berlin] is too strong. For all his efforts, and the ef
forts of his socialist friends, he cannot deceive himself entirely. He oscillates between
and

pessimism

optimism,

scepticism,

and

suspicion

of his

own

scepticism,

and

is

kept morally alive only by his hatred of all injustice, all arbitrariness, all mediocrity
as such?in particular by his inability to compromise in any degree with either the
brutality of reactionaries or the hypocrisy of bourgeois liberals. He is preserved by
this, buoyed up by his belief that such evils will destroy themselves, and by his love
for his children and his devoted friends, and his unquenchable delight in the variety
of

life and

the

comedy

of human

character.33

"sense of reality," a qual


Berlin underlines Herzen's
least twice in his writings
on it the status of a philosoph
so
commendable
that
he
confers
which
he
finds
ity
it as the criterion which
should guide people faced with
ical notion, and proposes
In
values
and
irreconcilable
the
above quotation
Berlin empha
goals.
conflicting
sense
one
sense of
in
of
another
he
writes:
"Herzen's
sizes Herzen's
strong
reality;
... is
own
in
in
his
and
the
Given
any age."34
unique
[age],
perhaps
impor
reality
to the sense of reality in individual decisions
tance that Berlin attributed
and in the
in this one short
life of society, one can fully understand
the high praise contained

At

sentence

on Herzen.

and reaction,
with his sense of reality in a period of turmoil, revolution,
a
nor a proponent
but neither
of the Enlightenment,
of the Counter
disciple
in the Russian
that were
of little substance
(notions
setting),
Enlightenment
Alexander
Herzen
Berlin's central idea that there are conflicts with re
anticipated
and that in states and society there
gard to values and goals that are irreconcilable,
should be structures and processes
that allow these conflicting
interests to coexist
in peace. Herzen
did not express this idea in these words, but of all his contempo
was the one closest to the spirit and
to later thinkers?he
raries?and
compared
content of this quintessential
vision of Isaiah Berlin.
Armed

Notes
1. Isaiah Berlin,

and "Vico and the Ideal of the


"The Counter-Enlightenment"
in
the
Current.
Against
Essays in theHistory of Ideas, ed. Henry
Enlightenment,"
an introduction
with
Hausheer
(New York: Viking,
1980).
by Roger
Hardy,
2. Michael
A
Isaiah
Berlin.
York:
Life (New
Henry Holt, 1998).
Ignatieff,
3. With
the exception of Soviet historiography
(which held that there was a full
in Russia), most historians
progressive
fledged Western-style
Enlightenment
in various
tend to qualify
the
and /or character
existence
of the
degrees
cases
as
a
in
"Russian Enlightenment"
this
many
expression
(using
metaphor
in
rather than as awell-defined
concept). See Marc Raeff, "The Enlightenment
in the Enlightenment,"
in The Eighteenth Century
Russia and Russian Thought
in Russia, ed. J.G. Garrard
Press, 1973), pp. 25-47; James
(Oxford: Clarendon
F. Brennan, Enlightened Despotism
in Russia: The Reign of Elisabeth, 1741-1762

190

Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment

II: The Republican


P. Lang,
"Catherine
1987); D. Griffiths,
21
Ge