Russian Thinkers Critical Context - Essay

Isaiah Berlin

Critical Context

Although most of Berlin’s other writings have dealt with other intellectual traditions, some affinities of subject matter may be found in various works. In his first major study, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1939), he dealt with the philosophical ideas and assumptions that were prominent in the views of the most important single socialist thinker; problems of causation and determinism were of some significance in his evaluation of Marx and his theories. Issues that Berlin found salient in Tolstoy’s view of history were discussed against a much more general background in Historical Inevitability (1953). In other studies of Western thought, the distinction between monists and pluralists has often been raised, sometimes in a variety of contexts. Another problem that frequently arose in Berlin’s discussion of Russian intellectual life has been considered on a more extensive basis in Two Concepts of Liberty (1958). Elsewhere, Berlin has published several articles dealing with the Soviet intelligentsia and major issues in modern Russian culture, which concern developments during the twentieth century; in these, the author notes the contrast between Soviet thought, which had become rather constrained and muted, and the vigorous and wide-ranging activity of earlier generations. Although Berlin has preferred to present his works in the form of essays and lectures and thus has not attempted to provide a comprehensive or thoroughgoing assessment of major movements in modern ideas, his studies of important Russian thinkers form part of a wider body of writings which provide penetrating and far-reaching interpretations of significant intellectual currents of the modern centuries.