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Revolutions and the Making of the Modern World

From Peter the Great to Karl Marx

James Cracraft

Edited By William Benton Whisenhunt

Professor James Cracraft is an established specialist on early modern Russian history, particularly the era of Peter the Great (1682-1725), tsar and first Russian emperor. This volume gathers some of the many key articles and reviews published by him over the last forty years and more in a wide variety of scholarly venues, some of which are not readily accessible. They constitute in sum important contributions not only to Russian history broadly understood, but also to the study of history itself. The collection will include a preface by the editor and an introduction by the author, where he will sum up his decades of historical work and point to new avenues of needed research, all the while emphasizing that "history" properly understood does not exist somewhere on its own but is the creation, however imperfect, of professional historians (as "chemistry", say, is properly understood as the work, however imperfect, of professional chemists).

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16 A Berlin for Historians1


The late Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997) has been celebrated as a leading political philosopher of his time, its most eloquent champion of liberalism and cultural pluralism, and a major interpreter of such diverse and in some instances otherwise forgotten figures as J. G. Hamann, Joseph de Maistre, Alexander Herzen, Georges Sorel, Machiavelli, Vico, Herder, Marx, and Tolstoy. Indeed, he has been hailed as “one of the great thinkers and writers of our age.”2 Lost amid the encomiums is Berlin’s contribution, secondary though it may have been, as a historian’s philosopher: as a philosophical guide, perhaps better said, for ordinary working historians. This is not a class normally given to philosophizing, to be sure, convinced as most of us are that history, like making love, is something to be done rather than talked about.3 Nor has this feature of Berlin’s legacy been treated in the more extended studies of his thinking that have been published to date, all devoted to explicating Berlin the philosopher of political liberalism.4 The present article, based partly on the memories of a former student, partly on his ensuing labors as a working historian, but mostly on the recollections of others and on Berlin’s own published essays and comments, hopes to repair the omission. It thereby also hopes to affirm, at a time when they seem to be under dire attack, history’s core values.←251 | 252→

Berlin is not, be it said at once, easy to read. His argumentation is peculiarly dense and allusive,...

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