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Encounters with Isaiah Berlin

Story of an Intellectual Friendship


Andrzej Walicki

The volume contains Isaiah Berlin’s letters to his Polish friend, Andrzej Walicki, and Walicki’s detailed account of Berlin’s role in his life. Berlin actively promoted Walicki’s books on Russian intellectual history not only because of his own interest in the subject. Above all he wanted to promote Russian intellectual history as a separate, internationally recognized field of study and, therefore, warmly welcomed Walicki’s firm intention to study it in a systematic way, with the aim of providing a comprehensive synthesis of all important currents in pre-Revolutionary Russian thought. Already at their meeting Berlin discovered in Walicki a promising candidate to help him in laying foundations for Russian intellectual history as a legitimate part of the universal history of ideas; as a discipline rewarding in itself and particularly relevant for rediscovering the great traditions of the Russian intelligentsia and setting them against the stifling dogmas of Soviet totalitarianism.


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The Marxian Conception of Freedom 167


The Marxian Conception of Freedom I The conception of freedom has a rather peculiar status in Marx’s thought. It is its central question and simultaneously a marginal question—a central question on the philosophical plane, a marginal question on the legal and political plane. Con- trary to current opinion, the whole Marxian philosophy of history and man does not revolve around the problem of social justice but around the problem of free- dom1. If it is at all possible for a Marxist to speak of ‘the meaning of history’—in the sense of history having an immanent tendency for the better—then for Marx (who in this respect is faithful to Hegel) this meaning lies in the realization of freedom. At the same time, the Marxian philosophy of freedom is not directly translatable into the language of law and politics. It follows that legal and political conceptions and ‘guarantees’ of freedom are essentially a secondary matter for Marx, since freedom depends on the extent of man’s domination over nature and the degree of rational control of men over social relations, and not on this or that legal-political system; statehood as such is organized coercion and not the safe- guarding of freedom. More than that: Marxism proclaims that the most libertarian period of legislation, that of classical liberalism, was in the history of mankind a period of the greatest alienation and reification of social forces, of man’s least control over his fate and hence, from this point of view, a period...

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