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Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment$
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Laurence Brockliss and Ritchie Robertson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198783930

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783930.001.0001

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Berlin, Machiavelli, and the Enlightenment

Berlin, Machiavelli, and the Enlightenment

(p.137) 10 Berlin, Machiavelli, and the Enlightenment
Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment

Ritchie Robertson

Oxford University Press

Berlin’s ‘The Originality of Machiavelli’ is among his outstanding essays. It deals with a writer whom critics of the Enlightenment (e.g. Horkheimer and Adorno) have often called one of its progenitors, and who is associated with the coldly rational spirit alleged to typify the Enlightenment. By looking at the actual reception of Machiavelli, mainly in France and Germany, from Frederick the Great via Montesquieu and Goethe to Kant, this chapter shows that the Enlightenment either rejected Machiavelli’s radical ideas or treated them as historically remote and therefore harmless; the enthusiastic rehabilitation of Machiavelli occurred only with the early nineteenth-century reaction against the Enlightenment, above all with Fichte. Berlin’s Machiavelli is not any of the Enlightenment’s Machiavellis, but rather a thinker aware of insoluble contradictions and opposed to monism, who in Berlin’s oeuvre takes the place of such unsystematic Enlightenment thinkers as Diderot and Lessing whom Berlin conspicuously failed to discuss.

Keywords:   Machiavelli, rationality, Frederick the Great, Goethe, Fichte

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