Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, by Isaiah Berlin (Pimlico, £12.50 in UK)

 

Berlin is now 88, but his intellectual energy appears to be unimpaired - though it should be added that this book is nearly twenty years old. The subjects he discusses include Machiavelli (who has been demonised over the centuries out of all recognition), Vico, Hume, Montesquieu and - rather surprisingly - Disraeli. In an essay on nationalism at the end, Berlin makes the unfashionable statement: "It would not, I think, be an exaggeration to say that no political movement today, at any rate outside the western world, seems likely to succeed unless it allies itself to national sentiment. I am not a historian or a political scientist, and so do not claim to offer an explanation of this phenomenon."

B.F.