What We Are Reading Today: The Power of Ideas by Isaiah Berlin

Updated 30 August 2019

What We Are Reading Today: The Power of Ideas by Isaiah Berlin

  • The book exhibits the full range of his enormously wide expertise and demonstrates the striking and enormously engaging individuality

The essays collected in this new volume reveal Isaiah Berlin at his most lucid and accessible. He was constitutionally incapable of writing with the opacity of the specialist, but these shorter, more introductory pieces provide the perfect starting-point for the reader new to his work. Those who are already familiar with his writing will also be grateful for this further addition to his collected essays.

The connecting theme of these essays, as in the case of earlier volumes, is the crucial social and political role —past, present and future — of ideas, and of their progenitors. A rich variety of subject-matters is represented — from philosophy to education, from Russia to Israel, from Marxism to romanticism — so that the truth of Heine’s warning is exemplified on a broad front. It is a warning that Berlin often referred to, and provides an answer to those who ask, as from time to time they do, why intellectual history matters.

Among the contributions are “My Intellectual Path,” Berlin’s last essay, a retrospective autobiographical survey of his main preoccupations. and “Jewish Slavery and Emancipation,” the classic statement of his Zionist views, long unavailable in print. His other subjects include the Enlightenment, Giambattista Vico, Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, G.V. Plekhanov, the Russian intelligentsia, the idea of liberty, political realism, nationalism, and historicism. The book exhibits the full range of his enormously wide expertise and demonstrates the striking and enormously engaging individuality, as well as the power, of his own ideas.

“Over a hundred years ago, the German poet Heine warned the French not to underestimate the power of ideas: philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could destroy a civilization.”--Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1958.


What We Are Reading Today: Democratic Federalism

Updated 04 June 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Democratic Federalism

Authors: Robert Inman and Daniel L. Rubinfeld

Around the world, federalism has emerged as the system of choice for nascent republics and established nations alike. In this book, leading scholars and governmental advisers Robert Inman and Daniel Rubinfeld consider the most promising forms of federal governance and the most effective path to enacting federal policies. 

The result is an essential guide to federalism, its principles, its applications, and its potential to enhance democratic governance.

Drawing on the latest work from economics, political science, and law, Inman and Rubinfeld assess different models of federalism and their relative abilities to promote economic efficiency, encourage the participation of citizens, and protect individual liberties. Under the right conditions, the authors argue, a federal democracy—including a national legislature with locally elected representatives—can best achieve these goals. Because a stable union between the national and local governments is key, Inman and Rubinfeld also propose an innovative method for evaluating new federal laws and their possible impact on state and local governments. Finally, to show what the adoption of federalism can mean for citizens, the authors discuss the evolution of governance in the European Union and South Africa’s transition from apartheid to a multiracial democracy.

Interdisciplinary in approach, Democratic Federalism brims with applicable policy ideas and comparative case studies of global significance. This book is indispensable for understanding the importance of federal forms of government—both in recent history and, crucially, for future democracies.