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Unlearned Lessons of Twentieth Century (Crosscurrents (ISI Books)) Paperback – 15 Aug 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: ISI Books (15 Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932236473
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932236477
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,234,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. P. Maciag on 18 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this remarkable book Delsol looks into that strange emptiness that exists at the heart of contemporary society. On the surface, we...what she calls "Late modern" society, should be comfortable and at peace. We have few rules and little ideology. Everything seems possible and all values are, superficially at least, accepted. Much of the world also has an unprecedented material wellbeing.

All this is an inheritance from the 20th century. A period when various ideological certainties rose and were then destroyed. But, as this next century starts to unfold, it is becoming plain that the contemporary imperative for an absence of absolute values has itself become an ideology that simultaneously robs its adherents of hope, strength and resilience. And this is the danger; that a culture of resigned acceptance masquerading as tolerance is wide open to a renewed offer of utopian certainty.

The void at the centre of modern western society is simply unable to support its crust of Human Rights. Without solid ideological foundation Human Rights are being shredded by expediency, the trivial and competing interests. The `right' to wear your hair blue at school is as much of a `right' as is the Right to life and freedom of conscience.

But is it possible for a society to survive without any foundations? Is it enough to "live well" in a state described by Delsol as "the sad heroes of emptiness"? Will our contempt for wisdom and all that our predecessors believed in bear any fruit? Can a civilisation of individuals clinging to ephemeral moments amidst the replacement of family life by tribal relationships be stable? Can we retain any Rights having already abandoned the notion of the dignity of the individual man?
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 20 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
In this work, Delsol sets out to expose a potentially lethal contradiction. The belief in the dignity of the individual as a person possessing sacred and inalienable worth survives in our era of late modernity. But it lives within a Zeitgeist bereft of meaning or hope in which collectivist approaches inherited from failed ideologies are still consciously or unconsciously embraced. To secure the concept of individual life as our highest value, it is not sufficient to rhetorically reject the totalitarian idea. It has to be replaced entirely by a structure or framework of meaning in which the sanctity of life inheres.

The author considers the relativism of late modernity as a type of nihilism that offers escape from the rigidity of certitudes that was responsible for the 20th century's death and destruction. She prefers the expression "late modernity" as it merely suggests the completion of a cycle whereas "postmodernity" is saddled with ideological connotations. The concept of lateness need not imply decay or deterioration only but rebirth as well. For example, the decline of the Roman Empire during late antiquity was the era in which stoicism and pantheism were replaced by the humanism of Christianity that it inherited from Judaism.

It is
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Amazon.com: 6 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
a major work 14 Feb. 2009
By Charles S. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a senior citizen,I have sat with my jaw dragging the the floor,trying to understand the revolutionary change in our moral,political,religious,legal,educational lives. Many people are thinking and behaving differently than our generation, but not in the context of a fad, rather in a more profound manner.Delsol's book is a non-polemic deep but accessible essay that illuminates,like no other,the factors that have caused this sea change in our culture.It is probably the finest political/philosophical book I have ever read and should be read by everyone who is asking the question.....What has gone wrong with the mind of the West??????????
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Finally and hesitantly, Hope also left Pandora's jar 20 Jun. 2008
By Peter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this work, Delsol sets out to expose a potentially lethal contradiction. The belief in the dignity of the individual as a person possessing sacred and inalienable worth survives in our era of late modernity. But it lives within a Zeitgeist bereft of meaning or hope in which collectivist approaches inherited from failed ideologies are still consciously or unconsciously embraced. To secure the concept of individual life as our highest value, it is not sufficient to rhetorically reject the totalitarian idea. It has to be replaced entirely by a structure or framework of meaning in which the sanctity of life inheres.

The author considers the relativism of late modernity as a type of nihilism that offers escape from the rigidity of certitudes that was responsible for the 20th century's death and destruction. She prefers the expression "late modernity" as it merely suggests the completion of a cycle whereas "postmodernity" is saddled with ideological connotations. The concept of lateness need not imply decay or deterioration only but rebirth as well. For example, the decline of the Roman Empire during late antiquity was the era in which stoicism and pantheism were replaced by the humanism of Christianity that it inherited from Judaism.

It is faith, not science that supports the principle of personal dignity, a fragile notion at all times. It relies upon conscience, responsibility, mankind's moral agreement and a clear distinction between the human and the non-human. It is moreover an idea that depends upon a cultural heritage that serves as an antidote to the dystopian 20th century forces of dehumanization that are still operating. Thus pivotal questions arise about responsibility and identity: understanding the nature of the human being, the basis of dignity, the way we ought to live and the kind of culture that will nurture this principle of respect. By now it is clear that both orthodox religion and dogmatic relativism are unsuitable.

Specific chapters are devoted to inter alia the lessons of the 20th century, derision and revolt against past certitudes, common values as language, the paradoxes of materialism, the omnipresence of evil, human rights, body & soul, and the universal as promise. Valuable insights include the observations that: hopelessness immobilizes some in an "eternal present" of empty materialism; contempt for the past has become a popular theme of art and literature; the strength of family bonds is diminishing; the uniqueness of human life is denied by equating it with nature, even with inanimate matter.

Another is that natural rights, history and theology all fall short when employed to explain the unique worth of the individual. In chapter 15: Interiority and Eternity, she argues that meaning and purpose in life require a connection with exterior referents that are greater than and survive the individual life - the Eternal Divine. I treasure this book even more than Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World. Imbued with empathy, her writing remains accessible even as it constantly reveals new pathways of possibility. The translator also deserves praise. This remarkable work concludes with bibliographical notes and an index.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Delsol Nails It - Humanity's Unduly Hapless Situation 4 April 2013
By Dennis B. Mulcare - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chantal Delsol distills the unlearned lessons regarding the major twentieth century totalitarian regimes into the last two sentences in this book: "We are not demiurges. We are gardeners." In other words, neither man's essential nature nor reality itself can be fundamentally 'recreated' according to the desiderata of ideologies or through the initiatives of governments. The best that can be sought is the improvement of humanity's well being by 'cultivating' the attributes and possibilities inherent in man's makeup and condition.

More broadly, she analyzes how the more recent trajectories and contemporary dogmas of Western societies and governments confirm late modernity's failure to even confront the associated errors underlying those totalitarian ideologies, at least in a forthright manner. Basically, the generic form and modus operandi of these ideologies persist in the contemporary Western world with new designations for idols, concepts, and techniques. In effect, the same ideological template remains largely in force with substitutions for certain terms:

· idolatry of the state has been replaced by a spurious formulation/application of human rights
· abhorrence of colonialism has been transferred to white Western males
· state practice of terror has been supplanted with that of derision.

Hence, it is most troubling that many core defects of the generic totalitarian ideology are operative today. They persist because the dominant Western elite since the fall of the totalitarian regimes has shared some of their goals/illusions (e.g., the perfectibility of man) and has absolved some of their egregious acts (because "good" intentions ought to override horrific acts/outcomes). Other inherited errors are propagated by our de facto governing or societal tenets because late modernity:

· has not abandoned the ideological underpinnings of totalitarianism (p. 8)
· has not restored the common cultural world that totalitarianism destroyed (p. 59)
· has rejected the various natural and cultural determinations of traits of the human condition (p. 64)
· has maintained man's demiurge prerogative to 'remake' his self as an autonomous agent (pp. 60 & 64)
· has held that the way of progress is via self sufficiency, as realized materially through the welfare state (pp. 60 & 80 ).

Accordingly, Delsol confronts in convincing detail the evasions, pretenses, and conceits prevalent in the contemporary Western world. Here, her analyses and insights resonate dramatically with ordinary observations of government affairs/actions and with the pervasive recitations of the political elite. I personally do not believe that any other author, academic, or public figure has characterized the present socio-political situation of the Western world so accurately and with such depth and coherence as Delsol has (this assessment also encompasses her previous book 'Icarus Fallen').

One of Delsol's specific examples of modernity-type thinking is the abandonment of the doctrine of Original Sin. Discarding the idea that some degree of evil is innate in ALL humans has raised the prospect of a distinguishing between good and evil, as might respectively be isolable to just certain humans. In consequence, this would make plausible the eradication of evils ascribed to targeted persons. Their elimination or marginalization could then diminish evil and hence foster a utopian society. Not surprisingly then, totalitarian regimes have previously exploited this basis for scapegoating persons or groups who were supposedly thwarting the attainment of utopian ends.

Clearly, the present overall trajectory of socio-political evolution and its resultant efficacy/viability are very disturbing to many. Nonetheless, the governing class persists in pursuing and acclaiming its dubious agenda and imprudent endeavors. Apparently, the main thing they have learned from the 20th century ideological failures is the art of camouflage and concealment, or more specifically, the institutionalization of a clandestine ideology per Delsol's 'Icarus Fallen'. In any case, it would seem that the present ruling powers believe that THEY will get the utopia thing right this time around.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book is the one you need to own and read! 10 Jun. 2013
By Craigers1961 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The previous three reviews cover it all. I don't think I can add anything to them as they perfectly describe this book, but I'll try to give a brief accolade. This work is a jewel. After having to read Houston Smith's, Beyond the Postmodern Mind in a master's course which amounted to stumbling through an old leftists diatribes suffused with ideological Alzheimer's, Delsol's book was a master piece. I have been searching for one definitive work that puts in so much insight and analysis detailing out what is wrong with late modernity/post modernism from so many sources that I despaired of ever finding it encapsulated in one work, then I picked up this gem that had been sitting on my shelf for the last 10 years and was amazed. I wished I had had the time to read it a decade ago.

Usually I am leery of books published through ISI Books as they are usually well within the neo-conservative genre, but this book is not steeped in that ideology. Whether you are a progressive or a neo-con, you will both find this book eye opening and mind expanding. Maybe it is because the author is French that he can attain that magical ability of not insulting anyone's beliefs while informing every one of their philosophical foibles. Not since Jean François Revel, who I am a huge fan of, have I found an intellectual of such renown and penetrating insight and clarity of exposition. Don't hesitate to buy this book, this is the college text that you wished you had been given to read back in college in your liberal arts, political philosophy or humanities courses.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
she misses the real lessons 21 May 2014
By bill manson - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I had anticipated a bit of useful intellectual history: the roots of social-democratic ideals in the 18th century Enlightenment, and the evolving concept of the "social contract," with its concomitant concept of the rights and duties of "citizenship" (and how such rights have been gradually broadened in recent times). Even more so, I had hoped (and expected) to find a nuanced, thoughtful treatment of international law, as it was developed and extended in the aftermath of the horrors of the mid-20th century (Nuremberg Charter, UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arms-reduction treaties, etc., etc.).
Hardly. Instead, I encountered a philosophical essay, consisting largely of elliptical pronouncements rather than careful reasoning. Rather than examining the evolving legal standards of individual (and citizenship) rights, she offers a reactionary, really anti-Enlightenment (and pre-Darwinian) perspective: a valid notion of "individual dignity"--the only bulwark, she claims, against genocides and dehumanization--can only be founded in the traditional theological valorization of humans ("in God's image") as rigidly distinct from the animal world. Her argument--if I have understood it correctly--takes us backwards to the inadequate Christian "humanism" of, say, Renaissance writer Pico della Mirandola's anthropocentric recasting of Creation in his "Oration on the Dignity of Man" (1487).
In my opinion, a far more useful, carefully argued book is "Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century" by the philosopher Jonathan Glover.
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