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The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat: A Novel of Ideas Paperback – 13 Jul 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; Mass market ed edition (13 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844673693
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844673698
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 475,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A delightfully edifying comedy. - Guardian ... Knock-out satirical humour. --Times Literary Supplement

The book is the readiest guide one could have to the assorted extremisms which presently vie in the global marketplace for ideal worlds. --Financial Times

Written in a beautifully clear style, full of a keen, serious wit... Lukes achieves both lightness and weight in a way many novelists might envy --Independent

About the Author

Steven Lukes is a professor of politics and sociology at New York University, and the author of Liberals and Cannibals and Moral Relativism. He lives in New York.


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Format: Paperback
Professor Caritat (named after the surname of the Optimistic philosopher better known to us as the Marquis de Condorcet), a specialist on the thinkers of the Enlightenment, is a cross between a sophisticated Candide and a Gulliver. He is a citizen of Militaria, a repressive state run by a military dictatorship. He has to flee from that and embarks on a mission to find a state in which the ideas of 18th century philosophers have been applied and to see how these ideas have turned out in practice. He is looking for the best of all possible states. But in each of these countries he gets into trouble, wittily described, and has to move on.

The first country he visits is Utilitaria, which is governed by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham; and a soulless place it is, where there is no place for anything that cannot be proved to be `useful' to its society.

The next country is Communitaria. Its government is committed to total respect and equal treatment for every ethnic and every religious community, but it interprets respect in such a way that any comment which might suggest that one way of living or one set of ideas is superior to another, and every criticism of any group, is severely punished, so it is in effect an extremely intolerant state.

From there Caritat escapes to Proletaria - named, he is told, after the class that had brought it into being, although that class, like all others, has since withered away, as indeed has the state itself.

This turns out to be a phantasmagoria, from which he awakes to find himself in yet another country, Libertaria. Here free enterprise is rampant, every public service is in the process of being privatized, financial extortion is the name of the game, and woe betide those who can't play it.
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Format: Paperback
Lukes's "Curious" is a charming and humorous journey through the various Western Political Philosophies of the last 200 years. A cross between Alice in Wonderland and Thomas More's 'Utopia', Professor Caritat, after escaping his native Militaria, travels through diverse lands with diverse politics as he attempt to discover which one would provide the best value for the people of his homeland.

One of the most surprising aspects of this work is its lack or pretension. I was expecting to be dazzled by the author's intelligent humour as he congratulates himself on his cleverness. I was pleasantly surprised to find "Curious" to be nothing of the sort. It is an easy, funny and educational read which does not take itself all too seriously. The characters are likable and believable and recognizable in some cases. I particularly appreciated the political situations created by the author and their obvious allusion to real events, such as the Professor's case of sexual harassment and the 'bomber' case which echos the 'Birmingham Six' case in the UK.

Fun, clever and very entertaining, if you're looking for a story with a difference then this would certainly be a candidate.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8f09c300) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f4f772c) out of 5 stars Philosophical cotton candy 18 Jan. 2013
By Kevin Elliott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book begins: "The worst thing about Professor Nicholas Caritat's arrest was that they smashed his spectacles." If you get the allusion here to Bernard Williams's Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, then you will love this book. It's full of little in-jokes like this that kept me reading and also tip the reader off to the themes and questions Lukes is getting at.

I'm honestly not sure if you'd enjoy it enough to justify the read without a fairly deep background in political theory. That being said, it is a fast read; there are few wasted words and little by way of extraneous detail. The plot moves along nicely, and Caritat's stop in each country (well described by other reviews) makes for convenient stopping places.

If you study political thought with any seriousness, you will enjoy this book. You will find things to disagree with when Lukes broaches your favored political philosophy, but you will not be able to complain that he renders any of them as unreasonable extrapolations of how the theory might appear in practice.

All the same, I can't say that I came out with any ideas I hadn't brought in with me. It would be inaccurate to say it isn't thought provoking, but the thoughts it provokes are not particularly deep, at least for me who is pretty familiar with the tradition of political thought he portrays. The book is primarily fun for the philosophically inclined.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f4c287c) out of 5 stars A fluently written and enjoyable satire 4 Oct. 2009
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Professor Caritat (named after the surname of the Optimistic philosopher better known to us as the Marquis de Condorcet), a specialist on the thinkers of the Enlightenment, is a cross between a sophisticated Candide and a Gulliver. He is a citizen of Militaria, a repressive state run by a military dictatorship. He has to flee from that and embarks on a mission to find a state in which the ideas of 18th century philosophers have been applied and to see how these ideas have turned out in practice. He is looking for the best of all possible states. But in each of these countries he gets into trouble, wittily described, and has to move on.

The first country he visits is Utilitaria, which is governed by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham; and a soulless place it is, where there is no place for anything that cannot be proved to be `useful' to its society.

The next country is Communitaria. Its government is committed to total respect and equal treatment for every ethnic and every religious community, but it interprets respect in such a way that any comment which might suggest that one way of living or one set of ideas is superior to another, and every criticism of any group, is severely punished, so it is in effect an extremely intolerant state.

From there Caritat escapes to Proletaria - named, he is told, after the class that had brought it into being, although that class, like all others, has since withered away, as indeed has the state itself.

This turns out to be a phantasmagoria, from which he awakes to find himself in yet another country, Libertaria. Here free enterprise is rampant, every public service is in the process of being privatized, financial extortion is the name of the game, and woe betide those who can't play it. The country seems to be an ally of Militaria: though Libertarian `freedom' is missing there, Militaria's maintenance of `order' is something the Libertarians admire.

Finally, on his way out of that country, the Professor makes it to Minerva, a border town in the North of Libertaria. There he comes to the wise conclusion that what was the matter with all the dystopian states he had visited was that the single-minded pursuit of just one desirable aim (Order, Welfare, Respect, Equality, Freedom of Action) leads to the suppression of all the others. Condorcet had observed that all human ideals are linked together in an indissoluble chain. More practically, Isaiah Berlin (whom Lukes does not name in the text, though he does mention him in the bibliography) has taught that there needs to be a trade-off between all these desirable aims. How to strike this balance must be a never-ending quest, requiring much Wisdom.

One of his interlocutors in Libertaria had told him that people once believed that there was a state called Egalitaria north of their country, but that they had found that it did not exist and was in fact a utopia. Perhaps that is the reason why the book ends in Minerva, with Caritat seeing that just beyond the border is a crossroads from which several roads extended.
HASH(0x8f97efd8) out of 5 stars Free Speech Is More Important than Political Correctness 22 Aug. 2015
By Truth Revolt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Want to know why freedom of speech is critical? Read this book and see what happens when someone has the 'right' to not be offended. Totalitarianism rules to day when you take freedom of speech away. Luke's describes oppressive regimes one after the other when they are based solely on one line of political thought, but the worst and most entertaining is Communitarian, where if you offend someone you can be put to death (Sounds like the old Catholic Church and present day Islam...) It is political correctness gone wild and a warning to all the youth who take free speech for granted.
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