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Curious Enlightightenment of Professor Caritat: A Novel
     

Curious Enlightightenment of Professor Caritat: A Novel

by Steven Lukes
 

In the space of 24 hours, Caritat is arrested by the police, then liberated by the guerrillas of the Visible Hand. They give him the code name Pangloss and send him on a mission which only a philosopher could undertake: to find the best of all possible worlds. This book is a whirlwind journey through a series of imagined political landscapes where 18th-century

Overview

In the space of 24 hours, Caritat is arrested by the police, then liberated by the guerrillas of the Visible Hand. They give him the code name Pangloss and send him on a mission which only a philosopher could undertake: to find the best of all possible worlds. This book is a whirlwind journey through a series of imagined political landscapes where 18th-century ideas confront late-20th-century concerns. Caritat, a middle-aged Candide, walks naively through worlds of ideological extremes, equipped with only a small travelling bag and a knowledge of such thinkers as Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant and Hume. As he investigates the neighbouring countries of Utilitaria, Communitaria and Libertaria, Caritat encounters afresh questions he had long since considered settled: what are the rights of the individual when, in the calculator-ruled Benthamite world, the concept has been ruled obsolete; what is the fate of free speech in a militantly multicultural society; and where does civil responsibility figure in a state ruled by the free market? Cut loose from the confines of the ivory tower, this wandering professor is made to confront the perplexed state of modern thinking, the value of history, and, above all, the continuing need for a just and humane social order. This book presents a near-comprehensive survey of Western political philosophy in a comedy of ideas. Steven Lukes is the author of “Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work”, “Power: A Radical View” and “What is Left?”.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A counterpart to Jonstein Gaarder’s bestseller, Sophie’s World, for those who might be seeking an introduction to political theory.”—Prospect

“A delightfully edifying comedy.”—Guardian

“Charming and refreshing.”—Radical Philosophy

“Knock-out satirical humour.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Lukes achieves both lightness and weight in a way many novelists might envy.”—Independent

“This book is a box of delights, often wonderfully funny and always deliciously clever, a contemporary political satire to set among the best.”—New Statesman and Society

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lukes, a professor of sociology, pays ample homage to the Enlightenment, modeling this light and lovely satire on Candide. Not many pages into the book, its hero, Professor Nicholas Caritat, a prominent scholar of the Enlightenment, is given the nickname Dr. Pangloss. Having been arrested by the military junta of Militaria on the grounds that his work foments ``optimism,'' Caritat has just been sprung from jail by members of the Visible Hand, a guerrilla group. The Hand gives him a mission: he must find ``grounds for Optimism'' and ``the best possible world.'' Caritat visits a string of countries-not to be found in our atlases-that are founded on (and warped by) various political philosophies. A citizen of Utilitaria informs him that ``a high suicide rate, provided the suicides are appropriately distributed, can make a real contribution to the overall sum of happiness.'' Wherever he goes, the good Professor trips all over the cherished beliefs of the citizenry, landing himself, and those around him, in hot water. In Communitaria, where political correctness has been carried to an absurd logical conclusion, Caritat finds himself facing charges of sexual harassment in front of the country's ``Body of Gender.'' In the laissez-faire paradise of Libertaria, it isn't long before Caritat finds himself on the street with the homeless. Lukes is more than generous with the breadcrumbs of political philosophy, but the tale never becomes dull or bookish. He writes with great humor and confidence as the insouciant Caritat is buffeted from one false Utopia to the next. Toward the end, Caritat gets the point and expresses his distrust of Utopias in a moving letter to his children, part of which reads: ``Another thing I have noticed is that everyone I have met so far seems to have stopped learning. They seem as if trapped in their language and their world and quite closed to one another's.'' Though not the best of all possible philosophical satires, Lukes's imaginative intellect and playful tone make this one as good as we are likely to see for quite a while. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Nicholas Caritat, a modern-day professor and scholar of the Enlightenment who converses mentally with Voltaire and Condorcet, wants to avoid the political struggle in Militaria, the police state where he lives. Though arrested by the police, he is liberated by guerrillas who dub him Pangloss because they want him to find the best of all possible worlds. He travels to Utilitaria, Libertaria, Communitaria, and Egalitaria, finding through misadventures that none of them is ideal because alone, each lacks some of the good qualities of the others. Lukes (political and social theory, European Univ. Inst., Florence) is a reputable scholar, and Voltaire's Candide is obviously the model for his examination of the merits of social theories. Put this on the shelf next to Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World (LJ 9/1/94) and enjoy learning something when you read. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L.s., Md.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781859849484
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
10/17/1995
Pages:
261
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Steven Lukes is Professor of Sociology at NYU. He has previously taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Siena, and is the author of numerous works including Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work, Power: A Radical View and What is Left?

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