Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knowledge After Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust

Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knowledge After Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust

by Ira Katznelson
     
 

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During and especially after the Second World War, a group of leading scholars who had been perilously close to the war's devastation joined others fortunate enough to have been protected by distance in an effort to redefine and reinvigorate Western liberal ideals for a radically new age. Treating evil as an analytical category, they sought to discover the sources… See more details below

Overview


During and especially after the Second World War, a group of leading scholars who had been perilously close to the war's devastation joined others fortunate enough to have been protected by distance in an effort to redefine and reinvigorate Western liberal ideals for a radically new age. Treating evil as an analytical category, they sought to discover the sources of twentieth-century horror and the potentialities of the modern state in the wake of western desolation. In the process, they devised strikingly new ways to understand politics, sociology and history that reverberate still. In this major intellectual history, Ira Katznelson examines the works of Hannah Arendt, Robert Dahl, Richard Hofstadter, Harold Lasswell, Charles Lindblom, Karl Polanyi, and David Truman, detailing their engagement with the larger project of reclaiming the West's moral bearing.

In light of their epoch's calamities these intellectuals insisted that the tradition of Enlightenment thought required a new realism, a good deal of renovation, and much recommitment. This array of historians, political philosophers, and social scientists understood that a simple reassertion of liberal modernism had been made radically insufficient by the enormities and moral catastrophes of war, totalitarianism, and holocaust. Confronting their period's dashed hopes for reason and knowledge, they asked not just whether the Enlightenment should define modernity, but which Enlightenment we should wish to have. Decades later, in the midst of a new type of war and reanimated discussions of the concept of evil, we share no small stake in assessing their successes and limitations.

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
The horrors that culminated in the 1940s — world war, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust — dealt a severe blow to Western society's faith in the Enlightenment, rationality, and human progress. In this masterful excursion into the history of ideas, Katznelson explores how a "reconstructionist" generation of political scholars has since attempted to make sense of these dark times and rethink the bases of political theory and liberal community. The book is organized around a sequence of intellectual portraits. Hannah Arendt's treatise on totalitarianism and Karl Polanyi's analysis of the geopolitical structures of the liberal international order offered new insights into large-scale historical change. David Truman and Richard Hofstadter searched for ways to reconcile liberal democracy with the new modern state. Harold Lassell, Robert Dahl, and Charles Lindblom pioneered policy studies that sought to harness technological advances for larger social ends. Katznelson contends that these intrepid intellectuals were united in their determination to maneuver between nihilism and absolutism while preserving their ideals in an age of global catastrophe. Although the book was written largely before the attacks of September 11, 2001, it speaks powerfully to today's struggles to reconcile liberal values with a new threat of violence.
Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

Katznelson's book is well written, a clear yet crystalline, multifaceted examination of the plight of Enlightenment thought.

Foreign Affairs - G. John Ikenberry

In this masterful excursion into the history of ideas, Katznelson explores how a 'reconstructionist' generation of political scholars has since attempted to make sense of these dark times and rethink the bases of political theory and liberal community... Although the book was written largely before the attacks of September 11, 2001, it speaks powerfully to today's struggles to reconcile liberal values with a new threat of violence.

Antioch Review - Maurice Meilleur

Katznelson's book remarkably (re)describes post-World War II American political studies... This is an important book.

European Journal of Social Theory - Kamila Stullerova

Katznelson's book is an excellent study of one episode in the history of social sciences, an episode that is by no means interesting only to historians. Historical institutionalism is still a very productive approach andDesolation and Enlightenment helps to identify the strengths and limitations of this approach that may be hidden to its contemporary advocates and critics... Katznelson's work shows how real the dilemmas of the political studies enlightenment group are to all of us.

Antioch Review
Katznelson's book remarkably (re)describes post-World War II American political studies... This is an important book.

— Maurice Meilleur

European Journal of Social Theory
Katznelson's book is an excellent study of one episode in the history of social sciences, an episode that is by no means interesting only to historians. Historical institutionalism is still a very productive approach and Desolation and Enlightenment helps to identify the strengths and limitations of this approach that may be hidden to its contemporary advocates and critics... Katznelson's work shows how real the dilemmas of the political studies enlightenment group are to all of us.

— Kamila Stullerova

Ethics & International Affairs

Desolation and Enlightenment is a passionate call to arms.... [Katznelson's] book provides inspiration and considerable guidance for anyone who believes in the social responsibilities of intellectuals.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231507424
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
05/06/2003
Series:
Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
File size:
2 MB

What People are saying about this

E. J. Dionne

Brilliant... an event not only in the history of ideas, but in our own history, too.

E.J. Dionne
Brilliant... an event not only in the history of ideas, but in our own history, too.
Saskia Sassen

The larger intellectual and normative project in this brilliant book is to revise and extend the legacies of Enlightenment thought so as to help us confront war and violence.... Today, when we once again face a period of desolations and a new type of total war, Katznelson's book assumes a whole new importance.

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