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

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

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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.
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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.
Foreign Affairs
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.

— G. John Ikenberry

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.

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 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.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Ira Katznelson

Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University. He is the author of many books, including Marxism and the City and the award-winning Liberalism's Crooked Circle: Letters to Adam Michnik. He has served as president of the Social Science History Association and of the Politics and History Section of the American Political Science Association.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Beyond the Common Measure 1
2 The Origins of Dark Times 47
3 A Seminar on the State 107
4 A New Objectivity 153
Index 177
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