The City of Man:

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Overview

The "City of God" or the "City of Man"? This is the choice St. Augustine offered 1500 years ago—and according to Pierre Manent the modern West has decisively and irreversibly chosen the latter. In this subtle and wide-ranging book on the Western intellectual and political condition, Manent argues that the West has rejected the laws of God and of nature in a quest for human autonomy. But in declaring ourselves free and autonomous, he contends, we have, paradoxically, lost a sense of what it means to be human.

In the first part of the book, Manent explores the development of the social sciences since the seventeenth century, portraying their growth as a sign of increasing human "self-consciousness." But as social scientists have sought to free us from the intellectual confines of the ancient world, he writes, they have embraced modes of analysis—economic, sociological, and historical—that treat only narrow aspects of the human condition and portray individuals as helpless victims of impersonal forces. As a result, we have lost all sense of human agency and of the unified human subject at the center of intellectual study. Politics and culture have come to be seen as mere foam on the tides of historical and social necessity.

In the second half of the book, titled "Self-Affirmation," Manent examines how the West, having discovered freedom, then discovered arbitrary will and its dangers. With no shared touchstones or conceptions of virtue, for example, we have found it increasingly hard to communicate with each other. This is a striking contrast to the past, he writes, when even traditions as different as the Classical and the Christian held many of these conceptions in common.

The result of these discoveries, according to Manent, is the disturbing rootlessness that characterizes our time. By gaining autonomy from external authority, we have lost a sense of what we are. In "giving birth" to ourselves, we have abandoned that which alone can nurture and sustain us. With penetrating insight and remarkable erudition, Manent offers a profound analysis of the confusions and contradictions at the heart of the modern condition.

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Editorial Reviews

The Wall Street Journal - Peter Berger
[Manent's] book is probably the most relentless assault on modernity to appear in many years. It is in many ways a brilliant book.
The Washington Times - Dianna Schaub
Certainly a word of thanks is due to the editors of the New French Thought series, and to Marc A. LePain, the translator of this volume, for making available to an American audience a work of such challenging clarity and depth.
First Things - Russell Hittinger
Manent is perhaps the brightest light in a new generation of French intellectuals.
From the Publisher
"[Manent's] book is probably the most relentless assault on modernity to appear in many years. It is in many ways a brilliant book."—Peter Berger, The Wall Street Journal

"Working within a framework that sees the modern project as a sustained attempt to abolish the question of 'man' and replace it with 'history,' Manent breathes new life into the debate between ancients and moderns."The Review of Politics

"Certainly a word of thanks is due to the editors of the New French Thought series, and to Marc A. LePain, the translator of this volume, for making available to an American audience a work of such challenging clarity and depth."—Dianna Schaub, The Washington Times

"Manent is perhaps the brightest light in a new generation of French intellectuals."—Russell Hittinger, First Things

First Things
Manent is perhaps the brightest light in a new generation of French intellectuals.
— Russell Hittinger
The Wall Street Journal
[Manent's] book is probably the most relentless assault on modernity to appear in many years. It is in many ways a brilliant book.
— Peter Berger
The Review of Politics
Working within a framework that sees the modern project as a sustained attempt to abolish the question of 'man' and replace it with 'history,' Manent breathes new life into the debate between ancients and moderns.
The Washington Times
Certainly a word of thanks is due to the editors of the New French Thought series, and to Marc A. LePain, the translator of this volume, for making available to an American audience a work of such challenging clarity and depth.
— Dianna Schaub
John Gray
Pierre Manent's City of Man is nothing less than a diagnosis of the modern condition. Subtly written and containing passages of deep learning, it presents a powerful challenge to the modern world's image of itself. -- National Review
Library Journal
As we approach the end of the century, which has seen perhaps the most rapid and pervasive changes in society and culture ever, many Western writers are reexamining the consequences of these changes and are discovering that they have not necessarily all been for the good. In this book, first published in France in 1994 and now translated into English for the first time, Manent (philosophy, cole des Hautes tudes Sociales, Paris) examines what he takes to be the fundamental rootlessness of Western civilization. He argues that in freeing ourselves from the intellectual orientation of the ancient world, which studied man "as man," we have become excessively self-conscious, fixing upon the study rather of "modern man." The result of this refocusing, Manent argues, is that we have lost man "as man" as a focus of study and come to see our culture as influenced by various waves of historical, social, and political necessity. In essence, we have become divorced from the traditions that formerly helped us to anchor and sustain ourselves, and we are now drifting confused, the victims of forces that we do not control and quite probably do not understand. Manent's thesis is not new, but his contribution to the debate is the presentation of the problem in a clear and cogent fashion, and for this reason, his work is valuable. Recommended for all libraries.Terry C. Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691050256
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/17/2000
  • Series: New French Thought Series
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,155,625
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword Jean Bethke Elshtain
Introduction
Part One: THE SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS OF MODERN MAN
CHAPTER I The Authority of History
CHAPTER II The Sociological Viewpoint
CHAPTER III The Economic System
Part Two: THE SELF-AFFIRMATION OF MODERN MAN
CHAPTER IV The Hidden Man
CHAPTER V The Triumph of the Will
CHAPTER VI The End of Nature
Notes
Index

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