Past and Present: The Challenges of Modernity, from the Pre-Victorians to the Postmodernists

Past and Present: The Challenges of Modernity, from the Pre-Victorians to the Postmodernists

by Gertrude Himmelfarb


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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner. In Past and Present, an eminent American historian and cultural critic shows the truth of that statement. The common theme of the twenty essays gathered here is the intriguing, often unexpected ways in which the past continues to illuminate the present.

Gertrude Himmelfarb helps us find a new perspective on contemporary issues through a trenchant analysis of debates and thinkers from earlier times. She allows the past to inform the present, without distorting either past or present.

The topics of the essays vary widely, from the disorders of modern democracy to the challenges of postmodernism, from the Victorian ethos to the Jewish question. The thinkers examined range from Edmund Burke to Leo Strauss, from Cardinal Newman to Lionel Trilling. The political figures who appear here are also diverse, from Benjamin Disraeli to Winston Churchill, from the American founders to Queen Elizabeth II.

Running through all the essays as a first premise is the conviction that the pursuit of knowledge and truth, however difficult or discomfiting, matters immensely in the “practical life,” to use Trilling’s terms, as it does in the “moral life.” Past and Present is a notable contribution to this endeavor—to understanding where we have been, where we are today, and where we may be (or should be) going.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594039256
Publisher: Encounter Books
Publication date: 04/25/2017
Series: Encounter Classics
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of the City of New York, is a distinguished intellectual and cultural historian. Her most recent books are The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, The Moral Imagination: From Adam Smith to Lionel Trilling, and The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii

The Past and the Present

1 Leo Strauss: Ancients and Moderns 3

2 William James: Once-Born and Twice-Born 17

The Past versus the Present

3 Burke's War on Terror - and Ours 29

4 Arnold's Culture War - and Ours 34

5 Bagehot's Constitution - and Ours 48

6 Churchill's Welfare State - and Ours 65

7 The Jewish Question - Then and Now 76

Visionaries and Provocateurs

8 Carlyle: Moralist and Immoralist 85

9 Disraeli: Der Alte Jude 95

10 Cardinal Newman: Education and Christianity 105

11 T.H.Huxley: Evolution and Ethics 109

12 Einstein: The Scientist as Pacifist 119

13 Trilling: The Moral Imagination, Properly Understood 130

Of This Time, Of That Place

14 American Democracy and Its European Critics 137

15 Democratic Remedies for Democratic Disorders 149

16 Compassionate Conservatism: 18th-Century England and 21st-century America 176

17 Our Fourth of July and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee 185

18 Victorian Values, Jewish Values 192

19 For the Love of Country: Civil Society and the State 218

20 From Postmodernism to Transgenderism 227

Original Publication Credits 233

Index 235

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Gertrude Himmelfarb describes herself as an ‘old-timer’ in this profound and thought-provoking book, but in fact the themes she addresses are timeless, as one would expect from the greatest conservative thinker writing today. She sees today’s issues totally clearly, dispensing with the cant, and places them all in their correct historical context. From Churchill to Lionel Trilling, Thucydides to Einstein, Thomas Carlyle to Caitlyn Jenner, she always has something new, important and interesting to say.”

—Professor Andrew Roberts, Lehrman Institute Distinguished Fellow at the New York Historical Society

“Gertrude Himmelfarb’s terrific new volume of essays spans an intellectual life sustained over some seventy years. Her crisp prose, luminous intelligence and common sense are manifest throughout. This is a one-woman arsenal of civilization, mobilizing the best of past culture to come to the aid of a present beset by anarchy.”

—Daniel Johnson, founding editor of Standpoint

“Gertrude Himmelfarb’s latest collection of essays is a lively and up-to-date discussion of a range of important subjects, which I heartily recommend to all readers who love history and political ideas.”

—Paul Johnson, writer and historian

“Gertude Himmelfarb writes about issues that are at the center of the present crisis—nationalism, constitutional perils, the deterioration of civil society, culture wars—with wisdom that could come only with her profound grasp of the intellectual history of the West. As I read it, I kept thinking, ‘This is a one-volume liberal education.’ Professor Himmelfarb would be the first to point out that’s not possible. But Past and Present comes awfully close.”

—Charles Murray

“The best from the best! These elegant essays, from our finest intellectual historian, illuminate contemporary versions of enduring cultural and political questions by revisiting their earlier manifestations and the best that was thought and said about them. Each essay is a luminous gem, carved out of Ms. Himmelfarb’s impeccable scholarship, and polished by her singularly wise intelligence and keen moral sense.”

—Leon R. Kass, Professor Emeritus, Committee on Social Thought, The University of Chicago

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