Desolation and Enlightenment

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

Ira Katznelson
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Desolation and Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50742-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    (pp. 1-46)

    At the University of Chicago celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of its Social Science Research Building in November 1955, Harold Lasswell concluded his remarks by reflecting on the role of social scientists “in the social process,” which he summarized as that of “reconstructing our institutions of enlightenment.”¹ This was no mere turn of phrase. Lasswell, arguably the country’s leading political scientist during the prior decade, had been a significant participant in a many-shaped endeavor to recast political knowledge as a quest to renew and protect the western tradition of Enlightenment.

    During and especially after the Second World War, a learned...

    (pp. 47-106)

    We continue to be inundated by efforts to comprehend the character and sources of the decades of desolation that spanned the twentieth century’s two world wars. On my desk, as I write, sit a ‘black book’ chronicling ‘crimes, terror, and repression’ under Communism; a synoptic treatment of that ideology’s appeal by one of France’s leading intellectuals; a haunting reconsideration of death and memory in Russia; a revisionist account of the role of the German army in killing civilians early in the First World War; a controversial memoir of the geography of killing and escape in the holocaust; a magisterial history...

    (pp. 107-152)

    In 1986, the historian William Leuchtenburg, a former member of a faculty workshop at Columbia University, founded in 1945 and calling itself the Seminar on the State, delivered a presidential address to the Organization of American Historians on “The Pertinence of Political History: Reflections on the Significance of the State in America.” Leuchtenburg promoted ‘the state’ as the best available analytical and historical object historians might use to revive political history, then in the doldrums, having lost its commanding position in the discipline.¹ A half-decade later, he penned a brief memoir in which he recalled his move to Columbia in...

    (pp. 153-176)

    The cosmography of Israel identifies a passageway beneath the Holy of Holies at Jerusalem’s First and Second Temples. It led to the Tehom,the fathomless deep of darkness, chaos, disorder.¹ The priestly stratum, the Cohanim, was charged to block this passageway. I have understood the purpose of this book to ask whether, today, when we have no Temple, no priestly caste, no fixed validity, and no revealed truth, an extended and fortified Enlightenment, rooted in its original values of toleration, reason, rule of law, free inquiry, and opposition to despotism, might successfully guard the passageway to the Tehom.

    My intellectual history...

  8. Index
    (pp. 177-185)