06 January 2010

Book: The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition

Yale University Press just published "The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition" by Zeev Sternhell (November 2009, trans. David Maisel):


Publisher's description: "In this masterful work of historical scholarship, Zeev Sternhell, an internationally renowned Israeli political scientist and historian, presents a controversial new view of the fall of democracy and the rise of radical nationalism in the twentieth century. Sternhell locates their origins in the eighteenth century with the advent of the Anti-Enlightenment, far earlier than most historians.

"The thinkers belonging to the Anti-Enlightenment (a movement originally identified by Friederich [sic] Nietzsche) represent a perspective that is antirational and that rejects the principles of natural law and the rights of man. Sternhell asserts that the Anti-Enlightenment was a development separate from the Enlightenment and sees the two traditions as evolving parallel to one another over time. He contends that J.G. Herder and Edmund Burke are among the real founders of the Anti-Enlightenment and shows how that school undermined the very foundations of modern liberalism, finally contributing to the development of fascism that culminated in the European catastrophes of the twentieth century."

Other thinkers discussed here (in an unsympathetic manner) are Thomas Carlyle, Ernest Renan, Hippolyte Taine, Benedetto Croce, Charles Maurras, Oswald Spengler, and Isaiah Berlin. The book includes a chapter on "The Law of Inequality and the War on Democracy".

Reviews: "Zeev Sternhell is one of the most original scholars dealing with the historical roots of fascism and the European Right. This new book is a masterly synthesis which will generate vigorous debate and open new vistas for the understanding of contemporary political thought." (Saul Friedlander, UCLA)

"In his The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition, Professor Sternhell has provided us another work of impeccable scholarship and intellectual stimulation. It is recommended to all who are interested in the fate of our civilization." (A. James Gregor, University of California at Berkeley)

"Everything Zeev Sternhell writes is powerful and challenging, and this book is no exception. At a time when Enlightenment values are again under attack, this history of anti-Enlightenment thought is important and timely." (Robert Tombs, University of Cambridge)

"Even readers who disagree with Sternhell's thesis will have to admire the scope and force of his argument." (Susan Rubin Suleiman, Harvard)

Zeev Sternhell is Leon Blum Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and recipient of the 2008 Israel Prize in Political Science.

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