Final Exam Review
This semester we have studied the ideas that emerged from 19th and 20th century Europe in response to the Enlightenment belief that human reason could lead civilization to a new, just and harmonious society. Liberal economists like Adam Smith argued that societies which possess the greatest freedom create the most productive economies. Political philosophers like Voltaire and John Locke proposed a new model of government, one which freed the individual from the constraints of aristocratic tyranny and the long domination of intellectual life by the Church. Locke’s conception of the human mind, tabula rasa, posited a model of learning which suggested that our brains are elaborate recording devices and our identities are shaped solely by our experiences. Original Sin does not exist, and we are capable of using reason to shape our experiences, to educate ourselves, and to solve society’s problems: we are good. The English, American, and, eventually, the French Revolution brought into being the first great liberal societies, havens of the middle class, where governments protect individual rights and encourage capitalist competition. Social thinkers believed that by using reason to engineer society we could eliminate poverty, injustice and war. The great liberal revolutions promised equal opportunity for each citizen to achieve success, to determine his own destiny.
In reaction against the philosophes' mechanical and scientific understanding of reality, the great German Idealist philosophers Kant and Hegel posed a wholly different conception of man’s relationship to the world: the human imagination shapes reality in ways determined by an individual’s or a culture’s unique soul. Massive political, economic and religious forces contend with each other and shape the culture of an age, driving civilization forward into new shapes. A new generation of Romantic poets, musicians, and artists celebrated the genius of the individual, blazed visions of truth shaped by passion, and sought the connection between man and the universe in the moral realm, not the mathematical. This celebration of the individual in many ways complemented the liberal’s conception of a society which offers people freedom and protects their natural rights.
In the late nineteenth century, though, Romanticism took a new and disturbing turn. The Industrial Revolution did not create a society which resembled The Crystal Palace envisioned by the great liberal thinkers of the 18th century. Instead the late nineteenth century metropolises, London, Berlin, New York and Chicago, had become places of terrible contrasts: enormous wealth and power were juxtaposed with abject poverty. Unrestrained by government, liberal capitalism lurched from one economic crisis to another. Liberal governments engaged in cutthroat contests for imperial markets around the world. And in the factories, workers suffering inhumane conditions slowly began to sense the enormous power they might wield if they could unite.
Influenced by the ideas of Freud, Darwin, Marx and Nietzsche, a modern generation of writers and artists reacted against liberalism and its intellectual underpinnings: rationalism, capitalism, and the whole tradition of art which had grown from the Renaissance celebration of the Greek Ideal. Freud suggested that human nature, even reason itself, was driven by dark desires in our instinct. Nietzsche argued that these same instincts needed to be liberated to save Europe from liberal timidity and moral stagnation. Marx too believed that forces much larger than our own reason or will drive human history, only he identified the class struggle as the driving force of history. Darwin portrayed nature as a battlefield in which a struggle between species for survival in an ever-changing environment drives evolution.
During the late nineteenth century, the competition between the great capitalist nation states for imperial power took on ugly and racist overtones. Conflict between worker and factory owner threatened to explode in violence. Fascism and Marxism, political movements that grew from new forms of conservatism and socialism, rose up to oppose liberal governments. European Civilization slid into desperate convulsions of revolution and world war which continued over a thirty year period and only ended when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
Liberalism survived the great crisis of the Modern Era, but just barely.
The Cosmic Salon: The Lessons of the Modern Era
What have we learned from the terrible ordeals of the twentieth century? What would the following thinkers say about the prospects of liberalism surviving the 21st Century? How will liberals like you and me discover a path that can lead to a better, if not a perfect world?
Choose at least six writers from any of the groups to include in your conversation.
Invite your salon members to a Bunker Block at the Auschwitz prison camp to speak with Primo about his situation.
The French Revolution
Abbé Sieyes: What is the Third Estate?
Maximilian Robespierre: Terror and Virtue, 1794
Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France
Thomas Paine: Rights on Man 1792 (commentary)
Napoleon Bonaparte: Europe and the Superior Being: Napoleon
Immanuel Kant: Sophie on Kant
Georg Frederich Hegel: Sophie on Hegel
William Blake: Introduction
Edgar Allan Poe Poe Study Guide
Nikolai Gogol "Nose" Guide
Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Adam Smith, Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Thomas Malthus: Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Alexis de Toqueville: Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Jeremy Bentham: Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Charles Fourier: Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Robert Owen: Nineteenth Century Ideologies
Friedrich Engels: Industrial Manchester, 1844
World War One
Junger, from The War as Inner Experience (1922)
The Bolshevik Revolution
Lenin (1870-1924): What is to Be Done?, 1902
The Nazi RevolutionThe Roots of Nazism in 19th c. German Nationalism
World War One in Germany:
The Versailles Treaty and Weimar Germany:
World War Two, Operation Barbarossa, and The Holocaust:
Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (Notes)
And from the first semester: