The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century: An Essay On Late Modernity by Chantal Delsol, a french contemporary philosopher seems like a very interesting book. Ms Delsol self describes herself as a neo-liberal. This book came up in a search of book in the “Library of Modern Thinkers” series which summarizes the currents of thought of (mostly conservative and libertarian) important political, economic and philosophical figures. This book is very much different in that it is a (striking it seems) essay by one of these figures and not another author or expert summarizing and putting their works in perspective. Over the next few weeks (months?) I’m going to examine, hopefully chapter by chapter, the topics and ideas presented in this book.
In the introduction (chapter 1) Ms Delsol poses following, “Imagine and heir who has just been informed that his inheritance consists of a trunk full of serpents.” This is how she presents our present inheritance from the turbulent 20th century. The 20th century began with hope and a looking for great promise of the future and is ending with shame over totalitarian excesses. Ours is an age which is rejecting hope.
She also suggests why this age might be termed “late modernity” in particular to call to mind particular parallels with late antiquity. Like (Western) Rome of late antiquity, our society shows similar signs of aging in its arts. Late antiquity had “an affirmation of art without meaning, literature which was simultaneously pretentious and trivial, and a dwindling population.” Hmm. Sound familiar?
There is yet, one idea which had sprung forth in late antiquity which still remains, perhaps wounded and ailing today, that offers promise. The idea of the dignity of individual man remains. This idea had come under assault in the 20th century, notably in the totalitarian regimes but in other venues as well. Ms Delsol offers in what follows a clarion cry for the necessity of preserving this core principal.