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The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity
Contents:
  1. ENEMIES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity
  2. Journal of Social History
  3. Happiness | Grove Atlantic

McMahon argues that the conservative impulse to defend religious orthodoxy against Enlightenment tends to produce, by a kind of inexorable logic, a reactionary ideology that is at least as radical as its secular Enlightenment antagonist. And that very futility can inspire a degree of desperation that is compatible with political extremism of various forms, as reactionary forces come to embrace any political movement that holds out the impossible hope of routing modernity once and for all.

What, then, would McMahon have us do? The question is not as inappropriate as it might seem. For the most part, the book floats high above such issues, looking down on them from a position of detachment. Does a healthy politics require a religious foundation? Is unlimited social and intellectual license compatible with the common good? Are families endangered by a generalized decline in respect for authority? McMahon refuses to answer such questions because he is led by his argument to claim that this very way of posing the questions reflects a Counter-Enlightenment bias.

McMahon thus portrays himself as a partisan of the center, and invites us to join him there.

ENEMIES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity

But can his center hold? We have reason to doubt it. What led to passionate disagreement between them was a dispute about whether those aims were compatible with the common good and human happiness. Despite his efforts to remain above the fray, McMahon is clearly on the side of the French Enlightenment. This is unfortunate. The last thing we need now is a tacit apology for the aggressively secular Enlightenment that dominated France in the eighteenth century and permeates our universities and institutions of higher culture today.

And neither do we need another attack on the Counter-Enlightenment forces that in many cases, understandably overreacted in an attempt to defend religion against the secularist onslaught. As Tocqueville noted, there is another possibility. Indeed, they can nurture one another. What we need today, above all, is to understand how to recapture and sustain this symbiotic relationship.

Damon Linker is associate editor of First Things. Close Login. Web Exclusives First Thoughts. Intellectual Retreats Erasmus Lectures. Video Podcasts.

Off Center by Damon Linker February McClay, Commentary. Happiness is a thoughtful work on a subject of enduring significance, which modern philosophers have imprudently abandoned to the scribblings of charlatans and mountebanks. Darrin McMahon is a talented young historian who wears his learning lightly; he writes with grace, wit, and just the right blend of intellectual sympathy and moral skepticism. His book deserves a wide audience.

Journal of Social History

Petersburg Times. Throughout McMahon leads the reader with strong, clear thinking, laying out his ideas with grace, both challenging and entertaining us in equal measure. McMahon elegantly expedites the discussion of happiness. Hegel instructed us to find happiness only on the blank pages of history.

Would that he had access to this truly estimable work. The narrative steers a deft course between the writings and lives of great men. As places where fun could be had, the pleasure gardens were forbearers of our modern amusement parks, offering games and recreation, spectacles and refreshments, music and sanctuaries, in which lovers could stroll.

They put flesh on the new endorsement of pleasure expressed in theory by the likes of Locke, symbolizing perfectly a wider eighteenth-century aspiration to create space for happiness on earth. This was our earthly purpose. As the poet Alexander Pope declared in his celebrated lines:. Judged by the standards of the preceding millennium and a half, the question was extraordinary: a right to happiness? And yet it was posed rhetorically, in full confidence of the nodding assent of enlightened minds.

Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. Home Books Happiness Share This. Grove Press. About The Book Today, human beings tend to think of happiness as a natural right. Darrin M. McMahon on happiness: I was living in New York in the roaring s and happiness—its promise, its possibility, its allure—seemed to be everywhere around me. How do you define happiness? Tags Social History. Excerpt Happiness As places where fun could be had, the pleasure gardens were forbearers of our modern amusement parks, offering games and recreation, spectacles and refreshments, music and sanctuaries, in which lovers could stroll.


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Happiness | Grove Atlantic

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