The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century

An Essay on Late Modernity

Written by Chantal Delsol, translated by Robin Dick

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The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century

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In The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century, the sequel to Icarus Fallen, published by ISI Books in 2003, Chantal Delsol maintains that the age in which we live—late modernity—calls into question most of the truths and beliefs bequeathed to us from the past. Yet it clings to a central belief in the dignity of the human person, the cornerstone of the doctrine of universal human rights to which even secular Westerners still cling. At the same time, the process of dehumanization so evident in the ideologies and totalitarianism of the twentieth century remains at work. Delsol charges that it is not enough to proclaim human rights as a sort of incantation but that, rather, one must understand what sort of being the human person is if humans are to be genuinely respected. In other words, if the philosophy of human rights is to form the basis of Western culture, it must rest on a truer understanding of the human person than that which is taught—both explicitly and implicitly—in the contemporary West.

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Pages 235
Publisher ISI Books
What They're Saying...

"[P]olitical thinkers will want to carefully examine the overall argument Delsol makes for the subject, and particularly to consider whether the qualified defense of modernity it invloves is tenable. I think it is, and thus regard The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century as a work that holds promise of fostering new directions of thought… Since the early 1970's contemporary society has often felt as if it were stuck in a cul-de-sac, continually fated to the mere elaboration or recycling of the same basic patterns of lifestyle, politics, and art. Delsol…offers a way out of our dead end…"
Carl Eric Scott, Society

“Among the handful of European thinkers who have turned their attention toward the profound crises of contemporary Europe, Chantal Delsol ranks among the most perceptive and astute. In The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century, Delsol guides us toward the intellectual underpinnings of modern Europe and its continual fatal attraction to totalitarianism. This book is an indispensable guide for the understanding the modern West and an invitation to contemplate its future.”
Steven Frankel, Xavier University

“One can be a philosopher and still have nerve. In her latest work, Chantal Delsol addresses a timely problem by exposing the contradiction that threatens human rights, and thereby their fragility.”
Spectacle du Monde

"Delsol starts her work with a fundamental question: why is it the case that by 2000, societies that had barely weathered the horrors of two (sometimes more) shapes of totalitarianism find themselves mired in mental and existential approaches that seem strikingly similar to those of their infamous predecessors? In other words, Delsol wonders...whether we are not heading toward a new kind of totalitarianism, a totalitarianism of the "center," the kind of conformity against which early twentieth-century authors of dystopia had warned us earnestly. ...On the whole this is a first-class work, well in the tradition of Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers.... It displays a fresh and encouraging freedom of thought, for which the intelligent reader remains thankful. It also continues in a promising way an already impressive body of work that ought to be much better known on our side of the Atlantic and that would bring here much needed insight."
Virgil Nemoianu, Review of Metaphysics

"In Delsol, we find a sober articulation of the disgust many of us have intuitively felt toward our era, and what is far more, a standpoint from which a genuinely new tomorrow, neither anti-modern nor progressivist, becomes quite conceivable. Given that the only alternative appears to be the continuation of our sullen downward spiral into consumerist hyper-individualism, and thus eventually into soft despotism, the true defenders of human and individual dignity should eagerly seek out this book."
Society

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