Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
RAR 11:4 (Fall 2002) p. 173
At The End Of An Age, John Lukacs. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University, Press (2002). 230 pages, cloth, $22.95
John Lukacs is a widely-known popular historian and the author of more than twenty works, including The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age, The Hitler of History, Five Days in London, May 1940, The Passing of the Modern Age, and A History of the Cold War. I was personally introduced to John Lukacs by a marvelous C-Span television interview with Brian Lamb on one of my favorite programs, Booknotes. (For those who do not know Brian Lamb and the weekly program Booknotes, I urge you to watch it. It airs on Sunday evenings at both 7 and 10 p.m. Central Time.)
In this lively new work Professor Lukacs has written a marvelous personal reflection on the nature of historical and scientific knowledge which flows out of a lifetime of thought about history and the human condition. His thesis runs counter to most of the academic ideas of our time and provides the reader with a compelling paradigm for understanding history, science, and human self-knowledge.
Simply stated, Lukacs argues that the Western world is now passing through the end of the Modern Age, a historical period that began five hundred years ago in Western Europe. The word “modern” appeared in English about 1580. Initially the use of the term was quite close to the Latin modernus, meaning “today’s,” or the “present time.” Gradually the term shifted to mean “new” rather than something “old.” Lukacs writes:
RAR 11:4 (Fall 2002) p. 174
By the end of the seventeenth century, in English but also in some other Western European languages, another allied meaning became current among learned people, a concept which was one of the results of the emergence of historical consciousness. This was the recognition that there have been three historic ages, the Ancient, the Middle, and now the Modern—whence “medieval,” having been in the middle, between the Ancient and the Modern (5).
In time, the idea that the Modern Age might last forever, evolved in the West. This idea is now seriously doubted by most academics. Lukacs agrees, but not for the reasons you commonly hear articulated. He believes the Modern Age is breaking up on many fronts. Let me take just one for sake of illustration. The Modern Age, says Lukacs, discovered the virtues and pleasures of privacy. Before this age life was public in more ways than one. The idea of the bourgeois house or apartment evolved. Says Lukacs, “The very word ‘home’ acquired a new meaning. Among other things, the respect for privacy distinguished a civilized society from the barbarians or primitive ...
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