Item description for The City of Man by Pierre Manent, Marc A. LePain & Jean Bethke Elshtain...
The "City of God" or the "City of Man"? This is the choice St. Augustine offered 1500 years ago--and according to Pierre Manent the modern West has decisively and irreversibly chosen the latter. In this subtle and wide-ranging book on the Western intellectual and political condition, Manent argues that the West has rejected the laws of God and of nature in a quest for human autonomy. But in declaring ourselves free and autonomous, he contends, we have, paradoxically, lost a sense of what it means to be human.
In the first part of the book, Manent explores the development of the social sciences since the seventeenth century, portraying their growth as a sign of increasing human "self-consciousness." But as social scientists have sought to free us from the intellectual confines of the ancient world, he writes, they have embraced modes of analysis--economic, sociological, and historical--that treat only narrow aspects of the human condition and portray individuals as helpless victims of impersonal forces. As a result, we have lost all sense of human agency and of the unified human subject at the center of intellectual study. Politics and culture have come to be seen as mere foam on the tides of historical and social necessity.
In the second half of the book, titled "Self-Affirmation," Manent examines how the West, having discovered freedom, then discovered arbitrary will and its dangers. With no shared touchstones or conceptions of virtue, for example, we have found it increasingly hard to communicate with each other. This is a striking contrast to the past, he writes, when even traditions as different as the Classical and the Christian held many of these conceptions in common.
The result of these discoveries, according to Manent, is the disturbing rootlessness that characterizes our time. By gaining autonomy from external authority, we have lost a sense of what we are. In "giving birth" to ourselves, we have abandoned that which alone can nurture and sustain us. With penetrating insight and remarkable erudition, Manent offers a profound analysis of the confusions and contradictions at the heart of the modern condition.
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Studio: Princeton University Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.26" Width: 6.16" Height: 0.62" Weight: 0.75 lbs.
Release Date May 7, 2000
Publisher Princeton University Press
ISBN 0691050252 ISBN13 9780691050256
Availability 0 units.
More About Pierre Manent, Marc A. LePain & Jean Bethke Elshtain
Pierre Manent is Director of Studies at L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.
Pierre Manent has an academic affiliation as follows - L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris..
Reviews - What do customers think about The City of Man?
Strange Book Mar 28, 2005
Manent's style is to pick out one passage from Locke, Smith, Durkheim, etc., and then around that one slim passage he builds an entire theory of liberalism, capitalism, sociology, etc. that is supposedly characteristic of modernity. This approach has the advantage of avoiding the large chunks of text that I usually just skip, and it has the other advantage of pushing a tendentious argument to its breaking point. Manent adheres to Strauss's version of the history of modern thought as a history of the simplification of the soul, the implication being that one has to uncover or recover a more complicated version of human nature, without the grey concept nets of modern thought. The other strand of his argument is that the modern state resembles a monkish cell, except that god is replaced by the empty law of the state apparatus. He traces this through Hobbes and Rousseau and up to Freud, hence the concept of sublimation (see my point about pushing arguments to the breaking point?) Which brings me to my problem with the book. Manent's historical studies are not written sine ira et studio -- Manent came to bury, not to praise. He wrote the book so as to be done with liberalism, but no matter how many books he writes, it's not going away.
Amendment to the previous review Sep 5, 2000
The first this site.com review here offered by a reader from Dallas, Texas, strikes me as slightly misleading. "Good fascists," Christian monks, and heroic military invention make no appearance in Pierre Manent's THE CITY OF MAN. They are, rather, that particular reader's context for understanding what Manent is writing about: namely, Montesquieu and the career of liberal political theory and its social-scientific offspring in the past several centuries.
Manent's project is to try to understand "modern man." But to do so confronts us immediately with a riddle. To understand modern man, we would seem first to need to understand man's NATURE; but then, if man has a nature, HISTORY should not matter, and there could be no deep difference between modern man and ancient man. Yet we intuitively know that there is a very real modern "difference." "Modern man" seems to be both a natural being and an historical being. How can we understand this paradox?
In pursuing this question with formidable dialectical subtlety, Manent has opened genuinely new ground in political philosophy -- or at least retrieved a possibility which has been eclipsed for several centuries. Manent has learned much from Leo Strauss, and it is perhaps readers of Strauss who will find this book most extraordinary. For Manent in effect takes issue with a central tenet of Strauss's political philosophy: the alternatives we face are NOT exhausted by those offered by "ancients" and "moderns." For such a structuring of the history of political philosophy fails to do justice to what is unique in Christianity.
Manent's singular contribution, then, is to recover the genuinely philosophical implications of Grace.
If truly absorbed, book could set you frighteningly adrift. Aug 18, 1999
Most world religions have not recognized what we call "progress" as a major category. Long before Christian monks unleashed science through their formulation of the scientific method, high cultures were being annihilated by a seemingly willful ignoring of the military importance of innovation. The "good Fascists" Evola and Guenon,while showing the inevitable decline of all civilizations with the underclass demolishing everything man-conceived in the final phase, they seem to "heroically" rise above mentioning the importance of delaying "kali yuga" by cranking up the power of military innovation. Guenon makes no mention of it, and Evola briefly mentions it with no conclusions. But it does appear to me human "progress is an illusion, and material progress is utterly superficial, if it weren't so dangerous, without human progress. CITY OF MAN shows a particularly precipitous discontinuity in the slope of human regress when Montesquieu irresponsibly, even mischievously blurs the connotations of classical and Christian "virtue" and recasts the word in egalitarian terms. He meretriciously appeals to Nietzsche's ressentiment in this last phase, not of Christian/Judeo/Islam Civilization, but this last phase of civilizational Christianity/Judaism/Islam. This will-to-nihilism, the morbid end of will-to-power, was taken up by Rousseau, as Manent points out, and we know the trail of mischief-makers since. We laugh at all forms of the Sacred, but strangely no one laughs when the word "rights" is spoken, neither the speaker nor the listener. Yet the enterprise of Hobbes, his right to life and the more important right to