Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is noteworthy for its readiness to tread upon questions of morality and metaphysics that most historians would consider forbidden terrain. It is a common characteristic of historical scholarship as it is practiced in the modern university today that it abstains from grand philosophical themes and fastens its attention upon a narrow set of questions in an empiricist mode. This is perhaps due in part to the way that a highly administered society that is bound with ever-increasing intensity to technocratic norms is inclined to make a fetish of academic specialization. It is no doubt also due to an accumulation of historical knowledge and a professional imperative to keep abreast of the published work within one’s field. Because the drive to produce in the corporate university cannot exempt itself from the largely quantitative assessment of a scholar’s value, the sheer mass of information to be absorbed increases as the range of academic expertise narrows. Despite the new vogue for “global” history and high sales for books that extol the apparent superiority of Western civilization, most historians are humble creatures who prefer the domesticity of the local and the precise.Read the rest of Has modernity failed?.
Peter E. Gordon
Peter E. Gordon is the Amabel B. James Professor of History at Harvard University, where he teaches topics in modern European social thought and intellectual history. His first book, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, Between Judaism and German Philosophy (California, 2003) received the Salo W. Baron Prize from the Academy for Jewish Research for Best First Book, the Goldstein-Goren Prize for Best Book in Jewish Philosophy, and the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the Journal of the History of Ideas for Best Book in Intellectual History. More recently he published a major historical and analytical reconstruction of interwar German philosophy, entitled Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos (Harvard, 2010), which received the Jacques Barzun Prize from the American Philosophical Society. He has co-edited several volumes, including The Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge, 2007); The Modernist Imagination (Berghahn, 2008); and Weimar Thought: A Contested Legacy (Princeton, 2013). His most recent book, Adorno and Existence: Five Lectures, is forthcoming next year from Harvard University Press.
Posts by Peter E. Gordon:
“At stake in our political life,” Paul Kahn observes, “has been not our capacity to be reasonable, but our capacity to realize in and through our own lives an ultimate meaning.” While it would require little effort for me to catalogue the many insights that seized my attention while reading Kahn’s thoughtful and highly provocative new book, it is this basic insight that chiefly arouses my interest, insofar as it serves as the organizing premise for the argument as a whole. It is therefore this claim most of all that deserves close scrutiny.Read the rest of Political theology and political existentialism.