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The Roads to Modernity

The British, French, and American Enlightenments

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In an elegant, eminently readable work, one of our most distinguished intellectual historians gives us a brilliant revisionist history. The Roads to Modernity reclaims the Enlightenment–an extraordinary time bursting with new ideas about human nature, politics, society, and religion--from historians who have downgraded its importance and from scholars who have given preeminence to the Enlightenment in France over concurrent movements in England and America.Contrasting the Enlightenments in the three nations, Himmelfarb demonstrates the primacy and wisdom of the British, exemplified in such thinkers as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Edmund Burke, as well as the unique and enduring contributions of the American Founders. It is their Enlightenments, she argues, that created a social ethic–humane, compassionate, and realistic–that still resonates strongly today, in America perhaps even more than in Europe.The Roads to Modernity is a remarkable and illuminating contribution to the history of ideas.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

May 31, 2004 – Himmelfarb, a leading neoconservative historian of ideas (One Nation, Two Cultures, etc.), takes on the ambitious project of reclaiming the Enlightenment from what she sees as delusionary French thinkers and restoring it to the (apparently) virtuous moderation of the English. The French Enlightenment, she claims, was excessively preoccupied with reason and insufficiently concerned with individual liberty; the philosophes idealized Man in the abstract but despised the common man. In contrast, a distinctively humane British Enlightenment was underpinned by ideals of social virtue: compassion, benevolence and sympathy. These thinkers were tolerant and pragmatic, convinced that private self-interest and public welfare were ultimately compatible. Their legacy, Himmelfarb argues, exerts a major influence on contemporary U.S. culture. Himmelfarb's book is both sophisticated and accessible, and makes some valuable revelations: Adam Smith's hostility to the "business class"; Burke's antipathy to British rule in India. One wonders about the value of the term "Enlightenment" when it is so broad as to encompass John Wesley, and the author's exaltation of the English-speaking philosophical tradition appears particularly problematic in her treatment of the American Enlightenment. Was the American Civil War, allegedly fought in defense of liberty, any less terrible than the infamous Terror? Nonetheless, this is a book with important ideological implications that deserves to be read and debated across the political spectrum.
The Roads to Modernity
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Europe
  • Published: Aug 24, 2004
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 304 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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