THE DE-MORALIZATION OF SOCIETY

FROM VICTORIAN VIRTUES TO MODERN VALUES

The prominent historian of Victorian ideas here boldly links her scholarly research to contemporary cultural issues. Her not-so- hidden agenda is to provide the intellectual basis for a ``new reformation'' that would restore ``moral and civic virtues'' in an increasingly amoral society. In order to recast the current debate about ``values,'' Himmelfarb (On Looking into the Abyss, 1994) turns attention from this relativistic term and focuses on the Victorian-era notion of ``virtue,'' which was family-oriented and more secular than traditional Christian virtue. In 19th-century England, both the working class and the bourgeoisie aspired to a level of respectability that incorporated beliefs in ``work, thrift, cleanliness, and self-reliance.'' Far from the coercive, absolutist morality posited by most radical historians, Himmelfarb discovers a civil society that democratized virtue: Working men could be ``gentlemen,'' and wives could find satisfaction in managing their homes and families. In short, ordinary people could attain ordinary virtues. Himmelfarb's truly revisionist account lets her Victorian witnesses speak for themselves, and they pay tribute to a time when enlightened self-interest coincided with the public good. Though some historians persist in portraying the era as materialistic, Himmelfarb re-examines Victorian attitudes toward both poverty and reform. Her contemporary subtext becomes clearer in controversial chapters on Victorian Jews as the quintessential Victorians and 19th-century government intervention in social issues as the precursor of present-day failures. One need not accept Himmelfarb's explanation for social and cultural decline—she's rabidly anti-materialist—to agree that the Victorians provide an admirable counter-example to our present malaise. This is first-rate intellectual history, fully attentive to the social and political contexts.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-43817-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more