BUILDING A BRIDGE TO THE 18TH CENTURY by Neil Postman

BUILDING A BRIDGE TO THE 18TH CENTURY

How the Past Can Improve Our Future

KIRKUS REVIEW

An intriguing cross-century dialogue. Neo-Luddite Postman (The End of Education, 1995, etc.) looks to the Age of Reason for an antidote to the hazy values of postmodernism. At the core of this intellectual journey is the concept of progress. While not quite an invention of the Enlightenment, the belief in progress as desirable and inevitable took root in the embrace of human rationality that fueled the scientific (in the broadest sense) progress of the 18th century. At the same time a powerful Romantic critique emerged, providing Postman a complex conception of progress to wield against a wide array of 20th-century adversaries. Against Derrida’s deconstruction of meaning, there is the razor-sharp logic and utter common sense of Hume; against the worship of technology as the source of all good, there is Rousseau. This is a rather diverse (to put it kindly) position to uphold, but in fact Postman is arguing more for a cultural mindset than a specific philosophy: The problem with the 20th century is that it is the 18th century run amok; the combination of confidence and skepticism once associated with progress has been replaced by idolatry and nihilism. Postman seeks to bring us back to the moderate use of reason tempered by adherence to sensible cultural norms by contrasting contemporary and historical perspectives on technology, language, information, social narratives, children, democracy, and education. He shifts precariously back and forth between positive social commentator and borderline reactionary, but on the whole this is an erudite, thoughtful contribution to public discourse. While political theorists will be appalled by Postman’s assertion that the meaning of the word “democracy” is “more or less settled” in this century and his simplistic political analysis, his examination of language and information is original and sophisticated, his essay on children thought-provoking. This book offers contemporary society a grounding in the past that is more than just intellectual nostalgia.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40129-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999




MORE BY NEIL POSTMAN

NonfictionTHE END OF EDUCATION by Neil Postman
by Neil Postman
NonfictionTECHNOPOLY by Neil Postman
by Neil Postman