THE PARTY OF HUMANITY by Peter Gay

THE PARTY OF HUMANITY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A set of unusual essays and elaborations upon certain cultural fauna of the French Enlightenment. The author, one of Columbia's bright young men, attempts to put to rest the popular cliche that 18th century philosophers were proto-totalitarians, Stopian Pollyannas or austere abstractionists unable to feel the pulse and problems of a real world. According to Professor Gay, more often than not the philosophes were hard-headed, pragmatic and pessimistic, and not as is fashionably assumed pretentious intellectual provincials who had no idea of the irrational inherent in the uman scene. As members of a movement cosmopolitan both in personnel and conviction they were, like modernists today, full of paradox and contradictions. So too is the professor: Voltaire's ""a humanitarian who knew how to hate""; ""Rousseau's cult of sincerity masked insincerity, Laclos' cult of insincerity masks sincerity"", etc.. Even his tone jumps around, sometimes sounding like a prissy Englishman, especially in parts of the Voltaire pieces, at others like an agreeable American. However, his superb scholar's sense is sturdy throughout; moreover, he's concerned with a ""total cultural style of thought"" and is multidimensional and malleable in approach. There are a number of masterly rebuttals and revelations. Among the best: the reassessment of Carl Becker's Heavenly City, and the examination of revolutionary rhetoric.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1963
ISBN: 0393006077
Publisher: Knopf