In This Review

Desolation and Enlightenment
Desolation and Enlightenment
By Ira Katznelson
Columbia University Press, 2003, 224 pp

These four learned, often agonizingly probing essays examine the political and intellectual catastrophe brought about by total war, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust, as well as the reactions and attempts at reconstruction by distinguished intellectuals, mainly from the United States. It is not surprising to find Katznelson discussing Karl Polanyi's classic The Great Transformation and Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism as keys for understanding how the Enlightenment came to its disastrous end. And the chapter on the Columbia University seminar on the state, a workshop created in 1945, is an account of the themes and arguments of, and participants in, an ambitious attempt at defining new possibilities for a liberal state. What Katznelson calls the "political studies enlightenment" is indeed alive. But how well is it? Desolation and Enlightenment is a long meditation on the fate and possibilities of liberal thought after the collapse of so many hopes and assumptions of liberalism in the first half of the twentieth century.