Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knoweldge After Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust
By Ira Katznelson
Columbia University Press, 2003, 176 pp.
The horrors that culminated in the 1940s -- world war, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust -- dealt a severe blow to Western society's faith in the Enlightenment, rationality, and human progress. In this masterful excursion into the history of ideas, Katznelson explores how a "reconstructionist" generation of political scholars has since attempted to make sense of these dark times and rethink the bases of political theory and liberal community. The book is organized around a sequence of intellectual portraits. Hannah Arendt's treatise on totalitarianism and Karl Polanyi's analysis of the geopolitical structures of the liberal international order offered new insights into large-scale historical change. David Truman and Richard Hofstadter searched for ways to reconcile liberal democracy with the new modern state. Harold Lassell, Robert Dahl, and Charles Lindblom pioneered policy studies that sought to harness technological advances for larger social ends. Katznelson contends that these intrepid intellectuals were united in their determination to maneuver between nihilism and absolutism while preserving their ideals in an age of global catastrophe. Although the book was written largely before the attacks of September 11, 2001, it speaks powerfully to today's struggles to reconcile liberal values with a new threat of violence.