The Wreck of Western CultureBook - 1993
Humanism's achievements are among mankind's greatest - the liberation of the individual, equality, universal rights, widespread happiness and comfort; its ambassadors are the heroes of Western culture - Erasmus, Holbein, Shakespeare, Velzquez, Descartes, Kant, Freud. Those who sought to contain humanism's pride within a framework of piety and vocation - Luther, Calvin, Poussin, Vermeer, Kierkegaard - could barely alter its torrential progress. Those who turned on humanism's tenets with vigour - Marx, Nietzsche - have in turn been unseated by the fulfilment of their own prophecies. This interpretation of humanism's inexorable onslaught is the approved view. It is not a view John Carroll shares.
In this bracing, muscular study of humanism's rise to pre-eminence and its headlong tumble into contradiction, exhaustion and inertia, John Carroll sketches out, briskly disruptively and compellingly, a revised version of Western civilisation's trajectory since the Renaissance and the Reformation contrived to unleash Reason, Will and a superhuman Man on the world. It is a sobering tale, and a calling to account.
"John Carroll belongs to the small group of truly original, challenging and conscience-stirring contemporary thinkers. He is a declared (and effective) enemy of 'metaphysical slumber', a producer of sharp and uncompromising analyses of our times and the course they take...Carroll's usual profound insight, intellectual irreverence and sharp pen have been applied to the reassessment of Western civilisation, its accomplishments and its prospects...His thoroughly original narrative of humanism's history and successive avatars must be seen as a most ambitious project of global intellectual and ethical significance. Carroll's unorthodox, though-provoking version puts the religious, artistic and philosophical milestones of modern history into a new perspective...Some readers will find Carroll's new book eye-opening; some will find it infuriating; all will find it unputdownable."PROFESSOR ZYGMUNT BAUMAN, 'University of Leeds'