Book Recommendation, July 16, 2022

The core argument of this content-rich and lengthy book is that Western modernity’s two core ideas — namely, Capitalist Democracy and Marxist Collectivism — have failed to improve the human condition, and instead, the attempts to improve the human condition have translated into a policy of fear, genocide, and repression for the most part, rather than a policy of progress, freedom, and reform. The conclusion states:

“Order and harmony that once seemed the function of a unitary God had been replaced by a similar faith in the idea of progress vouchsafed by scientists, engineers, and planners. Their power, it is worth remembering, was least contested at those moments when other forms of coordination had failed or seemed utterly inadequate to the great tasks at hand: in times of war, revolution, economic collapse, or newly won independence. The plans that they hatched bore a family resemblance to the schemes of legibility and standardization devised by the absolutist kings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. What was wholly new, however, was the magnitude of both the plans for the wholesale transformation of society and the instruments of statecraft — censuses, cadastral maps, identity cards, statistical bureaus, schools, mass media, internal security apparatuses — that could take them farther along this road than any seventeenth-century monarch would have dreamed. Thus it has happened that so many of the [modern era’s] political tragedies have flown the banner of progress, emancipation, and reform.”

The author then gives his take on why the modern project of the West was a failure:

“If I were asked to condense the reasons behind these failures into a single sentence, I would say that the progenitors of such plans regarded themselves as far smarter and farseeing than they really were and, at the same time, regarded their subjects as far more stupid and incompetent than they really were.”

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