The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age
The Hungarian-born historian John Lukacs is an under-appreciated American treasure. Through a rich oeuvre of seventeen books, he has commented magisterially on the political and moral convulsions of the twentieth century. In the tradition of such nineteenth century giants as Alexis de Tocqueville and Jacob Burckhardt, Lukacs has devoted his career to exploring the subtle symbiosis of politics, culture, and the dictates of the human heart. But because of his refusal to bow to contemporary academic fashion, and his lack of affiliation with a major university, he has not received the attention his abilities deserve. Lukacs’ latest book, THE END OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AND THE END OF THE MODERN AGE, promises to bring the insights of this important thinker to a larger readership. It is his most accessible book, and offers readers, through a combination of historical analysis and personal reminiscence, a breathtaking survey of the forces remaking the globe in the 1990’s. Lukacs argues that the twentieth century has come to a close, and with it the modern age which began to emerge in the Renaissance five centuries ago. Modernity was characterized by a number of interrelated phenomena, including liberalism, humanism, the ideal of scientific objectivity, and the expansion and predominance of a European and Atlantic centered civilization. The twentieth century proved to be a long debacle for modernity, eating away at the forces and qualities which nourished it. For Lukacs, the central problem of this century was nationalism, not communism, and the central figure Hitler, not Lenin. Nationalism inspired the two world wars which dominated the history of the twentieth century, and acted as a solvent undermining the institutions and values associated with modernity. Today, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and George Bush’s New World Order, we stand on the brink of a new era of human history. Lukacs, ever the historian and philosopher, makes no predictions and offers no hope, counseling instead courage in the face of the unknown.