Cover image for The crisis of reason : European thought, 1848-1914
The crisis of reason : European thought, 1848-1914
Burrow, J. W. (John Wyon), 1935-2009.
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xv, 271 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


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CB204 .B87 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This elegant and skilful book explores the history of ideas in Europe from the revolutions of 1848 to the beginning of the First World War. Broader than a straight survey, deeper and richer than a textbook, the work seeks to place the reader in the position of 'an informed eavesdropper on the intellectual conversations of the past'. After an introductory chapter which introduces the mental world of the mid-nineteenth century, Burrow explores the impact of science and social thought on European intellectual life, considering ideas in physics, through social evolution and Social Darwinism, to anxieties about modernity and personal identity. His discussion also takes in powerful and fashionable concepts in evolution, art, myth, the occult and the unconscious mind, considers the rise of the great cities of Berlin, Paris and London, and the work of literary writers, philosophers and composers. The text is populated by most of the great and many of the lesser known intellectual figures of the age, from Mill, Bakunin, Nietzsche, Bergson and Renan to Pater, Proust, Clough, Flaubert, Wagner and Wilde. A work of rare distinction and considerable erudition, the book is written in a graceful,

Author Notes

J.W. Burrow was, until his recent retirement, professor of European thought at Oxford University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

A blurb on the book jacket correctly states that Burrow's book is broader than a narrative survey and deeper than a textbook. What, then, is it? A personal synthesis by a seasoned scholar (Oxford Univ.) based on years of reading, lecturing, and reflecting. His organizing motifs are admirably adapted to synthesis: the claims of science, sciences of culture as expressions of various theories of social evolution, nationalism and the state (together with the myths that support both), efforts to construct a "self," and attempts to respond to a loss of religious faith and a sense of transcendence. All these ideas are variously illustrated by a wide array of writers from England, France, and Germany whose debts to each other (and to some predecessors--Kant, for example) crisscross throughout. Burrows expounds no writer systematically but comments on many in relation to the congeries of notions under review (some favorites--Nietzsche and Wagner particularly--appear and reappear). This is therefore not a book for the uninitiated. But those already intimately familiar with Freud, Marx, Mill, and others equally famous, not to speak of numerous writers less well known, might well find the commentary stimulating. Graduate students, faculty and researchers, professionals. A. Rabil, Jr.; emeritus, SUNY College at Old Westbury

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. x
Acknowledgementsp. xvi
Prologue: 1848-49: The Disillusionment of the Intellectualsp. 1
1 The Stuff of the World and the Promises of Sciencep. 31
1.1 The New Generationp. 31
1.2 The Conservation of Matter and Energy; Materialist Reductionismp. 34
1.3 The Enigma of Consciousness and the Impact of Evolutionp. 42
1.4 The Claims of Science: Science as Vocationp. 52
1.5 The Reaction against Materialism: Phenomenalism, Pragmatism and Pan-psychismp. 56
2 Social Evolution and the Sciences of Culturep. 68
2.1 A Classified Worldp. 68
2.2 Social Evolution as the Division of Labourp. 72
2.3 Sciences of Religion and Culture: France, Britain, Germanyp. 77
2.4 Social Darwinism, Eugenics and Racep. 92
3 Community and Modernityp. 109
3.1 The Market and Modernityp. 109
3.2 Community: The Mark, the Mir and the Guildp. 113
3.3 The Ethical Statep. 124
3.4 Nation and State in Germanyp. 132
3.5 Nationalism and the Critique of Modernity: Myth and Charismap. 136
4 The Elusive Selfp. 147
4.1 The Burden of Freedomp. 147
4.2 'Character'p. 152
4.3 The Flux of Experiencep. 160
4.4 The Unconsciousp. 164
5 Constructing the Selfp. 170
5.1 Work of Art and Microcosmp. 170
5.2 'Decadence' and 'Life'p. 181
5.3 The Calling and the Deedp. 190
6 Immanence, Revelation and Transcendencep. 197
6.1 Incarnationp. 197
6.2 Myth and Revelationp. 208
6.3 The Occultp. 219
Epilogue: Avant-gardep. 234
Select Bibliographyp. 254
Indexp. 264