Exploring modern thinkers and ideas

European Intellectual History from Rousseau to NietzscheEuropean Intellectual History from Rousseau to Nietzsche by Frank M. Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice, clear overview of major European thinkers and intellectual trends during this time, in less than 300 pages. It’s a reproduction of Turner’s lectures from his Yale course, put together after his death. One of the best features is how well the lectures show the connections and influences between different thinkers, ideas, and Western society from about 1750-1900. So, for example, the lecture on Richard Wagner illustrates how many of these trends came together in the composer’s life.

The lecture “Race and Anti-Semitism” included a wise reminder. Turner notes that racial thought had connections with many of the leading intellectual trends of the 1800s, such as “opposition to the unbridled advance of capitalism,” imperialism, nationalism, and “the new sciences of anthropology, philology, evolution, eugenics, and public health. Racial thinking rose to the crest of this apparently and so-called progressionist wave. The forms of mass murder and mass degradation in Europe and within the various colonial empires brought about by such thinking — murder and degradation carried out for allegedly high principle and with sincere, educated conviction — should encourage all of us to show more scepticism toward embracing any set of ideas simply because they are called new, advanced, scientific, or progressive” (191).

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