In The Name Of Humanity

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9780712667296: In The Name Of Humanity

IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY is a stark, provocative reflection on the history of humanism and the relationship of this philosophical tradition to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century. Alain Finkielkraut begins by reviewing the famous debates about what makes man human, tracing the arguments from Plato and Aristotle to Sartre and Hannah Arendt. He believes that one can no longer express unqualified enthusiasm for the Enlightenment idea of universal man. How was it possible for a great philosophical tradition, celebrated for affirming the unity of mankind to end up inspiring political systems of such dehumanizing proportions. In order to grasp the magnitude of the question, Finkielkraut contrasts eyewitness accounts with ideological justifications of the mechanized carnage of the First World War, the horror of concentration camps (in their Nazi and Soviet manisfestations), and campaigns of ethnic cleansing in many parts of the world today. He also reveals in humiliating detail how inadequate, even useless, our humanitarian responses to these atrocities have been. Finkielkraut cheers the downfall of Soviet Communism but warns that totalitarian thinking is still with us.

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Book Description:

An unsettling reflection on the twentieth century in its twilight hours in which we are asked to rethink our assumptions about universalism and humanism. While many people look to humanist ideals as a deterrent to nationalist chauvinism, Finkielkraut challenges the abstract idea of universalism by describing the terrible crimes "civilized" Europe has committed in its name.

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In the Name of Humanity is a stark, provocative reflection on the history of humanism and the relationship of this philosophical tradition to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century. Alain Finkielkraut begins by reviewing the famous debates about what makes man human, tracing the arguments back to Plato and Aristotle. He then juxtaposes the works of key European philosophers with memoirs and novels of war and degradation.

Finkielkraut maintains that one can no longer express unqualified enthusiasm for the Enlightenment idea of universal man, something that he himself had done in earlier works. Echoing Hannah Arendt, he now asks, as she did in The Origins of Totalitarianism: How was it possible for a great philosophical tradition, celebrated for affirming the unity of mankind, to end up inspiring a political system of such dehumanizing proportions? In order to grasp the magnitude of the question, Finkielkraut contrasts eyewitness accounts with ideological justifications of the mechanized carnage of World War I, the horror of concentration camps (in their Nazi and Soviet manifestations), and ethnic cleansing campaigns today in many parts of the world. He also reveals in humiliating detail how inadequate, even useless, our "humanitarian" responses to these atrocities have been, rehearsing the sad choices international organizations have faced as they try to minimize the starvation and pain of millions of people.

As this "despotic century" draws to a close, Finkielkraut cheers the downfall of Soviet Communism but warns that totalitarian thinking is still with us. The last chapters of the book offer a penetrating analysis of the ongoing plight of displaced persons and of thestruggles endured by small nations. Finkielkraut then presents a bitter critique of globalization and the uses being made of information technology. Is there any hope? Perhaps, he suggests, if modern man embraces what Hannah Arendt has called a "fundamental gratitude" for existence.

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Finkielkraut, Alain
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