Humanism built Western civilisation as we know it today. Its achievements include the liberation of the individual, democracy, universal rights, and widespread prosperity and comfort. Its ambassadors are the heroes of modern culture: Erasmus, Holbein, Shakespeare, Velázquez, Descartes, Kant, and Freud.
Those who sought to contain humanism’s pride within a frame of higher truth — like Luther, Calvin, Poussin, Kierkegaard — could barely interrupt its torrential progress. Those who sought to reform humanism’s tenets — like Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche — were tested by the success of their own prophecies.
So runs the approved view; it is not shared by John Carroll. Rather, he articulates a disruptive and compelling alternative version of Western civilisation since the Renaissance and the Reformation contrived to unleash Reason, Will, and a superhuman Man on the world. Here, Carroll significantly reworks his bracing study of humanism’s rise to pre-eminence and its headlong tumble into contradiction. This revised look at the failure of the West’s 500-year experiment with humanism, and its dire cultural consequences, concludes with September 11.