The Defeat of the Mind

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Columbia University Press, 1995 - Philosophy - 165 pages
The Defeat of the Mind examines the opposition to Enlightenment thought from the eighteenth century to the present. Finkielkraut asserts that the ostensibly progressive cast of third world anticolonial and anti-Western sentiment, paradoxically, has its antecedent in Eurocentric sources - chiefly the German romantic concept of the Volksgeist, or spirit of the people. Straightforward and succinct, Finkielkraut draws a line between the idea of culture as an expression of the life of the mind and culture as an expression of national spirit. He deplores the appropriation of the concept of the Volksgeist by ethnic nationalists, who employ the notion in justification of such horrors as the Final Solution in Nazi Germany and the current waves of "ethnic cleansing". Equally worrying, he claims, are the seemingly harmless infusions of the Volksgeist into campaigns for ethnic diversity espoused by some social scientists and third world intellectuals. The Defeat of the Mind questions notions of cultural relativism espoused by such intellectual and political leaders as Claude Levi-Strauss and Frantz Fanon. Finkielkraut points to the United Nations and UNESCO - founded to propagate the universalist ideals of Enlightenment Europe, these organizations have co-opted the notion of cultural relativism to a fault, now speaking on behalf of every ethnic prejudice. "The objective remained the same", Finkielkraut maintains of this shift in ideology, "but to achieve its goal, it was no longer a matter of opening others to reason, but of opening ourselves to the reason of others". Defending values that seem absent from many contemporary frames of reference, the book concludes with a chapter challengingpost-modernist thought, for Finkielkraut claims that it equates the value of novels by Flaubert with television movies and lacks concern for the survival of culture and reason.

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User Review  - Kirkus

If you never made it all the way through Allan Bloom's ponderous bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), then this short and provocative book, first published in France in the same year ... Read full review

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User Review  - GaryWolf - LibraryThing

One of the more astute contemporary observers of Western decline is the French writer Alain Finkielkraut. In "The Defeat of the Mind," he traces the lineage of the multiculturalist disease, which, he ... Read full review

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