At the Hinge of History A Journalist Explores the 19th Century Origins of the Modern Period

By Merle Rubin. Merle Rubin regularly reviews literature and contemporary fiction . | The Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1991 | Go to article overview

At the Hinge of History A Journalist Explores the 19th Century Origins of the Modern Period


Merle Rubin. Merle Rubin regularly reviews literature and contemporary fiction ., The Christian Science Monitor


SINCE history began, people have always felt they lived in "modern" times - whether they saw their own era as an improvement on previous ones or a sorry decline from some ancient Golden Age. From our own late-20th-century perspective, the past 70 years - the 1920s and after - strike most of us as indubitably modern, and many of us would extend the term further back.

Fixing a date for the birth of the modern is an engaging historical game. If modern means machine age, we might start with the invention of the steam engine. If modern implies the kind of thinking that led to the Industrial Revolution, we might locate its beginnings as early as the Renaissance or as late as the Enlightenment. If modern means the questioning of traditional beliefs and institutions, we could look to the Protestant Reformation - or the French Revolution.

In his earlier book "Modern Times" British journalist and historian Paul Johnson examined "The World from the Twenties to the Eighties" with a focus on the ideologies and practices that made this century a time when totalitarian nightmares came true.

A former socialist turned Tory, Johnson deftly illustrated the ways in which the totalitarian regimes of the right and the left learned new techniques of coercion and control from each other.

Subsequently, Johnson turned his brilliant, ambitious, sometimes overly tendentious pen to "A History of the English People" and "A History of the Jews." And most recently, he wrote a much shorter book called "Intellectuals a scathing group portrait of left-wing thinkers like Rousseau and Marx, all caricatured by Johnson as a veritable rogues' gallery of hypocrites who talked about human rights while abusing their friends, wives, and children.

Considering that Johnson traces the political evils of our century to the ideologies formulated by the romantics and revolutionaries of the previous century, one is a little surprised to find him nominating 1815 to 1830 as the focal period for "The Birth of the Modern."

Johnson himself seems surprised: We might have expected him to choose the 1780s, as he remarks in his introduction. But instead, he has skipped over both the American and the French Revolutions and chosen to concentrate on a period of reaction, retrenchment, stabilization, material growth, and renewed attempts at reform. The period opens with the seeming triumph of the forces of reaction but ends with the return of what Johnson calls the "Demos": the age of Andrew Jackson in the United States, the Reform Bill in England, and mass meetings in Ireland.

Although Johnson's strongly held views are still in evidence, "The Birth of the Modern" is less strident - and finally more persuasive - than some of his more recent work. True, he still takes an excessive, unseemly relish in magnifying the character flaws of 19th-century cultural heroes like Beethoven, Byron, Shelley, and Hegel - not to mention the heroic arch-villain Napoleon. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

At the Hinge of History A Journalist Explores the 19th Century Origins of the Modern Period
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.