Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism

Princeton University Press
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Available in English for the first time, Imperfect Garden is both an approachable intellectual history and a bracing treatise on how we should understand and experience our lives. In it, one of France's most prominent intellectuals explores the foundations, limits, and possibilities of humanist thinking. Through his critical but sympathetic excavation of humanism, Tzvetan Todorov seeks an answer to modernity's fundamental challenge: how to maintain our hard-won liberty without paying too dearly in social ties, common values, and a coherent and responsible sense of self.

Todorov reads afresh the works of major humanists--primarily Montaigne, Rousseau, and Constant, but also Descartes, Montesquieu, and Toqueville. Each chapter considers humanism's approach to one major theme of human existence: liberty, social life, love, self, morality, and expression. Discussing humanism in dialogue with other systems, Todorov finds a response to the predicament of modernity that is far more instructive than any offered by conservatism, scientific determinism, existential individualism, or humanism's other contemporary competitors. Humanism suggests that we are members of an intelligent and sociable species who can act according to our will while connecting the well-being of other members with our own. It is through this understanding of free will, Todorov argues, that we can use humanism to rescue universality and reconcile human liberty with solidarity and personal integrity.

Placing the history of ideas at the service of a quest for moral and political wisdom, Todorov's compelling and no doubt controversial rethinking of humanist ideas testifies to the enduring capacity of those ideas to meditate on--and, if we are fortunate, cultivate--the imperfect garden in which we live.

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About the author

Tzvetan Todorov is Research Director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and the author of many books, including The Conquest of America, On Human Diversity, The Morals of History, Facing the Extreme, and The Fragility of Goodness (Princeton). He writes regularly for the New Republic, Salmagundi, and other publications.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2009
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9781400824908
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Movements / Humanism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Tzvetan Todorov
The relationship between Western democracies and Islam, rarely entirely comfortable, has in recent years become increasingly tense. A growing immigrant population and worries about cultural and political assimilation—exacerbated by terrorist attacks in the United States, Europe, and around the world—have provoked reams of commentary from all parts of the political spectrum, a frustrating majority of it hyperbolic or even hysterical.

In The Fear of Barbarians, the celebrated intellectual Tzvetan Todorov offers a corrective: a reasoned and often highly personal analysis of the problem, rooted in Enlightenment values yet open to the claims of cultural difference. Drawing on history, anthropology, and politics, and bringing to bear examples ranging from the murder of Theo van Gogh to the French ban on headscarves, Todorov argues that the West must overcome its fear of Islam if it is to avoid betraying the values it claims to protect. True freedom, Todorov explains, requires us to strike a delicate balance between protecting and imposing cultural values, acknowledging the primacy of the law, and yet strenuously protecting minority views that do not interfere with its aims. Adding force to Todorov's arguments is his own experience as a native of communist Bulgaria: his admiration of French civic identity—and Western freedom—is vigorous but non-nativist, an inclusive vision whose very flexibility is its core strength.

The record of a penetrating mind grappling with a complicated, multifaceted problem, The Fear of Barbarians is a powerful, important book—a call, not to arms, but to thought.

Tzvetan Todorov
The political history of the twentieth century can be viewed as the history of democracy’s struggle against its external enemies: fascism and communism. This struggle ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet regime. Some people think that democracy now faces new enemies: Islamic fundamentalism, religious extremism and international terrorism and that this is the struggle that will define our times. Todorov disagrees: the biggest threat to democracy today is democracy itself. Its enemies are within: what the ancient Greeks called 'hubris'.

Todorov argues that certain democratic values have been distorted and pushed to an extreme that serves the interests of dominant states and powerful individuals. In the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the United States and some European countries have embarked on a crusade to enlighten some foreign populations through the use of force. Yet this mission to ‘help’ others has led to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to large-scale destruction and loss of life and to a moral crisis of growing proportions. The defence of freedom, if unlimited, can lead to the tyranny of individuals.

Drawing on recent history as well as his own experience of growing up in a totalitarian regime, Todorov returns to examples borrowed from the Western canon: from a dispute between Augustine and Pelagius to the fierce debates among Enlightenment thinkers to explore the origin of these perversions of democracy. He argues compellingly that the real democratic ideal is to be found in the delicate, ever-changing balance between competing principles, popular sovereignty, freedom and progress. When one of these elements breaks free and turns into an over-riding principle, it becomes dangerous: populism, ultra-liberalism and messianism, the inner enemies of democracy.

Tzvetan Todorov
The political history of the twentieth century can be viewed as the history of democracy’s struggle against its external enemies: fascism and communism. This struggle ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet regime. Some people think that democracy now faces new enemies: Islamic fundamentalism, religious extremism and international terrorism and that this is the struggle that will define our times. Todorov disagrees: the biggest threat to democracy today is democracy itself. Its enemies are within: what the ancient Greeks called 'hubris'.

Todorov argues that certain democratic values have been distorted and pushed to an extreme that serves the interests of dominant states and powerful individuals. In the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the United States and some European countries have embarked on a crusade to enlighten some foreign populations through the use of force. Yet this mission to ‘help’ others has led to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to large-scale destruction and loss of life and to a moral crisis of growing proportions. The defence of freedom, if unlimited, can lead to the tyranny of individuals.

Drawing on recent history as well as his own experience of growing up in a totalitarian regime, Todorov returns to examples borrowed from the Western canon: from a dispute between Augustine and Pelagius to the fierce debates among Enlightenment thinkers to explore the origin of these perversions of democracy. He argues compellingly that the real democratic ideal is to be found in the delicate, ever-changing balance between competing principles, popular sovereignty, freedom and progress. When one of these elements breaks free and turns into an over-riding principle, it becomes dangerous: populism, ultra-liberalism and messianism, the inner enemies of democracy.

Tzvetan Todorov
The political history of the twentieth century can be viewed as the history of democracy’s struggle against its external enemies: fascism and communism. This struggle ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet regime. Some people think that democracy now faces new enemies: Islamic fundamentalism, religious extremism and international terrorism and that this is the struggle that will define our times. Todorov disagrees: the biggest threat to democracy today is democracy itself. Its enemies are within: what the ancient Greeks called 'hubris'.

Todorov argues that certain democratic values have been distorted and pushed to an extreme that serves the interests of dominant states and powerful individuals. In the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the United States and some European countries have embarked on a crusade to enlighten some foreign populations through the use of force. Yet this mission to ‘help’ others has led to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to large-scale destruction and loss of life and to a moral crisis of growing proportions. The defence of freedom, if unlimited, can lead to the tyranny of individuals.

Drawing on recent history as well as his own experience of growing up in a totalitarian regime, Todorov returns to examples borrowed from the Western canon: from a dispute between Augustine and Pelagius to the fierce debates among Enlightenment thinkers to explore the origin of these perversions of democracy. He argues compellingly that the real democratic ideal is to be found in the delicate, ever-changing balance between competing principles, popular sovereignty, freedom and progress. When one of these elements breaks free and turns into an over-riding principle, it becomes dangerous: populism, ultra-liberalism and messianism, the inner enemies of democracy.

Tzvetan Todorov
The political history of the twentieth century can be viewed as the history of democracy’s struggle against its external enemies: fascism and communism. This struggle ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet regime. Some people think that democracy now faces new enemies: Islamic fundamentalism, religious extremism and international terrorism and that this is the struggle that will define our times. Todorov disagrees: the biggest threat to democracy today is democracy itself. Its enemies are within: what the ancient Greeks called 'hubris'.

Todorov argues that certain democratic values have been distorted and pushed to an extreme that serves the interests of dominant states and powerful individuals. In the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the United States and some European countries have embarked on a crusade to enlighten some foreign populations through the use of force. Yet this mission to ‘help’ others has led to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to large-scale destruction and loss of life and to a moral crisis of growing proportions. The defence of freedom, if unlimited, can lead to the tyranny of individuals.

Drawing on recent history as well as his own experience of growing up in a totalitarian regime, Todorov returns to examples borrowed from the Western canon: from a dispute between Augustine and Pelagius to the fierce debates among Enlightenment thinkers to explore the origin of these perversions of democracy. He argues compellingly that the real democratic ideal is to be found in the delicate, ever-changing balance between competing principles, popular sovereignty, freedom and progress. When one of these elements breaks free and turns into an over-riding principle, it becomes dangerous: populism, ultra-liberalism and messianism, the inner enemies of democracy.

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