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Marshall Berman is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at City College of New York and CCNY Graduate Center.

Works by Marshall Berman

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Common Knowledge



Berman is an engaging writer who has much to say about the writings of others. Unfortunately he plunks us in the middle of a dialectic between Montesquieu and Rousseau's work without ever setting the ground rules of the argument.

The idea of 'authenticity' is as ambiguous as ideasa can get. Often weaponized to excuse poor behaviour, authenticity is a slippery eel that even a subject when asked likely cannot easily identify in themselves. Am I being my true self? Am I truly making my own decisions? What even IS free will and how does that create implications for authenticity?

The argument from Montesquieu is far clearer than that of Rousseau. In his analysis, Berman is clearly honing in on the inauthenticity of totalitarian regimes and the reversal of fortune that can break down social order when the oppressed seek authenticity.

On the other hand, Rousseau is complaining about society as a corruption of the human condition without any redeeming values. While he doesn't think we are going to be able to repeal society as a whole, he continues a fruitless search for an objective, permanent 'thou' that simply cannot exist. Second order desires and mental illness not withstanding, the fluid nature of the human condition simply cannot support such a stringent view of authenticity. What is frustrating about this book is that Berman never calls Rousseau out on this point.
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macleod73 | Sep 14, 2022 |
Superb. And my kind of read. Berman explores his idea(s) by reference to (and sometimes subtle reinterpretations of) history and great literature; and the book opens doors to further reading. He gets a bit elegiac at the end but concludes on a balanced and hopeful note. Highly recommend.
1 vote
heggiep | 10 other reviews | May 26, 2022 |
What can I say but that this is what historical exploration/criticism should be: engagingly written, and fully recognizing the strengths, weaknesses, pitfalls, (humanity?) etc., of actors, situations -isms, and so forth, including the ones you hold dear. Really loved this book.
KatrinkaV | 10 other reviews | Apr 17, 2022 |
A splendid romp from Faust to the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Excellent at two levels: we get familiarized with a whole stream of great literature, plus an over-arching perspective that certainly deepened my understanding even where I was familiar with the literature already. Modernity as kind of auto-catabolic process, where constant novelty powers itself through the destruction of yesterday's novelty; and modernism, maybe it's a process of finding meaning in the process of finding meaning. Industry and art reacting to each other, building off each other.

Quite wild how this book was completed January 1981, the inauguration of Reagan. That makes it a kind of swan song. It'd be interesting to hold this up against Fukuyama's End of History. Berman has history going on into the indefinite future, the world constantly remaking itself. Ten years later, Fukuyama sees the thing stopped. The icy grip of neo-liberalism! Probably it was only sleeping. But by now, it feels like it has been dismembered and scattered: Osiris or Sati. We had to make our own meaning back in the days of Dostoevsky and Sartre. Now we must wander as pilgrims and search for the bits and pieces, stare at them and wonder. Probably our findings are from many different puzzles. Still, a patchwork quilt can keep us warm in the long winter.

Yeah this is a glorious book. Ah, Puerto Rican Sun, an outdoor sculpture at 156th & Fox Sts. in the Bronx, is still there! Richard Serra's T.W.U. is long gone - was only up for a year or so. Yeah, Berman could see that reality would put constraints on our grand dreams of flying cars and what-not. Seems like that's where we are now, the constant revolution we're in the midst of. Every new forecast looks bleaker. We try harder, we shout louder, we shall overcome! There's a book we could use, overcoming injustice vs. overcoming the planetary eco-sphere.
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3 vote
kukulaj | 10 other reviews | Oct 6, 2020 |



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