"All my life," writes Conor Cruise O'Brien, "I have been fascinated and puzzled by nationalism and religion; by the interaction of the two forces, sometimes in unison, sometimes antagonistic." In these wide-ranging and penetrating essays, O'Brien examines how throughout the world today these age-old forces are once again threatening democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of expression -- particularly in the United States, the nation founded on Enlightenment values. He weaves together beautifully written discussions on these and other timely, related topics. Enlivening his grim predictions with dry wit, he nevertheless conveys an apocalyptic sense of the threats facing democracy as we approach the third millennium.
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(209mm x 139mm x 14mm)
The Free Press
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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US Kirkus Review »
The latest offering from the distinguished scholar and diplomat (The Great Melody, 1992, etc.) is a brief collection of his Massey Lectures, delivered at the University of Toronto and over the CBC Radio. O'Brien opens these talks in a somber mood, quoting Yeats's "The Second Coming," with its apocalyptic imagery, and Michelet's description of the approach of the year 1000, an event that kindled unprecedented hysteria. From there he moves into a cogent, mordant analysis of an (un) holy alliance between the papacy and fundamentalist Islam to roll back the Enlightenment. O'Brien is nothing if not candid about his own feelings: "I frankly abhor Pope John Paul II," he remarks at one point. Regrettably, it's downhill from there. In the subsequent lectures, he wanders all over the place, reaching sometimes dubious conclusions. There is a lengthy and ill-judged attack on Thomas Jefferson that combines a cynical and mechanistic reading of Jefferson's motives in the French Revolution and on the slavery question with a shocking dismissal of virtually all of Jefferson's writings. One essay is devoted in large part to a somewhat ill-formed discussion of the role of the arts in a democracy. In another, O'Brien argues unconvincingly that the death of the British monarchy would he a fatal blow to Western values. There is even the obligatory attack on PC and multiculturalism, an attack that O'Brien himself seems to admit is irrelevant to the minimal threat that PC extremists represent to democracy. Throughout the talks, O'Brien keeps shifting his ground uneasily, simultaneously extolling the Enlightenment values that democracy embodies while raging against the proponents of those values. A disappointing effort at a time when clear thinking about democracy is essential. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Conor Cruise O'Brien
Conor Cruise O'Brien is a distinguished statesman and writer. Over a long and varied career, he has served in the Irish external affairs office; was a member of the Irish delegation to the United Nations (at one point being seconded as a special assistant to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold); was elected an Irish Labour Party parliamentarian, later serving in the cabinet; and was appointed editor-in-chief of the London Observer. A contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly, O'Brien lectures around the world at leading unversities and writes weekly columns for The Independent in Britain and The Irish Independent. His many books include States of Ireland and The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke.