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Book Notes

CURRENT EVENTS The Fall of Baghdad, by Jon Lee Anderson. Penguin, October 2004. $24.95 There are the events around the war—water shortages, last-minute evacuations, Sahaf the Information Minister defiantly pronouncing the slaughter of U.S. soldier [...]

E Pluribus Unum?

Pragmatism was once called America's philosophy. The pragmatic cast of mind was practical, even-tempered, experimental, effective. These qualities were ascribed to Americans generally, and the reading public that accepted the description were glad to be identified with the philosophers who, in Louis Menand's words, "were more responsible than any other group for moving American thought into the modern world," But the simplifications of half a century ago did not last, if only because American self-awareness took a different turn. By the end of the 20th century words like polarization or diversity had become much more common than consensus or national character. Although a pragmatist revival was well under way in the academic world, it was one school among a diverse lot and the original movement seemed remote. In the 1990's Alan Ryan's John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism suggested by its very title that Dewey's tide was out, and John Patrick Diggin's The Promise of Pragmatism argued that the promise was unfulfilled because of intellectual and moral limitations that had been there from the outset. Now, after so much has changed, and taking the changes into account, Louis Menand revisits historical pragmatism in a work of fresh and powerful scholarship. Far from oversimplifying, he presents pragmatism by focusing on the four great founding figures, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey. He does justice to theconnections among them. Among these he puts first their common belief that ideas are not representations of ideal entities but are best thought of as instruments for learning more about the world. He presents them with all their differences, too. He gives the book its remarkable breadth by relating their work, not to the supposed character of Americans in general, but to specific (and therefore different) contexts of popular thought and public events. The four heroes of his book, individually and in their settings, bring alive the pragmatist idea of pluralism.


Notes on Current Books, Autumn 2002

For more than two millennia, the history of ancient Egypt was known to us through ancient Greeks. Two centuries of study of ancient Egyptian sources has produced a different picture. History and literature are powerfully influenced by point-of-view. [...]

Force, Order, and Diplomacy In the Age of Louis XIV

The great chronicler of the diplomatic method, Harold Nicolson, once wrote that the origins of modern diplomacy can be traced to the "determinant" influence of Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu's achievement was the development of a coterie of trained "creatures" dedicated to promoting state interests through "ceaseless negotiation." By the time Richelieu died, in 1642, France had fostered a new class of diplomatists, and thus, somewhat inadvertently, had helped to pave the way for the great settlement of the Thirty Years War signed at Westphalia in 1648.

Democracy In Greece: for How Long?

Future historians who try to assess contemporary developments in Greece may be inclined to give a great deal of weight to the military junta that ruled the country from April 1967 until July 1974. They would be wrong. The junta, born in secrecy, comprised no more than about 50 officers. It remained throughout its reign true to its origins.