The Wreck Of Western Culture

Wreck_Western_Culture_FNLPublished by Scribe January 2010

Humanism built Western civilisation as we know it today. Its achievements include the liberation of the individual, democracy, universal rights, and widespread prosperity and comfort. Its ambassadors are the heroes of modern culture: Erasmus, Holbein, Shakespeare, Velázquez, Descartes, Kant, and Freud.

Those who sought to contain humanism’s pride within a frame of higher truth — Luther, Calvin, Poussin, Kierkegaard — could barely interrupt its torrential progress. Those who sought to reform humanism’s tenets — Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche — were tested by the success of their own prophecies.

So runs the approved view; it is not shared by John Carroll. Rather he articulates a disruptive and compelling alternative version of Western civilisation since the Renaissance and the Reformation contrived to unleash Reason, Will, and a superhuman Man on the world. Here, Carroll significantly reworks his bracing study of humanism’s rise to pre-eminence and its headlong tumble into contradiction. This revised look at the failure of the West’s 500-year experiment with humanism, and its dire cultural consequences, concludes with 11 September, 2001.

‘John Carroll has earned a place entirely of his own, a place which few others dare or have the stamina to visit … His unique role in present-day intellectual life consists in continuous stimulation … In this reassessment of Western civilisation, Carroll’s unorthodox, thought-provoking version puts the religious, artistic and philosophical milestones of modern history into new perspective … Some readers will find Carroll’s book eye-opening; some will find it infuriating; all will find it unputdownable.’  Zygmunt Bauman


‘A hair-raisingly vicious polemic against the legacy of the Renaissance, liberalism and modernity…. A set of brilliant, partisan sketches of major works from Donatello to Freud.’ The New Statesman

‘Overblown, utterly misguided, and sometimes downright dangerous (not to mention half crazed), but important, and, at times, brilliant. What if he’s right? The Guardian

Assessing Western culture’s wreck, Simon Caterson (The Age)