Things Fall Apart
A tour of the fragmented course of contemporary social thought
Age of Fracture
by Daniel T. Rodgers
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
$29.95 List Price
In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels offered one of history's best-known characterizations of modernity. In the "bourgeois epoch," they said, "all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned."
This formulation was an exaggeration—it appeared in a manifesto, after all. But unlike Marx and Engels's hope for a communist future, their insights into modernity remain perspicacious. Capitalism is still very much with us, communist prospects have never been dimmer, but the ground of modernity continues as it did in 1848 to shift and shake under our feet.
Since Marx's day, artists and intellectuals have sought to meet the challenge of modernity by remaking our conceptual categories so that they might better capture and embrace—or resist—this fluidity, this profane melting of shared experience. And at times, this project has taken on an accelerated pace and urgency. The last generation has proved one of those times, not least in the United States.
That, at any rate, is the claim of Princeton University historian Daniel T. Rodgers in Age of Fracture, and he makes a compelling case for it. Since the early 1970s, "through more and more domains of social thought," he argues,
the terms that had dominated post–World War II intellectual life began to fragment. One heard less about society, history, and power and more about individuals, contingency, and choice.