Past and Present
The Challenges of Modernity, from the Pre-Victorians to the Postmodernists
Past and Present brings together almost two dozen newly collected essays by the distinguished American historian and cultural critic, Gertrude Himmelfarb. Their common theme is the intriguing, often unexpected ways in which the past illuminates the present.
The novelist William Faulkner wrote that “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” In these essays, Himmelfarb shows the truth of this statement. She helps us find a new perspective on contemporary issues by bringing to bear a trenchant analysis of debates and thinkers of the past. She allows the past to inform the present without distorting either past or present.
The essays, unified by the common theme of present and past, are varied. The topics range from the disorders of modern democracy to the challenges of postmodernism, from the Victorian ethos to the Jewish question. The thinkers range from Edmund Burke to Leo Strauss, from Cardinal Newman to Lionel Trilling. The political figures range from Benjamin Disraeli to Winston Churchill, from the American founders to Queen Elizabeth II.
The underlying premise and principle of the essays is the conviction that the pursuit of knowledge and truth, however difficult or discomforting, eminently matters, in the “practical life,” as Trilling put it, as in the “moral life.” Past and Present is a notable contribution to this endeavor—to understanding where we have been, where we are now, and where we may be—or should be—going.