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Modernity and Revolution
The subject of our session this evening has been a focus of intellectual debate and political passion for at least six or seven decades now. [*] It already has a long history, in other words. It so happens, however, that within the last year there has appeared a book which reopens that debate, with such renewed passion, and such undeniable power, that no contemporary reflection on these two ideas, ‘modernity’ and ‘revolution’, could avoid trying to come to terms with it. The book to which I refer is Marshall Berman’s All that is Solid Melts into Air. My remarks tonight will try—very briefly—to look at the structure of Berman’s argument, and consider how far it provides us with a persuasive theory capable of conjoining the notions of modernity and revolution. I will start by reconstructing, in compressed form, the main lines of his book; and then proceed to some comments on their validity. Any such reconstruction as this must sacrifice the imaginative sweep, the breadth of cultural sympathy, the force of textual intelligence, that give its splendour to All that is Solid Melts into Air. These qualities will surely over time make it a classic in its field. A proper appreciation of them exceeds our business today. But it needs to be said at the outset that a stripped-down analysis of the general case of the book is in no way equivalent to an adequate evaluation of the importance, and attraction, of the work as a whole.
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