Arthur Goldhammer

  • Facing the Unknown Peril

    “WHEN THE peril is unknown, enraged fear produces the same effects as blind temerity.” The words belong to Cardinal de Retz (1613–79), who was no stranger to Parisian carnage. What the bitter experience of several decades of terror attacks in Western countries suggests, however, is that Retz’s dictum needs to be turned inside out: Enraged fear creates the illusion that we know the source of our peril, and it is this false certainty that leads to foolhardy blindness.

    Gripped by agitation and anxiety since the bloody attacks in Paris on November 13, we in the West have been generally reluctant

  • Beneath the City of Light

    The city hall of Siena, Italy, features a series of frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. One, titled Allegory of Good Government, represents the virtues thought to promote a healthy civic order, while another, an allegory of bad government, castigates vices such as avarice, pride, and vainglory, which were held to contribute to the misery of the populace. Luc Sante’s The Other Paris aims to stand this representation of the city on its head. For Sante, the civic order that Lorenzetti praised is an artificial construct imposed on the “wild” city by “the exigencies of money and the proclivities of

  • Revolutionary Values

    Years ago, I taught a course on the French Revolution. At the end of one class, an earnest student posed a question about something that clearly troubled her. Being Korean, she wondered what this ruckus in eighteenth-century France had to do with her. Why study it in such exhaustive detail? Was France really that important? And why should what happened there 225 years ago matter to a young woman from half a world away?

    Because we live in an age that has undertaken the frenetic globalization of everything from menus to music, we can no longer take it for granted that upheavals such as the French

  • The Savage Mind

    As I sit down to write this review of a book about persistent French cultural pathologies, Paris has just witnessed a mass march against the government of Socialist president François Hollande. On this self-styled “Day of Wrath,” one contingent of demonstrators sang a Holocaust-mocking ditty titled “Shoah-nanas,” made popular by the comedian Dieudonné; recently, France’s minister of the interior banned Dieudonné’s one-man show Le mur as an affront to “human dignity” for its allegedly anti-Semitic content. Dieudonné’s defenders sometimes claim that his performances are not anti-Semitic but merely