The Cosmopolitan Temptation

The two books reviewed here provide a contrast both in style and in substance. Whereas Thomas Molnar treats Utopians and historical optimists with exuberant contempt, Michael Ignatieff bewails the fact that nations and nationalism have not yet disappeared. Molnar is proud of his relentless realism, in which politics are related to man's fallen state; Ignatieff, by contrast, wants us to move beyond the past toward a world without national loyalties. Despite these differences, both men succinctly set forth their positions, resting their arguments on bold generalities and arresting illustrations. Ignatieff, who prepared his book for a BBC series aired in 1993, is clearly aiming his remarks at a bien pensant liberal audience, one that wishes to be told that its own sentiments, albeit currently impractical, are admirable. One respects that Molnar has in mind his own particular readership, perhaps those who, like myself, have read him over the years and value his opinions.

I must insist that Molnar is of the two the far more intelligent commentator, even when his prejudices come to the surface. And he does have prejudices— against Protestantism, the American founding, and commercial societies— that detract from his otherwise sober analysis of American institutions and culture. He tries to explain all the lunacies in contemporary American life by too often going back to the Protestant Reformation or to Ernst Troeltch's...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here