“Our passions give life to the world, our collective passions constitute the history of mankind”
The quote above begins Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey’s mammoth “Autobiography of western man” Out of Revolution. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for about 10 years since my interest in Rosenstock-Hussey (hereafter, ERH) was piqued and I picked up a number of books. I’ve read his shorter works, “Speech and Reality” and (another one whose name escapes me). What I believed about the book, Out of Revolution, coming to it cold was that this was a book where ERH gave a historical overview of revolutionary periods of western history, including the French and Russian, coming at them as someone who doesn’t think the idea of “revolutions as such” were all necessarily bad. Since ERH was a professing Christian, and my understanding of him was mediated though conservative appreciation, I wondered how he would possibly square that circle.
Since we now live in “interesting times” politically, I was moved to get this nearly 800 page monstrosity down from my shelf and take it and read. Were I reading it on Kindle, I’d highlight and share, and my impure thoughts and mental experiences would be transmitted—and stored—lest I die. Since starting I realize if i’m going to share this socially, I need to blog. I like blogging. As my friend Alastair has discovered, long form writing and slower thinking is an important discipline against some of the hazards of more immediate social media.
I hope to so at least one summary of each chapter, supplemented with quotations from ERH, hopefully one chapter each week. ERH writes in a very readable style, and has a tendency to generate aphoristic and quotable sections with great frequency.
Who was Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey? A Jewish convert to Christianity, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933 to come to America. He was an academic professor at Harvard and Dartmouth. A man with great interest in speech, speakers, and the spoken-to, and how these categories are crucial to understanding society and the problems of society. He was friend and correspondent of Jewish theologian and philosopher Franz Rosenzweig. He gave FDR the basic idea for the Peace Corps. By opening the book I learned he served in the First World War as an officer, stationed for 18 months at Verdun. (wikipedia tells me “During this period he organized courses for the troops, replacing the limited instruction in patriotism with broader topics.” I am not really surprised)
Out of Revolution first three chapters form a general preface to the main body of the work. Here he lays out a general preface of how WWI has changed Europe, and warfare in Europe in a way that has made old war obsolete, and he describes the stakes that the world is dealing with with these changes.
The meat of the book is divided into two major parts. The first covers the history and social philosophy behind the Russian and French Revolutions, as well as revolution in England and Germany. Part II is titled “From the Roman Empire to America: The Clerical Revolutions”. Lastly is an epilogue.