|Bernard Yack. The Longing for Total Revolution: Philosophic Sources of Social Discontent from Rousseau to Marx and Nietzsche. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Pp. Xvii + 390. $35.00 (cloth).
[Review in Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, volume 98 (1988): p. 860]
Total revolution is "the complete transformation of the spirit of individuals and social institutions, which political revolution fails to achieve," to be brought about by change in "some special sphere of social interaction that shapes the character of interaction throughout the entire society, and which our actions can influence" (p. 124). For the past two hundred years many European intellectuals have longed for such a revolution, a longing Yack labels "left Kantian." Left Kantians demand that man's humanity, defined as autonomy, be realized in the external world. For Yack's purposes the original left Kantian was Friedrich Schiller. Carrying on left Kantian concerns have been the young Hegel, the left Hegelians, Marx, Nietzsche, and the twentieth century critical theorists. Preoccupation with the allegedly dehumanizing nature of modern institutions was allowed by two conceptual innovations, the first of which, originally made by Rousseau but introduced into Germany in a modified form by Kant, is the idea that 'human' is a term of distinction among men, not a species characteristic distinguishing man from animals. In Kant's hands this became the dichotomy of human freedom and natural necessity. The other innovation was one variant of the historicism which became popular in Germany in the nineteenth century: the belief that social phenomena are parts of historically specific social wholes permeated by a common spirit. The first innovation led (despite Kant) to the views that institutions should cultivate and embody human freedom and that man is dehumanized by institutions that fail to do so. The second set of beliefs gave hope that man could realize his humanity by transforming his institutions. In particular, the example of ancient Greece proved that the dehumanization caused by modern institutions was the result not of the human condition as such but of institutions that had been historically made and could therefore be unmade.
Unfortunately the book, although giving evidence of extensive learning, is written in a way that makes reconstruction of the exact reasoning difficult and, as is common in the genre, the issues are discussed in an unnecessarily abstract way. Some of the author's theses, such as those found in his critique of the use of religious analogies in the explanation of revolutionary movements and in his analysis of longing, go beyond the evidence presented and even beyond the domain in which he is working (the history of political thought). But where he does wander into historical sociology or psychology his speculations are thought provoking and intelligent.