AGE OF PROGRESS?
Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces
by Walter G. Moss
by Anthem Press (www.anthempress.com)
Hardback. $35.00. ISBN: 9781843313014
and other booksellers.
It has been said
many times: If you want to create a better world, you'd better understand
how things came to be the way they are. In his latest book, AN AGE
OF PROGRESS?, historian Walter Moss helps us do just that.
In this book Moss
paints a vivid and comprehensive picture of humanity's successes and failures
during the 20th century. He does this by looking at the century's key
happenings and the global forces associated with them from a variety of
illuminating perspectives. And throughout the book he weaves personal
stories which make the parade of events and phenomena come to life.
Among the century's
most regressive features were the "violent conflicts and murderous
government policies" that resulted in the deaths of somewhere between
167 and 300 million people. Moss begins the book with a chapter headed
"A Century of Violence," and in it presents a detailed look
at the pervasive and often extreme violence which extended its shadow
from the beginning of the century to the end. Chapter 2's perspective
on the century, "Science, Technology, and the Acceleration of Change,"
delves into the positive and negative in those areas. Clearly, the increase
in longevity and general health, coupled with the rise above subsistence
living for billions of people smacks of progress. But as he points out,
technology has also "made killing easier." In Chapter 3 Moss
discusses the three major economic and social systems of the twentieth
century Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism and their waxing
and waning as the century progressed. Chapter 4 looks at the world's political
and economic realities from the overarching perspectives of "Imperialism,
Nationalism, and Globalization." In Chapter 5, "Freedom and
Human rights," he reviews humanity's successes and failures in these
areas. There have been many advances, but their price in human terms has
often been high. "Changing Environments" is the title of Chapter
6, and here Moss explores not only the impact of technology and human
activities on the natural world, but also addresses social environments
and the movement of people from rural, to urban, to suburban settings.
In addition, he explores the changing media environment over time, as
well as changes in the pace of life. The next chapter, "Culture and
Social Criticism," is devoted to culture defined broadly to embrace
"the whole way of life of a group, including their physical and mental
activities." Here Moss not only describes the century's progression
of cultural and subcultural movements, but also presents the voices of
their critics. The penultimate chapter, "Values and Virtues,"
opens with a discussion of postmodernism and its impact on late-twentieth-century
intellectual thought and moves into a discussion of educational trends,
values, and virtues. Data from a series of World Values Surveys
made during the last two decades of the century looks at differences in
attitude about these matters from a geographic perspective.
The book's final
chapter, like the book itself, is titled "An Age of Progress?"
complete with that question mark. It deals first with the philosophical
notion of progress. Is progress largely economic progress in the Adam
Smith sense where, as Moss put it, "an 'invisible hand' was guiding
individual acquisitive desires toward the overall improvement of mankind"?
Or was it perhaps Tolstoy's view of progress as an overall improvement
of well-being? Moss presents several takes on this issue and makes the
observation that "by the end of the century, it was indeed evident
how difficult it was for people's prudence, wisdom, and morality to keep
pace with technological change." He then goes more deeply into the
wisdom issue, and you can read what he has to say about it at www.wisdompage.com/MossOnWisdom.html.
If we want to create
a wiser world it is helpful to understand more about both wise and unwise
ways of doing things. While the twentieth century may have been characterized
more by the lack of wisdom than its presence, Walter Moss's book gives
us examples of both and is a valuable, thought-provoking read for anyone
who is interested in creating a more wisdom-centered world society.