Halfway to Revolution

halfway_smallHalfway to Revolution: Investigation and Crisis in the Work of Henry Adams, William James, and Gertrude Stein.

New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1991. x, 509 pp.; bibliography, index.

Although organised around three individual authors, Henry Adams, William James and Gertrude Stein, the single author is seen as part of nexus of contextual ideas and writings.

Hence Henry Adams, is discussed in terms of major links with European thought: Lyell, Darwin, Lord Kelvin, French, German and English historians, French and German philosophers and classic theologians as well as with thinkers inside the American tradition.

In the same way James’s links with and responses to English culture in the work of  Locke, Darwin, Wordsworth, to German culture in the work of  Leibniz, Kant, Herbart, Fechner, Helmholtz, Wundt and Mach, to French culture on the work of Descartes, Renouvier, Bergson are all considered.  The section on James deals with both the academic and popular books.

Gertrude Stein is looked at in terms of the emerging modernist debate (European and American) about the nature of language itself, and also as part of what becomes the book’s major theme: a shift from political to social/psychological analysis which took place after the political theorists of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century and the French Revolution. This theme is linked to Hannah Arendt’s proposition that in the modern age the distinction between the polis and the societas has broken down. Stein’s more recalcitrant and more popular works are examined, including The Making of Americans and Wars I Have Seen. Some political issues are examined in her correspondence with Richard Wright.

The book’s conclusion suggests some issues for the contemporary world first raised by the three writers under discussion here.