Lukacs: We're at the end of the modern age

(March 8, 2011) LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Renowned historian John Lukacs, PhD,
Lukacs: We're at the end of the modern age

Wendell Berry, a Kentucky author and poet, greets John Lukacs March 8.

Misnomers such as "Modern Age" and "Middle Ages" are imprecise and vague, said John Lukacs, PhD, a renowned historian and author. Such divisions of history would more accurately fall along the decline of aristocracy and the rise of democracy, the re-conceptualization of "middle class" and the rise of the "European Age," he said.

In a March 8 public address (full-length video) hosted by the McConnell Center, Lukacs noted that America was born in the middle of the Modern Age but has now entered a new age that only future historians will be able to understand and describe. Terms such as "Post-Modern" to describe the emergent era are too imprecise, he said.

Recalling the work of Alexis de Toqueville, Lukacs noted the rise of popular sovereignty in America and said that while history has been governed by minorities for thousands of years, majorities, or people who speak on behalf of majorities, have become the most powerful.

Lukacs attributed the decline of the "Modern Age" with the decline of words and books in daily life.

"Visual effects are replacing the primacy of the word which forged the United States," he said. Visual imagination, he argued, has a weaker effect than spoken or printed words, which both require people to develop their own internal visualization.

With centuries of historical consciousness as a guide, Lukacs said new generations should know more than "medieval" people or even the Greeks and Romans who vaguely sensed historical contextualization but did not know or understand it. This is why we presently sense we are entering — or have entered — a new age but cannot yet articulate it, Lukacs said.

"Today's age will not last forever," he said, challenging new generations of historians to reconsider old paradigms and nomenclature.

Lukacs has authored more than 30 books and contributed hundreds of essays to notable journals and magazines over the past 60 years. His appearance was part of the McConnell Center's celebration of his lifetime of considerable achievements.

Lukacs also spoke to McConnell Scholars about leadership lessons gleaned from the life of Winston Churchill.