The Study of Man: Nazism on the Assembly Line
What is a book? We cannot hope that it shall aways fulfill John Milton’s vision. “A good book,” Milton said in defending the freedom to publish in Areopagitica, “is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” So much has the idea of a book deteriorated that one hardly knows today what to expect between hard covers. In the academic world, perhaps nothing has accelerated this deterioration so much as the practice of compiling any disparate and disconnected pieces that an enterprising editor can find a common label for. Is it the industrial assembly line, or the collective spirit of our age, that has suggested to scholars the novel notion of hunting in packs?
It is true that group life can be a powerful stimulant to learning and writing. Montesquieu’s Persian Letters germinated in an appreciative salon which heard them read before it saw them in print. Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding originated in a discussion group that met regularly to canvass its problems. But neither group nor salon pretended to do the job itself. In the end a solitary individual had to shut himself up in a room and do some highly private worrying and inditing.
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