Ideas are weapons: The history and use of ideas

Lerner, Max

My approach to ideas is an instrumental one: that I have increasingly sought to view them as 'weapons in the personal struggles that every individual has for the resolution of his tensions, and in the struggles for power and order that every age has and every culture. Each of these pieces was originally written as an essay. They are essays in ideas. That is why so many of them use as their point of departure some book and nearly all of them some craftsman in ideas. It has become a truism to say that our bustling and impersonal age has killed the familiar essay as a form; but it is equally true that our age of quick and transitory books and even quicker and more transitory book-reviews has almost killed the essay in ideas, as distinguished from the discussion of public affairs. A book today is rarely the occasion for the sort of extended inquiry into ideas that it was in Macaulay's day and in Matthew Arnold's and Sainte-Beuve's. It has become instead the occasion for quick summaries, oblique judgments, ex cathedra utterances. "Your business as thinkers," Justice Holmes once said, "is to see the relation between your fact and the framework of the universe." That is still our business.

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