The City of Manent

"The City of Manent: A French Political Philosopher Examines Modernity," review of The City of Man, by Pierre Manent, Weekly Standard, 15 June 1998.


A book like Pierre Manent’s The City of Man doesn’t come along every day.  Originally published in France in 1994 and now brought out in English by Princeton University Press, its is a fundamental book, and it raises a fundamental question: What is man?

Manent is a Frenchman, a student of the political philosopher Raymond Aron, and a professor of philosophy in Paris at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes — which could be rendered into English as the “School of Tall Studies” in a translation somewhat worse than the version of The City of Man by Marc A. LePain.  In our increasingly under-educated country it may be pointless to say, but I’ll say it: One good reason for learning French is to read prose like Pierre Manent’s.

Manent’s previous works include An Intellectual History of Liberalism (1987) and Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy (1982), also recently translated.  A volume of essays, Modern Liberty and Its Discontents, is on the way.  For decades after World War II, his mentor Aron stood against communism and existentialism in France, and Manent, now forty-nine years old, is a leader in the succeeding generation of classical liberals (similar to our conservatives) now dominant in French intellectual life.  He is the antithesis of the pretentious and pernicious theorizers of the radical “Generation of ’68” — Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and all the rest — who were through the 1970s and ’80s so eagerly imported from France and retailed to politically correct universities by gullible American professors.

Weekly Standard