Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History by Jonathan Clarke - review by Michael Burleigh

Michael Burleigh

The Weight of History

Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History


Atlantic Books 336pp £25 order from our bookshop

THREE OF THE finest English historians working today are Jonathan Clark, Maurice Cowling and Edward Norman. All are prolific, serious, important scholars of, respectively, the eighteenth-century ancien rigime; the relationship between religion and public doctrine in modern England; and, last but not least, the history of the churches. Of the three, Clark's work was the least known to me, but readers of this new book will discover a highly talented historian brimming with ideas who is the master of an extraordinarily wide range of sources and the equal of his older former Peterhouse stablemates.

Our Shadowed Present is a measured critique of some of the explicit and implicit assumptions of both 'modernism' and 'postmodernism' as they have infected historical writing, ironically at a time when many hstorians are no longer sure where to draw lines between premodern and modern themselves. I can testify to that since, as a contemporary historian, I am increasingly of the view, first propounded by the 1930s journalist Frederick Voigt and more recentlv, bv, the mehevalist Norman Cohn. that twentieth-century totalitarian rulers had more in common with medieval millenarian heretics than with anyone else in the previous thousand years.

Modernists. often reflectin"g the influence of Marxism or structure-obsessed

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