In the Shadow of Tomorrow

by Jan Huizinga
[Norton, $2.50]
THIS book is the expansion of an address on public affairs, delivered at Brussels last year by the professor of history at the University of Leyden. It is not the book of this month or of any month. In my opinion it is the book of every month until one has read it, and the book of every six months thereafter until it is thoroughly reread and practically got by heart. It stands out from the welter of books written around the same general sub jeet as the best-informed, sanest, most wise and comprehensive examination of the state of our present society that has so far been made. When one has read it, one need never ask for another word from anybody on any of the topics that it discusses. I am aware that this may seem a great deal to say for any book, but I give it as my considered judgment, for as much or as little as that may be worth.
The chapters are brief, compact, clear and complete; when the author is through with a topic, the reader also is through with it; he has no questions to ask. A partial list of the chapter headings gives an idea of the range and character of the book’s content. New fears and old; the problematic nature of progress; science misused; the decline of the critical spirit; the worship of life; puerilism; superstition; the decay of style; art and literature estranged from reason and nature: such are some of the topics that come under the author’s searching and profound analysis. After nineteen chapters of diagnosis, or as the author terms it, ‘a review of crisis-symptoms,’Professor Huizinga devotes a chapter to the consideration of our prospects, asking frankly whether there is ’still room for a hopeful conclusion after the enumeration of BO many grave manifestations of dislocation and evisceration’; and he answers this question by saying that ‘room for hope there always is, but Confidence is difficult.‘
Difficult, indeed. The author declares himself flatly an optimist, which he has every right to do, but one must observe that, on his own showing, the grounds of confidence seem most unsubstantial. He concludes with the remark that our circumstances bear harder on the young than on the old, for the old will soon be off the scene, while the young must carry on; and he appears to think the young may show themselves competent to remodel society to a better pattern. By inference, therefore, one would say he thinks that the task is not altogether beyond their power. We all can join him in the hope that things will turn out that way, and since optimism is grounded on hope, we too can declare ourselves optimists. But confidence — that is another matter.