Are we now living in an “illegible age?”

The paragraph below I take from Mark Lilla’s essay, The Truth About Our Libertarian Age Why the dogma of democracy doesn’t always make the world better, from this week’s TNR (which magazine, by the way, with its new editor in chief Chris Hughes, is acquiring, if not yet its great reputation of a generation or two earlier, a well respected position in what is becoming a highly competitive, if not cut throat world of internet journalism.

Never since the end of World War II, and perhaps since the Russian Revolution, has political thinking in the West been so shallow and clueless. We all sense that ominous changes are taking place in our societies, and in other societies whose destinies will very much shape our own. Yet we lack adequate concepts or even a vocabulary for describing the world we find ourselves in. The connection between words and things has snapped. The end of ideology has not meant the lifting of clouds. It has brought a fog so thick that we can no longer read what is right before us. We find ourselves in an illegible age.

I haven’t yet read the essay. Before I did I wanted to say a few things about this one paragraph, the second paragraph of the piece. Couldn’t what he says be said about every age? And probably has been said. And if I had a better memory and more time to spend on Google I’m sure I could find examples. Especially regarding such phrases as “ominous changes are taking place in our societies.”

And as I say that, and think again about the writer’s words, I wonder if he may himself be making this up, and that at the end of the essay he’s going to tell us that his words are applicable to every period of man’s history. That such a position as this one is one we all know and have probably experienced at one or more times during our lives.

So is this simply meant to be about someone waking up to the fact that every age is beyond our ability to understand? For doesn’t everyone come at some point to that realization, and don’t most of us know that we’re not the first ones to do so?  Or perhaps the writer means that even the part of the world that we may have thought we understood, as in earlier periods, is in this day and age incomprehensible?

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