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Peter Berger’s Historical Perspective

Summary:
I’m going through various books in my library, trying to decide which ones to give to friends, which to donate, and which to discard. I almost offered to give sociologist Peter L. Berger’s 1986 book, The Capitalist Revolution, to a friend but, before doing so, reread sections I had marked up. I’m keeping it. The book has zinger after zinger. Here are two that give historical perspective that might make you appreciate modern dentistry and modern bathrooms, respectively. However, it is important to keep in mind the long-lasting realities of material life so as to avoid the recurring romanticisms about premodern times. As a mental exercise, for example, one might focus on the fact that almost all of human history took place without the benefits of modern dentistry.

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Peter Berger’s Historical Perspective

I’m going through various books in my library, trying to decide which ones to give to friends, which to donate, and which to discard. I almost offered to give sociologist Peter L. Berger’s 1986 book, The Capitalist Revolution, to a friend but, before doing so, reread sections I had marked up. I’m keeping it.

The book has zinger after zinger.

Here are two that give historical perspective that might make you appreciate modern dentistry and modern bathrooms, respectively.

However, it is important to keep in mind the long-lasting realities of material life so as to avoid the recurring romanticisms about premodern times. As a mental exercise, for example, one might focus on the fact that almost all of human history took place without the benefits of modern dentistry. This means, quite simply, that most individuals either suffered from toothaches or had rotten teeth; it probably means that their mouths both looked and smelled accordingly. Focus further then on some favorite glittering event or personage, with this fact in mind: Demosthenes addressing the citizens of Athens . . . Caesar crossing the Rubicon . . . even Louis XIV amid the splendors of Versailles. (pp. 33-34)

When Frederich the Great of Prussia built the palace of Sans Souci, which was to be a magnificent rival to Versailles, he found it necessary to post a notice on the great portico requesting the gentlemen of the court not to urinate on the stairs. And one small postscript: The great palace of Schoenbrunn, summer residence of the Hapsburgs, did not have indoor toilets at the outbreak of World War I.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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