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Home » News » Engines and brakes of civilization. Lecture by Professor Jerzy Jedlicki on the occasion of Professor Bronisław Geremek's 80th birth anniversary.

Engines and brakes of civilization. Lecture by Professor Jerzy Jedlicki on the occasion of Professor Bronisław Geremek's 80th birth anniversary.

- It is truly difficult to identify the direction of development in our times. Will we move towards deeper diversification, or the  universalization of phenomena  through the blurring of boundaries between popular and higher culture, through changes in the functioning of the democratic state and the influence of great corporations, through the revival of religious wars, e.g. in Africa (Uganda, Nigeria)? In effect, no one can predict whether these contradictions can be resolved  and what new areas of friction emerge in consequence of these tendencies,  Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki underlined in his lecture, delivered on  the 80th birth anniversary of Prof. Bronisław Geremek.

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On March 21 2012 the auditorium of the Warsaw University  Old Library was the venue of Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki's   lecture titled "What Will They Call Our 21st Century?" . Patronage of the event was assumed  by  Warsaw University Rector, Prof. Katarzyna Chałasinska-Macukow, with Jarosław Kurski acting as moderator.

Prof. Jerzy  Jedlicki, a prominent Polish historian of ideas and author of many  fundamental works on  19th and 20th century history, addressed in his lecture  the relationship between the perception of  historical periods and the names assigned to them. He examined the dominant traits of the respective periods and the legitimacy of the names ascribed to them, beginning his ruminations with the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the pejoratively perceived Middle Ages. The complex yet ambiguous image of the 19th century, expressed as "the era of the steam engine", indicated its industrial-technical roots, while "the Age of Positivism" recognized the cognitive value of progress. Yet we must not  forget the multipolarity of the century, which is sometimes referred to as "the age of slavery", "the cursed age ", "the age of rotten liberalism."

The blurring of distinct boundaries in the methods of naming the 19th century might be considered the  point of departure for reflection on the total unpredictability of our century, the more so since historical speculation about dates  (arbitrary extension or shortening of periods in the time horizon) has eroded  the sacred  law of chronology. After all,  problems with  visions of the  future can be illustrated with regard to the last century. It is not and has never been a historiographical monolith. Advances in science, technology and  medicine have been accompanied by the arms race and persistent nuclear  threat. Thus, it is not just an era of technological progress and  modernization of civilization, but also  "the age of genocide", "the ravaged century," "the unhappy century",  "the cursed century".  Few thinkers and writers were able to accurately anticipate the nature of the coming era. Among them was Herbert George Wells, who in a book published at the beginning of the century, Anticipations (1901), surprisingly accurately predicted the events of the 20th twentieth century, especially those  relating to nuclear weapons, and his vision of a world state and rigidly controlled societies.

During the discussion after the lecture, Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki responded to questions about  Europe as the mainstay of Western culture, remembrance and  oblivion in Europe,  theories about the of the end of history and  time, and the mutual relationship between democracy and capitalism. Prof. Jedlicki noted that the  Western civilization was still an avant-garde civilization in the field of culture, even if  its remaining influence  had been exhausted or was near depletion. Accordingly, it could hardly be expected  to co-shape the fate of the world today, though it was equally difficult to imagine the removal from present-day dictionaries of the well-established concept of  "Western civilization".


Katarzyna Parzuchowska, Jacek Głażewski