"Only connect! . . .Live in fragments no longer.”

 E. M. Forster, Howards End (1910), ch. 22

‘One day when I was twenty-three or twenty-four this sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep, ‘Hammer your thoughts into unity’. For days I could think of nothing else and for years I tested all I did by that sentence [...]” William Butler Yeats (Nobel Prize, 1923; cited in Frank Tuohy, Yeats 1976, p.51 )


Antimodernism. The word has been in use in English since at least 1978* but has not yet appeared in the OED or in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The latter, however, under the prefix “anti-“ includes in the list of examples “antimodern” and “antimodernist,” though it does not define them.


The  wiki internet encyclopedia does have a definition:

 “Since the beginnings of mechanization and even industrialization, there has been a strand of opinion which rejects, objects to, or has been highly critical of the costs of the changes that these trends brought about. As such there is no movement labelled anti-modernism, instead it is a catch all term for different critiques of the modern era, modernism, modernist works, or some combination of the above….Anti-modern movements represent a wide range of critiques, including appeals to tradition, religion, spirituality, environmentalism, aesthetics, pacificism, Marxism or agrarian virtues. They may reject technologies, or their use, social organizations, such as corporations, or some combination of the above. They may reject modernism on the grounds of its denying universalism of particular kinds. See also …. Victorianism.” [However, there is nothing about antimodernism in their brief definition of Victorianism.]  Finally, the article concludes by directing the reader to the “Antimodernism Msn Group,” which turns out to be primarily a Christian group focusing on Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.


Another internetsite, wordIQ.com, provides a more detailed definition: “Antimodernism is a philosophical orientation that is somewhat difficult to define, but in essence constitutes a rejection of modernist ideals and behaviours in favour of what is perceived as a purer [my italics] historical or even prehistorical way of life and consciousness of mind. As such, antimodernism is neither a single, definable movement nor a unified set of beliefs, but a vaguely-defined gist of thought.”

 “The term overlaps, to a degree, with postmodernism, in that both positions reject modernism. However, antimodernism is typically backward-looking [my italics]— it looks to the past for inspiration for the direction of the future — whereas postmodernism is less orientated towards the past as a guide, tending to refer to ideals borne of times closer to the present. The focus of an antimodernist's view of the importance of the past may encompass religion, culture, nationalism, or merely a present continuation of an existent historical social-structure. This is not to say, however, that antimodernist thinking is constrained within the bounds of historical precedent in finding solutions for present and future problems.”

 “The notion of antimodernity grew primarily out of disillusionment with Europe'sindustrial revolution in the 19th century, which was one of the most dramatic periods of social change in human history. Mass urbanisation and industrialisation brought about a markedly different era within a relatively short space of time; this thereby created an environment that was conducive to the rise of ideologies alternative to a mainstream which was far departed from what was in the hearts and minds of generations in their prime merely decades before.”

 “While not necessarily anti-technology by nature, antimodernism typically either considers technology's utilisation in the modern world to be misapplied and misguided, or else that it should be regarded as a lesser priority of human endeavour than, say, social cohesion or devotion to traditional religious and other cultural values. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some individuals characterised as antimodernist would consider all technology beyond a certain level of advancement as being demonic in either a literal or practical sense.”

 “Antimodernity in today's world is often popularly known of in the form of religious fundamentalism, with more militant forms of Islamism and right-wing Christianity gaining greater prominence during the 1990s. Various pagan-religion/cultural orientations could be considered to be antimodernist, along with various far-right groups that take more militant interpretations of these values. Not all antimodernist thought exists alongside religion, however, with atheisticprimitivism being one such example.”


         *The first use of the term in print of which I am aware is Jacques Maritain’s Antimoderne (Paris: Editions de la Revue des Jeunes, 1922). The first use in English of which I am aware is Jacques Maritain, Antimodern Or Ultramodern? : An Historical Analysis Of His Critics, His Thought, And His Life (New York: Elsevier, 1976), by Brooke Williams Smith.

         The first addition of the “ism” I know of is  The Rise of Popular Antimodernism in Germany: The Urban Master Artisans, 1873-1896 (Princeton U. P., 1978). According to the author, Shulamit Volkov, “Antimodernism as an intellectual position can be detected in all the industrializing countries of Europe during the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries” (3), but he does not define it precisely.

         In 1981 Appeared  No Place Of Grace : Antimodernism And The Transformation Of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon) by T. J. Jackson Lears. Lears discusses antimodernism at length. He begins, “Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many beneficiaries of modern culture began to feel they were its secret victims. Among the educated and affluent on both sides of the Atlantic, antimodern sentiments spread.” Lears focuses on “American antimodernism, particulary in its dominant form – the recoil from an ‘overcivilized’ modern existence to more intense forms of physical or spiritual experience supposedly embodied in medieval or Oriental cultures…..Antimodernism was not simply escapism; it was ambivalent, often coexisting with enthusiasm for material progress. …. a complex blend of accommodation and protest….” (xv).

         In 1994, two books appeared:  The Quest Of The Folk : Antimodernism And Cultural Selection In Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia, by Ian McKay, published by McGill-Queen’s UP in Montreal, and Thornton Weldon’s  The Antimodernism Of Joyce's Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (Sycacuse U. P). Weldon argues that the irony of the Bildungsroman “is inherently conducive to an antimodernist perspective” (65), in this case revealing “the distance between Stephen’s modernist view of the world and of his psyche, and Joyce’s fuller and richer antimodernist perspective” (85). Yet, while the index provides detailed references to modernism, the word antimodernism does not even appear in it.

         A similar discrepancy appears in the index of  Erik Kramer”s  Modern/Postmodern : Off The Beaten Path Of Antimodernism In 1997 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger).  “Modernism” and its various permutations are extensively referenced but “antimodern” and “antimodernist” appear only once each and are not defined on the pages to which the reader is directed.

         In 2001 Lynda Jessup published the collection, Antimodernism And Artistic Experience : Policing The Boundaries Of Modernity  (U of Toronto P), and provided the reader with a definition of the term: “A broad, international reaction to the onslaught of the modern world that swept industrialized Western Europe, North America, and Japan in the decades around the turn of the century, antimodernism has been defined by historian Jackson Lears as the ‘recoil from an ‘overcivilized’ modern existence to more intense forms of physical or spiritual existence’. Critically explored many years ago by Raymond Williams in The Country and the City as a form of consciousness – a structure of feeling—that gave rise to a ‘sentimental … unlocalised ‘Old ‘England’ among the alienated urban population of industrializing Britain, what has come to be known as antimodernism is still more familiar today perhaps to cultural historians than to historians of art. In the field of cultural history, the term antimodernism is used to refer to the pervasive senses of loss [my italics] that often coexisted in the decades around the turn of the century along with an enthusiasm for modernization and material progress. Thus antimodernism was often ambivalent and Janus-faced, smacking of accommodation as well as protest. [my italics] It describes what was in effect a critique of the modern, a perceived lack in the present manifesting itself not only in a senses of alienation, but also in a longing for the types of physical or spiritual experience embodied in utopian futures and imagined pasts. As such, it embraces what was then a desire for the type of ‘authentic’, immediate experience supposedly embodied in pre-industrial societies – in medieval communities [my italics] or ‘Oriental’ cultures, in the Primitive, the Traditional, or the Folk” (3 [Jackson, xv; Williams 1975:20) ]).

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