It would be difficult to find a more perceptive description of Western man and the world he now inhabits than that provided by Chantal Delsol in Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World. With style and lucidity, Delsol likens contemporary Western man to the mythical figure Icarus, fallen back to earth after trying to reach the sun, alive but badly shaken and confused. During the twentieth century, Delsol argues, man flew too closely to the sun of utopian ideology. Having been burned, he is now groping for a way to orient himself. But the ideas he once held so dear—inevitable progress, the possibility of limitless social and self-transformation—are no longer believable, and he has, for the most part, long since rejected the religious tradition that might now have provided an anchor.
Delsol’s portrait is engrossing. She explains how we have come simultaneously to embrace the “good” but reject the “true”; how we have sacralized rights and democracy; and how we have lost our sense of the tragic and embraced the idea of “zero risk.” Already a well-known political thinker in her native France, this is Delsol’s first book to appear in English. Icarus Fallen should establish her as one of the most insightful social and cultural writers working on either side of the Atlantic.