The Public Interest

The revolt against modernity

Daniel Bell

Fall 1985

THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE was the title of an essay by John Stuart Mill in the Examiner, January 6-May 29, 1831. It is a peculiarly nineteenth-century phrase: It derived from the historical consciousness which possessed that century, and it sought to encapsulate the way in which a specific time differed radically from previous periods. As Mill wrote: "The ‘spirit of the ageis in some measure a novel expression. I do not believe it is to be met with any word exceeding fifty years in antiquity. The idea of comparing one’s age with former ages, or with our notion of those which are yet to come, had occurred to philosophers; but it was never before itself the dominant idea of any age."

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