Conventional Lies of our Civilization-Max Simon Nordau-1883




I. Mene, Tekel, Upharsin (Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.).—A review of the different countries of the civilized world, art, literature, etc., with a description of the inherently false and dismal tone and tendencies of our age.

II. The Lie of Religion—A criticism of religious worship, which at the same time expresses respect for all genuine convictions.

III. The Lie of a Monarchy And Aristocracy—A scathing but amusing criticism of these worn-out and decayed relics of the past.

IV. The Political Lie—A revelation of the lack of power possessed by the will of the people in republics as well as in countries with other forms of government. A timely and entertaining study of politics in all their phases.

V. The Economic Lie—We find here abundant material for thought. The author traverses the entire field of political economy in its theory and practice, advancing many startling paradoxes and propositions.

VI. The Matrimonial Lie—In this chapter the author expresses many of our own unavowed thoughts. His original treatment and his courage in calling things by their right names, render this chapter one of exceptional interest.

Preface of the First Edition.

This book claims to be a faithful presentation of the views of the majority of educated, cultivated people of the present day. There is no doubt but what millions living in the midst of our civilization have learned by their own reflection and experience to regard and criticise the existing conditions of State and society as they are criticised in the following pages, and will coincide in the opinion expressed in them, that the present social, political and economic institutions are utterly at variance with the views and conceptions of the universe based upon natural science, and therefore untenable and doomed to destruction. Notwithstanding this fact, the author knows that many people will hold up their hands in holy horror when they read it, and not the least ostentatiously those who find their own most secret sentiments expressed in it. This is the very reason why the author believed that it was necessary, that it was imperative upon him, to write this book. The greatest evil of our times is the prevailing cowardice. We do not dare to assert our opinions, to bring our outward lives into harmony with our inward convictions; we believe it to be worldly policy to cling outwardly to relics of former ages when at heart we are completely severed from them. We do not wish to shock anyone, nor offend anyone’s prejudices, and we call this “respecting the convictions of others”—those others who in return do not respect our convictions, who ridicule them, who persecute them, and who would like best to exterminate them and us at the same time. This lack of sincerity and manly courage prolongs the period of falseness, and postpones indefinitely the triumph of truth. The author at least wished to fulfill his duty to himself, to truth, and to his comrades in sentiment. He has expressed his convictions openly and without the slightest hesitation. If all those who are dissembling—acting contrary to their convictions, diplomatizing and feigning were to do the same as the author, they would find perhaps to their amazement that they formed the majority in many places, and that it would soon be to their advantage to lead sincere and consistent lives, instead of their present careers of hypocrisy and double dealing.

⁠In the summer of 1883,

The Author.⁠

Preface to the Sixth Edition.

The Imperial Council of Vienna has prohibited the further sale of this book in Austria and confiscated all copies of it to be found. The official decree condemns the book on account of the “Crime of insulting the members of the imperial family,” the “Crime of disturbing the public peace by attempting to arouse contempt or hatred for the person of the Emperor, etc.,” the “Crime of denouncing religion,” the “Crime of inciting hostility against religious communities, etc.,” and in conclusion,, the “Crime of insulting a church and sect recognized by the State.” Every word of these indictments is a calumny from first to last. It is not true that I have “insulted any member of the imperial family;” it is not true that I have attempted to “arouse contempt or hatred for the person of the Emperor.” I do not attack persons, neither high nor low, but ideas. Further it is not true that I have disturbed any one in the exercise of his religion (how could a book do this?) nor incited hostility against religious communities at the most I have only attempted to arouse compassion for them.

I wish to warn those people who would never read this book from any interest in the questions of which it treats, but who may perhaps infer from its suppression, that it contains all sorts of piquant and scandalous things. This class of readers is hereby warned that this is not the case. If they spend their money upon this supposition they will be disappointed. The Vienna committee thus commits an intentional or unconscious fraud upon the public. I, at least, will have no share in it.

⁠Feb. 10, 1884

The Author

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