Missing the Point: The Rise of High Modernity and the Decline of Everything Else

By John Elsom

A challenging and timely examination of the philosophical and ideological assumptions that underlie modern Western culture and politics.

ISBN: 9780718830755


In his new book, John Elsom considers the drama of international politics from the viewpoint of a theatre critic, someone who sits in life’s stalls and takes notes in semi-darkness. He relates how grand narratives of human behaviour grew from the insights of Darwin, Descartes and the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, to become “the unacknowledged state religion of the West, High Modernity”. He argues that the primary aim of most European ministries of culture, together with Western media companies, is to promote aspects of this faith.

With a dazzling range of examples, from George Bush’s New World Order to the war in Iraq, the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and John Birt at the BBC, Dr. Elsom describes how the faith in High Modernity has permeated Western habits of mind. High Modernity may alarm those who do not share its Enlightenment beliefs, but it reassures others who want to believe that the future is something that “we can, and must, control”, according to the mission statement for the Millennium Dome.

Essential reading for anyone willing to open their minds to the realities of international differences in modern politics, this book will challenge readers’ perceptions of the world they live in and the role of High Modernity in Western politics and culture.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 172

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

John Elsom is the author of nine books, six plays and an opera libretto. A free-lance literary critic and journalist, who has worked for magazines and broadcasting stations around the world, including the BBC, Paramount Pictures and in the US, The World & I. He has taught in many universities and was the president of the IATC, a UNESCO cultural NGO. Currently a director of Arts Interlink, an arts management consultancy, he was knighted in Romania and doctored in London. Main hobby: random contemplation. Chief asset: a modest availability.

His web site is at: http://www.johnelsom.me/wordpress/.



1. In the Negev Desert
2. Good Resolutions and a Dome
3. Two Thousand Five Hundred Years of Modernity
4. Man at the Mercy of Measurement Systems
5. The Trouble with Artists
6. The Irish Peace Process
7. The Perception Managers
8. The Declining Skills of Rhetoric
9. The Taming of the Beeb
10. The Shaping of Experience
11. Zeitgeist
12. Revelation



Endorsements and Reviews

A stimulating and challenging book that no one with the slightest interest in politics, arts or the media can afford to miss.
Anthony Howard

Elsom is well-read, humane, culturate and articulate. His take on the pointless, deluded self-regarding world of our current bourgeois elite is useful reading.

As an internationally recognised expert on theatre and cultural politics, John Elsom examines in his new book a few myths of post-modern culture. … Written in a witty but thought-provoking style, Missing the Point helps the reader to be at least aware of what should not be overlooked, if we want still to understand and control our world, while not locking ourselves into the past or into the speculations of post-modernity. Reading this brilliant essay is an experience in perception management I would not have like to have missed.
Patrice Pavis

What makes this book more interesting than any number of reactionary rants is firstly its concision, with several apparently disconnected strands converging elegantly to a conclusion, and the author’s irreproachably libertarian instincts. These create an intellectual tension, as Elsom struggles to reconcile his nostalgic paternalism with modern concepts of diversity and accessibility. Elsom’s right: modern life has been sapped of so much colour and flavour that it’s a wonder anything any longer edifies or inspires us. Where to lay the blame is the argument, and here we are very much left to draw our own conclusions. That’s how it should be, and in Elsom’s book there is much food for thought.
Andrew Schofield, Whitehall & Westminister World Civil Service Network