In this age of intense political conflict, we sense objective fact is growing less important. Experts are attacked as partisan, statistics and scientific findings are decried as propaganda, and public debate devolves into personal assaults. How did we get here, and what can we do about it?
... wide-ranging yet brilliantly astute ... Davies is a wild and surprising thinker who also happens to be an elegant writer — a wonderful and eminently readable combination. Nervous States covers 400 years of intellectual history, technological innovation and economic development, seamlessly weaving in such disparate intellects as Carl von Clausewitz, Friedrich von Hayek and Hannah Arendt. The unexpected affinities proposed in this book bring to mind the roving approach of Marshall McLuhan or Bruno Latour.
The book sits at the intersection of ongoing debates about post-truth, the assault on reason, the privileging of personal feelings and the rise of populism. Nervous States stands out for its sincere attempt not simply to lament these trends but to understand them ... When it comes to pointing a way out of our current predicament, however, Davies has little concrete to offer ... makes a compelling case for paying more attention to the role of feelings, alongside that of reason, in modern life.
The book’s concise thesis notwithstanding, it’s unclear what Mr. Davies means to argue. Nervous State is written in the omniscient style of so many 'sweeping' treatments these days, ranging haphazardly over four centuries of European history in the manner of Jürgen Habermas. The author jumps from one abstruse analysis to another, each chapter ending like a piece of atonal music, with no resolution or sense of closure ... Where Mr. Davies gives us a coherent argument, it’s often maddeningly tendentious.