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The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism de [Wolin, Richard]
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"The Seduction of Unreason is a wide-ranging yet subtle consideration of the intellectual's abiding fascination with absolutism, and as such it is a perceptive, compelling and invaluable document. His indignation at the folly and perversity of so many major European thinkers is wholly justified and peculiarly invigorating."--John Banville, The Irish Times

"[A] lively, learned, and wide-ranging work. . . . Wolin's subjects have exercised a remarkable impact on certain academic and cultural fields in the U.S. in the last several decades."--Choice

"For anyone who has passed through the academic humanities in the last quarter-century and has been exposed to the dubious legacy of postmodernism, The Seduction of Unreason is an indispensable book. It is another important installment in what has become one of the major intellectual enterprises of our time: Richard Wolin's principled defense of liberalism against its most sophisticated enemies."--Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"In this impressive book Wolin does for the Left what Bloom did for the Right; he makes a powerful case for a return to moral seriousness."--Daniel P. Murphy, Magill's Literary Annual 2005

"The topic of Richard Wolin's book is the nexus between postmodernism and politics. . . . Wolin's book raises the right questions at the right time. He forces us to think critically about the deepest philosophical underpinnings of our moral and political ideals. We simply cannot rest content with an unmeasured assault on reason."--Andy Wallace,Ethics

"This author's excellent study provides the reader with an informed survey of some of the more important intellectual trends of the twentieth century, employing the writings of a selection of Europe's avant-garde authors."--A. James Gregor, The Historian

"Wolin's book will provide much food for thought for the disinterested reader and a veritable feast for critical self-reflection for the post-modern thinker--especially the North American academic who hasn't done his or her genealogical homework."--Jeff Mitscherling, European Legacy

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Fifteen years ago, revelations about the political misdeeds of Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man sent shock waves throughout European and North American intellectual circles. Ever since, postmodernism has been haunted by the specter of a compromised past. In this intellectual genealogy of the postmodern spirit, Richard Wolin shows that postmodernism's infatuation with fascism has been widespread and not incidental. He calls into question postmodernism's claim to have inherited the mantle of the left--and suggests that postmodern thought has long been smitten with the opposite end of the political spectrum.

In probing chapters on C. G. Jung, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Georges Bataille, and Maurice Blanchot, Wolin discovers an unsettling commonality: during the 1930s, these thinkers leaned to the right and were tainted by a proverbial "fascination with fascism." Frustrated by democracy's shortcomings, they were seduced by fascism's grandiose promises of political regeneration. The dictatorships in Italy and Germany promised redemption from the uncertainties of political liberalism. But, from the beginning, there could be no doubting their brutal methods of racism, violence, and imperial conquest.

Postmodernism's origins among the profascist literati of the 1930s reveal a dark political patrimony. The unspoken affinities between Counter-Enlightenment and postmodernism constitute the guiding thread of Wolin's suggestive narrative. In their mutual hostility toward reason and democracy, postmodernists and the advocates of Counter-Enlightenment betray a telltale strategic alliance--they cohabit the fraught terrain where far left and far right intersect.

Those who take Wolin's conclusions to heart will never view the history of modern thought in quite the same way.

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37 de 46 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Nailing it 8 de abril de 2005
Por Antero Arroyo - Publicado en
Formato: Tapa dura
The reviewers below give a misleading description of this book. At last there is someone who takes on the dark side of the master thinkers celebrated all over the western universities. For 20 years I've read all of the thinkers Wolin discusses - from Jung to Derrida - and I have come to very similar conclusions with some minor differences. That's why I was delighted to read this book, I see it as a brave attempt to reveal and discuss many uncomfortable circumstances that the advocates of these thinkers have always avoided.

Yes, Jung did try to explain nazism in negative terms - after the war. What he did under nazism - an ambiguous matter - is another thing.

And Wolin is no advocate of US imperalism or capitalism, these are not the theme of this book; besides Wolin is clearly in favor of democratic left.

This book is an analysis of the inconsistencies in thinkers like Bataille, Gadamer and Derrida, also of the wily or fierce assaults on democracy in some their texts. It is not very kind to these thinkers, but it doesn't have to be, since there are even more aggressive tones to be find e.g. in Bataille or Derrida.

(And yes, I have read many books of Derrida).

Reason can be a monster too, but in humanities there have been too little of it lately.
44 de 59 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Absolutely Entrancing 23 de mayo de 2005
Por The Dubliner - Publicado en
Formato: Tapa dura
The Irish Times

November 6, 2004 Weekend; Book Reviews; Pg. 13

Absolutely entrancing

John Banville

Political philosophy: An attack on European right-wing and 'left fascist' thinkers and their American followers is a kind of philosophical Nuremberg trials.

In Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus there is a character called Breisacher, a Jew, whom Mann describes as a private scholar and polyhistor and "a racial and intellectual type in high, one might almost say reckless development". Although Nietzsche's name is not mentioned - the life and personality of the novel's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkuhn, are in large part based on those of the philosopher - Breisacher is the quintessential Nietzschean. His specialty is the philosophy of culture, "but his views were anti-cultural, in so far as he gave out to see in the whole history of culture nothing but a process of decline". He sets J.S. Bach as the central figure in the "progressivist barbarism" that caused the deterioration of music from "the great and only true art of counterpoint" into the "effeminizing and falsification" of the "harmonic romanticism of modulation", a process in which even Palestrina had already played a "shameful part".

When he turns to the Bible and the history of his own race, Breisacher is even more extreme, seeing King David and his successor Solomon - "an aesthete unnerved by erotic excesses" - and "the prophets drivelling about dear God in heaven" as "the already debased representatives of an exploded late theology, which no longer had any idea of the old and genuine Hebraic actuality of Jahve, the Elohim of the people".

For Breisacher, the history of the modern world, and by "modern" he means the period from the pre-Socratics onward, is the history of an inevitable degeneration from the true and authentic primitive into weakness, softness and falsity.

Breisacher is a member of the circle surrounding the creepy Sextus Kridwiss, a collector of primitive art; other savants attending the Kridwiss evenings are Dr Egon Unruhe, a "philosophic palaeozoologist" who works on verifying the essential truths of the ancient Germanic sagas, in which "a sophisticated humanity had long since ceased to believe"; Professor Georg Vogler, a literary historian who has written a much-admired history of German literature from the point of view of racial origins; and the poet Daniel zur Hohe - Mann is always wickedly witty in the matter of names - a high-strung young man whose "dreams dealt with a world subjected by sanguinary campaigns to the pure spirit" and whose only published poetic work, The Proclamations, ends with the line: "Soldiers! I deliver to you to plunder - the World!"

Mann knew his proto-fascists from the inside, having been one himself, as he showed in his anti-democratic, anti-modern Meditations of an Unpolitical Man (1918).

When the phenomenon of Hitler and Nazism demonstrated to him in no uncertain terms how wrong-headed he had been, and how, as Richard Wolin puts it, "the flip side of apoliticism is a potentially lethal dearth of Zivilcourage", he abandoned his homeland for democratic America and dedicated himself to the anti-Nazi cause. The Hohes, the Voglers, the Unruhes, even, to their great cost, some of the Breisachers, remained behind to support the new regime, mostly, as did the real-life philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, by keeping silent and going into "inner emigration", but in some cases, such as that of Heidegger, by a total and extremely noisy identification with the Volk, the Reich, and the Fuhrer.

This trahison des clercs on the part of a considerable number of European philosophers, scholars and academics did not end with the defeat of Nazism, according to Wolin, whose book, the subtitle of which is "The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism", is a vigorous, full-frontal attack on European right-wing and "left fascist" thinkers and theorists and their contemporary followers in American intellectual life, among the latter of whom The Seduction of Unreason has already raised many a hackle.

For its literary and philosophical sympathisers - he lists W.B. Yeats in their number - fascism, Wolin writes, "reintroduces an aesthetic politics" and "allows for the reprise of an ecstatic politics amid the forlorn and disenchanted landscape of political modernity". The European counter-revolutionaries, such as Joseph de Maistre and Arthur de Gobineau

knew what they wanted as a replacement for liberal democracy: the "contrary of revolutions", the restoration of the old regime. Their German heirs - Nietzsche, Spengler, Carl Schmitt, and Heidegger - disillusioned denizens of modern society, knew that one could no longer turn back the clock. Instead, they decided to seize the bull by the horns. They embraced industrial society but only under the proviso that it be governed by a totalitarian dictatorship. Dictatorship was the most efficacious means with which to vanquish the debilities of political liberalism and reestablish the sublimity of "Great Politics" (Nietzsche).

Wolin sees this drive towards dictatorship and the aestheticisation of politics as a process that continues to this day, not only in the demagoguery of the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jorg Haider, but in the writings of such latter-day thinkers as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Indeed, The Seduction of Unreason may be taken overall as a tocsin sounded to rally the forces of reaction against European anti-democratic cultural theory in general, and postmodernism in particular. The latter is Wolin's bete noir; he considers it not a philosophical movement at all but a form of frivolous despair encompassing a broad assault on the "epistemological and historiographical presuppositions of modernity: objective truth and historical progress". He cites Jean Baudrillard's definition of the postmodern universe as one in which "there are no definitions possible . . . It has all been done . . . It has destroyed itself. It has deconstructed its entire universe. So all that are left are the pieces. Playing with the pieces - that is postmodern". The postmodernists and their shock-troops the deconstructionists, Wolin writes, "seek refuge in myth, magic, madness, illusion, or intoxication - all seem preferable to what 'civilization' has to offer". They are the direct heirs of Mann's Kridwiss circle who "could scarcely contain their mirth at the desperate campaign waged by reason and criticism against wholly untouchable, wholly invulnerable belief" - irrational belief, that is.

Wolin insists that the postmodernists are now in retreat. What he sees as "the current disaffection with postmodernism" is, he writes,

in no small measure attributable to recent political circumstances. Humanism's return spells postmodernism's demise. Totalitarianism was the twentieth century's defining political experience. Its aftermath has left us with a new categorical imperative: no more Auschwitzes or Gulags. We now know that an ineffaceable difference separates democratic and totalitarian regimes. Despite their manifest empirical failings, democratic polities possess a capacity for internal political change that totalitarian societies do not. A discourse such as postmodernism that celebrates the virtues of cultural relativism and that remains ambivalent, at best, vis-a-vis democratic norms is inadequate to the moral and political demands of the contemporary hour.

To some, perhaps many, readers this will sound suspiciously like a whistle in the dark. Curiously, too, in its rhetorical vigour the passage and others like it echo the pronouncements of the so-called "neo-cons" now running the show in the White House and the Pentagon. Wolin, a tough, old-style liberal democrat, would no doubt be appalled at such a comparison, but then, in a phrase he is fond of using, often in the nexus of politics, philosophy and literature "les extremes se touchent".

The Seduction of Unreason is a kind of philosophical Nuremberg Trials. Wolin puts in the dock not only the obvious miscreants such as Heidegger and Nietzsche -"was it really so far-fetched that such a thinker would become the Nazis' court philosopher?" - but other, less obvious fascist fellow-travellers. He is particularly acute in the cases of Jung - "There are more polite ways of putting it, but Jung was a fraud" - and Gadamer. The latter was a pillar of post-war German philosophy, but Wolin is relentless in following him into his lair to root out the weasel words by which, according to Wolin, he accommodated himself to Hitler's regime; Gadamer in his counter-Enlightenment worldview, Wolin writes, holds that "since human insight is intrinsically untrustworthy, the best course is to limit its use as much as possible. Should a confrontation between authority and reason arise, it is always safer to err on the side of authority".

In a brilliant chapter, 'Maurice Blanchot: The Use and Abuse of Silence', Wolin tackles one of the shadowiest yet also one of the most influential French intellectuals of the 20th century. There is no doubt that Blanchot is a very great thinker in the realm of aesthetics, and a strong influence in the work of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida and others, those who engaged and engage in "a generalized assault against the idea of 'representation' - the notion that mind is capable of portraying reality truthfully and objectively". Blanchot, who holds that art is important chiefly as a creator and preserver of silence - in a brief biographical epigraph to The Book to Come he describes his life as "wholly devoted to literature and to the silence unique to it" - is discovered by Wolin writing before the war for "a dizzying array of far-right journals", and calling for a revolution that will be "a series of bloody shocks, a storm that will overwhelm - and thus awaken" the French nation.

Like Paul de Man, who wrote anti-Semitic articles for collaborationist Belgian newspapers and after the war developed an extreme form of deconstructionist criticism which was seen by some - simplistically, surely - as an attempt covertly and symbolically to wipe out his own past, Blanchot in his emphasis on silence and impenetrability might be thought of by those same accusers as seeking quietly to erase past sins. "My supposition," Wolin writes, "is that underlying the theoretical antipathy to 'representation' as a figure for knowledge and truth is a subconscious 'will to nonknowledge': a desire to keep at bay an awareness of unsettling historical complicities, facts, and events."

Is Wolin correct in his views, justified in his judgments? The Seduction of Unreason is a wide-ranging yet subtle consideration of the intellectual's abiding fascination with absolutism, and as such it is a perceptive, compelling and invaluable document. His indignation at the folly and perversity of so many major European thinkers is wholly justified and peculiarly invigorating, and most of his charges against those thinkers seem unanswerable. Yet in his almost triumphalist assertions of "humanism's return" he will seem foolishly overconfident to some, and plain mistaken to others. The opposition to humanism, as contemporary philosophers such as John Gray have shown, is not necessarily a new barbarism, but a new honesty and, dare one say it, a new humility. The Enlightenment brought much darkness; it is possible to see Hitler and Stalin and Mao, with their millennial insistence on human progress and the need for a supra-rational organisation of society, as true sons of le Siecle des Lumieres. On the other hand, it is hard to deny Wolin's contention that "with a self-defeating Nietzschean glibness, postmodernism has burned its bridges to a traditional rhetoric of moral evaluation". But is a "traditional rhetoric" really what we need?
8 de 10 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas When extremes meet 30 de septiembre de 2009
Por Niklas Anderberg - Publicado en
Formato: Tapa blanda
Richard Wolin is Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York and his THE SEDUCTION OF UNREASON is a captivating read. Against a historical background, he posits two modern interludes; one on the German New Right and one on its French counterpart. Putting things in perspective, Wolin reflects on the roots of contemporary postmodern, and sometimes reactionary, thinking. In the 1930's the Left began to adopt some of the ideas traditionally associated with the Right. The expression "les extrêmes se touchent" gained credibility, giving room to the oxymoronic terming of Bataille's "Left Fascism." After World War II Nietzsche and Heidegger, with their critique of reason and democracy, became the intellectual idols of the French Left. Wolin dubs this counterintuitive phenomenon "left Heideggerianism." With the collapse of state socialism and the coming down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, yet again voices from the left began to coincide with traditionally reactionary appeals to Nation, "Volk" and Identity. The Enlightenment twin-concept of reason and progress became the punchbag of the day. This book is largely about this "problematic right-left synthesis."
In a critical review, the late Richard Rorty argued that Wolin, although his heart is in the right place, has a hard time separating a philosopher's moral character from his teachings; any thinker who has displayed either hypocrisy or self-deception is unlikely to have any ideas worth adopting. Although Wolin "protests that his book is not an exercise in guilt-by-association", this is according to Rorty actually pretty close to the mark (The Nation 2004). This is, however, not fair. Firstly, what Wolin says appears on p.301 and is a reference to Heidegger's catchphrase "reason is the most stiff-necked adversary of thought" as being a philosophical inspiration for a postmodern worldview. Even if this can lead to conceptual confusion and postmodernists can assume a variety of political hues, "they are hardly `fascists'." Secondly, on page 62 Wolin states that "Nietzsche's status as a prophet of the twentieth century should neither be exaggerated nor sidestepped", and "one can be both a towering writer and thinker a n d a fascist - or, in Nietzsche's case, a protofascist. This lesson challenges our customary notions of intellectual greatness which makes it all the more worth contemplating." Furthermore, in the first sentence of his preface to "The Heidegger Controversy" from 1991, Wolin characterizes Heidegger as "probably the century's greatest philosopher." This conundrum has puzzled philosophers and laypersons alike: how can otherwise brilliant minds be seduced by crude politics?
Rather than "digging up the dirt" on famous European thinkers, Richard Wolin critically addresses the philosophical underpinnings of political thought. As a book reflecting on the political inclinations of a range of thinkers, including Jung, Freud, Schmitt, Blanchot, Derrida, and Habermas, it serves its objective admirably. Written in an engaging style THE SEDUCTION OF UNREASON is a probing foray into a historical landscape which appears to be as yet not fully explored. It depicts with vivacity a division of thought, the repercussions of which are still with us today.
10 de 13 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
2.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas prococative inquiry, dubious history 28 de marzo de 2012
Por taberwood - Publicado en
Formato: Tapa dura
Wolin's ambitious and provocative book is a masterly overview of "unreason" in Western thought. However, it suffers from an oversimplification of those who advocated "reason" and those who did not. To begin, the term "reason," and those who are "reasonable" in this text can easily be substituted for liberal democracy or those who support liberal democracy, while "unreason" is fascism plain and simple. What Wolin neglects, in his glossed-over history of French intellectuals in the thirties, is an account of just how untenable parliamentary politics had become. It was not merely the "lunatic fringe" who questioned liberal values, but in fact a great many "reasonable" people, whom, for historical reasons ( the rise of sociology and mass psychology, a genuine interest in learning from "primitive" culture, -- all, might I add, contributions made by "liberal" social scientists working with purely reason-based and positivist/ empirical methods) sought alternatives to the ineffective and hypocritically unreasonable democratic order that was beset with serious deficiencies. I name here a quick succession of multiple premiers, monetary inflation and other social and religious ills. Indeed, the situation was dire enough that it would have been unreasonable to actually believe that such a system could persist, hence the attraction of so many of the most brilliant interwar intellectuals to thought that was not propagated by 18th century encylo-pedants.

Georges Bataille, whose story makes up a central component of Wolin's argument, was just one of these intellectuals. But Wolin, repeating the same argument that Habermas made, calls Bataille a fascist, proof of which he finds in Boris Souverain's testimony, and the oftheard accusation, stemming from fractitious Surrealists like Breton, of "sur-fascism." But we must take pause here, for the term "fascism" was hardly the word it is now, and that lefties of all stripes often conjured it when the accused was touting an ideology that did not match the increasingly tyrannical party lines of the extreme left and the PCF. It was, sadly a time of paranoia. Though it sounds blithe to say so today, the moniker, when located historically, must thus be taken with a grain of salt.

If Wolin had attempted a more indepth assessment of Bataille, there is no way he would have rested on these cliches of the writer. For example, despite the fact Bataille's "The Psychological Structure of Fascism" is Bataille's brave and thought- provoking critique of the fascist state, Wolin reads this text as if it were Bataille's endorsement! While there are some slightly later passages in Bataille's notebooks that suggest he was deeply attracted to a certain kind of fascism, "The Psychological Structure," is not one of them, and given that it was written for an audience on the Left, Bataille would have been wiser than to merely endorse the political system he saw forming in Germany and Italy.

Once we overcome Wolin's oversimplified dichotomy ( anti-parliamentarian/anti-rationalist= fascist) we can come to understand Bataille as deeply anti-parliamentary and anti-fascist at once; anti-authoritarian in short. This view is clearest in what is his least rational project, the anarchic and spiritual community and religion, Acéphale created in desperation during a political crisis. Rather than a fascist "third way" as Wolin claims Bataille's neither-left-nor-right path to be, Acéphale was in fact a fourth way, an irrational (yes) attempt to find an alternative to Stalinist communism, fascism and liberal democracy. The Acéphale journal itself displays Bataille's acute awareness of the Nazi's "mis-use" of Nietzsche and Bataille takes great care in describing to his readers how Elisabeth-Foerster and other German vulgarisers twisted Nietzsche's vague and provocative words to suit their purposes.

Wolin's project is admirable. By digging at the root of post-structuralist and post-modern theory, he reveals the dangers upon which it is based. Nonetheless
Wolin proves his argument by creating an ahistorical division between 20th century intellectuals who chose reason and those who reject it. While the tactic helps Wolin by allowing him to expend with details that would hinder his argument, the result is a history of 20th century thought that is grossly oversimplified, and as a result, underestimates the nuanced history of ideas at play here.
1 de 2 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
3.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Bad scholarship, but an interesting read 10 de noviembre de 2014
Por Pascal Tiscali - Publicado en
Formato: Tapa blanda
I have to agree with other reviewers who characterize this book as "gossipy" and showing poor standards of historical accuracy.

In the case of Carl Jung, for example, who I know something about, I can clearly see the fabric of Wolin's scholarship, and it's simply a patchwork of cut & pastes from biographers who are hostile to Jung - chiefly the infamous Richard Noll. Wolin creates a kind of "worst of" gallery of character-assassinating selections from Noll. He even makes a habit of quoting directly from Noll himself rather than from Jung. Thus on p. 79-80 there is an extended quote from Noll, which conjures up a highly imaginative reconstruction of conversations between Jung and one of his patients. Wolin passes this on as if it were fact! And on p. 81-82 Wolin passes on as if it were a direct quotation from Jung, a controversial document Noll had exhumed from an archive and had attributed to Jung, even though its provenance was controversial - and it has since been shown that the document in question was not in fact written by Jung. Worst of all, Wolin even adopts Noll's trick of describing Jungian psychology as a "cult" and thus marshalling against it the knee-jerk prejudices associated with tabloid journalism. - As if the establishment of training programs and learning centers was not a basic attribute of all forms of learning, including religion, but also psychology, medicine, and empirical science, which do after all involve the "cultivation" and formation of human beings.

Any use of Noll as a source should have been handled very carefully, since Noll's scholarship, even where it was not speculative, has been considerably undermined since the publication of his "succès de scandale". However, Wolin is not only careless in this regard, he even outdoes Noll in dishing out inflammatory put-downs, glibly saying things like "Jung was a fraud", who left a "trail of intellectual charlatanry", whose work was "verbal hocus pocus and intellectual chicanery", etc.

So much for the chapter on Jung. But using that as a gauge, it seems to me that overall, to echo another reviewer, Wolin is not trying to "understand" his subjects and the ideas they were grappling with, but merely to put them on the stand and accuse them - confronting them with their sins as reconstructed in a prejudiced, exaggerated and inflammatory manner. This surprizes me because I have associated Wolin's name with competent scholarship in the past - even if also organized around themes of antisemitism and "intellectual fascism".

In spite of these problems I do give the book 3 stars because it brings difficult thinkers down to earth in a way that can make them more approachable. (I'm thinking of Gadamer, for instance.) Wolin's book can be a place to start in understanding these thinkers - and a better one perhaps than the adulatory incoherencies that litter the "theory-head" literature in the English language. - Even Wollin's bad scholarship is a step up in that regard.
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