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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wreckers of Reason, 12 April 2009
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (Paperback)
The germ of The Reckless Mind was a series of intellectual biographies of influential European thinkers published in literary magazines. Each philosopher is examined firstly in terms of his thoughts, friendships and the academic milieu; secondly his opinions & actions are profiled against the political realities of the time. The author aims to understand why these men who enjoyed freedom chose to promote tyranny while demonizing the free society.

Lilla looks at Heidegger's rise in the 1920s on the concepts of 'being' & 'authenticity', his relationships with Hannah Arendt & his mentor Karl Jaspers, his support of Nazism and his post-war attempts at absolving himself. Heidegger's contemporary Carl Schmitt became an official advocate for Hitler's regime and remained a rabid antisemite until his death in 1985. His core concept was 'enmity', meaning that any entity is defined by & discovers its true nature through an enemy.

The literary critic Walter Benjamin embraced Marxism as a secular salvationist ideology, was disillusioned by the Hitler-Stalin Pact and took his own life while fleeing the Nazis. The Hegelian philosopher Alexandre Kojève became a Stalinist, gave up philosophy for bureaucracy after the war and contributed to the formation of what would become the European Union.

Then came the PoMo prophets: the power-besotted Michel Foucault who denounced Western 'totalitarianism' but adored Mao & the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Jacques Derrida, the great deconstructor who modified his extreme skepticism in the 1990s with a touch of sentimental romanticism. For greater insight, I highly recommend Stephen Hicks' Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.

In the final chapter, Lilla discusses what he calls the 'philotyranny' of these intellectuals who were driven beyond reason by unhinged mental passions. Benjamin & Kojève displayed the most marked mystical yearnings whilst violence in various forms appealed to all: real bloodlust were most pronounced in Foucault & Schmitt. In Derrida's case, it manifested in the desire to destroy meaning; he's also the one that most desperately craved adulation & celebrity.

Despising ordinary people & everyday life, they were all antimodernist to some degree. Schmitt was what Michael Polanyi called a romantic nihilist whilst this urge erratically held Heidegger in its grip; the author agrees with Jaspers on this one, rejecting Arendt's forgiving view of Heidegger as merely a naļve romantic.

Lilla observes that the reckless mind possesses impressive powers of reason over a vast reservoir of cherished unreason; the first are harnessed to satisfy a profound desire for power/prestige. According to Eric Hoffer, it's the temperament - not the ideological content - that drives fanatics. That's why they so easily switch from one type of extremism to another.

Fitting the mould, these wreckers were slaves of their impulses. Their political thoughts (it's improper to call them philosophies) are utopian fantasies articulated via a spectrum of techniques, from insipid word-games designed to subverting reason to the despicable promotion of genocide. It's no surprise then that their offspring, the ideologies of multiculturalism & moral relativism, contain the same poisonous blend or that the true believers of these try to enforce their doctrines with equal fanatical zeal through 'politically correct' speech. Chantal Delsol explains the implications in her extended essay The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The temptation of unreason, 4 July 2009
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
The Reckless Mind originated as a series of intellectual biographies of influential European thinkers published in literary magazines. Each philosopher is examined in terms of his thoughts, friendships and the academic milieu; his opinions & actions are then profiled against the political realities of the time. The author aims to understand why these men who enjoyed freedom chose to promote tyranny while demonizing the free society.

Lilla looks at Heidegger's rise in the 1920s on the concepts of 'being' & 'authenticity', his relationships with Hannah Arendt & his mentor Karl Jaspers, his support of Nazism and his post-war attempts at absolving himself. Heidegger's contemporary Carl Schmitt became an official advocate for Hitler's regime and remained a rabid antisemite until his death in 1985. His core concept was 'enmity', meaning that any entity is defined by & discovers its true nature through an enemy.

The literary critic Walter Benjamin embraced Marxism as a secular salvationist ideology, was disillusioned by the Hitler-Stalin Pact and took his own life while fleeing the Nazis. The Hegelian philosopher Alexandre Kojève became a Stalinist, gave up philosophy for bureaucracy after the war and contributed to the formation of what would become the European Union.

Then came the PoMo prophets: the power-besotted Michel Foucault who denounced Western 'totalitarianism' but adored Mao & the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Jacques Derrida, the great deconstructor who modified his extreme skepticism in the 1990s with a touch of sentimental romanticism. For greater insight, I highly recommend Stephen Hicks' Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.

In the final chapter, Lilla discusses what he calls the 'philotyranny' of these intellectuals who were driven beyond reason by unhinged mental passions. Benjamin & Kojève displayed the most marked mystical yearnings whilst violence in various forms appealed to all: real bloodlust were most pronounced in Foucault & Schmitt. In Derrida's case, it manifested in the desire to destroy meaning; he's also the one that most desperately craved adulation & celebrity.

Despising ordinary people & everyday life, they were all antimodernist to some degree. Schmitt was what Michael Polanyi called a romantic nihilist whilst this urge erratically held Heidegger in its grip; the author agrees with Jaspers on this one, rejecting Arendt's forgiving view of Heidegger as merely a naļve romantic.

Lilla observes that the reckless mind possesses impressive powers of reason over a vast reservoir of cherished unreason; the first are harnessed to satisfy a profound desire for power/prestige. According to Eric Hoffer, it's the temperament - not the ideological content - that drives fanatics. That's why they so easily switch from one type of extremism to another.

Fitting the mould, these wreckers were slaves of their impulses. Their political thoughts (it's improper to call them philosophies) are utopian fantasies articulated via a spectrum of techniques, from insipid word-games designed to subverting reason to the despicable promotion of genocide. It's no surprise then that their offspring, the ideologies of multiculturalism & moral relativism, contain the same poisonous blend or that the true believers of these try to enforce their doctrines with equal fanatical zeal through 'politically correct' speech. Chantal Delsol explains the implications in her extended essay The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century.
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The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics
The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics by Mark Lilla (Paperback - 9 Sep 2003)
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