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on 4 January 2007
A vital work of intellectual archeology, and one that deeply illuminates the present crisis of the left and its (increasingly few remaining) heavyweight intellectuals. Very well-written, a pleasure to read. Researched in meticulous depth, and with an excellent eye for telling quotations. I found almost no mis-steps in the scholarship, and was pleased that Wolin limited his claims strictly to those that could be backed up by hard evidence. My only quibble is that chapters are somewhat compartmentalised, and the overarching structure only really becomes visible toward the end of the book.
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on 21 October 2007
Wolin's masterly monograph "The Seduction of Unreason" constitutes a major contribution to contemporary intellectual history. Wolin's study dissects various political implications and current repercussions of the ideas and modes of thinking of Joseph de Maistre, Johann Gottfried Herder, Arthur de Gobineau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Carl Gustav Jung, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Jaques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean Baudrillard. In two "political excursuses," he indicates how the ideas of these and other - partly, highly respected - thinkers who, in one way or another attacked some basic Western values like rationalism and human rights, have via the "Conservative Revolution," and German and French so-called "New Right" gained influence on extremely right-wing parties as well as on mainstream politics. Wolin's usage of the term "fascism" in the book's title, to be sure, could be seen as misleading in so far as only some of the protagonists of his fascinating story were full-blown fascists. Still, his study is a valuable addition not only to the history of ideas, but also to comparative fascist studies in that it presents many illuminating cases illustrating why and how ideas have consequences, in general, and in which way anti-rational and anti-democratic thought can be utilized by fascist movements to justify dictatorship, ethnic cleansing and violence, in particular. The book is thus a valuable addition not only within the fields of cultural studies and history of science, but could also be of use in seminars on extremist politics. It forcefully debunks the idea that the ideational sources of ultra-nationalism and fundamentalism in both the inter- and post-war Europe are solely to be found among marginal scholars and publicists. Wolin's study is eye-opening in that illustrates how some major trends in 20th century mainstream humanities have played the role of, and are, partly, still functioning as, catalysts for the spread and acceptance of radically ascriptive views of human beings, and extremely right-wing ideologies.
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on 24 July 2004
In this book New York University Professor Richard Wolin digs up postmodernism in order to kill it yet again. Nicholas Fox demolished it in 1993, Paul Gross and Norman Levitt in 1994, and John O'Neill in 1995.

Now Wolin reprises that postmodernism reprised the counter-Enlightenment, concluding banally, "Postmodernism's hostility towards 'reason' and 'truth' is intellectually untenable and politically debilitating."

Postmodernism was just a version of the ancient idealist claim that objective knowledge is impossible. Idealism is a dangerous, reactionary philosophy, whether religious or post-whateverist, because it denies knowledge, reason and truth, and denigrates science, industry, technology, democracy and socialism. It prefers metaphor, myth and magic.

Wolin reminds us that Friedrich Nietzsche was a leading counter-Enlightenment writer, who preached, "The annihilation of the decaying races ... Dominion over the earth as a means of producing a higher type." Naturally, Nietzsche adored the Roman Empire, Alexander the Slayer and Cesare Borgia.

Later, Third Way theorists in the 1930s flirted with fascism. Martin Heidegger was an outright Nazi, and Carl Jung was a Nazi fellow-traveller. After the war, post-structuralists, like Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, and postmodernists like Chantal Mouffe were briefly famous. All worshipped Nietzsche.

But why does Wolin bother with these discredited poseurs? They have no influence now - who reads Heidegger? Who, apart from her publisher Verso, has ever heard of Mouffe?

Wolin's attacks on German and French philosophy chime in with the US state's attacks on 'old Europe'. So Wolin plays up the German and French New Rights, just as Labour plays up the BNP. He obediently links Al Qa'ida with Iraq, and sneers at national liberation struggles, absurdly lumping Fidel Castro with Idi Amin, Mobutu and Duvalier.

Wolin reveals his hostility to democracy when he writes of "the regressive social psychological tendencies displayed by the masses." Finally, he praises the USA's "breathtaking social mobility ... in striking contrast with Derrida's tradition-bound, native Europe."

Recent research has proved that the USA has even less social mobility than Europe's nations, but Wolin, in a postmodernist kind of way, doesn't let mere facts get in the way of capitalist dogma!
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