The Seduction of Unreason

The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Seduction of Unreason
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2596-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xix)
    (pp. xx-xxiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Answer to the Question: What Is Counter-Enlightenment?
    (pp. 1-24)

    In honor of the Enlightenment the eighteenth century was commonly known as the century oflumière,or light. Its advocates viewed themselves as the “party of humanity”: they sought to represent the “general will” rather than the standpoint of particular interests, estates, or castes. The champions of Enlightenment counterposed reason as an analytical solvent to dogma, superstition, and unwarranted social authority. Their compendium of political grievances culminated in thecahiers de doléancessubmitted to Louis XVI in conjunction with the summoning of the Estates General in 1788—a damning indictment of the injustices and corruptions that prevailed under the absolute...

  7. PART I. The German Ideology Revisited
    • 1 Zarathustra Goes to Hollywood: On the Postmodern Reception of Nietzsche
      (pp. 27-62)

      In 1888 the breakthrough Nietzsche had long been searching for at last seemed at hand. It had been a remarkably productive year in which he completed five books:The Case of Wagner, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo,andNietzsche contra Wagner.The public acclaim he had long sought finally began to materialize. The Danish scholar Georg Brandes gave a series of lectures on Nietzsche’s philosophy—the first of their kind in any land—that met with resounding success: over three hundred listeners regularly crammed the tiny lecture hall. Suddenly, Nietzsche’s name was on the lips of all...

    • 2 Prometheus Unhinged: C. G. Jung and the Temptations of Aryan Religion
      (pp. 63-88)

      For many years in the aftermath of World War II, Jung’s doctrines had trouble catching on. Jung’s willingness to assume a position of leadership among Nazi psychologists—shortly after the war, there was even talk among the Allies about prosecuting him as a war criminal—constituted an irremediable taint, as did his numerous public declarations in favor of German and Italian fascism. The approval Jung bestowed upon the Nazis confirmed the suspicions of many concerning the peculiarities of his “analytical psychology.” Since his demonstrative break with Freud in 1914, Jung’s approach increasingly flirted with the theosophical doctrines that had nourished...

    • 3 Fascism and Hermeneutics: Gadamer and the Ambiguities of “Inner Emigration”
      (pp. 89-128)

      Over the course of the last decade, a number of taboos about exploring the role of German scholars during the Third Reich have been lifted. Correspondingly, the longstanding diversionary myths of the “other Germany” and “inner emigration” have, it would seem, suffered a lethal blow.

      Already in the late 1980s, in a groundbreaking study of so-calledOstforschung,Michael Burleigh uncovered the critical role played by historians in the colonization and enslavement of the peoples of eastern Europe.¹ We now know that these historians—few of whom may be described as “convinced Nazis”—furnished the SS with indispensable logistical and demographic...

    • POLITICAL EXCURSUS I Incertitudes Allemandes: Reflections on the German New Right
      (pp. 129-150)

      In june 2000 the German public sphere was unsettled by another sensational outburst. Ernst Nolte, a senior German historian given to floating revisionist claims, was awarded the Konrad Adenauer Prize from Munich’s famed Institute for Contemporary History. Journalists and historians immediately clamored for the resignation of director Horst Moeller (Moeller had been an adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl during the 1990s), who, they claimed, had permanently tarnished the institute’s reputation.

      Though there are few doubts about Nolte’s academic qualifications per se, the political circumstances surrounding his receipt of the prize were highly fraught. For it was Nolte who, in 1986,...

  8. PART II. French Lessons
    • 4 Left Fascism: Georges Bataille and the German Ideology
      (pp. 153-186)

      In an essay that became a touchstone for the vociferous debates concerning the merits of postmodernism, Jürgen Habermas famously identified poststructuralism as a type of “young conservatism.” His remarks—which are far from uncontroversial—read as follows:

      The young conservatives embrace the fundamental experience of aesthetic modernity—the disclosure of a decentered subjectivity freed from all constraints of rational cognition and purposiveness, from all imperatives of labor and utility—and in this way break out of the modern world. They thereby ground an intransigent antimodernism through a modernist attitude. They transpose the spontaneous power of the imagination, the experience of...

    • 5 Maurice Blanchot: The Use and Abuse of Silence
      (pp. 187-219)

      If one examines the major developments in postwar French thought, two phenomena stand out: first, sources drawn from the realm of “nonphilosophy” contest the autonomy of philosophy —above all, sources deriving fromliterature(in the case of thinkers like Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida) and thesocial sciences(in the case of thinkers like Claude Lévi-Strauss and Michel Foucault); second, a wide range of writers and thinkers engage in a generalized assault against the idea of “representation”—the notion that mind is capable of portraying reality truthfully and objectively. Thus, for thinkers like Barthes and Derrida, the traditional goal of...

    • 6 Down by Law: Deconstruction and the Problem of Justice
      (pp. 220-255)

      Following in Heidegger’s footsteps, Derrida made his reputation as critic of metaphysics. InBeing and TimeHeidegger spoke of the need for a systematicDestruktionof Western metaphysics, which in his view had forgotten the question of Being: the meaning of Being in general as opposed to the being of specific entities or things. Yet whereas Heidegger criticized the Western tradition to better establish the preconditions for “first philosophy” (“fundamental ontology”), this aspect of Heidegger’s project could not be farther from Derrida’s own intentions. Viewed through a Derridean optic, Heidegger’s thought betrays a residual “foundationalism” that resonates in the metaphors...

    • POLITICAL EXCURSUS II Designer Fascism: On the Ideology of the French New Right
      (pp. 256-277)

      As recently as the late 1990s political commentators were en masse composing schadenfreude-laced obituaries forenfant terribleJean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front (FN). In early 1999 Le Pen had fallen into a bitter dispute with FN heir apparent Bruno Mégret. “For Le Pen,” remarkedNationpolitical columnist Daniel Singer, “it is probably the beginning of the end.”¹ Attentive to the recent electoral successes of fellow European rightists Jörg Haider and Gianfranco Fini, Mégret felt that the FN’s political prospects would be enhanced by a feint toward the political mainstream. With Le Pen—who was prone to calculated political gaffes—at...

  9. CONCLUSION “Site of Catastrophe”: The Image of America in Modern Thought
    (pp. 278-314)

    Images of America have always haunted the European psyche. Among Europeans America has often assumed the form of a nightmare vision, a degenerate image of Europe’s own future. Such judgments, however, reveal much more about the state of the European mind than they do about America per se. They betray the anxieties and obsessions of European scholars and intellectuals confronted with modernity, “progress,” and the discomfiting specter of democratization. Especially among advocates of Counter-Enlightenment, a harsh denunciation of things American would become stock-in-trade. For as the liberal aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville realized, the success of political democracy in the New...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 315-368)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 369-375)