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Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia Paperback – September 30, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374531528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374531522
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Some readers will see pessimism where others see sober appraisal in Gray's antiutopian argument that we must reconcile ourselves to a world of multiple truths and incompatible freedoms, where there is no overarching meaning and human values and desires can never be fully harmonized. The views that history progresses toward perfection and the millenarian faith in human salvation—both rooted in abiding Christian myths—are as tenacious as they have proven destructive, the renowned British political theorist and critic argues. Building succinctly on arguments developed in his previous work (including Two Faces of Liberalism and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern), Gray traces the course of apocalyptic-utopian politics from early Christianity through its secular variant in the Enlightenment and into modern political thought from Marx to Francis Fukuyama, the French Revolution to radical Islamism. Centrally, he assails the contemporary American right (and staunch neoconservative fellow traveler Tony Blair), which after 9/11 advanced into the mainstream the utopianism previously confined to the extreme right and left. His eloquent and illuminating attack also challenges a notion common to the liberal establishment: that history moves inexorably toward the universal application of U.S.-style liberal democracy. He calls it a delusional article of faith that, like the utopian variants before it, easily justifies violence in the name of a greater destiny. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

"Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion," Gray, a British philosopher, insists in this outspoken attack on utopianism and the "faith-based violence" it has inspired. History, Gray writes, offers no new dawns or sharp breaks, and, from the French Revolution to the war on terror, he is as critical of the humanist belief in progress as of the "belligerent optimism" of neoconservatives. Sketching the roots of utopianism, he emphasizes the similarities between seemingly disparate movements: radical Islam, he suggests, might best be thought of as "Islamo-Jacobinism." Taking the Iraq war as an object lesson, he argues for an acknowledgment that the "local pieties of Atlantic democracy" are not the only way to govern. Gray’s writing has a bracing clarity, but he tries to fit too much into his model of utopianism with too little argument.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Incidentally, either Professor Gray himself or, as seems more likely, his publishers have a sense of humour.
Ashtar Command
While I am sympathetic to practically every conclusion Gray comes to, his reasoning - sadly somewhat typical of Gray - is to assert a lot and argue little.
Kevin Currie-Knight
Anyway, despite that misgiving, I think Gray's book is challenging, really thought-provoking, and disturbing in the best sort of way.
T. Bachman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on December 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's not easy categorising John Gray. He's generally listed as a "philosopher", but he rarely delves into the roots of human behaviour. His philosophy is founded on recorded history. Like most modern "philosophers", his arena is the canon of Western European tradition and practice. That approach, at least in Gray's hands, makes him more political commentator than philosopher. The shift of emphasis doesn't erode his thinking prowess nor his ability in expressing what he has derived from it. His prose is clean and unpretentious, almost hiding the power of the thinking behind it. In this exciting little work, Gray examines the history of modern "utopian" ideas - their misconceptions and their persistence.

The idea of utopias has long diverted us from confronting realities, Gray suggests. This self-generated departure tends to hide consequences of our acts until it's too late to deal with them successfully. Naturally, one of his glaring examples of this situation is the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Gray demonstrates how it was planned intentionally long before the causes were manufactured for it. The planning was clearly utopian in that the intentions were delusionary and inappropriate. Both governments declared their intention - based on false pretenses - to "extend democracy into the Middle East". This ambition was expressed without any perception of whether it would be welcomed. It's an underlying principle of utopian thinking, Gray observes, that a society can be re-created from within or imposed from the outside. The failure of such thinking is readily apparent in Iraq - a war that has lasted longer for the US than WWII. Utopian ideas have been seeded on infertile soil.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Jim Coughenour on December 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Picking up where he left off in his genuinely iconoclastic book "Straw Dogs," John Gray turns his attention to the ineluctably human penchant for utopia and apocalyptic fantasy. His style here is less abrasive but no less bracing. A British commentator recently wrote of Gray, "He is so out of the box it is easy to forget there was ever any box" - which fairly describes the intellectual jolt he'll deliver to readers dulled by boxy thinking.

The previous reviewer has done a decent job of describing the argument, but any summary misses the electricity that hums in Gray's sentences. Gray's unsparing synopsis of the neo-conservative fantasy that led to the debacle in Iraq will have patriotic Americans grinding their teeth in fury at the waste of American and Iraqi lives and the betrayal of American ideals. He also lambasts liberals who delude themselves about "inalienable" human rights, and minces no words about born-again Christians who've sanctioned and supported the torture and carnage, which leads him to a grim conclusion: "Liberals have come to believe that human freedom can be secured by constitutional guarantees. They have failed to grasp the Hobbesian truth ... that constitutions change with regimes. A regime shift has occurred in the US, which now stands somewhere between the law-governed state it was during most of its history and a species of illiberal democracy. The US has undergone this change not as a result of its corrosion by relativism ... but through the capture of government by fundamentalism. If the American regime as it has been known in the past ceases to exist, it will be a result of the power of faith." (pp.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Hall on November 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Gray's work traces the origins, and shows the evolution of the two ideas that have intertwined together to spawn the modern horrors of the French Revolution, Nazism, Communism, and which have now infiltrated the U.S. and are guiding American foreign policy, with absolutely disastrous results.

The genesis of these two ideas is due to Christianity. The first of them is that the world was soon coming to an end, and with its end, all evil would be forever banished, and a new world would emerge that was utterly good and harmonious. The second of these ideas is that history is a teleological process - it has a goal, an end point, it is moving towards something, progress is possible. This idea is derived from the Book of Revelation, which depicts the world as eventually becoming a better place with the continual destruction of evil forces.

These ideas got secularized during The Enlightenment, and give rise to the idea of a Utopia - a place where all human conflicts have washed away and everyone lives in perpetual peace. Such a place is possible because with enough knowledge will can set up a society that will not give rise to any conflicts. In other words, a perfect society is an obtainable goal, one that involves eradicating the maladies that have continually plagued our societies. Gray contends this is impossible, and this type of thinking is the danger inherent in pursuing, any and all, utopian projects.

Utopian thinking views the world/society, as the source of ills and conflicts, and not humans, and by doing so, makes human life expendable; ultimately compels the people who are under it spell to engage in violence as a means to attempt to achieve their goal. After all, what's a little bloodshed if it leads to the world becoming a heaven on Earth?
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