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The Myth of the State [Paperback]

Ernst Cassirer
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 10, 1961 0300000367 978-0300000368
A great contemporary German philosopher attacks the explosive problem of political myth in our day, and reveals how the myth of the state evolved from primitive times to prepare the way for the rise of the modern totalitarian state. "A brilliant survey of some of the major texts in the history of political theory."—Kenneth Burke, The Nation.

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The Myth of the State + An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture + Language and Myth
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Editorial Reviews


“This scholarly work by a truly great spirit should be read by every trained mind in search of deeper understanding of the world. One of the rare `grand' books.”–Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

This scholarly work by a truly great spirit should be read by every trained mind in search of deeper understanding of the world. One of the rare `grand' books. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1961)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300000367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300000368
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 4.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.3 out of 5 stars
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do States Have a Mythos? July 29, 2006
This insightful book marks the end of Ernst Cassirer's career and suggests that his impact upon the social sciences will continue to grow. Perhaps this book's central feature is it's application of Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms to 20th century political thought. Beginning with a lean and incisive analysis of myth and culminating with an inspection of modern authoritarianism, Cassirer succeeds in marrying an understanding of culture with an analysis of political phenomena. Readers familiar with the Western tradition of political philosophy will find their background knowledge put to good use here, as the majority of the text centers around considering various mythic conceptions prevalent in Western political theory up to Hitler's Third Reich. Cassirer's approach, consistent with his other works, is to stress synthetic conclusions with comprehensive analysis.

The text can be divided into roughly three major section, each of which draws from Cassirer's previous work. The first major section is Cassirer's short exposition of his philosophy of symbolic forms. The reader is provided with several chapters identifying key elements of myth, including language, emotions, and social life. From this domain, Cassirer draws a general theory of culture, and a theory of myth in particular. His orientation to studying culture is largely operative, as he considers how myth functions emotively, cognitively, and socially.

In the next section, Cassirer approaches the question of the Western state's origins, particularly in relation to the Greek, medieval, and Renaissance traditions. All through reviewing major political theories (e.g. Machiavelli, Hegel, etc.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Theory than Myth of the State August 28, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While Ernst Cassirer provides an illuminating analysis of the nature of myth in The Myth of the State, he never tells his reader what the western myth of the state is. Extrapolating from his analysis of Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Carlyle, the racist Gobineau, Hegel, et al, what emerges is the unfolding of a theory of the state, not a mythos of it. The passionate and emotive elements of myth, which Cassirer brilliantly explicates about myth in general, are never made explicit in his analysis of the theory ("myth") of the state (except at the end when he discusses Nazism). If anything, these elements are subsumed in the content of his analysis.

Nevertheless, Cassirer masterfully explains much of the development of the western theory of the state through time. He hits on many of the salient thinkers and philosophical movements. Yet, inexplicably, some important thinkers seem to get short shrift comparatively speaking (e.g. Aristotle) and others scarcely manage more than a brief mention (e.g. Marx). Readers might find (what turned out to be) Cassirer's parting shot at Heidegger and the proto-fascist elements of his philosophy fascinating (Cassirer died in 1945 and The Myth of the State was published posthumously). Perhaps most intriguing is how Cassirer reserves most of his ire for Hegel, arguably making his philosophy most responsible for the intellectual underpinnings of the rise of National Socialism in Germany--an analysis not entirely unpredictable for a neo-Kantian like Cassirer to make given how, in the historical estimation of many, Hegel eclipsed Kant as Germany's preeminent philosopher.

Notwithstanding these limitations, The Myth of the State is worth reading. Cassirer's analysis of the development of the western theory of the state is evidently too sagacious to be missed.
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11 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The myth of Ernst Cassirer November 22, 2009
Can a book be both lucidly written, highly erudite and yet completely meaningless?

It seems that it can.

"The Myth of the State" by Neo-Kantian philosopher Ernst Cassirer is such a book. The positive reviewers were obviously taken in by Cassirer's unusually lucid style of writing, and by his erudition, which is considerable.

And yet, the book never really delivers. It's supposed to be an analysis of the historic and philosophical roots of modern totalitarianism. Instead, it feels like a series of disjointed essays about pretty much everything. Subjects covered include the meaning and function of myth, the exact relationship between Carlyle and Goethe, whether or not Machiavelli really was Old Nicky, the Romantic criticism of the Enlightenment, the racism of Gobineau, and countless other subjects besides. However, Cassirer never manages to weave the strands together. Interestingly, he never mentions Marx, Lenin or Nietzsche, the usual whipping boys in books of this type.

Apparently, the book is unfinished and was published posthumously. I don't deny that it may contain this or that interesting reflection, but overall it feels like a non-starter. I suspect it's mostly of interest to scholars of Neo-Kantianism. Curiously, Cassirer (or perhaps his publisher) also expected the American audience to understand Latin and German (!), since all Latin quotations and some German ones are untranslated.

Unfortunately, I cannot give "The Myth of the State" more than two stars.
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