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The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism Hardcover – March 21, 2004

3.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While not another Heidegger and the Nazis-type exposé, this volume does explore the theoretical underpinnings that many European thinkers provided to the emergence of fascism and probe the historical and biographical parallels between post-modernism and anti-democratic and fascist thought. Wolin, a professor of history and comparative literature at the City University of New York and the author of Heidegger’s Children, is a thinker of extraordinary depth and precision, fluent in the language of Continental philosophy’s extremes. His accounts of the careers of such thinkers as Jung, Gadamer and Bataille are expertly researched and refreshingly fair-minded. And Wolin’s pragmatic hold on contemporary politics shines in his analysis of the rise of the New Right in Europe and its trans-Atlantic ramifications. Closing with a measured attack on the "disillusioned denizens of modern society,"—Derrida, Baudrillard and Zizek among them—Wolin emphasizes the potentially disastrous retrogression of dystopian anti-Americanism into political apathy. His ability to resist the "seductions of unreason" reveal him to be an enduring humanist with a democratic core, one that, he argues, is threatened by partisans of both the traditional right and the postmodern left.
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"The Seduction of Unreason is a wide-ranging yet subtle consideration of the intellectual's abiding fascination with absolutism, and as such it is a perceptive, compelling and invaluable document. His indignation at the folly and perversity of so many major European thinkers is wholly justified and peculiarly invigorating."--John Banville, The Irish Times

"[A] lively, learned, and wide-ranging work. . . . Wolin's subjects have exercised a remarkable impact on certain academic and cultural fields in the U.S. in the last several decades."--Choice

"For anyone who has passed through the academic humanities in the last quarter-century and has been exposed to the dubious legacy of postmodernism, The Seduction of Unreason is an indispensable book. It is another important installment in what has become one of the major intellectual enterprises of our time: Richard Wolin's principled defense of liberalism against its most sophisticated enemies."--Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"In this impressive book Wolin does for the Left what Bloom did for the Right; he makes a powerful case for a return to moral seriousness."--Daniel P. Murphy, Magill's Literary Annual 2005

"The topic of Richard Wolin's book is the nexus between postmodernism and politics. . . . Wolin's book raises the right questions at the right time. He forces us to think critically about the deepest philosophical underpinnings of our moral and political ideals. We simply cannot rest content with an unmeasured assault on reason."--Andy Wallace,Ethics

"This author's excellent study provides the reader with an informed survey of some of the more important intellectual trends of the twentieth century, employing the writings of a selection of Europe's avant-garde authors."--A. James Gregor, The Historian

"Wolin's book will provide much food for thought for the disinterested reader and a veritable feast for critical self-reflection for the post-modern thinker--especially the North American academic who hasn't done his or her genealogical homework."--Jeff Mitscherling, European Legacy


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691114641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691114644
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,940,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The reviewers below give a misleading description of this book. At last there is someone who takes on the dark side of the master thinkers celebrated all over the western universities. For 20 years I've read all of the thinkers Wolin discusses - from Jung to Derrida - and I have come to very similar conclusions with some minor differences. That's why I was delighted to read this book, I see it as a brave attempt to reveal and discuss many uncomfortable circumstances that the advocates of these thinkers have always avoided.

Yes, Jung did try to explain nazism in negative terms - after the war. What he did under nazism - an ambiguous matter - is another thing.

And Wolin is no advocate of US imperalism or capitalism, these are not the theme of this book; besides Wolin is clearly in favor of democratic left.

This book is an analysis of the inconsistencies in thinkers like Bataille, Gadamer and Derrida, also of the wily or fierce assaults on democracy in some their texts. It is not very kind to these thinkers, but it doesn't have to be, since there are even more aggressive tones to be find e.g. in Bataille or Derrida.

(And yes, I have read many books of Derrida).

Reason can be a monster too, but in humanities there have been too little of it lately.
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Format: Hardcover
The Irish Times

November 6, 2004 Weekend; Book Reviews; Pg. 13

Absolutely entrancing

John Banville

Political philosophy: An attack on European right-wing and 'left fascist' thinkers and their American followers is a kind of philosophical Nuremberg trials.

In Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus there is a character called Breisacher, a Jew, whom Mann describes as a private scholar and polyhistor and "a racial and intellectual type in high, one might almost say reckless development". Although Nietzsche's name is not mentioned - the life and personality of the novel's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkuhn, are in large part based on those of the philosopher - Breisacher is the quintessential Nietzschean. His specialty is the philosophy of culture, "but his views were anti-cultural, in so far as he gave out to see in the whole history of culture nothing but a process of decline". He sets J.S. Bach as the central figure in the "progressivist barbarism" that caused the deterioration of music from "the great and only true art of counterpoint" into the "effeminizing and falsification" of the "harmonic romanticism of modulation", a process in which even Palestrina had already played a "shameful part".

When he turns to the Bible and the history of his own race, Breisacher is even more extreme, seeing King David and his successor Solomon - "an aesthete unnerved by erotic excesses" - and "the prophets drivelling about dear God in heaven" as "the already debased representatives of an exploded late theology, which no longer had any idea of the old and genuine Hebraic actuality of Jahve, the Elohim of the people".
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Format: Paperback
Richard Wolin is Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York and his THE SEDUCTION OF UNREASON is a captivating read. Against a historical background, he posits two modern interludes; one on the German New Right and one on its French counterpart. Putting things in perspective, Wolin reflects on the roots of contemporary postmodern, and sometimes reactionary, thinking. In the 1930's the Left began to adopt some of the ideas traditionally associated with the Right. The expression "les extrêmes se touchent" gained credibility, giving room to the oxymoronic terming of Bataille's "Left Fascism." After World War II Nietzsche and Heidegger, with their critique of reason and democracy, became the intellectual idols of the French Left. Wolin dubs this counterintuitive phenomenon "left Heideggerianism." With the collapse of state socialism and the coming down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, yet again voices from the left began to coincide with traditionally reactionary appeals to Nation, "Volk" and Identity. The Enlightenment twin-concept of reason and progress became the punchbag of the day. This book is largely about this "problematic right-left synthesis."
In a critical review, the late Richard Rorty argued that Wolin, although his heart is in the right place, has a hard time separating a philosopher's moral character from his teachings; any thinker who has displayed either hypocrisy or self-deception is unlikely to have any ideas worth adopting. Although Wolin "protests that his book is not an exercise in guilt-by-association", this is according to Rorty actually pretty close to the mark (The Nation 2004). This is, however, not fair. Firstly, what Wolin says appears on p.
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Format: Hardcover
Wolin's ambitious and provocative book is a masterly overview of "unreason" in Western thought. However, it suffers from an oversimplification of those who advocated "reason" and those who did not. To begin, the term "reason," and those who are "reasonable" in this text can easily be substituted for liberal democracy or those who support liberal democracy, while "unreason" is fascism plain and simple. What Wolin neglects, in his glossed-over history of French intellectuals in the thirties, is an account of just how untenable parliamentary politics had become. It was not merely the "lunatic fringe" who questioned liberal values, but in fact a great many "reasonable" people, whom, for historical reasons ( the rise of sociology and mass psychology, a genuine interest in learning from "primitive" culture, -- all, might I add, contributions made by "liberal" social scientists working with purely reason-based and positivist/ empirical methods) sought alternatives to the ineffective and hypocritically unreasonable democratic order that was beset with serious deficiencies. I name here a quick succession of multiple premiers, monetary inflation and other social and religious ills. Indeed, the situation was dire enough that it would have been unreasonable to actually believe that such a system could persist, hence the attraction of so many of the most brilliant interwar intellectuals to thought that was not propagated by 18th century encylo-pedants.

Georges Bataille, whose story makes up a central component of Wolin's argument, was just one of these intellectuals.
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