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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Hitler has compelled humanity to accept a new categorical imperative:
orient your thinking and acting so that Auschwitz would never
repeat itself, so that nothing similar would recur.

—THEODOR W. ADORNO, Negative Dialectics

THIS IS A BOOK about skeletons in the closet. It reexamines the checkered relationship between intellectuals and right-wing politics during the 1930s, and the implications of this relationship for the political present.

It would be comforting to think, as some have argued, that fascism was an anti-intellectual phenomenon attractive only to criminals and thugs. Today, however, we know better. Many of the continent's intellectual leading lights were clamoring to mount the fascist political bandwagon. After all, following the Great War and the Crash of '29, democracy's credibility had sunk to unprecedented depths. An enumeration of fascism's literary and philosophical sympathizers—a list that would include Ernst Jünger, Gottfried Benn, Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Robert Brasillach, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Paul de Man, Ezra Pound, Giovanni Gentile, Filippo Marinetti, Gabriele d'Annunzio, W. B. Yeats, and Wyndham Lewis—points to the tip of a sizeable iceberg. Moreover, now that Marxist explanations, focusing on fascism's economic origins, have broken down, the question of the intellectual origins of far-right politics must be seriously rethought.

This historical nexus between intellectuals and the extreme right has shaped contemporary political discourse in numerous respects. During the 1990s, far-right parties, such as Jörg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party and Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front, made sweeping gains among European voters. Political parties with analogous ethnocentric, nativist leanings also made great strides in-

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