The Seduction of Unreason  

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"I have selected an early painting from Giorgio de Chirico’s so-called metaphysical period, “The Song of Love,” as The Seduction of Unreason’s graphic template. In many respects, the painting’s imagery is germane to the theme implied by my title: that “unreason” has an uncanny power to fascinate and seduce."--The Seduction of Unreason (2004) by Richard Wolin

"Anticipating the poststructuralist credo, Lévi-Strauss went on to proclaim that the goal of the human sciences “was not to constitute, but to dissolve man.”[in The Savage Mind] From here it is but a short step to Foucault’s celebrated, neo-Nietzschean adage concerning the “death of man” in The Order of Things."--The Seduction of Unreason (2004) by Richard Wolin

"When postmodernism is at issue in the text that follows, I am primarily referring to the last-named phenomenon: the rejection of the intellectual and cultural assumptions of modernity in the name of “will to power” (Nietzsche), “sovereignty” (Bataille), an “other beginning” ([der andere Anfang], Heidegger), “différance” (Derrida), or a “different economy of bodies and pleasures” (Foucault)."--The Seduction of Unreason (2004) by Richard Wolin

"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."--Negative Dialectics (1966) by Theodor W. Adorno

"One of the crucial elements underlying this problematic right-left synthesis is a strange chapter in the history of ideas whereby latter-day anti-philosophes such as Nietzsche and Heidegger became the intellectual idols of post-World War II France--above all, for poststructuralists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze. Paradoxically, a thoroughgoing cynicism about reason and democracy, once the hallmark of reactionary thought, became the stock-in-trade of the postmodern left. As observers of the French intellectual scene have frequently noted, although Germany lost on the battlefield, it triumphed in the seminar rooms, bookstores, and cafés of the Latin Quarter. During the 1960s Spenglerian indictments of "Western civilization," once cultivated by leading representatives of the German intellectual right, migrated across the Rhine where they gained a new currency. Ironically, Counter-Enlightenment doctrines that had been taboo in Germany because of their unambiguous association with fascism--after all, Nietzsche had been canonized as the Nazi regime's official philosopher, and for a time Heidegger was its most outspoken philosophical advocate--seemed to best capture the mood of Kulturpessimismus that predominated among French intellectuals during the postwar period. Adding insult to injury, the new assault against philosophie came from the homeland of the Enlightenment itself."--The Seduction of Unreason (2004) by Richard Wolin, introduction

"The critique of postmodernism in the pages that follow has a different aim. My concern is that at a certain point postmodernism’s hostility towards “reason” and “truth” is intellectually untenable and politically debilitating."--The Seduction of Unreason (2004) by Richard Wolin

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The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (2004) is a book by Richard Wolin.



"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."

Table of contents

  • Introduction, answer to the question, what is Counter-Enlightenment?
  • Part I: German ideology revisited:
    • Zarathustra goes to Hollywood, on the postmodern reception of Nietzsche;
    • Prometheus unhinged, C.G. Jung and the temptations of Aryan religion;
    • Fascism and Hermeneutics, Gadamer and the ambiguities of "inner emigration"
  • Political excursus I, Incertitudes allemandes, reflections on the German new right
  • Part II. French lessons:
    • Left fascism, Georges Bataille and the German ideology
    • Maurice Blanchot, the use and abuse of silence
    • Down by law, deconstruction and the problem of justice
  • Political excursus II, Designer fascism, on the ideology of the French new right --
  • Conclusion, "Site of catastrophe," the image of America in modern thought.


On the cover is Chirico's The Song of Love.

See also

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