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.
"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
Table of Contents
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Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Richard Wolin: