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The Seduction of Unreason Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004) Further Reading:Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism This entry was posted on August 29, 2008 at 7:55 pm and is filed under philosophy, politics. Tagged: reason, richard wolin.
In The Seduction of Unreason, Richard Wolin analyzed fascist tendencies in philosophical thought. Such tendencies frequently appeal to life, preferring brute force over principles and argument. While for Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) hermeneutics constituted an art of avoiding misunderstanding, many want to replace it with a hermeneutic of suspicion — not criticism leading to truth, but outright hostility toward truth, reason, and democracy — almost a Counter-Enlightenment.
For instance, Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) equated consensus with terror. Claude Levi-Strauss (1908- ) wrote that the goal of the human sciences is to dissolve man — every culture makes a choice that must be respected. Michel Foucault (1926-1984) enthusiastically endorsed the 1979 Iranian revolution; it was anti-modern, anti-liberal, anti-western, and fits today’s definition of progressive. This isn’t a question of personal integrity of specific thinkers, but a systemic relationship of a current of thought with totalitarianism.
The first chapter examined Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the Nazi regime’s official philosopher. Nietzsche ranted about the Jewification of Europe, preached the Aryan race, celebrated Macht politics, and obsessed about breeding and extermination. Several commentators played a critical role rehabilitating Nietzsche. Even though Nietzsche “philosophized with a hammer” and described his works as “assassination attempts,”
Walter Kaufmann transformed Nietzsche into an aesthete, a mildly morose Voltaire content with addressing inconsequential matters of style. Alexander Nehamas interpreted Nietzsche as a perspectivist, despite grand cosmological doctrines like the will to power, the superman, and the eternal recurrence. Writers recruit Nietzsche to give cover for abortion, homosexuality, drugs, prostitution and so forth. However, Nietzsche would have nothing to do with trivial matters of identity politics — his concern was with more progressive matters like conquest, rape, torture, plunder, and domination, with a nice touch of misogyny added on top. Wolin is insufficiently harsh, but reading any dissent no matter how marginal from the Cult of Nietzsche is a sign Nietzsche’s reputation is waning.
The case of Carl Jung (1875-1961) illustrates how times of acute turmoil and stress can turn people to extravagant mythological means to endow the world with order and meaning. Jung’s mysticism offers a promise of redemption, a chance to get in touch with mysterious powers that transcend one’s atomized existence. While Freudians wanted to connect people with their inner self, one might say Jung wanted people to get in touch with their inner Fatherland. Jung was a fellow traveler of the Nazis — he saw his own theories coming to life in the movement. Jung wrote about Aryans and Jews having different archetypes, the Aryan archetype naturally being superior.
According to Jung, the Jewish unconscious has a special drive toward greedy and lascivious motives. Note that no SS thugs were forcing his hand in Kusnacht, Switzerland. Jung adored Hitler; the Fuhrer was a great medicine man. Jung went to great lengths to demonstrate the synchronicity between his own analytic psychology and the goals of the Reich. While I like Jung, he exemplifies what can happen when rational thought is widely rejected for the mythological and the mystic; occult elements played an important role during the formative phase of Nazism.
Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) was a willing propagandist for the Reich and believed our prejudices constitute our being, not our judgments. In Volk and History in Herder’s Thought, Gadamer justified the idea of Nazi occupied Europe. Gadamer advanced, like Heidegger, that historicity is an indispensable feature of being-in-the-world. Understanding for Gadamer is not an act of subjectivity but a happening of a tradition; objectivity is a result of false consciousness. An animating idea for Gadamer is the genetic spirit and creativity of a Volk, and of course, Gadamer reminded us all cultures have racial foundations.
Wolin also placed Gadamer’s classicism and his political Plato in its German context. After World War I many German thinkers began to see Germany as Greece reborn. Hans Heyse and Werner Jaeger saw Plato’s Republic as the prototype of the Reich; Kurt Hildebrandt, who published a book on racial hygiene, advanced that like the Greek,a German becomes a man by subsuming himself in a State. Even Hitler considered the Spartan regime to be the first volkish state.
Wolin also spent time looking at French currents. Georges Bataille (1897-1962), the black sheep of the avant-garde, hated reason. Reason supposedly promotes standardization, regulation, transparency, and sameness, while a living man sees death as the fulfillment of life and pursues degradation, pollution, violence, communal bonding and self-laceration. Bataille venerated the orgiastic and excessive, and advocated sacrifice, potlatch, war, frenzy, and violence for their ennobling effects. Bataille wanted to bring ritual back to life, glorified difference and finitude– especially Hitler and Mussolini, who were the heterogenous “other.”
After war, defeat, occupation, and collaboration, there was a French will to non-knowledge to keep unsettling historical complicities, facts, and events at bay. Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) for instance wrote articles for the Petain government. He doubted the representational capacities of language — for Blanchot, literature is only about itself, a notion that influenced later thinkers.
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) saw logic and reason equivalent to violence and terror. But without reason, one must seek refuge in myth, magic, illusion, and intoxication, whether Derrida liked this or not. Derrida preached that one must be open to the “other.” Like Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt, Derrida thought an act of justice was a singularity. Rules could not be applied to it, since the specificity of individual case requires a decisionist approach. “Justice is mystical.”
Lastly, Wolin explores the long reaction against the ideals of the Enlightenment contained in the American government. Cornelius de Pauw (1739-1799) and Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) introduced physical explanations about the Americas making physical creatures, including men, inferior; Publius even took time to refute these claims in the Federalist Papers. Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) emphasized the irreducibility of racial difference and saw a man sinful requiring authoritarian rule. For de Maistre, mysterious, irrational forces are the ultimate determinants of human affairs and we’re incapable of shaping our own destinies.
The white supremacist Arthur Gobineau (1816-1882), a prophet of racial decline, bashed the race mixers in America. Gobineau was friends with the composer Richard Wagner; Wagner’s son in law H. S. Chamberlain went on to write The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, ur-text of Nazi racial theory. Werner Sombart criticized America for being a Jewish dominated plutocracy, i.e. a spiritually impoverished Judenstaat, something increasingly common in my time. And of course, Wolin looks at Baudrillard’s comments about America being the last primitive society — they aren’t a new development when one examines the larger picture.
Ideas have consequences. Despite the conventional wisdom, Fascism does have an ideological core.
jhbowden Says: August 31, 2008 at 6:15 pm Gerry– We’re dealing with the same Carl Jung, unfortunately.
Jung genuinely felt guilty about the entire mess, even though he was only a fellow traveler. We cannot say the same for Heidegger, who never repented.
I do not dismiss any serious thinker, including Jung. Thinkers though can be criticized and if appropriate refuted after consideration. That being said, I didn’t even attempt to refute Jung above. I simply presented Jung’s occultism as a symptom of a larger social development, specifically one he sympathized with for a period of time.
Don’t act offended– a *lot* of people sympathized with fascism during the 1930s, and even the 1920s. Mussolini at the time was its biggest star, not Hitler. Here in progressive Chicago we even have a street named after Mussolini’s heir apparent, Italo Balbo. I’d recommend the first few chapters of Jonah Goldberg’s _Liberal Fascism_ if you’re curious about a portion of history many of us would like to forget.