Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

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9780374105983: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

For the decade that followed the end of the cold war, the world was lulled into a sense that a consumerist, globalized, peaceful future beckoned. The beginning of the twenty-first century has rudely disposed of such ideas—most obviously through 9/11and its aftermath. But just as damaging has been the rise in the West of a belief that a single model of political behavior will become a worldwide norm and that, if necessary, it will be enforced at gunpoint. In Black Mass, celebrated philosopher and critic John Gray explains how utopian ideals have taken on a dangerous significance in the hands of right-wing conservatives and religious zealots. He charts the history of utopianism, from the Reformation through the French Revolution and into the present. And most  urgently, he describes how utopian politics have moved from the extremes of the political spectrum into mainstream politics, dominating the administrations of both George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and indeed coming to define the political center. Far from having shaken off discredited ideology, Gray suggests, we are more than ever in its clutches. Black Mass is a truly frightening and challenging work by one of Britain’s leading political thinkers. John Gray is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including Straw Dogs and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he is a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics. In the decade that followed the end of the cold war, the world was lulled into a sense that a peaceful, consumerist, globalized future was ahead. The beginning of the twenty-first century has rudely disposed of such ideas—most obviously through 9/11 and its aftermath. Just as damaging has been the rise in the West of a belief that a single model of political behavior will become a worldwide norm and that, if necessary, it will be enforced at gunpoint. In Black Mass, philosopher and critic John Gray explains how utopian ideals have taken on a dangerous significance in the hands of right-wing conservatives and religious zealots. He charts the history of utopianism, from the Reformation through the French Revolution and into the present. He describes how utopian politics have moved from the extremes of the political spectrum into mainstream politics, dominating the administrations of both George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and coming to define the political center. Gray suggests that we have not shaken off discredited ideology, but we are more than ever in its clutches. "'Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion,' Gray, a British philosopher, insists in this outspoken attack on utopianism and the ‘faith-based violence’ it has inspired. History, Gray writes, offers no new dawns or sharp breaks, and, from the French Revolution to the war on terror, he is as critical of the humanist belief in progress as of the ‘belligerent optimism’ of neoconservatives. Sketching the roots of utopianism, he emphasizes the similarities between seemingly disparate movements: radical Islam, he suggests, might best be thought of as ‘Islamo-Jacobinism.’ Taking the Iraq war as an object lesson, he argues for an acknowledgment that the ‘local pieties of Atlantic democracy’ are not the only way to govern. Gray’s writing has a bracing clarity."—The New Yorker "'Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion,' Gray, a British philosopher, insists in this outspoken attack on utopianism and the ‘faith-based violence’ it has inspired. History, Gray writes, offers no new dawns or sharp breaks, and, from the French Revolution to the war on terror, he is as critical of the humanist belief in progress as of the ‘belligerent optimism’ of neoconservatives. Sketching the roots of utopianism, he emphasizes the similarities between seemingly disparate movements: radical Islam, he suggests, might best be thought of as ‘Islamo-Jacobinism.’ Taking the Iraq war as an object lesson, he argues for an acknowledgment that the ‘local pieties of Atlantic democracy’ are not the only way to govern. Gray’s writing has a bracing clarity." —The New Yorker

“Gray's Black Mass is a little Molotov cocktail of a book, blowing up the categories in which we usually discuss matters like the war in Iraq and the direction of history. Any book that herds Robespierre, Lenin, radical Islamists and neoconservatives into one conceptual corral doesn't lack for audacity. While Gray covers a lot of ground, tracing millenarian thinking from early Christianity to the present, he mainly sets his sights on the American neoconservative project to export free-market capitalism and liberal democracy—at the point of a gun if necessary . . . The story line of Black Mass goes like this: Christianity bequeathed to the West the idea of apocalypse, a violent event in history that transforms everything and remakes the world. That idea wormed its way into our DNA, so to speak, and has been there ever since . . . Gray is not the first to see the Iraq War as rooted in a naive right-wing utopianism. What's impressive is the way he embeds present political trends in a larger framework going back to the beginnings of Western culture . . . [T]he book challenges and provokes. For most readers, I suspect, it will tell them things they didn't know.” —Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle

"A limpidly argued and finely written synthesis of Gray's thinking over the decade or so since False Dawn, his highly regarded and influential study of globalisation. It is not a cheering work, to say the least, and Gray's conclusions, though never exaggerated or overstated, are bleak . . . Yet the right expression of even the bleakest truths is always invigorating, and any half-sensible reader will come away from the book soberer and even, perhaps, wiser." —John Banville, The Guardian

"Gray is right to scoff at the misplaced faith in progress propounded by Enlightenment philosophers . . . Gray reminds us about more ancient and truthful myths, which predicted that our reckless pursuit of knowledge and power would lead to disaster." —Peter Conrad, The Observer

"When the fashionable pundits of the age of globalization are as forgotten as those who, in the run-up to World War I, predicted globalization had rendered war obsolete, John Gray's work will still matter. It is at once a reproof and an antidote to the reigning wishful thinking that makes Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss look like a realist. Gray's work has always been about separating reality and delusion. In Black Mass, Gray dissects the greatest of all political delusions--utopianism--and maps the way in which, against all expectations, it has migrated from left to right, from communism to neo-conservatism. This is that rarest of things, a necessary book." —David Rieff

“Seeing history as a progressive narrative, especially one with a utopian ending, is a practice that has doomed earlier civilizations and threatens our own, argues Gray. Having dealt with the concept of human progress in such previous books as Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern, the author sees no reason to revise his core belief: ‘Human

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About the Author:

John Gray is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including Straw Dogs and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he is a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpt
Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion. The greatest of the revolutionary upheavals that have shaped so much of the history of the past two centuries were episodes in the history of faith – moments in the long dissolution of Christianity and the rise of modern political religion. The world in which we find ourselves at the start of the new millennium is littered with the debris of utopian projects, which though they were framed in secular terms that denied the truth of religion were in fact vehicles for religious myths.
Communism and Nazism claimed to be based on science – in the case of communism the cod-science of historical materialism, in Nazism the farrago of ‘scientific racism’. These claims were fraudulent but the use of pseudo-science did not stop with the collapse of totalitarianism that culminated with the dissolution of the USSR in
December 1991. It continued in neo-conservative theories that claimed the world is converging on a single type of government and economic system – universal democracy, or a global free market. Despite the fact that it was presented in the trappings of social science, this belief that humanity was on the brink of a new era was only the most recent version of apocalyptic beliefs that go back to the most ancient times.
Jesus and his followers believed they lived in an End-Time when
the evils of the world were about to pass away. Sickness and death, famine and hunger, war and oppression would all cease to exist after a world-shaking battle in which the forces of evil would be utterly destroyed. Such was the faith that inspired the first Christians, and though the End-Time was re-interpreted by later Christian thinkers as a metaphor for a spiritual change, visions of Apocalypse have haunted western life ever since those early beginnings.
During the Middle Ages, Europe was shaken by mass movements inspired by the belief that history was about to end and a new world be born. These medieval Christians believed that only God could bring about the new world, but faith in the End-Time did not wither away when Christianity began to decline. On the contrary, as Christianity waned the hope of an imminent End-Time became stronger and more militant. Modern revolutionaries such as the French Jacobins and the Russian Bolsheviks detested traditional religion, but their conviction that the crimes and follies of the past could be left behind in an all-encompassing transformation of human life was a secular reincarnation of early Christian beliefs. These modern revolutionaries were radical exponents of Enlightenment thinking, which aimed to replace religion with a scientific view of the world. Yet the radical Enlightenment belief that there can be a sudden break in history, after which the flaws of human society will be for ever abolished, is a by-product of Christianity.
The Enlightenment ideologies of the past centuries were very largely spilt theology. The history of the past century is not a tale of secular advance, as bien-pensants of Right and Left like to think. The Bolshevik and Nazi seizures of power were faith-based upheavals just as much as the Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic insurrection in Iran. The very idea of revolution as a transforming event in history is owed to religion. Modern revolutionary movements are a continuation of religion by other means.
It is not only revolutionaries who have held to secular versions of religious beliefs. So too have liberal humanists, who see progress as a slow incremental struggle. The belief that the world is about to end and belief in gradual progress may seem to be opposites – one looking forward to the destruction of the world, the other to its improvement – but at bottom they are not so different. Whether they stress piecemeal change or revolutionary transformation, theories of progress are not scientific hypotheses. They are myths, which answer the human need for meaning.
Since the French Revolution a succession of utopian movements has transformed political life. Entire societies have been destroyed and the world changed for ever. The alteration envisioned by utopian thinkers has not come about, and for the most part their projects have produced results opposite to those they intended. That has not prevented similar projects being launched again and again right up to the start of the twenty-first century, when the world’s most powerful state launched a campaign to export democracy to the Middle East and throughout the world.
Utopian projects reproduced religious myths that had inflamed mass movements of believers in the Middle Ages, and they kindled a similar violence. The secular terror of modern times is a mutant version of the violence that has accompanied Christianity throughout its history. For over 200 years the early Christian faith in an End-Time initiated by God was turned into a belief that Utopia could be achieved by human action. Clothed in science, early Christian myths of Apocalypse gave rise to a new kind of faith-based violence.
When the project of universal democracy ended in the bloodsoaked streets of Iraq, this pattern began to be reversed. Utopianism suffered a heavy blow, but politics and war have not ceased to be vehicles for myth. Instead, primitive versions of religion are replacing the secular faith that has been lost. Apocalyptic religion shapes the policies of American president George W. Bush and his antagonist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. Wherever it is happening,
the revival of religion is mixed up with political conflicts, including an intensifying struggle over the Earth’s shrinking reserves of natural resources; but there can be no doubt that religion is once again a power in its own right. With the death of Utopia, apocalyptic religion has re-emerged, naked and unadorned, as a force in world politics.  Excerpted from Black Mass by John Gray. Copyright © 2007 by John Gray. Published in October 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

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ISBN 10: 0374105987 ISBN 13: 9780374105983
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Buchbeschreibung New York : Farrar Straus and Giroux, Editie: 1st American ed., 2007. Hardcover. Dustjacket. 242 p. ; 24 cm. John Gray. Condition : very good copy. ISBN 9780374105983[KEYWORDS: POLITICS*, Utopia. Artikel-Nr. 171183

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