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A sense of nostalgia, of not feeling at home in the present, and an attempt to recover a lost philosophical or religious tradition characterize the twentieth-century intellectuals whose work Mark Lilla investigates in The Shipwrecked Mind. From Franz Rosenzweig, who sought to lead assimilated Jews away from the world of history and politics and back to the sources of Jewis A sense of nostalgia, of not feeling at home in the present, and an attempt to recover a lost philosophical or religious tradition characterize the twentieth-century intellectuals whose work Mark Lilla investigates in The Shipwrecked Mind. From Franz Rosenzweig, who sought to lead assimilated Jews away from the world of history and politics and back to the sources of Jewish tradition, to Leo Strauss, who tried to recover the Socratic tradition in philosophy, to Eric Voegelin, who wrote a multivolume universal history to explain human consciousness, to the rediscovery of Saint Paul by former Marxists, Lilla traces an intellectual craving for theological-political mythmaking, for a grand historical narrative--an "imaginative assemblage of past events and ideas and present hopes and fears"--that can locate humanity's wrong turn on the path to modernity, and help us return to philosophical or religious truth.


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A sense of nostalgia, of not feeling at home in the present, and an attempt to recover a lost philosophical or religious tradition characterize the twentieth-century intellectuals whose work Mark Lilla investigates in The Shipwrecked Mind. From Franz Rosenzweig, who sought to lead assimilated Jews away from the world of history and politics and back to the sources of Jewis A sense of nostalgia, of not feeling at home in the present, and an attempt to recover a lost philosophical or religious tradition characterize the twentieth-century intellectuals whose work Mark Lilla investigates in The Shipwrecked Mind. From Franz Rosenzweig, who sought to lead assimilated Jews away from the world of history and politics and back to the sources of Jewish tradition, to Leo Strauss, who tried to recover the Socratic tradition in philosophy, to Eric Voegelin, who wrote a multivolume universal history to explain human consciousness, to the rediscovery of Saint Paul by former Marxists, Lilla traces an intellectual craving for theological-political mythmaking, for a grand historical narrative--an "imaginative assemblage of past events and ideas and present hopes and fears"--that can locate humanity's wrong turn on the path to modernity, and help us return to philosophical or religious truth.

30 review for The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Sentimental Rage? Mark Lilla published The Shipwrecked Mind just four months before Pankaj Mishra published his views on the state of the world in The Age of Anger (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). Near enough to call them contemporaneous. Both are first-rate intellects and intellectual writers. So I find the differences in their conclusions at least as interesting as their individual analyses. Lilla presents his point succinctly: “Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.” No Sentimental Rage? Mark Lilla published The Shipwrecked Mind just four months before Pankaj Mishra published his views on the state of the world in The Age of Anger (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). Near enough to call them contemporaneous. Both are first-rate intellects and intellectual writers. So I find the differences in their conclusions at least as interesting as their individual analyses. Lilla presents his point succinctly: “Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.” Nostalgia, the sentimental longing for a previous state of affairs, is his key for understanding the global reactionary trend in popular culture and politics. Historically, he traces such reaction to the residual but continuing trauma of the French Revolution and documents his case through some extremely interesting intellectual biographies. Mishra has a different starting point. He sees “ressentiment as the defining feature of a world... where the modern promise of equality collides with massive disparities of power, education, status, and property ownership.” He has his own historical rationale for this feeling, what he calls the failure of the principle of “historic inevitability,” that is the dissipation of the comfort provided by the dominant ideologies of the 20th century. Confidence in historic inevitability was the foundation of not just Marxism, but also of the liberal and neo-liberal believers in free market progress. It is generally recognised that this confidence was misplaced, he says. Hence the unfocused but pervasive disillusion. Nostalgia or ressentiment? Are they the same thing? Are they complementary sides of a coin? Both appear to be plausible elements of political reaction. Are they cumulative, like allergic reactions? One might expect nostalgia to be a condition of the old. Surprisingly it isn’t. It is often the young who long for the return of a fictional past which never existed but offers a life without the tedious concerns of the present. The Lord of the Rings is successful not because it is an edifying narrative of unexpected challenge and courageous response (or any kind of coherent narrative) but because it is a rambling description of an ur-world of simple motivations and temptations in which good and evil are entirely distinct and adventure abounds. The old know better than the young that cultural memory is selective, and like memory of childbirth, tends to obscure the worst bits and present them as quaint. The old have heard the stories before, and their counter-stories. A certain skepticism is inevitable but the principle emotion is one of fatigue. One loses the energy to either object or even to acquiesce. The young will learn eventually without the advice of the old. It has always been so. So reactionary nostalgia tends to be a young person’s game. I’m not so sure the same holds for the anger of ressentiment. Ressentiment requires disappointment in order to exist, and therefore experience, probably consistently bad experience. Ressentiment does not rely on some fictional account of the old days or of a golden age. Ressentiment has no such memories. The fact that others might is reason enough for the anger. This is not to say that a coalition, either cultural or political, between the nostalgic and the resentful is not possible. Dissatisfaction attracts the dissatisfied. But the stability of such a coalition must be suspect. Young nostalgia is likely to tire quickly of angry whining. And anger generally has little tolerance for the optimism inherent in nostalgic fiction. Without some other unifying complaint, it is therefore unlike that the young and old can stick it with one another. Ultimately therefore reaction is not a long-term winner in the wars of either culture or politics. It doesn’t know what it wants: yesterday or an overturning of yesterday? Regardless of the source of its existential reality, reactionary dissatisfaction is neurotic. It desires the achievement of the impossible: something not just past but never having existed, a sort of negative ideal. This is only likely to increase the dissatisfactions experienced. Both Mishra and Lilla have important things to say. What they each have to say may be even more important in the context of the other.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A very quick read on a basic history of reaction. It reads extremely well, and is simply fascinating if you wish to understand where a lot of modern politics is coming from today. As the author notes, there is a lot written about revolution, but not its opposite, reaction. Both are powerful forces. Most of the book focuses on past and present writers who come from a reactionary frame of mind, and Mark uses their ideas to chart where the movement sprang from. This is mostly via the histories/myth A very quick read on a basic history of reaction. It reads extremely well, and is simply fascinating if you wish to understand where a lot of modern politics is coming from today. As the author notes, there is a lot written about revolution, but not its opposite, reaction. Both are powerful forces. Most of the book focuses on past and present writers who come from a reactionary frame of mind, and Mark uses their ideas to chart where the movement sprang from. This is mostly via the histories/mythologies of Judaism and Christianity. Of course now I have a bunch of other books to read (always a good sign) and he also provides a nice overview of Submission which I read recently. It is a great modern example of the reactionary mind. If you think right-wing, conservative, reactionary and libertarian are all interchangeable terms, this book is for you.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    The present (not the past) is a foreign country to modern day purveyors of hate and the reactionaries featured in this book. A neo-nazi drives his car into protestors and a Republican president's only response in 144 characters or less is "both sides are to blame" (8/12/17). How do Republican followers of Donald Trump embrace his reactionary politics and how do Hegel, Kierkergaard, Heidegger, Spengler, Toynbee, Leo Strauss and others explain what is going on within our country (and regretfully, The present (not the past) is a foreign country to modern day purveyors of hate and the reactionaries featured in this book. A neo-nazi drives his car into protestors and a Republican president's only response in 144 characters or less is "both sides are to blame" (8/12/17). How do Republican followers of Donald Trump embrace his reactionary politics and how do Hegel, Kierkergaard, Heidegger, Spengler, Toynbee, Leo Strauss and others explain what is going on within our country (and regretfully, the world) better than newspapers, news magazines, or political blogs? This book puts together a series of essays from the same author and never mentions Donald Trump or the nightmare that he is and ties the reactionaries of the past to the modern Republican geist and shows how the past explains the present. This book is rare among new books and the author forced me to think beyond myself and gave me new ways to think about our current times. The author is erudite and knows his subject matter well. This is the book that "The Age of Anger" should have been. Reactionaries (think William F. Buckley, Edmund Burke, or Leo Strauss, all mentioned in this book) don't like modernity. They are always in search of a present because they are afraid of the future and are certain that history made a wrong turn at some point in the past which will lead to the end of civilization as we know it unless we unlearn the lessons of the enlightenment such as tolerance, diversity and the thought which says human beings are the true measures of reality. Tolerance is not a suicide pact. It is a silent agreement such that I will allow others to do stupid things and look away but only up to a certain point. It does not mean that one must be tolerant of neo-nazis or the vile enablers of such behavior, 'both sides are to blame' is nonsense and is not a proper response. I am intolerant of anything that creates chaos and takes me away from my authentic resolute and most appropriate self. All of the reactionary thinkers featured in these essays try to do that, and Donald Trump is their modern day embodiment. The thinkers highlighted in these essays always have each of these three characteristics: they are 1) absolutist, 2) believe there is a purpose of life, and 3) know immanent (intuitive) truth resides within us. The first means nothing is relative. That comparisons are not necessary. Truth can exist without empirical observation, logical processes or analysis. They would say, morality has only one right answer always and everywhere with no nuances allowed. The second means that they assume life's meaning does not come from within us but resides outside of us. It's not 'purpose in life' that matters to them but 'purpose of life'. They out source their reason for being to something beyond themselves often a fictional book or to their social economic class or their 'patriotic' based biases. The third characteristic can be faith based or based on their own gut feeling. The truths they believe in are not necessarily known but they think the searching is justified because they could be true. Donald Trump is not a Christian (in my opinion) but he appeals to Christians because of his claim to knowing certainty because what he thinks is true must be true for him. These characteristics are the key to understanding Donald Trump. Yes, he is a narcissist and has never read a book, but his truths come from his emotions and he knows they are true because his gut tells him that. Prejudice is justified in his world because they come from his opinions with no firm foundation and emanate from his gut (he would say, Muslims are evil, brown people can't be trusted to act as judges, and women don't mind if you grab them inappropriately, and worst of all: 'be a man' like he pretends to be when he promises 'fire and fury' upon a country that has living breathing human beings). The author makes the point that the subsets that we use to give us the taxonomy of how we categorize the world come from ourselves. They are not sanctified by God. They are the best ontology that we have at the given moment. The concept of race, he says, comes from the groupings we create, but the reification of the construct race, that is the making real of the concept 'race' can lead us to absurdities and justify the bigotry of the Republican party as led by Donald Trump. It is for us to realize that our constructs don't always lead to certainty. We live in a complex world and in order for us to understand it we tell ourselves narratives (mythos) to make sense of the world. The right wing under Donald Trump has turned their mythos into logos and use that to justify their hate based 'patriotism'. This book has most of these thoughts within the essays. I took some liberty in connecting the dots. The author doesn't speak of Nietzsche much (or maybe not at all). If he had, I would have included him in these thoughts because of how most of the reactionary thinkers in these essays despise him (except for Heidegger, and Heidegger is not really known for his political reactionary-ism) and Nietzsche is always worthy of consideration.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    This is supposed to be a review of Mark Lilla’s “The Shipwrecked Mind,” a loose collection of essays about reaction, published as a group in early 2016, before the rise of Trump. Certainly, Trump himself is not a reactionary, for he has no coherent thought of any kind. However, just as certainly, he has been advised by men who are very definitely some brand of reactionary, most notably Steve Bannon and Michael Anton, the latter still serving in the White House. Until Trump, what little attention This is supposed to be a review of Mark Lilla’s “The Shipwrecked Mind,” a loose collection of essays about reaction, published as a group in early 2016, before the rise of Trump. Certainly, Trump himself is not a reactionary, for he has no coherent thought of any kind. However, just as certainly, he has been advised by men who are very definitely some brand of reactionary, most notably Steve Bannon and Michael Anton, the latter still serving in the White House. Until Trump, what little attention was directed at reaction revolved mostly around obscure dead people with ties to twentieth century radical right movements, such as Julius Evola, or around the largely incoherent ramblings of a subset of techno-libertarians, whom I suspect are mostly the kind of people away from whom you edge at cocktail parties. Lilla was among the first to perceive that there was more to the movement, but post-Trump, reactionary thought began receiving substantial attention. Most of this was a wave of stupidity emerging from both Left and the fat cat Right, but there was also some thoughtful analysis, the best of which was Andrew Sullivan’s April 2017 piece on reaction in New York magazine. Sullivan’s worthwhile contribution groups reactionaries into three clusters, each with an avatar. The first avatar is Leo Strauss, who fled Nazi Germany and ended in California as an obscure and Sphinx-like, but highly influential, political philosopher. Sullivan does not attempt to directly parse Strauss (unlike Lilla, as we’ll see), but focuses on Charles Kesler, editor of “The Claremont Review of Books,” as a type of gnomon sub-avatar, revealing the truth cast by the light of Strauss. In short, according to Sullivan, Straussians think that the modern American political system has wholly lost its way, but that as with the string of Theseus in the Labyrinth, there exists a clear path back to an ideal political system that has, unlike most supposedly ideal systems, actually been tried and found effective. That is the America of its original Constitution, either as it existed in 1787 or as amended by the post-Civil War amendments. Nobody informed can disagree that today’s American government bears essentially no relation, except in its external forms, to the American government of 1870, no more than the Roman government of A.D. 50 bore to the Roman government of 300 B.C. Straussians, although they have various internal divisions, believe that the desired end of political history arrived already—and was left behind. Therefore, today’s Cthulhu State, a multi-tentacled horror of unlimited and unaccountable power, exemplified by the monstrous administrative state that finds no warrant in the Constitution, should be destroyed and the Republic restored by the simple expedient of turning back the political clock. The second group is represented by the avatar of Michael Anton, and was mostly embodied by the belligerent, now defunct pre-election blog, “The Journal of American Greatness,” which has a quasi-descendant in the still extant “American Affairs,” an actual journal published by Julius Krein, who had a prominent role in “American Greatness.” Anton is in some ways a Straussian, in that he admires the Founding, but he is much more what I would, to coin a term, call an “Augustan”—a man who sees some benefit in democratic forms, but little other benefit in democracy, and who therefore focuses on power and its uses. In an Augustan system, the forms of republican government remain, and even some of its application, but the real power has shifted. Sullivan terms this “Caesarism,” by which he means to refer to Julius Caesar, not Augustus Caesar, Octavian, but this is the wrong historical parallel. Julius Caesar technically overthrew the Republic, true, but it was already completely fractured by decades of civil war, and Julius Caesar himself manipulated the actual levers of political power for only a brief time. We remember him for his death, not his rule. It is Augustus we remember for maintaining the forms of republic while making himself “first among equals,” the first emperor. The Roman Empire is dated from 27 B.C., from recognition of the final victory of Augustus over his enemies, not from any action of Julius Caesar. Anton wrote the famous “Flight 93 Election” essay prior to the election, insisting that Trump should be the choice, regardless of any faults he might have, for the alternative was certain death, metaphysical and perhaps actual. Anton focuses less on the forms of the government and more on who has the power. At present, the global elites, the “Davoisie,” have the power, and they use it to benefit themselves at the expense of the mass of people of the Republic (perhaps the entire mass, perhaps the virtuous mass—Anton seems deliberately obscure here). Anton explicitly calls for Caesar, or rather, says that Caesar has already arrived, if not on horseback, so he might as well be the right Caesar. Rollback is not the goal; the goal is seizing the levers of power as they exist now, and overthrowing the great as the opportunity presents itself, casting them into the pit to wail and grind their teeth. Thus, for Anton, the focus is power guided by virtue, but always power. The third group, and the one least known to the general public, has as its avatar the computer programmer Curtis Yarvin, often referred to by his pseudonym, Mencius Moldbug. Whereas Kesler offers an easily comprehensible, if not easily attainable, program; and Anton offers a program that is coherent, if mostly responsive and inchoate (the reader suspects it is not really inchoate in Anton’s mind, though); Yarvin offers the desperation pass with a flaming football, probably one sewn from human skin, and he worships strange gods. All you really need to know about Yarvin is that he is a self-identified Jacobite—that is, his preferred form of modern government is a restoration in the United States of the Stuart monarchy, via the vehicle first of an all-powerful figure known as the Receiver (a term taken from bankruptcy law), who will smash the Cathedral, the modern all-powerful and unholy alliance of the American elites, whose ax and fasces of power are the combined and interlocking might of the universities and the media. The Enlightenment will be forgotten as a mistake, and we will have a night watchman state that offers a free press and free economy, true, but which is armed not with a nightstick, but with shoulder-mounted rockets. While Sullivan draws incisive portraits of each of the three avatars, the rest of his essay is pretty weak. By way of preface, he draws a simplistic contrast between reaction and “real conservatives,” a topic he miserably fails to address with any adequacy (but one which I will on another day address completely). Next he engages in navel-gazing about his supposed youthful sympathy with reaction, but all he describes is a love for Russell Kirk’s permanent things, and as both he and Lilla point out, reactionaries are not conservatives, so this is mere confusion. Sullivan then adds his own shallow analysis of reactionary thought, attempting to synthesize his three avatars, or at least to show they share core beliefs. Finally, not digging very deep, Sullivan, as with most critics of reaction, ascribes to it a universal desire across its advocates to return modern society to a supposed past Golden Age—this trope is common to all progressive analysis of reaction. His analysis strikes me as erroneous from start to finish. As applied to Straussians, there is some thin justice to the claim of desired return, although Straussians would not claim that the Founding inaugurated a Golden Age, merely the best possible political solution for an imperfect world. But while Sullivan’s other reactionaries see value in the past, and often unfavorably compare the modern world to it, they do not want to return to it, for they are not stupid. They want to get the benefits of the past while keeping the benefits of the modern world; theirs is in many ways a very modern project, open to a changing world and the concept of progress. It is not for nothing that those who attack reactionaries, such as the increasingly shrill William Kristol, have claimed they resemble the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt in their thought. I have no idea of the truth of that claim, knowing nothing about Schmitt, and I do not suggest key parallels otherwise, but the nature of all modern radical “right-wing” reformers, of all stripes, is that they call for a march forward, informed by the past, but not into the past. They have a different definition of where the march should go than does Sullivan, but in an important sense, they are all progressives. Any references to a Golden Age are purely for propaganda purposes, along with using it to provide object lessons to inform action in today’s very different world today. Sullivan mistakes that gleam for the substance; he is not the first progressive led astray by fool’s gold. In the same vein, Sullivan complains of reactionaries, specifically of Anton, that “their pessimism is a solipsistic pathology.” In Anton, who says the only things in modernity worthwhile are “nice restaurants, good wine, a high standard of living,” he sees a man “deliberately blind to all the constant renewals of life and culture around us.” But Sullivan does not specific what those renewals are, and for the life of me, I cannot fathom to what he refers. Certainly, a plausible argument can be made that Anton-style pessimism is the wrong response to modernity, or that nice restaurants and wine are, after all, part of the substance of the good life, and not to be denigrated. It does not follow from that that anything is being renewed; the opposite of pessimism can be just as much a comfortable stagnation as illusory “renewals of life and culture.” While Sullivan seems to think that to pronounce negativity about the modern world is self-refuting, Sullivan’s next paragraphs offer a clue as to what he believes is better about today than yesterday, and it has nothing to with “renewals of life and culture.” Here, Sullivan resorts to a hackneyed rhetorical trick beloved of today’s progressives. The trick involves making a sanitized list of modernity’s social accomplishments, while ignoring not only modernity’s horrors, but the strongly equivocal nature of many of the supposed accomplishments. So, we are told, usually in vague, bilious phrases, that (a) certain aspects of life today are better than life today, and that (b) the beneficiaries of those improvements are individuals who are sympathetic. We are then informed that it necessarily follows that (x) any criticism of life today is unsympathetic to those individuals, because yesterday they lived in suffering, so therefore (y) any criticism of life today is beyond the pale. The reader can guess, from seeing this spurious chain many times before, that Sullivan adduces as better aspects of life today as “unprecedented freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals,” “increased security for the elderly and unemployed,” and a variety of other stock canards about progress. There is a grain of truth here, but really Sullivan is talking past the reactionaries, not engaging them. He glides past the reality that few of his “improvements” are in fact unmixed blessings, if blessings at all, for often positive changes are balanced by negatives, then he skates around any negative aspect of modern life, and finally demands we agree that because some things are better for some people in some ways, we must live in the best of all possible worlds, and any criticism of the modern world is an unforgiveable attack on the formerly persecuted. So, for example, there probably is more “freedom for women” today than in 1950 (in the West, that is—implicit in all progressive discussions of reaction is that we are only talking about the West, and it is best to avert our eyes from other areas of the world). But a real comparison of 2017 to 1950 would require much unpacking, including distinguishing claims of freedoms such as flexibility of employment and reductions in harassment from false “freedoms” such as abortion rights, along with an examination of whether women as a whole are better off in the modern world on other measures, and an honest evaluation of whether what “everybody knows” about the world of 1950, implicit in Sullivan’s brief statement, is actually true. Sullivan’s purpose is not to engage in such a dialogue, though; it is to end any possibility of dialogue by imagining, like the Manichees, a World of Light and a Kingdom of Darkness, and assigning anyone who does not join the progressive crusade to the latter. I suppose his line of thought could be even more dishonest—Sullivan does not accuse Anton of objecting to antibiotics and electric light. But none of this sheds any light on whether reactionaries have a point, for it assumes that they do not. So much for Sullivan. His article is relatively brief, and as with most opinion pieces, does not pretend to be a work for the ages. Lilla, likewise, is not writing for the ages, though his book is longer and much more polished than Sullivan’s article. At the beginning, Lilla denies that The Shipwrecked Mind is a “systematic treatise on the concept of reaction.” Instead, it is an examination of several individuals, most of whom have no obvious link to each other, and Lilla does not attempt to draw clear links among them. His purpose is instead to draw a general analogy between reactionaries and revolutionaries, referring to his own earlier book, “The Reckless Mind,” about men in love with revolutionary tyranny. Lilla begins by pointing out that “Reactionaries are not conservatives. . . . Millennial expectations of a redemptive new social order and rejuvenated human beings inspire the revolutionary; apocalyptic fears of entering a new dark age haunt the reactionary.” While this is true as far as it goes, it fails on two points. First, as with Sullivan, Lilla never tells us what conservatives are, other than not reactionaries. If we define something by what it is not, we must know what is the thing it is not. Second, Lilla’s core parallelism fails, for being haunted by fears about the future is not in any way similar to revolutionary thought. The latter is always a self-contained system for achieving Utopia through following the right steps and killing the right people. Fear about the future, in contrast, is only fear and does not imply a program. While reaction can be an ideology, Lilla’s own definition makes reaction simply a recognition that some things were better in the past, not that the past offers a complete solution for the present, or a path to implement that solution. Lilla does seem to recognize the failure of his parallel, trying to explain “the enduring vitality of the reactionary spirit even in the absence of a revolutionary political program” by the problem that “to live a modern life anywhere in the world today . . . is to experience the psychological equivalent of permanent revolution.” At that high level of generality this is true enough, and it sounds like Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity.” But it says nothing about whether neoreactionaries themselves have an ideology or system of thought that is revolutionary in nature. It merely explains why neoreaction has an attraction for some people. And Lilla himself concludes that neoreaction “is unsure how to act in the present.” A system of thought unsure how to act is essentially the antithesis of an ideology, and thus in no way establishes the parallel for which Lilla is reaching. But enough definitional games. Let’s examine the core of this book, which is the thought of men Lilla identifies as relevant to reactionary thought. He begins with one truly obscure, Franz Rosenzweig (1886 – 1929), a theologian of German Jewish extraction, who, raised indifferently religious, nearly converted to Christianity and then returned to devout Judaism. He seems like an odd choice, for Rosenzweig is mostly known for a difficult mystical tome, “The Star of Redemption.” Lilla argues, elliptically, that in Rosenzweig’s linkage of Christianity and Judaism as bound together eternally, “the Jews are a people that see the light but [are] unable to live in it temporally, while Christians live in an illuminated world but cannot see the light itself.” Quite fascinating, but what it has to do with reaction is not clear. Rosenzweig apparently did not see a past Golden Age, other than that Judaism is true, always has been, and always will be, nor did he maintain a political program. Lilla next turns to Eric Voegelin (1901- 1985), another German. He was the author of the phrase “immanentize the eschaton,” used as a criticism of modern Utopian political schemes, and one of the first to enunciate the truism that twentieth century radical politics were religious in inspiration and form. Voegelin was an intellectual polymath, so it is hard to say that he had a single focus, but according to Lilla, one of his focuses was the relation between religion and politics. He said, accurately, “When God has become invisible behind the world, the things of the world become the new gods.” His views led him to attack the Nazis as precisely such idol worshippers, and unsurprisingly, he was forced to flee to the United States, where he stayed. Lilla’s main purpose in including him here is to note that while for most of his life Voegelin hewed to a narrative of modern decline resulting from the rise of political religions, in his final years he “rejected” this. But in Lilla’s description, it sounds more like Voegelin went off the rails into incoherent mysticism combined with even more splintered focus than before. On little evidence, at least that he offers, Lilla concludes that “It takes a good deal of self-awareness and independence of mind to renounce the bittersweet comforts of cultural pessimism and question the just-so narratives of civilizational decline that still retain their allure for Western intellectuals.” Maybe, but as with Sullivan, this seems a weak response to an illusory narrative by offering conclusions without reasoning. Lilla keeps banging on about “cultural pessimism,” but rather than showing why and how this matters, instead concludes that anyone who is unhappy about any aspect of the modern world necessarily beclowns himself in a way not needing demonstration. Moreover, Voegelin seems put in this book not so much as an example of a reactionary as to lecture Americans that smart people turn away from narratives of decline. Lilla then profiles Strauss (1899 – 1973), yet another German émigré to the United States. Strauss is notoriously oblique in his thought. He is often accused of deliberately introducing layers of gnosis into his philosophy, including a hidden call for instrumental use of religion by philosophers and rulers, and endorsing undemocratic governance by an educated elite. According to Lilla, “Strauss and Heidegger shared one large assumption: that the problems in Western civilization could be traced to the abandonment of a healthier, ur-mode of thought from the past. . . . [He] spent much of his career trying to establish the decisive point when the great deviation took place.” Strauss found it in Athens, specifically Plato, with a nod to Jerusalem. [Review continues as first comment.]

  5. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This was… um… interesting. Not quite what I was expecting, and not all that interesting except on a purely theoretical level. Lilla’s definition of “reactionary” is at the crux of my ambivalence. I use that to refer to someone who wants to rewind the clock back, but not necessarily break it so it never moves forward again. Lilla is focusing mostly on that last aspect: that there are several political-philosophical perspectives that claim there was a “Golden Age” where humanity should simply rema This was… um… interesting. Not quite what I was expecting, and not all that interesting except on a purely theoretical level. Lilla’s definition of “reactionary” is at the crux of my ambivalence. I use that to refer to someone who wants to rewind the clock back, but not necessarily break it so it never moves forward again. Lilla is focusing mostly on that last aspect: that there are several political-philosophical perspectives that claim there was a “Golden Age” where humanity should simply remain, because no higher or better civilization is possible. That’s certainly a viable meaning for “reactionary”, and might even be a more correct one than I’m considering. However, my version would include those who look back at a time when a ruinous decision was made and desire a do-over. The archetype is of a social conservative who looks back to the 1950s, before so many civil rights struggles began to gain broad support. But I’d also include the progressive who looks at the way the United States became the preferred domicile of weapons manufacturers that profited so greatly from World War One and subsequent wars that it created our military-industrial complex, which has subsequently distorted the U.S. economy and government policy-making in ways seen as corrupting. Towards the end of the book there was a little convergence back towards my definition, but only from that theoretical perspective. Given that my goal is to understand the social psychology of the modern conservative, this wasn’t particularly what I was looking for. Here are a few links that sent me towards this book, for the curious:The author wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times shortly after the 2016 Presidential election, The End of Identity Liberalism, which originally drew my attention. The Financial Times called the book «A study of those for whom ‘the present, not the past, is a foreign country’». The NY Review of Books provided a capsule review of the book: «The reactionary is anything but a conservative. He is as radical and modern a figure as the revolutionary, someone shipwrecked in the rapidly changing present, and suffering from nostalgia for an idealized past and an apocalyptic fear that history is rushing toward catastrophe.» And the Washington Post notes: «Today’s reactionaries, Lilla contends, are found among the American right, longing for the strength and uniformity of the early postwar years; European nationalists, blaming Enlightenment values for the continent’s ills; and political Islamists, animated by visions of a caliphate restored. Their nostalgia is more powerful than liberal hope. “Hopes can be disappointed,” Lilla writes. “Nostalgia is irrefutable.”»

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vagabond of Letters, DLitt

    3.5/10 I was prepared to give this book a 6/10 as of my first review (below), given the generally insightful portraits Lilla draws, but no more, given that there is no harmony of the whole nor overarching thesis. Alas! After Lilla finishes his character profiles, he spends forty pages shitting on (there is no more apt phrase) the philosophy and history of Alasdair MacIntyre, especially in After Virtue - a book I have included among the top ten in importance ever written (see my favorites shelf, w 3.5/10 I was prepared to give this book a 6/10 as of my first review (below), given the generally insightful portraits Lilla draws, but no more, given that there is no harmony of the whole nor overarching thesis. Alas! After Lilla finishes his character profiles, he spends forty pages shitting on (there is no more apt phrase) the philosophy and history of Alasdair MacIntyre, especially in After Virtue - a book I have included among the top ten in importance ever written (see my favorites shelf, which contains its sequel, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, prominently displayed). While engaging in tendentious judeolatry (see PS below), he critiques MacIntyre from the Genealogical standpoint so thoroughly refuted in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, and provides an illustration of MacIntyre's (and, to a degree, Nietzsche's) argument for him. Alas, alas! That's not enough! He immediately segues in to savaging Brad Gregory's The Unintended Reformation, another of my top-ten. Alas, alas, alas! Lilla then squats so that his waterfall of logorrhea falls squarely upon Thomas Aquinas, Etienne Gilson, and the modern Thomistic tradition (big surprise given that he attacked the minister in the person of MacIntyre before attacking the king), because 'they are the school which taught modern conservatives of the Road Less Traveled....with their mytho-historical view of a turning point in Western history where the soul of the West (and the West itself by implication) was lost...' This checks a third book off of my top-ten, but was expected given his anti-Straussian stance but his paradoxical Straussian readings of other traditions. Does Lilla realize he blames by assertion Thomas, MacIntyre, and Gregory for doing the exact same thing he actually is doing historiographically? Even if they're guilty, so is he, as he lays much of our modern predicament (the same ones Thomas, MacIntyre, Gregory, and the Thomists diagnose) at the feet of Thomistic and MacIntyrian historiography itself? That's what we call performative self-contradiction, folks. PS Lilla throughout engages in a sort of judeolatry and equates any criticism of Zionism or Judaism with anti-semitism (unless it's a Jew doing the criticizing). At one point he goes so far as to call MSM reports of a 'Straussian cabal' during the Bush-era invasion of Iraq antisemitic on the strength that 'cabal is an antisemitic word' and Strauss was a Jew. Pointing out that Jews and Israel were heavily involved in the Bushian decision to go to war against Iraq is 'very antisemitic' if using the word 'cabal' is an antisemitic dogwhistle. Mearsheimer and Walt (The Israel Lobby and its Influence on US Foreign Policy), not to mention Shahak, must give this guy apoplexy. This is a baffling level of thought-policing coming from an ordinarily strong defender of free speech, but those of my friends and followers who have read The Culture of Critique (which contains an excellent essay on Strauss and the Straussians) or are aware of the JQ can wager a good guess as to why this is. In the final estimation, this book is far, far better than the first, The Reckless Mind, by way of providing a smorgasbord of food for thought in comparison, though adulterated with the sort of analysis noted above (which is what makes it food for thought). It is useful for the initiated as an introduction to the thinkers profiled within, but is dangerous for neophytes: it could act as a sort of bezoar which delays the effects of the red pill. Initial review after reading ToC, intro, and first chapter: The profiles in this book are of Kosher conservatives and conservatives-lite, far from reactionaries. Lilla is normally pretty balanced, but when he considers someone like Strauss to be further right than the neocon he is (see Gottfried, 'Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America') - which is to say a New Leftist reconciled to limited free markets - he's off the mark. The only reactionary I can think of who has been a figure in American politics in living memory is David Duke (George Wallace is not a reactionary: he was fighting to conserve a living and current way of life. Duke came after that way of life had been eviscerated). Mencius Moldbug is a reactionary. Alain de Benoist and the French New Right are reactionaries. Neopagans, including racialist ones, are reactionaries. William Luther Pierce (of memory) was a maybe a reactionary, maybe a Rightist revolutionary. Perhaps surprisingly, Trump campaigned on a reactionary platform by definition, if one takes his platform to be 'MAGA'. To do *again*, to *retrieve past greatness*, is what reaction is. His reactionary campaign is of an implicit and mild variety compared to the boldness of a Duke or Moldbug. However, the Trump administration and its actual policies are not reactionary, but governs in a somewhat right-of-center populist manner. The guys profiled by Lilla herein aren't even especially conservative, let alone Rightist, let alone reactionary.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    This was not really what I expected. It starts out talking about reactionaries in modern America and France, noting that they are the true radicals in society with their stated intentions to revert to eras we’ve decidedly moved on from. So far, so good. But then he veers off on a severe and lengthy tangent, talking about the foundational mythologies of Judaism and Christianity, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and St. Augustine. It’s really quite dense and esoteric stuff, at least for me. And it veere This was not really what I expected. It starts out talking about reactionaries in modern America and France, noting that they are the true radicals in society with their stated intentions to revert to eras we’ve decidedly moved on from. So far, so good. But then he veers off on a severe and lengthy tangent, talking about the foundational mythologies of Judaism and Christianity, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and St. Augustine. It’s really quite dense and esoteric stuff, at least for me. And it veered very far from the topic that drew me to the book in the first place, which was political reactionaryism. It returns to this topic, tantalizingly, after a discourse on popular literature’s role in stoking Islamophobia in France, but ends pretty abruptly after a brief rumination on the revanchist Catholic fantasies harbored by European hardline reactionaries. Disappointing! But I generally found Lilla so reasonable and compelling that it reminded me of my initial hesitancy to read his work, which was my only prior exposure to the author: this article, which was released only ten days following the 2016 Election and which I remember denouncing biliously in those miserable days of uncertainty and disbelief. So I went back and reread it, and in a different lens I found it, surprisingly, totally unobjectionable! I think I misread Lilla’s exhortations as normative, rather than strategic. He’s not saying that we need to actually cater to those “forgotten” working class whites with their racial anxieties, and to forget the more acute needs of disenfranchised peoples; rather, he is saying that any successful rhetoric will need to speak to an entire culture, an identity shared by all or most, and can do its bidding—however much it may diverge in reality from the message—once it has proven itself worthier at the polls. I can’t help but agree.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Esteban del Mal

    Throughout my reading life, I have sought a properly concise definition of reactionary politics. Lilla sums it as, "The Apocalypse meets the Golden Age." Throughout my reading life, I have sought a properly concise definition of reactionary politics. Lilla sums it as, "The Apocalypse meets the Golden Age."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stewart

    The introduction to Mark Lila’s “The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction,” a book published in 2016, provides an excellent start to what I thought would be an insightful book about the mindset of reactionaries in the late 20th century and early 21st century in the United States, in Europe, and in the Islamic world. But the rest of the short 144-page book fails to deliver. In the introduction, I double-underlined these three sentences: “Reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first The introduction to Mark Lila’s “The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction,” a book published in 2016, provides an excellent start to what I thought would be an insightful book about the mindset of reactionaries in the late 20th century and early 21st century in the United States, in Europe, and in the Islamic world. But the rest of the short 144-page book fails to deliver. In the introduction, I double-underlined these three sentences: “Reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first thing to be understood about them. They are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries and just as firmly in the grip of historical imaginings.” Yes, I have been thinking for two decades that most of the right-wingers in Congress and various statehouses are not conservatives, although they call themselves that; they are reactionaries. If the term “conservative” is to have any meaning, it should refer to someone who conserves. “Conservative” is etymologically related to the words “conserve” and “conservation.” But today’s right wingers in Congress want to conserve only tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations and to bring my country back to 1880. They want to tear down the U.S.’s modest safety net, reduce or end government regulation, and ignore threats to our planet such as climate change. No conservation, only destruction. The more extreme of these reactionaries are nihilists, wanting only to obstruct our institutions even to the point of shutting down the federal government and forcing it to not pay its bills. Without in any way being facetious, I can truly say that I am more of a conservative than the Far Right yahoos who have caused the gridlock in Congress and mayhem in the 50 states the past 25 years. Of the six chapters in the book, five were drawn from essays that first appeared in The New York Review of Books and one from The New Republic. The first 63 pages of the book briefly relate the thinking of three reactionaries: Franz Rosenzweig, Eric Voegelin, and Leo Strauss. Chapters called “From Luther to Walmart” and “From Mao to St. Paul” (getting us to Page 101) provide details of well-known writers and theorists such as Paul of Tarsus and little-known writers such as Alasdair MacIntyre. That’s a good start, but I wish that Lilla had expanded the book to look at the reactionaries of the Republican Party in the U.S. and the rise of reactionary movements in Europe and the Islamic world during the last 35 years. But no. Instead, we have a chapter called “Paris, January 2015” about the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, related to the subject of reactionaries but not at all a thorough exploration of the reactionary mindset of recent years. I didn’t need Lilla writing a dense 600-page book on reactionaries, but he could have written a 250-page book, updating and expanding his magazine essays, that would have brought his observations into the present era. He chose not to. The book is a disappointment.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Uxküll

    Disappointing and somewhat incoherent, does not achieve what it's ambitious claim at the beginning asserts, but still offers the reader some tasty morsels of insight which are appreciated. The authors selected for establishing the analysis of a standard 'reactionary', Rosenzweig, Voegelin and Strauss, are not very reactionary to begin with. Although perhaps influenced by reactionary currents, they are by no means luminaries of the reactionary tradition. Although the arch-reactionary Joseph de Mai Disappointing and somewhat incoherent, does not achieve what it's ambitious claim at the beginning asserts, but still offers the reader some tasty morsels of insight which are appreciated. The authors selected for establishing the analysis of a standard 'reactionary', Rosenzweig, Voegelin and Strauss, are not very reactionary to begin with. Although perhaps influenced by reactionary currents, they are by no means luminaries of the reactionary tradition. Although the arch-reactionary Joseph de Maistre is mentioned in passing multiple times throughout the 'book', he receives paltry analysis. De Bonald and Juan Donoso Cortés are mentioned as well but with the same passing interest which is a great shame. The only real strength of this somewhat confused compilation of more or less essays are the choice quotes and brief periods of lucid insight gleaned by myself and I believe at least a few other readers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joni

    rather loose. the folks are interesting but their presence explicates nothing. argument is uncommon, general, and lazy. deep interpretation is effectively shunned. all the profiles seem to be commission pieces scissored into introductory sketches fit for morning browsing, nothing more. no attempt at sustained interpretation is made. not a blurry draft, but a kodak flop. read it or not, there will be no difference

  12. 4 out of 5

    C. Varn

    While some will read this as a 'history of reaction,' this insightful and easily digested volume of essays is more like several essays on the subject. Generally, following a format related to book views and discussions in the history of ideas, collected around the central theme. I was little surprised to find that Lilla had published most of the chapters in New York Review of Books. While this is a limiting factor to the book, it does not make it un-insightful or particularly dross, or even repe While some will read this as a 'history of reaction,' this insightful and easily digested volume of essays is more like several essays on the subject. Generally, following a format related to book views and discussions in the history of ideas, collected around the central theme. I was little surprised to find that Lilla had published most of the chapters in New York Review of Books. While this is a limiting factor to the book, it does not make it un-insightful or particularly dross, or even repetitive as like some similar books. In fact, the obvious comparison is to Corey Robins "The Reactionary Mind," which while also being largely a series of essays as review, had a more coherent thesis but was far more repetitive in its assertion and conflated conservatism with reactionarism. Still as Lilla points out, the reactionary impulse may be more dominant in political thinking these days even on the left, but far more ink as been spilt on the revolution mind. Indeed, even I can only think of Berlin and Robins as clear precursors to Lilla's focus here. Lilla starts with an assertion going back to DeMaistre, the reactionary is NOT a conservative. The reactionary is a utopian of nostalgia as opposed to the utopian of progress. While this is not actually the clearest of definitions, Lilla is able to use it trace a variety of kinds of thought which rhyme in function and affect. Lilla starts the book with careful and highly sympathetic studies of Rosenzweig, Voegelin, and Leo Strauss. Indeed, in the case of the latter two men, Lilla goes to pains to disentangle them from the use of their work. Lilla, like Isaiah Berlin who influenced him, can't help but admire something of the vitality of counter-Enlightenment thought and may almost be too sympathetic to his case studies for many of his political allies. He is far fairer to Voegelin and Strauss than to Alain Badiou in the later chapters. It is the series of essay in the second half of the book that are both the interesting but also the most frustrating. Lilla seems limited by the magazine form that chapters were originally published in, but almost all the arguments need to linger. Lilla's thesis on the reactionary impulse to the "road not taken"--generally in some relationship to the Enlightenment although sometimes against the entirety of post-Socratic European history--is fascinating and seems apt, but he does not fully develop it. Lilla's assertion that "epochal thinking is magical thinking" is fascinating and feels true, but he doesn't give enough examples nor does he explicitly call back the three case study thinkers in the beginning of the book which could be used to justify the claim. Lilla is erudite, and more or less expects his reader to be as well. Yet book that makes fairly strong demands on readers, its magazine style does have the benefit of being immediately accessible in style and a joy to read. This is particularly true in the essay on Michel Houellebecq and the two opposed currents of reactionary thinking in France. Indeed, Lilla does not explore this enough, but often the reactionary impulses biggest enemy is based in a different reactionary impulse with an opposing nostalgia. Lilla is a subtle thinker and a strong writer, but one wishes he developed his thinking beyond collecting his reviews on the topic and writing some thematic essays to tie them together. Despite these caveats, I strongly recommend the "The Shipwrecked Mind."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Samuelson

    Not as consistently good as The Reckless Mind, but some sections, especially on Voegelin and Strauss, are great.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Mclean

    2016 was an unpredictable and tumultuous year. Anyone interesting in understanding the reasons for the major political changes of 2016 and the seeming rejection of post-cold war liberal order and possibly the entire post war era that began in 1945 should take a look at this book. Economic factors, social factors, political loyalties, outside influence and big money all played a role. But, even in a political climate defined by populist anti-intellectuals, ideas played a role. Mark Lilla pointedl 2016 was an unpredictable and tumultuous year. Anyone interesting in understanding the reasons for the major political changes of 2016 and the seeming rejection of post-cold war liberal order and possibly the entire post war era that began in 1945 should take a look at this book. Economic factors, social factors, political loyalties, outside influence and big money all played a role. But, even in a political climate defined by populist anti-intellectuals, ideas played a role. Mark Lilla pointedly reminds us that angry populists at a raucaous rally are often repeating the concerns of little known writers of generations past. Mark Lilla argues that to understand the political currents that are upending the world order we need to understand the reactionary mind. Often misidentified as conservatives or revolutionaries, the lineage of reactionary thinkers has very different roots than the Burkean tradition that undergirds traditional conservative thought or the utopian thinking which often defines revolutionary ideas. Reactionaries tend to have an apocalyptic, shrill view of human events. Lilla demonstrates that reactionaries often have a view of the world somewhat like orginal sin: a certain event or series of events sent civilization down a dark path. They also have a deeply pessimistic view of the current human condition. Liberals tend to have an optimistic view of history and a notion of civilizational progress, and conservatives who reject the notion of progress in favour of an organic development over time that ebbs and flows sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Reactionaries, to Lilla, tend to view history as a regression, hurtling towards an abyss. Only by returning to the point we veered off course, and drastically changing track can we save ourselves from disaster. He begins with a short study of three different intellectuals : Franz Rosensweig, Eric Vogelin, and Leo Strauss. Each of these intellectuals exemplified a different sort of reactionary thinking, and these ideas went on to influence later thinkers and shape political debates. In the second part of the book Lilla traces resulting reactionary movements on both the left and the right (yes there are left wing reactionaries and Lilla demonstrates they think in similar ways to right wing reactionaries.) The final part of the book focuses on the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo Massacres in France and attemtps to explain how a current generation of French polemescists are progeny of reactionary figures and trends discussed earlier in the book. Lilla’s work is interesting and ambitious. The figures, unkown to many, advance ideas dealing with religion, culture and economics. Reacionary thought has informed theocratic movements, and economic libertarian movements. His breakdowns of the somewhat opaque thinkers are enlightening and concise. I found his explanation of Rosensweig's theology particularly prescienct, and his analysis of Leo Straus's followers is right on the mark. In the second section he deals with Post-Marxism, formed by thinkers disenchanted with the failures of the USSR and Maoist China. Lilla explicitly notes the theniking patterns and concerns that are commn among four generations of thought, while noting the absurdities and contradictions of such ideas. I could not help but notice that rightwing reactionaries are partly propelled by reactionaries of the left, so maybe Lilla’s theory is not perfect. The book, while interesting, does not gel completely. For instance, can there be a reaction to a reaction? Some of the chapters seemed separate and only loosely connected by theme. It is really more like a collection of essays than a single work. Still his basic points hold. If we want to understand movements in the modern age, we need to understand the politics and psychology of reaction. Lilla’s book is as good a start as any. More importantly Lilla reminds us, that even in an age where intellectuals seem despised, their ideas still matter. And the next generation may usher in a new age of liberal and conservative thinking formed on the ideas our generation of intellectuals are creating. I find that life affirming. One can never underestimate the reach of ideas. I'd give this around a three and a half, rounded up to four due to the timeliness of the book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    Mark Lilla's interpretative essays are always worth reading but for me the most interesting part of his new book is his Afterword.Narratives of progress, regress, and cycles all assume a mechanism by which historical change happens. It might be the natural laws of the cosmos, the will of God, the dialectical development of the human mind or of economic forces. Once we understand the mechanism, we are assured of understanding what really happened and what is to come. But what if there is no such Mark Lilla's interpretative essays are always worth reading but for me the most interesting part of his new book is his Afterword.Narratives of progress, regress, and cycles all assume a mechanism by which historical change happens. It might be the natural laws of the cosmos, the will of God, the dialectical development of the human mind or of economic forces. Once we understand the mechanism, we are assured of understanding what really happened and what is to come. But what if there is no such mechanism?Reactionary thinking, in despair or disgust at the present, imagines a lost golden age that we must regain. Sometimes the Fall from grace is quite convoluted, as in the philosophical speculations of Leo Strauss or Eric Voegelin or Alasdair MacIntyre. Sometimes it's dangerously simple. For American conservatives the golden age was the postwar imperium destroyed by "the Nakba of the Sixties;" for reactionary Russians it was the Stalinist colossus; for right-wing Europeans it was the confident civilization now imperiled by immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. "But it is in the Muslim world that belief in a lost Golden Age is most potent and consequential today." Lilla's final paragraphs are likely to be the most controversial section of his book, although he is careful to point out that this manifestation follows a common pattern in human history. Lilla offers more skepticism than assurance. Human beings crave certainty, a defining arc of meaning, a collection of stories that explain us to ourselves – even if these stories suggest that we're making them up as we go along.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Wong

    Review of Mark Lilla's The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction What is Mark Lilla's thesis on political reaction? It is one that is nostalgic of a happy age and harks back to its lost scent. When once before the hound was fixed on the wilds of progress and utopia, it is now retracing its nose to the juncture where the scent was lost, where perhaps the project could be relaunched, but even then only becomes the very project itself. And so there, upon the shoals, in Lilla's analogic, the shipwr Review of Mark Lilla's The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction What is Mark Lilla's thesis on political reaction? It is one that is nostalgic of a happy age and harks back to its lost scent. When once before the hound was fixed on the wilds of progress and utopia, it is now retracing its nose to the juncture where the scent was lost, where perhaps the project could be relaunched, but even then only becomes the very project itself. And so there, upon the shoals, in Lilla's analogic, the shipwreck takes place yet unabandoned, haunting itself as its own ghost upon its own ghost. Unable to home in meanwhile like Odysseus to Penelope in Ithaca, this hound, and yet it is Odysseus's dog that betrays him on his return, is stranded in the singularity (defined mathematically as lacking definition, exhibiting extreme and strange behaviour), cursed perhaps as the dog Laelaps that always caught its quarry, on the hunt for the Temussian fox that could never be caught. Therefore the paradox, which attracts to itself what Lilla illustrates as paragons of antinomianism (any view which rejects laws or legalism and is against moral, religious, or social norms). Antinomianism is a key piece in the puzzle, which, though Lilla does not refer to it, is exemplified in William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, to those of you already familiar with it and need the anchoring or framing of narrative. This antinomianism is made firm by a declinism, that things in the present are only going to get worse and worse. Not the driving force in Golding, that is concerned with civilization and primitivism (perhaps in the vein of Lévi-Strauss's "la pensée sauvage"), but of relatively fresh vintage, since Fukuyama's declaration of the end of history in the collapse of the Berlin Wall, concerning the similar circumstances of empire confronted by Paul, Augustine, Luther, by the "the Jew" existing outside of history (it has to do with revelation), by Mao Zedong, and by political Islamism. And certainly by the American evangelical right on the way to the eschaton. The "political reactionary" could certainly use a map, except that in the cartography of eschaton and of happy days gone by the articulation of logos (see my earlier review of Lilla's The Reckless Mind) is also dispensed with. In its now cavernous void it would portend not a chance for justice and goodness in their echt; rather their tchotchkes a simulacra thereof counting for exceptionalism for some and none for the rest. And Lilla might argue that in this place of no logos (discourse) there is instead identity politics and intersectionality and logo (emblem, brand) which, outro logos and intro logo, nevertheless aims beyond the sterile abstract justice of the Enlightenment and of the ancient Greeks, also in spite of the dissimulation of logos in the hock of nostalgia at various historical junctures including that of ours today, for the embodiment of its anima, the soul of justice, even if in the process this embodiment *indissimulates* animus, a political animus and, in the spirit of the political is personal, a personal animus, itself the reification of the pronouncement preceded by its formal effect. It is this narrow ambit, the aversion to the cosmopolitanism of the citizen of nowhere, indeed Ulysses's Nemo ("Nobody!") to the one-eyed Cyclops, that is tangled with the universal experience of being only present in the single dimension and then present anew (as "Somebody!") in the intersectionality of dimensions of differences. Ulysses poked a sharpened pencil in the singular eye of cyclops. In the singularity of the event, in its pre-antinomianism (Odysseus ever the trickster hero) in pre-legalism (no rules existed to be broken in the subterfuge of the Trojan Horse), it is in the approach on the wayward home that Ulysses (now intimated with Roman Law, which also breaks down in James Joyce's recounting of the Jew convert to Protestantism Leopold Bloom who then converted to Catholicism in order to marry Molly) still plays a trick on his wife Penelope. Or at least Ulysses tries in a test of Penelope's faithfulness to her husband, he Cymbeline to her Imogen. Has the returned-to maintained fidelity as much as the returner, who himself had himself tied to the mast of his ship before courting the temptation of the sirens? In the nostalgia of return to happy days, there are the mapped shipwrecks along the way, as marked out by Circe. In Homer, the resilience of the returnee is pitted to the immutability of the returned-to, the one bending and tireless to fate and fortune, the other steadfast to the weave and cunning, as the hound Laelaps and the Temussian fox. In this cartography, there is at least a site of safe return, still given to probing, as any good explorer should, to test the lost identity and the old territory. This is steady Penelope, an agent of her own making, beyond the turmoil of boredom, a survivalist of reckoning. Mark Lilla traces in her stead the figure of Emma Bovary, looking for excitement, craving beauty, wealth and passion in her life. What Lilla does not go so far to suggest is that perhaps nobody returns or tries to return to Emma Bovary in her faithlessness; she is driven to suicide. In this, if I may be allowed to portray Penelope and Bovary as "those happy days", the objects of desire and of return, nostalgia therefor only applies if there is no mistake in the rediscovery and the last. That is to say, were Ulysses returned to a Penelope unfaithful, some of his choices would be to reveal himself fully then or to continue in his disguise perhaps to exact justice or to move on and forget. Nostalgia therefore has a telomere, whose function (a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes) is preservative of its algos (Greek ἄλγος, pain). Leonard Cohen's "Ain't No Cure for Love" spoils itself silly in song, and political reactionaries do too. In Lilla's reading of Houellebecq's novel Submission (the January 2015 essay is annexed before the Afterword), I am reminded of the aperçus available in the apeiron (primal chaos) of no return, when the new thing is birthed, nostalgia is given up, Heimweh is forgotten, as on a long journey to Mars. But is nostalgia a sine qua non of political reaction? It would seem that Mark Lilla could not suggest otherwise. Yes, one can turn nostalgic for the time of the Beatles or for the verdure of a place before the calamity of volcanic pyroclasts. But could one really be politically reactionary without being given to nostalgia? It's not as if it should matter. Nostalgia is a function of the dearth of something. Of ideas? Of practice? Of affordances? The political reactionary himself or herself is a functionary out of time, in the chronos but perhaps not so in the kairos, where the opportunistic rhetoric tends the ground to its tilling. In this tilling, it rests on us to be the dog that sniffs up Odysseus despite his tricks. Given Mark Lilla's investigations in this book, our senses are made acute, but the vigil is still up to you and me to keep.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    I learned a lot reading Mark Lilla. For one thing, he taught me that the phenomenon of political reaction predates Marx, though he may have coined the term "reactionary." And in these times, when we're practically drowning in reactionaries, it's also good to know that their knee-jerk rejection of modernity, of both technological progress and individual rights (and including the whole menu of liberal causes) has been around since the Enlightenment, which reactionaries tend to consider a mistake, I learned a lot reading Mark Lilla. For one thing, he taught me that the phenomenon of political reaction predates Marx, though he may have coined the term "reactionary." And in these times, when we're practically drowning in reactionaries, it's also good to know that their knee-jerk rejection of modernity, of both technological progress and individual rights (and including the whole menu of liberal causes) has been around since the Enlightenment, which reactionaries tend to consider a mistake, or possibly an unfortunate detour from the way things are supposed to be. Human beings, according to reactionaries, are meant to live in religiously dominated societies in which our rulers believe they've been ordained by God to lead us, and everybody knows their place within the hierarchical family structure. In other words, pure patriarchy. Lilla traces the roots of political reaction to various scholars and thinkers that probably few of the researchers at the Cato Institute have even heard of. But you don't have to be aware of source of ideas to be influenced by them. These ideas, often misinterpreted by the very people who espouse them, according to Lilla, have seeped into the culture. Lilla's discussion of "the caliphate" should be required reading for every Regan-loving Republican in America. Meanwhile, it's comforting to know that no matter how hard they fight against Enlightenment ideals, reactionaries have never yet succeeded in stemming the tide. Not permanently, anyway.

  18. 4 out of 5

    nostalgebraist

    Oddly similar to Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind, in ways that go far beyond the titles: both are collections of essays originally published elsewhere, both are about reactionaries (to whom the authors are unsympathetic), and both begin with an introduction claiming that the reactionary -- a radical figure, distinct from the placid conservative carefully tending the aeons -- has been insufficiently studied. (Robin adds a meatier thesis, that "conservatism" per se has barely ever existed, and Oddly similar to Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind, in ways that go far beyond the titles: both are collections of essays originally published elsewhere, both are about reactionaries (to whom the authors are unsympathetic), and both begin with an introduction claiming that the reactionary -- a radical figure, distinct from the placid conservative carefully tending the aeons -- has been insufficiently studied. (Robin adds a meatier thesis, that "conservatism" per se has barely ever existed, and that much of so-called conservatism is in fact composed of reaction.) It's a strange setup. Certainly reaction is an interesting topic, and one of particular interest right now. So where are the sustained, book-length considerations of the topic? A mere aggregate of book reviews and similar ephemera feels almost worse than nothing. Short-form articles like these are our first recourse when we want to understand the political moment, so if we've turned to a book, it's because we want more. The book reviews are pretty good as such, but rarely lend much insight into anything beyond the (usually dis-recommended) book under review. Most of the others are not much more than biographical sketches. Sorry, I'm grouchy tonight. It's a decent collection, by an OK writer. Whatever.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elliott

    To Lilla's central tenet: "we [society] do not understand reaction," I disagree. We understand the forces of reaction quite well especially here in the United States where reaction is flourishing and has been for sometime. I will concede that we have certainly mislabeled "reaction" as simple conservatism. But really all the traits of Lilla's reactionaries are familiar to any Ron Paul acolyte: the cherished past-that-never-was done in by evil secular egalitarians/progressives/liberals, and a revo To Lilla's central tenet: "we [society] do not understand reaction," I disagree. We understand the forces of reaction quite well especially here in the United States where reaction is flourishing and has been for sometime. I will concede that we have certainly mislabeled "reaction" as simple conservatism. But really all the traits of Lilla's reactionaries are familiar to any Ron Paul acolyte: the cherished past-that-never-was done in by evil secular egalitarians/progressives/liberals, and a revolution to bring it back. Lilla's choices in texts are relevant, but characterize in my opinion only a very narrow plane of reactionary thought (if I must deign to call it that). He doesn't interact very well with the texts he has chosen or for very long. Most frustrating to me was that there is no bibliography, index, or even endnotes making his trail of thought dependent on the occasional footnote. Overall I think that Slavoj Zizek in his In Defense of Lost Causes covers the scope and aim of reactionary thought as positioned opposite left wing emancipatory politics.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Liedzeit

    This book contains essays written for New York Review of Books, with one exception. And it is excellent. A joy to read fluent prose of an obviously intelligent and well-read man. Often with this kind of book you get the feeling that the author is maybe a bit too smart. Not with this one. Best the essay on Eric Voegelin. I now want to read the man. Mission accomplished. I do not know how many time I came across "Gnosticism" and I had only the vaguest idea what it actually means. Now I know and I t This book contains essays written for New York Review of Books, with one exception. And it is excellent. A joy to read fluent prose of an obviously intelligent and well-read man. Often with this kind of book you get the feeling that the author is maybe a bit too smart. Not with this one. Best the essay on Eric Voegelin. I now want to read the man. Mission accomplished. I do not know how many time I came across "Gnosticism" and I had only the vaguest idea what it actually means. Now I know and I think it will stay. How I wish I would attend parties where I would in a discussion on Heidegger remark that he went to admire the Pre-Socratic thinkers because they were interested in the essence of being and not in how things are. "We live inauthentically because of Socrates." And how Leo Strauss defended Socrates. Very good also the piece on Houlebeque’s Submission. And the afterword, where you might learn more about the Muslim’s worldview in 5 short paragraphs than in all the newspaper columns of the last 20 years.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jorg

    A quick read, but absolutely fascinating. As Lilla notes, very little has been written on the history of reactionary thought--but it informs much of modern politics from cultural conservatism of the USA, the resurgent nationalism in Europe and political Islamism. All are referenced in this slim volume, which is actually sympathetic to some of the reactionary analysis but also clear in pointing out its faults: rejection of reality in favour of a mythical past, for one. An important theme of this A quick read, but absolutely fascinating. As Lilla notes, very little has been written on the history of reactionary thought--but it informs much of modern politics from cultural conservatism of the USA, the resurgent nationalism in Europe and political Islamism. All are referenced in this slim volume, which is actually sympathetic to some of the reactionary analysis but also clear in pointing out its faults: rejection of reality in favour of a mythical past, for one. An important theme of this collection of essays is pointing out exactly why such modes of thought are appealing in this uncertain age (but was any age ever certain?).

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bob Duke

    Well worth reading with Trump about to become President in three days time. It explains the hankering in many countries at many times for a golden age. For many people the present is an alien country and they wish to go back to a past even though the memory of that past may be a false one. Putin and Trump exploit this with their respective populations. La Pen in France does the same and I my own country of New Zealand we have a populist by the name of Winston Peters who exploits the same sentime Well worth reading with Trump about to become President in three days time. It explains the hankering in many countries at many times for a golden age. For many people the present is an alien country and they wish to go back to a past even though the memory of that past may be a false one. Putin and Trump exploit this with their respective populations. La Pen in France does the same and I my own country of New Zealand we have a populist by the name of Winston Peters who exploits the same sentiments.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sooy

    Debating whether to keep using Goodreads in 2017... picked this up because I loved his "post-identity liberalism" op-Ed, it was a bit academic for me but still fascinating to think about the currents of reactionary thinking and their often religious roots. Liberal western society was created out of a Christian tradition that it has now forsaken, and at some point the check will come due. Debating whether to keep using Goodreads in 2017... picked this up because I loved his "post-identity liberalism" op-Ed, it was a bit academic for me but still fascinating to think about the currents of reactionary thinking and their often religious roots. Liberal western society was created out of a Christian tradition that it has now forsaken, and at some point the check will come due.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Baughman

    Interesting little book. I found it to be suggestive, but not fully persuasive

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    It was common in the days immediately following the November 2016 presidential election in the United States to hear those on the political left talk as if the sky itself were about to collapse. The sense of apocalyptic doom that came with Donald Trump’s victory, at least in some parts of the country, is hard to overstate. Despite the dark clouds, however, there were at least some disappointed partisans who hewed to a less popular, if more palliative, line. We might call them glass-half-full pro It was common in the days immediately following the November 2016 presidential election in the United States to hear those on the political left talk as if the sky itself were about to collapse. The sense of apocalyptic doom that came with Donald Trump’s victory, at least in some parts of the country, is hard to overstate. Despite the dark clouds, however, there were at least some disappointed partisans who hewed to a less popular, if more palliative, line. We might call them glass-half-full progressives; in earlier times we would have known them as Whigs. The arc of history is long and broad, they said, and even despite ‘momentary setbacks’ the inevitable march toward a more progressive future will continue. It’s a line that Barack Obama had himself used just six months earlier when talking about civil rights to the newly minted graduates of Howard University, a historically black college in the nation’s capital. In his now famous essay Reactionary Rhetoric the economist Albert Hirschman less euphemistically characterizes these ‘momentary setbacks’ as “ideological counterthrusts.” He links the term to the rise of Newtonian physics; more specifically, to Newton’s third law of motion: for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. The force of this 17th century idea proved seductive and soon escaped the bounds of natural science and was employed metaphorically in the realm of politics. By the time of the French Revolution, a reactionary was widely understood as someone who counters politically progressive actions not with equal and opposite force, but with far more extreme actions of their own. Hirschman, in his philological speculations, conspicuously fails to address the slippage in the figurative language. But the gulf between ‘equal and opposite’ and ‘far more extreme’ is wide. This might seem a trivial matter of semantics, but to miss the point is to be seduced by a rhetorical label that obscures as much as it enlightens. An ‘equal and opposite force’, in so much as it conforms to nature, is legitimate. For the man of the left who fetishizes progress, it’s terribly inconvenient to think that a man of the right, also with an eye toward progress, might have very different ideas—legitimate ideas—about how to achieve a future superior to the present. A ‘far more extreme force’, by definition, drains its subject of legitimacy. The reactionary villain has more in common with the revolutionary hero than he does the progressive-minded citizen. The political reactionary, when linked in extremis to the political revolutionary, comes to seem more a creature of the left’s imaginative horror at its own revolutionary progeny than it does an actually existing figure. In other words, it’s a convenient way to project one’s own demons onto one’s political adversaries. If we sheer off the partisan wool dressed atop the actual reactionary, the figure that emerges is far less threatening. Progressives and reactionaries have more in common than they think. First and foremost both believe in the idea that the future can be better than the past. Reactionaries may look to the past, in a nostalgic turn, to adduce the keys to a better future, but their goals are still grounded in improvement. Contrast both the progressive and the reactionary to the true conservative, though, and a startling divide appears. I use the adjective ‘true’ because it would be easy to confuse the conservatism of the American right with a more historically grounded Burkean or Tory conservatism which shuns the notion that man can will into being an always more progressive future. Most American ‘conservatives’ are not actually conservative but rather are rightful reactionaries divided from progressives only in terms of the policies by which they would secure a better future. Trumpian policies, as many establishment Republicans have commented, are anything but conservative. Yet in their reactionary nature they are hardly illegitimate. Mark Lilla, in his short book of seven collected essays The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, pays lip service to the idea that there is a difference between conservatives and reactionaries, but never properly addresses that difference. His project is a partisan one. “Counterrevolutionary thinkers” like Franz Rosenzweig, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, Brad Gregory, Alain Badiou, Eric Zemmour, and Michel Houellebecq (all of whom Lilla writes about) “are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries.” To suppose that the counterrevolutionary figure, however, is a reactionary villain is to sympathize with the aims of the revolutionary hero. It’s an easy way to embrace the progressive ideas of the revolutionary figure without endorsing the destructive means the revolutionary uses to achieve that desired end. It also results in a false equivalency between men of action and men of thought. It’s ludicrous to place men like Joseph de Maistre, Oswald Spengler, and Etienne Gilson in the same rowboat as Mao, Lenin, and Kim Il-Sung. Lilla fails to consider how many millions, in the face of those dictatorships, prayed every day for true counterrevolutionaries. He no more effectively pins the tail of “human suffering and misery” onto a reactionary donkey than does Hirschman in his famous essay. If read not as an objective historian, but rather as a partisan rhetorician, Lilla’s work is not altogether unappealing. He’s good at turning big ideas into digestible nuggets of intellectual history. His brief gloss on the historiography of Saint Paul’s reception by Western thinkers in the essay From Mao to Saint Paul is lucid and informative. His summary of Rosenzweig’s sociological comparison of Jewish and Christian existence in the world is interesting enough to convince even a theological novice that works such as The Star of Redemption might contain enough valuable insights so as to make it worth the time and effort to read it. And in the chapter that is the most conventional when it comes to literary criticism, Paris, January 2015, his summary and treatment of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission dazzles. But far more often, his 10,000 foot view of history is so general as to be unconvincing. From Luther to Walmart is the worst offender, an essay that finishes with this nearly meaningless insight: “And once again, after five centuries, things settled down, and today there is a new moral-political orthodoxy we can call individualism [that] actually owes a great deal to Jesus, who was a libertarian avant la lettre prophesying the final triumph of the individual soul and its inner experience over the domination of traditional communal bonds and illegitimate religious authority.” Say what? History, in my opinion, attains its greatest degree of legitimacy when it trains its lens on the local and the temporally recent. Lilla’s essays do the opposite. They are trained on that same long and broad arc of history that ignite the souls of Whig historians the world over. In that sense there’s more mytho-poetic storytelling to be found in this book than there is useful historical insight. In short it’s a moderately interesting and intensely forgettable book. © Jeffrey L. Otto June 21, 2017

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    http://artsfuse.org/155725/book-revie... In his engaging and lucid new study The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, essayist Mark Lilla argues, “reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first thing to be understood about them. They are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries.” At first, this might seem counter-intuitive but Lilla argues convincingly that the reactionary mind, often overlooked by scholars, can be just as radical (and disturbing) as any revolutionary ideolog http://artsfuse.org/155725/book-revie... In his engaging and lucid new study The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, essayist Mark Lilla argues, “reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first thing to be understood about them. They are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries.” At first, this might seem counter-intuitive but Lilla argues convincingly that the reactionary mind, often overlooked by scholars, can be just as radical (and disturbing) as any revolutionary ideology. The reactionary mentality is “shipwrecked” because it sees itself marooned within the flow of history, “with the debris of paradise drifting past his eyes.” But a true reactionary, adrift within history’s currents, doesn’t merely hoist up the white flag. Lilla examines how this displacement causes the reactionary to be energized by its militant nostalgia and redouble their efforts to bend history towards their version of an idealized past when God was in his heaven and all was right with the world. The reactionary “feels himself in a stronger position than his adversary because he believes he is the guardian of what actually happened, not the prophet of what might be.” For Lilla, reactionary mentalities include the postwar European and American right wing, the anti-globalist far left, and perhaps most of all “radical political Islamists, whose story of the secular West’s decline into decadence, and the inevitable triumph of a vigorous, renewed religion, has European fingerprints all over it.” The point is insightful, in a general sense, but corralling these different ideologies under the catch- all term “reactionary” mistakenly blurs significant differences between these ways of thinking. The American right wing certainly harbors plenty of theocratic fantasies but Mike Pence’s idea of a godly nation isn’t the same as Al-Qaeda’s. Reactionary ideologies might have similar characteristics but these depend on whose fantasy of the past is being pursued. Lilla explores the diversity of reactionary ideas throughout the rest of the book, which makes this a hasty generalization. The Shipwrecked Mind contains vivid portraits of the lives and works of three relatively obscure philosophers, Franz Rosenzweig, Eric Vogelin, and Leo Strauss, whose various political and religious thinking all longed to return to an idealized version of the past but in very distinct ways. Lilla writes very accessibly about the intricacies of their lives and thought and explains their complicated rejections of the modern world in the name of returning to ancient, supposedly purer, modes of thinking. What’s especially relevant to recent history is the case of Leo Strauss, a University of Chicago academic who has remained influential since his post war heyday. The fact that some of the advocates for the Iraq War were students of his (including Paul Wolfowitz) is an interesting connection that Lilla downplays, arguing that the Bush-era vogue for finding Strauss’s influence on the neocons was less about understanding his essentially apolitical scholarship than looking for an evil genius lurking behind their foreign policy. But it also bears mentioning that Strauss’s elite followers, such as Allan Bloom, were quite horrified by the sixties and tended to see all the social upheaval as a prime example of nihilism and moral relativism triggering the immanent demise of Western civilization. They began to coalesce and forcefully argue that “however vulgar, right-wing populism and religious fundamentalism contribute to the nation’s recovering its basic sense of right and wrong.” We all know what it turned into- that sociopolitical psychodrama is still filling our TV screens and news updates every night. In one chapter amusingly titled “From Luther to Wal-Mart” Lilla gives an interesting account of how, in some right-wing philosophers’ eyes, western culture is still recovering from the individualistic shockwaves brought on by the Protestant Reformation. Instead of inspiring reform in church dogma, this independent rebellion “bequeathed to us not a coherent set of moral and theological doctrines but the corrosive pluralism that characterizes our age...leaving the rest of us to sink ever deeper into the confusing, unsatisfying, hyper-pluralistic, consumer-driven, dogmatically relativistic world of today.” This might be a useful place for the left to rebut the reactionary’s critique. Instead of scoffing at what one thinker calls “the Kingdom of Whatever” we ought to remind ourselves that living in “Whatever” isn’t as easy as it sounds. The chaos of the postmodern world has its drawbacks (take the 2016 election, for example) and, at times, one might wish to take refuge in the old certainties. But this is where the reactionary mind fatally misses the point- challenging the false assumptions of the past can provide an opportunity for embracing new political possibilities for human potential. Tolerance isn’t relativism; it’s an affirmation of its opposite. Atheism isn’t nihilism. There are principles one can and must defend without having to refer to an all-encompassing system in order to establish their supremacy. The reactionary mind falters when it mistakes historical isolation for ipso facto legitimacy and assumes that dissatisfaction is really proof of righteousness. Lilla pointedly compares the reactionaries of today to two of literature’s most delusional characters: Madame Bovary and Don Quixote. The idea that America, and by extension western culture, has lost its moral and spiritual marbles still retains its potency in some quarters. As certain American and global political trends have shown, it’s often easier (and more politically useful) to rally people with nostalgia rather than hope. Hope, after all, is a fickle thing; optimistic goals can be dashed, but the dream of returning once again to an idealized past lives on forever. Given how the feverish sloganeering about returning America to a hazy image of lost national greatness has gone farther than anyone expected, now would be a good time to learn to swim away from what the shipwrecked mind has left in its wake.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rhys

    "The revolutionary sees the radiant future invisible to others and it electrifies him. The reactionary, immune to modern lies, sees the past in all its splendor and he too is electrified." Some interesting vignettes on 'the reactionary.' I particularly liked the essay on Houellebecq's Submission, which I thought best informed the thesis - as the weariness of empty notions of progress. "Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable." "The revolutionary sees the radiant future invisible to others and it electrifies him. The reactionary, immune to modern lies, sees the past in all its splendor and he too is electrified." Some interesting vignettes on 'the reactionary.' I particularly liked the essay on Houellebecq's Submission, which I thought best informed the thesis - as the weariness of empty notions of progress. "Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve Bender

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Complicated analysis of what the term reactionary means followed by a couple of caxe studies of some reactionaries in 20th Century politics. Also includes two reprints of articles that Lilla wrote about the Charlie Hedbo attack i France. A little difficult to follow for the uninitiated.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    There may well be a time when political discourse in the US (and elsewhere) begins to devote more attention of ideas than has been the case recently, especially in the last US presidential election, where discussion of both ideas and programs was almost entirely absent for both candidates, moved out of place by name calling, threats, bluster, and bad faith. When that occurs, this new book by Mark Lilla will prove valuable. It is a discussion of political theory with a focus on reactionary though There may well be a time when political discourse in the US (and elsewhere) begins to devote more attention of ideas than has been the case recently, especially in the last US presidential election, where discussion of both ideas and programs was almost entirely absent for both candidates, moved out of place by name calling, threats, bluster, and bad faith. When that occurs, this new book by Mark Lilla will prove valuable. It is a discussion of political theory with a focus on reactionary thought - and reactionary thinkers. Lilla is not a reactionary and is likely not even that conservative (although I do not know that for sure). His point - and a keen intuition - is that reactionary thought is not the same as conservative thought. To oversimplify, conservatives would address major political/societal changes by seeking to halt or minimize the impact of those changes. Revolutionaries would respond by looking to the future and considering a new world different from the present one. Reactionaries would likewise recognize the effects of major political/societal change, but would look to build a new society in response, but one based on models taken from the past. Reactionaries are "revolutionary" but backward looking ones. Lilla's claim in the book is that reactionary thought has not received its due. Even if one is to vehemently disagree with it, it is necessary to understand reactionary positions as nontrivial exercises in political theory that require serious responses. To develop these ideas, Lilla begins with an introduction that discusses reactionary thought in terms of a "shipwrecked mind". He then provides three examples of thinkers who have contributed to reactionary thought: Frank Rosenzweig, Eric Voegelin, and Leo Strauss. These are wonderful mini intellectual portraits of thinkers that many readers may have heard of tangentially but perhaps not in much detail. He then provides two essays putting these ideas to work - one showing the intellectual linkages between Luther and Wal-Mart and another showing the subversive influences of St. Paul in recent political theory and even Mao. He adds a chapter on the growth of reactionary ideas in France, using the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris as focal events. The concluding essay of the book ties together his various arguments by a comparison of Don Quixote and Madame Bovary. Political theory can get dense and a concern for any volume is how accessible the arguments are. Lilla does an excellent job here in presenting his thoughts and the style and readability of the book is one of its major strengths. The book also makes some interesting arguments about personal identity and memory. It is very common for people to draw upon their past experiences to make sense out of their present situation and stresses. Key to this, however, is that when one looks back on the past a person is likely to conjure up a past that is different from the past that was actually experienced - a sort of nostalgia, combined with systematically focusing on some aspects while ignoring others. Applied to novels, this makes for good interior-focused narratives. Applied to politics, however, this can lead to reactionary political programs ending up being highly disruptive and revolutionary in their consequences, depending on how idealized and constructed the picture of the past is that operates in the reactionary program. This book is not for everyone. Even with Lilla's fine style and presentation, it will come across to many as dense and hard to follow. If you have an interest in political theory, however, this is a very good book to work through.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam S. Rust

    There are two books in this short 145 page collection of essays. The first book is the book in the Introduction and Afterword. The second book is the essays contained in between that are mostly tangentially, but not directly, related to what is promised in the first book. I wanted to read the first book, which starts with the promising and interesting insight that reactionary politics is militant nostalgia for some lost Golden Age. While the second book was good, it didn't deliver on what was pr There are two books in this short 145 page collection of essays. The first book is the book in the Introduction and Afterword. The second book is the essays contained in between that are mostly tangentially, but not directly, related to what is promised in the first book. I wanted to read the first book, which starts with the promising and interesting insight that reactionary politics is militant nostalgia for some lost Golden Age. While the second book was good, it didn't deliver on what was promised. The Introduction opens with the interesting observation that the underlying emotion of reactionary politics is nostalgia. Nostalgia, Lilla observes, is a far more powerful political motivator than hope, because it is tied to something that already happened. The constant onslaught of change in the modern world also continuously produces new moments that can provide a lost Eden for a new reactionary movement to latch onto. The forward looking revolutionary creeds can be disappointed by history, but the nostalgia infused reactionary creeds are far harder to break because they look back at what happened. Or as Lilla puts it succinctly, "Hope can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable." This all sounds very interesting, and very relevant as reactionary politics in the West seem ascendant. The problem is that the rest of the book only tangentially explores the themes laid out in the Introduction. Rather than focusing on militant nostalgia, Lilla focuses on the passive variety. Take for example, his three chosen exemplars of the reactionary turn: Franz Rosenzweig, Eric Vogelin, and Leo Strauss. He concludes his essay on the Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig by noting his "nostalgia turns the Jewish past into a transcendental ideal rather than a state to be recovered by moving back in time." He notes that intellectual historian Eric Vogelin, while beginning his career as a reactionary cultural critic "renounce[d] the bittersweet comforts of cultural pessimism and question[ed] the just-so narratives of civilizational decline" at the end of his career. Even Leo Strauss, teacher of numerous students who went on to join the highly reactionary neoconservative movement, is shown to be misunderstood by his students. In other words, all of them are tangential, but not direct, illustrations of the reactionary disposition that Lilla says he wants to describe in his introduction. The subsequent essays of literary criticism don't do much better in cashing out on the promise of the prologue. While they are interesting and entertaining (Lilla is a great writer with a killer polemical instinct), none of the essays really take on the central theme laid out in his Introduction directly. Even his essay on French cultural reactions to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack focuses on two French authors, Éric Zemmour and Michel Houellebecq, who don't really provide a program for revolting against the modern world. At the end we get another great essay in the Afterword talking about the central themes mentioned in the Introduction. Here, Lilla provides some interesting thoughts on radical Islamism, the general human temptation to try to divide time into discrete chunks with a narrative arc, and how this contributes to the aggressive nostalgia that undergirds the reactionary mind. All of this is fascinating and would make a great topic to explore in more detail. This book unfortunately spends most of its time dancing at the edges of these themes, rather than taking them on directly.

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