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Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea

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The idea of fanaticism as a deviant or extreme variant of an already irrational set of religious beliefs is today invoked by the West in order to demonize and psychologize any non-liberal politics. Alberto Toscano’s compelling and erudite counter-history explodes this accepted interpretation in exploring the critical role fanaticism played in forming modern politics and th The idea of fanaticism as a deviant or extreme variant of an already irrational set of religious beliefs is today invoked by the West in order to demonize and psychologize any non-liberal politics. Alberto Toscano’s compelling and erudite counter-history explodes this accepted interpretation in exploring the critical role fanaticism played in forming modern politics and the liberal state. Tracing its development from the traumatic Peasants’ War of early sixteenth-century Germany to contemporary Islamism, Toscano tears apart the sterile opposition of ‘reasonableness’ and fanaticism. Instead, in a radical new interpretation, he places the fanatic at the very heart of politics, arguing that historical and revolutionary transformations require a new understanding of his role. Showing how fanaticism results from the failure to formulate an adequate emancipatory politics, this illuminating history sheds new light on an idea that continues to dominate debates about faith and secularism.


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The idea of fanaticism as a deviant or extreme variant of an already irrational set of religious beliefs is today invoked by the West in order to demonize and psychologize any non-liberal politics. Alberto Toscano’s compelling and erudite counter-history explodes this accepted interpretation in exploring the critical role fanaticism played in forming modern politics and th The idea of fanaticism as a deviant or extreme variant of an already irrational set of religious beliefs is today invoked by the West in order to demonize and psychologize any non-liberal politics. Alberto Toscano’s compelling and erudite counter-history explodes this accepted interpretation in exploring the critical role fanaticism played in forming modern politics and the liberal state. Tracing its development from the traumatic Peasants’ War of early sixteenth-century Germany to contemporary Islamism, Toscano tears apart the sterile opposition of ‘reasonableness’ and fanaticism. Instead, in a radical new interpretation, he places the fanatic at the very heart of politics, arguing that historical and revolutionary transformations require a new understanding of his role. Showing how fanaticism results from the failure to formulate an adequate emancipatory politics, this illuminating history sheds new light on an idea that continues to dominate debates about faith and secularism.

30 review for Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Galluzzo

    Although as of this writing I am about half-way through Alberto Toscano's book, I'm impressed with what I've read. Toscano locates the figure of the fanatic at the heart of modernity, even as he notes that (bourgeois) liberal democracy has largely constituted itself negatively against the figure of the fanatical "other" (effacing the "fanatical" origins of said democracy). This other, according to Toscano, occupies two, ostensibly antithetical, positions within the liberal imaginary: the atavist Although as of this writing I am about half-way through Alberto Toscano's book, I'm impressed with what I've read. Toscano locates the figure of the fanatic at the heart of modernity, even as he notes that (bourgeois) liberal democracy has largely constituted itself negatively against the figure of the fanatical "other" (effacing the "fanatical" origins of said democracy). This other, according to Toscano, occupies two, ostensibly antithetical, positions within the liberal imaginary: the atavistic and decidedly irrational religious millenarian, of which we've, uh, heard so much lately, and the bloodthirsty ultra-rationalist, who willingly sacrifices all customary and affective relationships to abstract principles. The first form of fanaticism finds its template in Thomas Muntzer and his Anabaptists, while the second neatly corresponds to Edmund Burke's account of the French revolutionaries and, more recently, the Bolsheviks, at least according to the decidedly Burkean "antitotalitarians" who dominated twentieth-century liberal discourse. And yet, as Toscano shows, these two seemingly opposed modes of fanaticism are often made one in liberal representations; the rationalist radical, for example,whether Jacobin or Marxist, reconstitutes religion in secular terms, as if this is an indictment in itself. Toscano suggests that we view the fanatic, in both his religious and secular iterations, as the product of a blockage vis-a-via utopian energies--hopefully he'll more fully elaborate on this notion in the second half of the monograph. The writer takes aim at all the right targets: antitotalitarianism, the new atheism, and the ideology that dare not speak its name, namely bourgeois liberalism. Toscano builds on the theoretical rejuvenation of radical thought effected by Zizek and Badiou, which he combines with meticulous intellectual history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stas

    For political science heavy on philosophy nerds. Not terribly novel, but a good resume and update of the tired old chestnut: is fanaticism an excess or an insufficiency of reason? Chapter on Kant had me faltering - I simply lack a frame of reference. But his engagement with Hannah Arendt and Cohn's Pursuit of Millenium is interesting. ( His defense of Muntzer contra Cohn is particularly convincing). Chapter on Marx and religion manages to add something to the old insight that opium is medicine, For political science heavy on philosophy nerds. Not terribly novel, but a good resume and update of the tired old chestnut: is fanaticism an excess or an insufficiency of reason? Chapter on Kant had me faltering - I simply lack a frame of reference. But his engagement with Hannah Arendt and Cohn's Pursuit of Millenium is interesting. ( His defense of Muntzer contra Cohn is particularly convincing). Chapter on Marx and religion manages to add something to the old insight that opium is medicine, salvific, not necessarily a pure befuddlement and distraction. Appropriately for a psychoanalytically inflected critique of a peculiarly European (?) dilemma about the place of passion in politics, and in spite of the nods to the Subaltern studies work on Indain peasant uprisings and cargo cults, it ends with (a spoiler alert) a plea for moderation. All in all, a fine critique of liberal illusions. A great bibliography. Manifests a certain Negritude of Antonio variety. Partial to, though at times suspicious of Badiou. Clear political demarcation away from Agamben.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    Useful ideas; very difficult to read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    In a time where you, the smart reader who would actually be able to make heads or tails of Toscano's dense academic prose, are not supposed to believe in anything too much, and more than disdain those who do, Fanaticism is a shockingly brave. It's not an easy read, but it is worth the effort. In a time where you, the smart reader who would actually be able to make heads or tails of Toscano's dense academic prose, are not supposed to believe in anything too much, and more than disdain those who do, Fanaticism is a shockingly brave. It's not an easy read, but it is worth the effort.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Miklós

  6. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Goulden

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hannes

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jan

  9. 5 out of 5

    Inna

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ricci

  11. 4 out of 5

    peter evans

  12. 4 out of 5

    Russ

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Schor

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eutocius

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom Blackburn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Soo-Ming

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zehra

  18. 5 out of 5

    Göker Makaskıran

  19. 5 out of 5

    William Hebblewhite

  20. 4 out of 5

    Francesco Tenaglia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ignasi

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jack Heslehurst

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kenan Aydın

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nightocelot

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christiaan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linartas

  29. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Le Fay

  30. 5 out of 5

    Muge

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