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Black Mass by John Gray

Black Mass (2007)

by John Gray

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Gray is a masterful debunker of all utopian projects for world transformation--of both the left and right varieties. In addition to demonstrating the debt owed by modern movements as varied as Communism, neo-liberalism, and Nazism to millenarian ideas present in "Western" society since the birth of Christianity and particularly prevalent since the middle ages, Gray also argues that there is an "illiberal" core of the Enlightenment, and that the periodic violence and repression that attends putatively enlightened movements and projects is thus not accidental but necessary. The main mistake made by all utopian projects, according to Gray, is that they believe the ends/needs of humans are harmonizable, not in fundamental conflict, and can thus be achieved by the one, same system everywhere (or almost everywhere). Gray takes this to be clearly an absurdity, linked not to any rational conclusion but to humanity's need for myth.

The book is well-argued, though it becomes one-sided at certain points due to an overly polemical orientation. Another minor criticism is that the chapter on the American wars of the 2000s and the misinformation strategies feels a bit out of place in the book.

In any case, I find much of what Gray writes to be convincing, in spite of my wish at certain points to disbelieve him. Nevertheless, Gray's underlying skepticism of our capacity to A) change things for the better, and B) live at least MORE if not TOTALLY satisfying societies is, I think, ultimately over-stated. Given that these are the main undercurrents of the book, I suppose that I take what Gray writes to heart, but am not totally persuaded. ( )
2 vote lukeasrodgers | Mar 29, 2010 |
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THE SENATOR: This is an abyss into which it is better not to look.
THE COUNT: My friend, we are not free to look.
Joseph de Maistre, St Petersburg Dialogues

Black Mass, df. A sacrilegious ritual in which the Christian Mass is performed backwards.
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Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374531528, Paperback)

For the decade that followed the end of the cold war, the world was lulled into a sense that a consumerist, globalized, peaceful future beckoned. The beginning of the twenty-first century has rudely disposed of such ideas--most obviously through 9/11and its aftermath. But just as damaging has been the rise in the West of a belief that a single model of political behavior will become a worldwide norm and that, if necessary, it will be enforced at gunpoint.
In Black Mass, celebrated philosopher and critic John Gray explains how utopian ideals have taken on a dangerous significance in the hands of right-wing conservatives and religious zealots. He charts the history of utopianism, from the Reformation through the French Revolution and into the present. And most  urgently, he describes how utopian politics have moved from the extremes of the political spectrum into mainstream politics, dominating the administrations of both George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and indeed coming to define the political center. Far from having shaken off discredited ideology, Gray suggests, we are more than ever in its clutches. Black Mass is a truly frightening and challenging work by one of Britain's leading political thinkers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:45 -0400)

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Utopian ideologies of the last century rejected traditional faiths and claimed to be based in science. They were actually secular versions of the myth of Apocalypse - the belief in a world-changing event that brings history, with all its condlicts, to an end. This text argues that the death of Utopia does not mean peace.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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