Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Book Review: 'The seduction of reason: The intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to postmodernism'

By Greg Barns - posted Wednesday, 13 October 2004

"The basic terms of Jungian psychology - anima, persona, archetype and collective unconscious - may well boil down to so much verbal hocus pocus and intellectual chicanery. Little matter. For true believers, they do the trick. They claim to put the individual in touch with mysterious powers that transcend his or her own atomised and spiritually impoverished existence," says Wolin in one of many withering passages on the "great man".

The flip side of Jung - his anti-Semitism and "Aryan psychoanalysis" is conveniently overlooked by his followers. Wolin acknowledges Jung's later antipathy to the Nazi's but says that this came “too late”. It is a fact that Jung accepted the presidency of the Nazi sponsored General Medical Society for Psychotherapy and in a 1939 interview described Hitler as a "medicine man, a form of spiritual vessel, a demi-deity or, even better a myth".

If the Germanic anti-Enlightenment intellectual tradition is "proto-fascist", their French comrades regard themselves as the "philosophical heirs of May '68," according to Wolin. No wonder that in an essentially derivative intellectual culture like Australia, it is the French tradition that has been so influential in universities and the media. And now those "heirs of '68" have spawned a new generation of anti-Enlightenment advocates through the rise of the green left movement in Australia.


Wolin has some discomforting news for leftists of the French anti-Enlightenment tradition - they share much in common with the German "right". Georges Bataille (1897-1962), for example, shared with German conservatives of the 1930s, an aversion to Reason. "It is time to abandon the world of the civilized and its light", noted Bataille.

Bataille, Wolin notes, was an enemy of parliamentary democracy. "It aims at co-optation and the elimination of difference," the former wrote. The alternative, fascism, offers "a new political aesthetic" of charisma, violence and martial glory. Fascism for Bataille, "promises a measure of collective solidarity in a society otherwise suffused with fragmentation and anomie".

Bataille's confrere, Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) is fairly skewered by Wolin. A hero to "household" names like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, Blanchot was at the height of his powers during the 1930s. A period of chronic duplicity and weakness in the French body politic - something understandably despised by both Blanchot and Bataille.

But Blanchot took full advantage of the faltering democracy around him to advocate terrorism, anti-Semitism and to support the Nazi puppet regime of Petain. And of course, to provide the intellectual platform for Jacques Derrida.

It is Derrida and deconstructionism's relations with contemporary politics that especially fascinates Wolin. He is seemingly bored by traversing the familiar ground of Derrida's oft cited maxim, "There is nothing outside the text." Citing Foucault and the recently departed Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, Wolin notes that "Derrida is the master ventriloquist who in sovereign fashion determines which textual meanings become unrevealed and how".

But in the political realm, Derrida becomes more intriguing and disturbing. Wolin couples Derrida's view that law and justice never coincide ("general maxims - be they moral, constitutional, or legal - are intrinsically incapable of doing justice to the specificity of the individual case") with his preparedness to sanction "a violent act of revolutionary founding" because it creates a pristine abyss.


Derrida's rejection of the modern natural law tradition, which Wolin notes is the firmament on which our democracy is based, is particularly dangerous in these troubled times. Derrida leaves us with a "political existentialism in which, given the 'groundless' nature of moral and political choices, one political 'decision' seems as good as another".

Wolin's critique of the post-modernist tradition has a practical relevance in a world dominated by one superpower - the USA. In a searching section of the book's conclusion, Wolin teases out the antipathy of post-modernists to America. A hostility, he argues, that proceeds from not only the German "right" represented by Nietzsche and Heidegger, but by Derrida and Foucault. They all, "aimed their sights unremittingly at 'reason', 'humanism' 'modernity'". America, for better and for worse manifests these objects. America, founded on principles that opposed monarchy and superstition, is the child of the Enlightenment.

This unrelenting intellectual assault on America was evident in the post-modernist reaction to 9/11. Popular French critic and writer Jean Baudrillard commented that the entire world wanted the event to happen! “In essence it was [the terrorists] who committed the deed, but it is we who wished for it.”

Wolin accuses the post-modernists of being “inconsistent and confused.” On the one hand, he notes, they “bask in the freedoms of political liberalism - to whose institutions they are indebted for their brilliant academic careers - while biting the hand that feeds them”.

It is in celebrating the difference and heterogeneity, and in undermining universality, that post-modernists risk fuelling the current threats to democracy - ethnic and religious tribalism.

As the celebrated American philosopher Richard Rorty argued in a review of Seduction of Reason, published in Nation on June 14 this year, “Philosophers get attention only when they appear to be doing something sinister”. Wolin has exposed the postmodernists in an unprecedented fashion.

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. Page 2
  4. All

Published in The Australian on October 13, 2004.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Greg Barns
Related Links
Unprincipled voices: Derrida a dedicated supporter of the democratic process.
Photo of Greg Barns
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy