Few twentieth-century thinkers have proven as influential as Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish philosopher and cultural and literary critic. Richard Wolin's book remains among the clearest and most insightful introductions to Benjamin's writings, offering a philosophically rich exposition of his complex relationship to Adorno, Brecht, Jewish Messianism, and Western Marxism. Wolin provides nuanced interpretations of Benjamin's widely studied writings on Baudelaire, historiography, and art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In a new Introduction written especially for this edition, Wolin discusses the (...) unfinished _Arcades Project_, as well as recent tendencies in the reception of Benjamin's work and the relevance of his ideas to contemporary debates about modernity and postmodernity. (shrink)
This anthology is a significant contribution to the debate over the relevance of Martin Heidegger's Nazi ties to the interpretation and evaluation of his philosophical work. Included are a selection of basic documents by Heidegger, essays and letters by Heidegger's colleagues that offer contemporary context and testimony, and interpretive evaluations by Heidegger's heirs and critics in France and Germany.In his new introduction, "Note on a Missing Text," Richard Wolin uses the absence from this edition of an interview with Jacques Derrida (...) as a springboard for examining questions about the nature of authorship and personal responsibility that are at the heart of the book.Richard Wolin is Professor of Modern European Intellectual History and Humanities at Rice University. He is the author of Walter Benjamin, The Politics of Being: The Political Thought of Martin Heidegger, and The Terms of Cultural Criticism: The Frankfurt School, Existentialism and Poststructuralism. (shrink)
Fifteen years ago, revelations about the political misdeeds of Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man sent shock waves throughout European and North American intellectual circles. Ever since, postmodernism has been haunted by the specter of a compromised past. In this intellectual genealogy of the postmodern spirit, Richard Wolin shows that postmodernism's infatuation with fascism has been widespread and not incidental. He calls into question postmodernism's claim to have inherited the mantle of the left--and suggests that postmodern thought has long been (...) smitten with the opposite end of the political spectrum. In probing chapters on C. G. Jung, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Georges Bataille, and Maurice Blanchot, Wolin discovers an unsettling commonality: during the 1930s, these thinkers leaned to the right and were tainted by a proverbial "fascination with fascism." Frustrated by democracy's shortcomings, they were seduced by fascism's grandiose promises of political regeneration. The dictatorships in Italy and Germany promised redemption from the uncertainties of political liberalism. But, from the beginning, there could be no doubting their brutal methods of racism, violence, and imperial conquest. Postmodernism's origins among the profascist literati of the 1930s reveal a dark political patrimony. The unspoken affinities between Counter-Enlightenment and postmodernism constitute the guiding thread of Wolin's suggestive narrative. In their mutual hostility toward reason and democracy, postmodernists and the advocates of Counter-Enlightenment betray a telltale strategic alliance--they cohabit the fraught terrain where far left and far right intersect. Those who take Wolin's conclusions to heart will never view the history of modern thought in quite the same way. (shrink)
In the explosion of recent books on Heidegger, Karl Löwith’s work, now available in an excellent English edition, distinguishes itself by careful historical scholarship and insightful immanent critique. Along with Hannah Arendt, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse, Löwith was one of Heidegger’s first students; all were later forced into exile by the National Socialist movement their teacher publicly supported for a time. Löwith’s work on the philosophy of history and the nineteenth century is already well known in English; now we (...) can appreciate his evaluation of Heidegger. Invoking Nietzsche’s dictum, “One repays a teacher poorly if one always remains only a pupil”, Löwith here achieves a balanced critique of Heidegger’s thought and its political implications. He avoids both defensive apologies and ad hominem attacks: “Between the two extremes of fascination and repulsion, we are attempting to pursue a critical middle path”. As Richard Wolin explains in the introduction, “Throughout Löwith’s narrative it is not Heidegger’s greatness as a thinker that is in dispute, but the uses to which that greatness allowed itself to be put”. (shrink)
Despite their differences in origin, the three influential schools of twentieth-century continental cultural criticism--the Frankfurt School, existentialism, and poststructuralism--have long been treated as an ensemble and with critical hesitancy. Examining these schools as responses to the apparent collapse of Western civilization in the twentieth-century and as formidable intellectual challenges to the cultural legacies of the Enlightenment, this book provides a productive base for criticism and broadens our understanding of their histories and reception.
Carl Schmitt's polemical discussion of political Romanticism conceals the aestheticizing oscillations of his own political thought. In this respect, too, a kinship of spirit with the fascist intelligentsia reveals itself. Jürgen Habermas, “The Horrors of Autonomy: Carl Schmitt in English”The pinnacle of great politics is the moment in which the enemy comes into view in concrete clarity as the enemy.Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1927).
It is well known that in his “Author's Introduction” (1920) to the “Collected Essays on the Sociology of World Religions” Max Weber grapples with the problem of the cultural specificity of the West. He phrases his inquiry in the following way: Why is it “that in Western civilization, and in Western civilization only, cultural phenomena have appeared which (as we like to think) lie in a line of development having universal significance and value”? He continues to cite a wealth of (...) cultural phenomena — systematic theology, the rational concept, standardized methods of scientific experimentation, rational harmonious music, extensive utilization of perspective in painting, bureaucratic conduct of the organizational sphere, and the systematic rational pursuit of economic affairs — that are unique to the West and illustrative of its self-avowed universality. (shrink)
_What does it mean when a radical understanding of National Socialism is inextricably embedded in the work of the twentieth century’s most important philosopher?_ Martin Heidegger’s sympathies for the conservative revolution and National Socialism have long been well known. As the rector of the University of Freiburg in the early 1930s, he worked hard to reshape the university in accordance with National Socialist policies. He also engaged in an all-out struggle to become the movement’s philosophical preceptor, “to lead the leader.” (...) Yet for years, Heidegger’s defenders have tried to separate his political beliefs from his philosophical doctrines. They argued, in effect, that he was good at philosophy but bad at politics. But with the 2014 publication of Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks,” it has become clear that he embraced a far more radical vision of the conservative revolution than previously suspected. His dissatisfaction with National Socialism, it turns out, was mainly that it did not go far enough. The notebooks show that far from being separated from Nazism, Heidegger’s philosophy was suffused with it. In this book, Richard Wolin explores what the notebooks mean for our understanding of arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, and of his ideas—and why his legacy remains radically compromised. (shrink)
In zijn Doktor Faustus lijkt Thomas Mann te willen zeggen dat culturele fijnzinnigheid weinig waarborgen biedt tegen zedelijk verval. Wolin onderschrijft deze stelling van Mann. Bij esthetische waardering oordelen we strikt volgens formele criteria - de innerlijke geslaagdheid van een esthetisch object - ongeacht de doelen, zelfs de morele doelen. Moderne democratie heeft het nodig dat de individuen een mondig ethisch oordeelsvermogen ontwikkelen. Een hoogontwikkeld cultureel leven biedt slechts een beperkte bijdrage aan het welslagen van moderne democratie. Bespreking van het (...) aristocratische liberalisme van Tocqueville en anderen. 'Een van de slachtoffers van de moderne kunst - en meer nog van de postmoderne kunst - is het idee geweest dat de kunst iets zou moeten zijn dat "adelt" of "verheft".' In de wereld van onze tijd, waarin het kwaad nog lang niet ten grave is gedragen, lijkt hoog-cultureel elitisme een onvoorstelbare luxe. Maar wat is de zin van de kunst als zij prozaïsch wil zijn? (shrink)
Written by a former student of Heidegger, this book examines the relationship between the philosophy and the politics of a celebrated teacher and the allure that Nazism held out for scholars committed to revolutionary nihilism.
Het fascisme is uitgeroeid: wat rest zijn nog slechts schimmen. Maar de opkomst van extreem-rechtse partijen, die weliswaar doorgaans klein blijven, maar die niettemin van grote invloed zijn op de politieke agenda van de grotere partijen, duidt erop dat het gevaar voor de democratie nog niet is geweken. Ditmaal komt het niet van buitenaf, maar van binnenuit: wij leven in een tijd van zacht totalitarisme, van verslapping van moraal en wil, van passiviteit.
The words of the keynote speaker at the “After the Avant-Garde” Conference (University of Houston, March 6-9, 1985) were destined to fall on deaf ears. Here was the 55-year-old Hans Magnus Enzensberger—poet, essayist, editor of Kursbuch —who 15 years earlier had argued for a left-wing “takeover” of the media for revolutionary ends. Yet this night he had a more Socratic wisdom to convey: an innate distrust of the concept of the avant-garde, a notion that suggests the obligation of a self-styled (...) political or artistic elite to become standard-bearers for the rest of humanity — presumably, the unenlightened “masses” — who will in due time follow suit. Enzensberger subjected the sheer presumption of this conception to unsparing critical scrutiny. (shrink)
Anthologies are often inherently problematical entities. They commonly suffer from two debilitating deficiencies: unevenness in the quality of the contributions and the lack of a common theoretical framework. As far as the latter difficulty is concerned, rarely will perspectival diversity sufficiently compenstate for the concomitant dearth of any conceptual harmony. The result is often — sadly — a discrete congeries of individual essays, some meaningful, others less so, without a unifying raison d'etre. All of which usually justifies the habitual practice (...) of skipping about, randomly choosing this or that more or less interesting piece, ignoring the bulk. In an era in which “information” mindlessly proliferates. (shrink)
Martin Jay is well aware of the pitfalls involved in contributing a volume on Adorno to the “Modern Masters” series. “Adorno, let it be admitted at the outset, would have been appalled at a book of this kind devoted to him,” is the sentence with which the book begins. Indeed, for Adorno, who strove concertedly to resist easy consumption in the bourgeois marketplace of ideas, such canonization would have been simply anathema. At the outset of his portrait Jay offers several (...) reasons why, despite the misgivings that could be anticipated from his subject, an accessible, summarizing account of a philosophical approach notorious for its hermeticism would still be warranted. The first reason pertains to the (by now hackneyed) hiatus between authorial intention and reception of a work. (shrink)
It has been almost half a century since Horkheimer and Adorno formulated their analysis of mass culture in the “Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment. This special issue on “Debates in Contemporary Culture” is an attempt to evaluate the relevance of this legacy in the mid-eighties. It has become part of the left conventional wisdom that the critical theory analysis of late capitalism, focusing on concepts such as the “totally administered world” (Adorno) or “one-dimensional society” (...) (Marcuse), was overly resigned and it remained unable to identify inchoate oppositional tendencies within the ‘iron cage’ of capitalist totalization. (shrink)
The appearance of an English translation of Gershom Scholem's 1975 memoir of his lifelong friendship with Walter Benjamin cannot help but raise (or, re-raise) a variety of questions, both biographical and substantive, concerning Benjamin's celebrated oscillation between theological and materialist interests. Scholem's portrait of Benjamin is undoubtedly the most intimate testimony available concerning Benjamin's early development — his early affiliations with the German Youth Movement, his virulent antiwar sentiment, his fascination for anti-positivistic, speculative modes of thought, and his taciturn and (...) often unpredictable character. The reliability of Scholem's account is buttressed by a diary he kept during these years and a vast number of letters from Benjamin to him. (shrink)
With the end of the Cold War the world approached the prospect of realizing what one might call the ‘Kantian moment’ in international relations. Auspiciously, 1995 marked both the 50th anniversary of the establishment of UN Charter, in which human rights guarantees prominently figured, as well as the 200th anniversary of Kant’s celebrated text on ‘Perpetual Peace.’ During the era of the EastWest political stalemate, the idea of effective world governance remained a chimera, as both political camps willfully exploited international (...) governmental organizations (IGOs), such as the UN and UNESCO, for the self-serving ends of Realpolitik. Human rights claims were brazenly politicized. The Soviets lambasted American racism and the inadequacy of social rights. The USA and its allies, conversely, pilloried their opponent’s failure to minimally respect basic, first-generation civil and political liberties. (Published: 26 May 2010) Citation: Ethics & Global Politics, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2010, pp. 143-153. DOI: 10.3402/egp.v3i2.5213. (shrink)
In his “The Politics of Redemption” Whitebook cites Feher in support of his suspicions concerning the redemptive paradigm: “Redemption of this world, not improvement, was the overt or covert, positive or negative focal point, the historical-philosophical central thesis on which all relevant theories of the left were based on in the pre-World War I era and the period between the wars. Three distinct experiences forced an eschatological radicalism of this kind in [Benjamin] and in others who belonged to the same (...) generation. The first was the ultimate disillusionment in the age and in ‘progress.’ The second was World War I and the new century born out of the promise of its carnage. (shrink)
The term “intellectual” is a French coinage that dates to the years preceding the Dreyfus affair. Nevertheless, the concept has a distinguished pedigree that can be traced back to Voltaire's heroic interventions under the ancien régime —most notably, the Calas affair—as well as Victor Hugo's vehement protests against Louis Bonaparte's petty caesarism. The first intellectuals were, as a rule, littérateurs . They were interlopers who relied on the renown they had accrued in their field of expertise to hazard moral pronouncements (...) about actualités or current events. By virtue of their literary or scientific prestige—or, to use a contemporary locution, their “cultural capital”—they hoped to shame the political authorities into rectifying a gross miscarriage of justice. As Jean-Paul Sartre once put it, intellectuals are “ those who involve themselves in matters that are none of their business .”. (shrink)