9780940322769 / 0940322765

The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics


Publisher:New York Review of Books, 2001



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About the book:

The Reckless Mind is a study of how a number of important twentieth-century European intellectuals came to support tyrannical regimes and totalitarian political ideas. It is important both as a historical examination of the political failures of intellectuals and as a warning that they must not allow the passions of political engagement to overwhelm their responsibilities to sceptical philosophical inquiry. Lilla traces the intellectual and political trajectories of several of the most important European thinkers of the past century. Included are profiles of Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Alexandre Kojeve, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. These profiles demonstrate how the convulsions of the twentieth century overwhelmed the inadequate political sensibilities of thinkers who lost faith in liberal democracy, and who believed the promises of Marxism and fascism to create a better society while closing their eyes to the brutal nature of those systems. Along with a concluding essay entitled "The Lure of Syracuse," these case studies show how the classical problem of the relation between philosophy and politics--a problem that found its most profound exploration in Plato's writings on tyranny--was, in the twentieth century, translated into a new problem: that of intellectual responsibility in an age of barbarism and totalitarianism. Lilla suggests that even though the threat of totalitarianism seems to have receded in our time, the dismaying political engagements of those he profiles illustrate the ongoing challenge of its possible allure: the need for intellectuals to think responsibly, critically, dispassionately, and sceptically about politics.

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