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The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics [Paperback]

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Pages   216
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 2003
Publisher   New York Review Books
ISBN  1590170717  
EAN  9781590170717  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
European history of the past century is full of examples of philosophers, writers, and jurists who, whether they lived in democratic, communist, or fascist societies, supported and defended totalitarian principles and horrific regimes. But how can intellectuals, who should be alert to the evils of tyranny, betray the ideals of freedom and independent inquiry? How can they take positions that, implicitly or not, endorse oppression and human suffering on a vast scale?
In profiles of Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Alexandre Kojeve, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, Mark Lilla demonstrates how these thinkers were so deluded by the ideologies and convulsions of their times that they closed their eyes to authoritarianism, brutality, and state terror. He shows how intellectuals who fail to master their passions can be driven into a political sphere they scarcely understand, with momentous results for our intellectual and political lives.

Buy The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics by Mark Lilla, Martin McQuillan, Faith Ringgold, Lyle Rexer, Paul Done, Marty Matlock & Sylvia Yount from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9781590170717 & 1590170717

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More About Mark Lilla, Martin McQuillan, Faith Ringgold, Lyle Rexer, Paul Done, Marty Matlock & Sylvia Yount

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Mark Lilla was born in Detroit in 1956. He is Professor of Humanities at Columbia University and a regular essayist for The New York Review of Books and other publications worldwide. His books include The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West (2007), The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (2001), and G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern (1994), as well as The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin (2001) with Ronald Dworkin and Robert B. Silvers. He was the 2015 Overseas Press Club of America winner of the Best Commentary on international News in Any Medium for "On France."

Mark Lilla currently resides in the state of Massachusetts.

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Early Civilization   [417  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
don't get confused by Arendt's love of Heidegger  Feb 23, 2007
Arendt should certainly not be classed in with intellectuals enamored to fanatical, homicidal philosophies but an ardent, perceptive and acute critic of those philosophies. Arendt's attitude towards Heidegger can't be confused with support for actual tyranny. She may have found appealing aspects of Heidegger's philosophy that may have in turn justified tyranny and may have been blind to Heidegger's weaknesses, but she never slipped into rationalizing or justifying tyranny at all- either in her own time or in the past. Instead, Hannah Arendt was a voice of intellectual integrity and moral clarity. The same cannot be said for the intellectuals profiled in this book, which kicks derriere.
Deep Thinkers in Trouble: Lilla's Lightweight Account  Aug 10, 2002
Lilla's account of various philosophers and their disastrous forays into the world of politics is interesting but rather unfocused and often superficial. I enjoyed his opening chapter of the relationships between Jaspers, Heidegger, and Arendt. I gained some insight into how an intelligent Jewish woman like Arendt could have fallen in love with Nazi apologist Heidegger. I remain somewhat baffled by Heidegger's love affair with Nazism except that his philosophical speculations were so abstract that they seem to have become attenuated from a realistic asssessment of politics in the real world. The next chapter on Nazi supporter Carl Schmitt was also interesting. His theologically inspired but militantly unsentimental critique of liberalism as an unrealistic vision in a harsh Hobbesian world of power politics has since gained the attention of leftist thinkers. (Schmitt first came to my attention in the early 1980s when his name began to be frequently mentioned in Telos, a leftist periodical that was in transition to a more conservative political outlook.) Lilla's chapter on Walter Benjamin fails to capture the complexity and originality of his thought. Chapter 4 concerns Alexandre Kojeve, the least well known of the theorists featured in Lilla's book, an apologist for Stalin who reintroduced Hegel into philosophical and political discussion. Lilla does not succeed in informing us of any new ideas that Kojeve contributed yet tells us that many more prominent thinkers made extravagant claims about his absolutely extraordinary importance and influence. Lilla's chapter on the notoriously irresponsible and popular Michel Foucault is a bit more informative and interesting but again somewhat superficial, especially compared to the excellent biography of Foucault by James Miller. The chapter on Derrida gives us some idea of the unreliability of deconstructionism as a tool of analysis. Its American appeal is explained by the fact that both democracy and deconstruction have the tendency to decenter reality. Lilla does succeed in showing us that Derrida's utopian wishful thinking relies on dark and irrational notions that ultimately are incompatible with a just and democratic society. The last chapter is strange--it is meant to be a summing up of the previous chapters through a discussion of the insights of Plato and a warning about the temptations of Dionysian totalitarianism. It seems to me that totalitarianism can also be Appollonian to use Nietzsche's terminology. Despite some interesting observations and comparisons, this final chapter is generally too abstract and mundane to offer much insight into contemporary philosophy's problematic relationship with politics.
I would recommend the following books on the same subject as a better investment of time: Three Intellectuals in Politics--James Joll; The Betrayal of The Intellectuals-Julien Benda (one of the earliest modern discussions of the problem--but overly conservative in that it seems to disapprove of the relationship of politics and philosophy altogether.); The Burden of Responsibility-Tony Judt, a scathing account of French intellectual subservience to Soviet Communism that makes Lilla's book seem very bland in comparison. Recent books by Russell Jacoby and Todd Gitlin (whose titles I have forgotten) offer a corrective view to Benda in which they bemoan the decline of public intellectuals and reassert the need for their ethical and progressive involvement in politics.
Engaging biographies of 20th Century European Intellectuals  May 14, 2002
Mark Lilla's book aims to be both a collection of biographical sketches of influential European intellectuals of the 20th Century and a study of the disastrous attraction political power can have on on the minds of philosophers. In six chapters, each running 30-40 pages, Lilla casts the lives of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Alexandre Kojeve, Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmitt, and Martin Heidegger. Each of these thinkers, according to Lilla, at some point in their intellectual life, went astray turning from the well lit path of reason and taking up the route of "philotyranny".

Lilla's book succeeds most in giving us concise, well researched, and engagingly told stories of the thinking lives of these European intellectuals. His gift for biographical narrative rivals the best profiles of the New Yorker. But Lilla succeeds less well at demonstrating the habits of thought that attract certain intellectuals to politics or making the case for the necessarily disastrous consequences of mixing political power with philosophical thinking. Nevertheless, perhaps precisely because these biographical narratives are told with Lilla's one-sided but engaging tale of "recklessness", his book serves as a good introduction to readers familiar with the names of these revered European intellectuals who have been put off by the often ponderous (and prodigious) prose describing their work.

Lastly, haunting this text, but unfortunately never stepping forward as subject, is the ghost of Leo Strauss. He makes appearances in almost every chapter, as commentator or interlocutor, but the reader never benefits from Lilla's "open" and "clear" descriptive style in order to learn of this other important European emigre whose life and work parallels so many of Lilla's subjects. For an American writer ensconced at the University of Chicago, to avoid an exoteric treatment of the tutor of so many American public intellectuals (from Allan Bloom, Harry Jaffa, Joseph Cropsey, to Clarence Thomas, William Bennett and Irving Kristol) seems to deprive us of a fuller account of the attraction of intellectuals to public life. ~ J. D. Petersen

Straussians run amock...  Apr 12, 2002
Simply, this is one of the most disingenuous books I've read in the last couple of years. Not only is Lilla often wrong in his interpretations-- only his reading of Derrida strikes me as plausible -- but the central argument of the book is utterly disingenuous. As a good Straussian, Lilla unreflectively, and anachronistically, rehearses the ancient category of Tyranny without paying any attention to the work done on the nature and scope of totalitarianism in the twentieth century. And let's not dwell on the organization of the chapters -- the chapter on Strauss is, of course, in the middle. Thus following the obtuse numerology often found in the Straussian sect, as well as the one-sided interpretation of Kojeve.

That a simplistic argument such as Lilla's, one done with blatant smugness, has received raving reviews, and has been published by the NYRB, are signs that the world of letters has indeed -- to borrow an apt phrase from Godfrey Hodgson --"turned right side up."

Can you say "Plato"?  Jan 22, 2002
Ok, Ok. This is a good book. First, some of the dirty facts: If you believe in objective truth, you'll like this. If you don't believe in objective truth, you won't be convinced otherwise by its largely Platonic argument. Essentially, Lilla borrows Plato's concept of rational moderation to show how a few of the well-known 20th century European intellectuals became victims of their own tyrannical appetites. Both rational and irrational behavior are inspired by Eros, but only the rational position, with proper moderation of the tyrannical and irrational appetites, can inspire moral responsibility. There's really nothing new in the ethical exposition, but the biographical portraits are good. The real gems are Lilla's lucid presentation of key points in the philosophies of each of the respective characters in question.

Lilla is describing the flip-side of the argument Tony Judt offers in The Burden of Responsibility. He offers essentially the same conclusions from a different point of view.


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