You are on page 1of 3

UFPPC ( — Digging Deeper CLIX: May 9, 2011, 7:00 p.m.

John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (New
York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). Original edition 2007.

[Thesis. Christian apocalypticism has the Enlightenment in twentieth-century
thoroughly infused modern politics, terror remains a blind spot in western
especially in utopian movements. In the perception" (36). The term "totalitarian"
last generation, centrist forms of (37-39). Soviet Communism: "Lenin's
utopianism, neoliberalism and policies were genuine attempts to realize
neoconservatism, have been adopted, Marxian communism," a vision that was
and the Iraq war is among the "thoroughly utopian" despite "Marx's
consequences. A renewal of the realist repudiation of utopian thinking" (52;40-
tradition and a rejection of "the myth of 55). Nazism combined "eschatological
the End" is urgently needed in the myth and perverted science" (65; 55-69).
contemporary world.] Radical Islam—Qtub in particular—is also
a product of the modern West (69-70).
Acknowledgments. Interlocutors, Islam's relation to the West is commonly
including Bryan Appleyard and David misunderstood; they share deep roots
Rieff, and his Penguin editor. and connections (70-73).

Ch. 1: The Death of Utopia. "Modern Ch. 3: Utopia Enters the Mainstream.
politics is a chapter in the history of The notion that the world is moving
religion" (1; 1-3). Properly, apocalypse is toward a single economic and political
"a revelation in which mysteries that are system is "[a]s damagingly utopian as
written in heaven are revealed at the end any earlier grand design for humanity"
of time" (4). It is a chiefly Christian idea (75; 74-75). Margaret Thatcher's politics
(5-9) with deeper roots (10-11). ultimately resulted in the "destruction of
"Christianity injected eschatology into conservatism" and the embrace of a
the heart of western civilization" (12). "centrist version of utopianism" (81; 84;
The Reformation (13-14). Modernity 75-84). New Labor embraced a
politicized utopia (15-17). "Repression neoliberalism derived from Hayek (84-
flowed from the [communist] ideal itself" 93). Tony Blair methodically disregarded
(18). It is not Marx's perspicacious truth in a time of ascending utopianism
analysis of capitalism that was utopian, (93-106).
but rather his vision of an alternative
society (18-19). Fantastical denial of the Ch. 4: The Americanization of the
danger of utopianism is widespread (19- Apocalypse. The myth of a new
20). "All dreams of a society from which beginning that runs through American
coercion and power have been for ever history is a form of millenarian
removed . . . are utopian" (20). utopianism (107-14). George W. Bush as
Progressivism's roots are in Christianity exemplifying this tradition (115-20).
(21-26). With the Jacobins, "utopianism Neoconservatism's origins: Irving Kristol,
became a revolutionary movement and Daniel Bell, Melvin Lasky, Nathan Glazer,
modern secular religion a political force" Seymour Martin Lipset, Patrick Moynihan
(28; 26-28). During the past generation, (121-23). Francis Fukuyama (123-25).
the Right has embraced utopianism (28- Jeanne Kirkpatrick (126-27). Ironically,
35). Leo Strauss, neoconservativism's
intellectual progenitor, did not share the
Ch. 2: Enlightenment and Terror in believe that liberal democracy could be
the Twentieth Century. "The role of exported (128-31). Strauss and nihilism
(131-34). Albert Wohlstetter, Team B, (196-97). Realism need not be
and the disregard for truth (135-44). The conservative (198). It should recognized
neoconservative mindset recalls that "human beings have needs that
Dostoevsky's analysis of Russian cannot be satisfied by any rational
terrorists (144-45). means" (199). It must face the "insoluble
dilemmas" posed by environmental crisis
Ch. 5: Armed Missionaries. The Iraq (203; 200-04). People feel a "need for an
war shows that American policymaking overarching human narrative," but
has become "delusive" (146-48). The "[s]eeing one's life as an episode in a
Iraq war (149-61). In addition to the universal narrative is a fantasy" (204;
currents of thought already analyzed in 205; 204-05). We should aspire to a
this book, "a type of 'liberal imperialism' "freedom from narrative" of the kind
based on human rights" was also a factor described by mystics, poets, and
(161-64). But no Western powers, and epicureans (206). Myths can be "more or
especially the U.S., can now pursue a less truthful," and we should abandon the
large-scale imperial project; it lacks the belief that science and religion must be
ideological underpinnings and the about belief (207). "The most necessary
economic means (164-66). "Liberal task of the present time is to accept the
imperialism has also resulted in a retreat irreducible reality of religion," which the
from liberal values in the US"—cf. Enlightenment denied (207; 207-08).
torture, habeas corpus, the fostering of The renewal of apocalyptic belief poses
illiberal public opinion (167-74). Al- dangers: "The myth of the End has
Qaeda: "The danger of Islamist terrorism caused untold suffering and is now as
is real, but declaring war on it is not a dangerous as it has ever been" (210;
sensible way to deal with it"; the War on 209-10). What we need is "the courage
Terror is symptomatic of thinking to cope with recurring evils," such as "the
grounded in myths of apocalyptic religion opaque state of war into which we have
(178; 174-83). stumbled" (210).

Ch. 6: Post-Apocalypse. "The faith in Notes. 19 pp.
Utopia . . . is dead," and Iraq may be the
last utopian experiment of the 21st Index. 13 pp.
century (184). Religions are essential to
"the mass of humankind" (186; 185-87; About the Author. John Gray is
cf. "Religions are not claims to professor of European thought at the
knowledge but ways of living with what London School of Economics. He is the
cannot be known" [207]). History shows author of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on
no sign of being progressive and beliefs Humans and Other Animals (2003), a
to the contrary are grounded in religion critique of philosophical humanism, Al
(187-88). "Contemporary atheism is a Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern
[crude] Christian heresy" (189). (2003). He writes regularly for the New
"[S]ecular creeds are formed from York Review of Books.
religious concepts" (190). "Liberalism is
a lineal descendant from Christianity and [Additional information. Not to be
shares the militancy of its parent faith" confused with John Gray, the American
(191). We must shun utopianism and author of Men Are from Mars, Women
"attempt to cope with reality" (192). Are from Venus (1992), John N. Gray is
Realism must be renewed (193-96). the author of two dozen books on ideas
Moral conflicts are "permanent features and politics. He was born on April 17,
in the relations of states" (196). Realists 1948, in South Shields, Tyne & Wear, in
accept the inevitability of realpolitik the north of England. Before LSE, he
taught at the U. of Essex; Jesus College, J.G. Ballard, Will Self, Don Cupitt, Bryan
Oxford; U. of Oxford. He has visited at Appleyard, Jason Cowley, James
Harvard, Bowling Green, Tulane, and Lovelock, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.]
Yale. Gray's thought is dark and austere.
He regards volition and morality as [Critique. Black Mass is principally a
illusions and humanity as a predatory critique of the ideological proclivities that
species. He is known for his produced the Iraq war and an exhortation
thoroughgoing rejection of Rawlsian to learn from the disaster. Chapters 1
liberalism and for rejecting humanism as and 2 are intellectually adventurous,
a form of utopianism. He has come to drawing on Gray's earlier work to offer a
reject the left-right dichotomy as no clear argument that religious thinking
longer viable. He advocates a politics of underlies modern secularism. Chapter 6
"devising temporary remedies for is an eloquent sermon exhorting readers
recurring evils." He rejects a progressive to turn away from "the myth of the End."]
conception of history. He is admired by