Black Mass - How Religion Led the World into Crisis

Overview

Fascinating, enlightening, and epic in scope, Black Mass looks at the historic and modern faces of Utopian ideology: Society’s Holy Grail, but at what price?

During the last century global politics was shaped by Utopian projects. Pursuing a dream of a world without evil, powerful states waged war and practised terror on an unprecedented scale. From Germany to Russia to China to Afghanistan, entire societies were destroyed.

Utopian ideologies ...

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Overview

Fascinating, enlightening, and epic in scope, Black Mass looks at the historic and modern faces of Utopian ideology: Society’s Holy Grail, but at what price?

During the last century global politics was shaped by Utopian projects. Pursuing a dream of a world without evil, powerful states waged war and practised terror on an unprecedented scale. From Germany to Russia to China to Afghanistan, entire societies were destroyed.

Utopian ideologies rejected traditional faiths and claimed to be based in science. They were actually secular versions of the myth of Apocalypse–the belief in a world-changing event that brings history, with all its conflicts, to an end. The war in Iraq was the last of these attempts at creating a secular Utopia, promising a new era of democracy and producing blood-soaked anarchy and an emerging theocracy instead.

John Gray’s powerful and frightening new book argues that the death of Utopia does not mean peace. Instead it portends the resurgence of ancient myths, now in openly fundamentalist forms. Obscurely mixed with geo-political struggles for the control of natural resources, apocalyptic religion has returned as a major force in global conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A GLOBE & MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2007

“Gray’s books have the delighting, frightening, distracting and focusing qualities of a mist-to-dusk drive on the Pacific Coast Highway… These are works of intellectual cartography, clarifying boundaries among disciplines, with one primary goal: naming the ways that we call secularism unknowingly and stubbornly promotes a crudely religious way of looking at the world… [W]hen Gray considers the missionary project of this war [Iraq], he describes insiders’ decisions with deep understanding.” — Los Angeles Times (Online)

“[Gray] is a master of intellectual history. He has a sharp eye and a vivid writing style. And best of all, he dissects the pieties of others without regard for party, ideology, faith or faction. In all his books, there’s something to offend everyone — along with at least a few crystalline insights, a marvellous aphorism or two, and several bucketloads of overwrought pessimism. Gray’s latest, Black Mass, is no exception.” —Ottawa Citizen

“Gray writes controlled, clean and unfussy prose. . . . [Black Mass] is not a cheering work . . . and Gray’s conclusions, though never exaggerated or overstated, are bleak in the extreme. Yet the right expression of even the bleakest truths is always invigorating, and any half-sensible reader will come away from the book soberer and even, perhaps, wiser.” —Guardian

“Read John Gray, and remember to laugh.” —The Times (Online)

“Incendiary. . . . Compelling. . . . Gray–finder of worms, uncoverer of bitter ironies–feels at home in this epistemological hall of mirrors.” —Guardian

“Vintage Gray. Black Mass is a sparkling synthesis of religious history and contemporary political analysis. . . . A passionate and powerful polemic.” —The Spectator (UK)

“An often rollicking, sometimes bone-crunching history of medieval barbarism, millennial cults, the rise of totalitarianism and the nadir of fascism, ending with a precise account of the lies and self-deceiving hopes that hurried on the invasion of Iraq.” —New Statesman

“One of John Gray’s supreme qualities as a thinker is that he is bereft of illusions. Stripping away the meaningless verbiage which swaddles so much analysis, Gray discerns an underlying structure of thought (or lack of thought) in the political landscape. . . . Black Mass shows the intellectual linkage between today’s religious rhetoric and movements as diverse as the Bolsheviks, the Jacobins and the Nazis. His deep insight is that the underlying structure of modern politics derives from Christianity, and that the return of overt religious language to politics is merely the renewal of a latent characteristic. . . . Gray is unusual among contemporary Anglo-American philosophers in recognizing the primary role of the passions in forming ideas. He is a compelling writer, dismembering his targets with surgical irony.” —The Independent (UK)

"Black Mass...is a limpidly argued and finely written synthesis of Gray's thinking over the decade or so since False Dawn, his highly regarded and influential study of globalisation. It is not a cheering work, to say the least, and Gray's conclusions, though never exaggerated or overstated, are bleak...Yet the right expression of even the bleakest truths is always invigorating, and any half-sensible reader will come away from the book soberer and even, perhaps, wiser." —John Banville, The Guardian

"Gray is right to scoff at the misplaced faith in progress propounded by Enlightenment philosophers...Gray reminds us about more ancient and truthful myths, which predicted that our reckless pursuit of knowledge and power would lead to disaster." —Peter Conrad, The Observer

“When the fashionable pundits of the age of globalization are as forgotten as those who, in the run-up to World War I, predicted globalization had rendered war obsolete, John Gray's work will still matter. It is at once a reproof and an antidote to the reigning wishful thinking that makes Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss look like a realist. Gray's work has always been about separating reality and delusion. In Black Mass, Gray dissects the greatest of all political delusions, utopianism, and maps the way in which, against all expectations it has migrated from left to right, from communism to neo-conservatism. This is that rarest of things, a necessary book.” –David Rieff

Kirkus Reviews
Seeing history as a progressive narrative, especially one with a utopian ending, is a practice that has doomed earlier civilizations and threatens our own, argues Gray (European Thought/London School of Economics). Having dealt with the concept of human progress in such previous books as Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern (2003), the author sees no reason to revise his core belief: "Human knowledge tends to increase, but humans do not become any more civilized as a result." He urges Western powers to adopt a political philosophy of realism. Look, he says, not at the Middle East you want to see-a cluster of none-too-peaceable kingdoms transformed by force into little democracies whose oil wells gurgle merrily to supply the West-but as it really is, a volatile place whose populations have always hated one another and probably always will. Gray spends lots of time painting the historical and philosophical background. He examines the apocalyptical aspects of Christianity and other religions, all of which in his view share a number of traits, most significantly the notion that the end is near. He takes a look at utopian communities of earlier times and notes that inhumane means have almost always been used to attempt to achieve humane ends. In a troubling chapter about the 20th century, Gray characterizes both Communists and Nazis as "children of the Enlightenment," employing the "scientific" principles of economics and eugenics to justify their political goals. The English author has some harsh words for both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair (equally deluded, in his view), but he bashes Bush continually for reliance on "faith-based intelligence"-with Iraq serving as a compelling argumentfor the pitfalls of this approach. Throughout his impassioned text, Gray's prose is thick with allusion and quotation, but even thicker with erudition and provocation. Makes a discomfiting case that Western liberal democracy just is not suitable for much of the world. Agent: Tracy Bohan/Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385662666
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada
  • Publication date: 7/8/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.17 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

John Gray is the author of the critically acclaimed books Straw Dogs, Heresies, False Dawn, and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he has been a professor of politics at Oxford, a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale, and is currently professor of European thought at the London School of Economics.

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