Tag Archives: revolutions


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Alberto Toscano.

Toscano Fanaticism

Although “fanaticism” is a pejorative of highly varied applications, sometimes significantly opposite to one another, Alberto Toscano’s book is not a mere study of rhetoric. It delves into a long modern development of paradigms for the fanatic, ranging from the German Peasants’ Revolt to Islam to the French Revolution to Marxism.

Reading this 2009 book and considering current usage made me realize that “fanatic” has somewhat fallen out of vogue, with “extremist” taking its place in the vernacular. Chapter 2 had me reflecting on Q-anon under the category of “millenarian crisis cult.” A point of repeated emphasis is the divergence between viewing fanaticism as benighted irrational passion on one hand and uncompromising adherence to abstract ideals on the other. Although I was less familiar with the latter tendency, Toscano supplies many important instances of it from the eighteenth century to the present.

The examinations and arguments here engage a long span of continental philosophy, from Kant and Hegel to Agamben and Derrida. The penultimate chapter does a good job of rescuing Marxist insights on religion from being tossed out with the facile secularization hypothesis to which they are commonly attached. And the final chapter was of special value in its examination of the “political religion” diagnosis, where thinkers “consider extreme or illiberal political ideologies as types or perversions of religion.” Toscano admirably teases out the motives and consequences of such a move, and I was fortunate to have fresh in my memory a good narrative to anchor some of the high-flown analysis here, having read not too long ago Benson’s 1907 novel Lord of the World.

This book is a work of genuine theory, suspicious of recent intellectual trends, and alert to the accumulation of arguments around its focus. It is not at all an easy read, and I often had to make a second pass at a paragraph to be sure I had grasped the sense of it. Toscano also took as given the reader’s awareness of various modern thinkers, and if I had been just a little less well-read myself, I suspect that much of the attention I gave to this text would have been unrewarded.

Revolutions are launched by clever people with strong views and excess energy.

Julian Fellowes and Sonja Warfield, The Gilded Age, “Never the New”, s01e01

Hermetic quote Fellowes Warfield The Gilded Age revolutions launched clever people strong views excess energy

Recent Traditionalists blog post links to Hakim Bey and Ontological Anarchy

Recent Traditionalists blog post at “Anarchist Traditionalism: Hakim Bey” links to Hakim Bey and Ontological Anarchy and is a bit of analysis related to the previously mentioned interview with Peter Lamborn Wilson at “In Conversation with Hakim Bey“.

“Arthur Versluis’s recent interview (see below) with the American anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson, who also writes as Hakim Bey, suggests that Lamborn Wilson’s anarchism is a leftist form of Political ‘Soft’ Traditionalism.” [via]

“Although some critics of Lamborn Wilson dismiss his work as no more than an attempt to justify his own practice of ‘man-boy love,’ in my view that work is too substantial and influential to be so dismissed.

In the Versluis interview, Lamborn Wilson makes clear that what he now values in Traditionalism is its critique of modernity, not its ‘proposal’ for responding to modernity. As an anarchist, Lamborn Wilson gives the state–and especially the all-powerful contemporary state–a prime position in his own critique of modernity. His own proposals lead in a number of directions, none of them revolutionary in the normal sense, given his perception that the state always manages to co-opt revolutions. He stresses that his proposals should be taken in a poetic as much as a literal sense. The most famous of them is the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ),’an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it’ (TAZ, quoted in Sellars 2011).” [via]