Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History

Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History

A. James Gregor

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0804781303

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The totalitarian systems that arose in the twentieth century presented themselves as secular. Yet, as A. James Gregor argues in this book, they themselves functioned as religions. He presents an intellectual history of the rise of these political religions, tracing a set of ideas that include belief that a certain text contains impeccable truths; notions of infallible, charismatic leadership; and the promise of human redemption through strict obedience, selfless sacrifice, total dedication, and unremitting labor.

Gregor provides unique insight into the variants of Marxism, Fascism, and National Socialism that dominated our immediate past. He explores the seeds of totalitarianism as secular faith in the nineteenth-century ideologies of Ludwig Feuerbach, Moses Hess, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Richard Wagner. He follows the growth of those seeds as the twentieth century became host to Leninism and Stalinism, Italian Fascism, and German National Socialism—each a totalitarian institution and a political religion.

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the unqualified leadership of one who enjoyed the full and unrestricted loyalty of his people. The restoration of such rule to its “genuine German expression” would bring “true” freedom to those who were loyal. In their loyalty and obedience, Germans would be loyal and obedient to their truest selves. Such a union of leaders and nation would render Germany invincible. With 17 Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. , pp. , , , , , . 18

known process of confirmation. At best, what is attempted is to show that revolutionary leaders have referred to the work of political theorists and have drawn from that work certain implications. It is left to others to attempt to explain how and why ideas make human beings behave as they do—or in what circumstances such ideas become effective. The work before the reader will attempt to deliver an account of the ideas that inspired many in the twentieth century, convincing them to live, to

fascism In Italy, generic scientism gave rise to philosophical schools that were to feed on the dispute between secular and religious authority. By the time of the Risorgimento, all the threads that were to fashion Italian Marxism, monism, and positivism were already influential on the peninsula. Together with the effects of the Reformation and its reaction in Italy, those of Renaissance and Enlightenment humanism rendered the effort to unite Catholic Italy enormously complicated. It was

political and intellectual future. All of that was necessarily part of the “logic of history”—to the making of a national personality. It was a development that would not be complete until the imported empiricism, the epistemological emphasis on sense perception, was incorporated and subordinated to human purpose. That would be the inspiration for an essentially “transcredal” belief system, a philosophicoreligious formulation, incorporating the results of empirical science, that would provide

well, that they ever remained uncomfortable with the notion that human beings somehow were little more that observers in coming to know the world. In his judgment, there was no intelligible way to account for cognition as the product of humans simply sensing an “objective,” preexistent, “external” reality. For idealists, consciousness would have to be an intrinsic, constituent, and constructive factor in the entire process.59 Labriola, Essays, p. . See the discussion ibid., pp. –. 58

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