Black mass : apocalyptic religion and the death of utopia

by John Gray

Hardcover, 2007




New York : Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2007.


Philosopher John Gray examines the history of utopianism, links it to apocalyptic religious beliefs, and argues that utopianism currently dominates mainstream politics, discussing its impact in Iraq and elsewhere in the twenty-first century.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lukeasrodgers
Gray is a masterful debunker of all utopian projects for world transformation--of both the left and right varieties. In addition to demonstrating the debt owed by modern movements as varied as Communism, neo-liberalism, and Nazism to millenarian ideas present in "Western" society since the birth of Christianity and particularly prevalent since the middle ages, Gray also argues that there is an "illiberal" core of the Enlightenment, and that the periodic violence and repression that attends putatively enlightened movements and projects is thus not accidental but necessary. The main mistake made by all utopian projects, according to Gray, is that they believe the ends/needs of humans are harmonizable, not in fundamental conflict, and can thus be achieved by the one, same system everywhere (or almost everywhere). Gray takes this to be clearly an absurdity, linked not to any rational conclusion but to humanity's need for myth.

The book is well-argued, though it becomes one-sided at certain points due to an overly polemical orientation. Another minor criticism is that the chapter on the American wars of the 2000s and the misinformation strategies feels a bit out of place in the book.

In any case, I find much of what Gray writes to be convincing, in spite of my wish at certain points to disbelieve him. Nevertheless, Gray's underlying skepticism of our capacity to A) change things for the better, and B) live at least MORE if not TOTALLY satisfying societies is, I think, ultimately over-stated. Given that these are the main undercurrents of the book, I suppose that I take what Gray writes to heart, but am not totally persuaded.
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