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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scrutiny—and had determined that cranial capacity, and the physical properties of the cerebral cortex, determined mental abilities, so that some “tribes,” or “races,” clearly suffered in comparison with others. By mid century, German intellectual life gave fulsome evidence of at least two distinct currents of thought. One—usually identified with the “left”—found its exclusive origins in the “reform” of Hegelianism. The other—energized by assertive nationalist sentiments—immersed itself in the

Macmillan, ), part , chap. . A technical exposition can be found in Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., ). 22 Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (New York: Harper & Row, ),  vols.; L. T. Hobhouse, The Metaphysical Theory of the State: A Criticism (London: George Allen & Unwin, ); and Sidney Hook, “Hegel Rehabilitated?” and “Hegel and His Apologists,” in Walter Kaufmann, ed., Hegel’s Political Philosophy (New York: Atherton Press,

maintained that Hegel’s work was more a history than a philosophy. Cf. ibid., p. . 62 48 he ge lians after he ge l Like Feuerbach, Hess argued that the basic problem with Hegelianism was its abstract and detached character. He insisted that as long as philosophy remained abstract and detached, it would not be life relevant. Philosophy must inspire deeds. Life is activity, and if philosophy would serve life, it must foster action.68 For Hess, the world of the mid nineteenth century was

in communism. He had convinced himself that “all nations, all different paths, must meet at Communism,” because communism was “not the consequence of the particular position of the English . . . but . . . a 24 In  or , Engels spoke with eloquence of the intellectual superiority of the British working class. He reported that he “often heard workingmen, whose fustian jackets scarcely held together, speak upon geological, astronomical, and other subjects, with more knowledge than most

to an independent and united Italy. He was convinced that both foreign troops and foreign ideas militated against both. The interference of both 46 Professor Jaja, Gentile’s mentor, introduced him to the neohegelian idealism of Spaventa. See ibid., vol. , pp. ix–xviii. 47 Traces of this account are found throughout Gentile’s philosophical and historical writings. A convenient place for a summary account, written years later, is found in Gentile, “Bertando Spaventa nel primo cinquantenario della

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