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.
Some readers will see pessimism where others see sober appraisal in Gray's antiutopian argument that we must reconcile ourselves to a world of multiple truths and incompatible freedoms, where there is no overarching meaning and human values and desires can never be fully harmonized. The views that history progresses toward perfection and the millenarian faith in human salvation both rooted in abiding Christian myths are as tenacious as they have proven destructive, the renowned British political theorist and critic argues. Building succinctly on arguments developed in his previous work (including Two Faces of Liberalism and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern), Gray traces the course of apocalyptic-utopian politics from early Christianity through its secular variant in the Enlightenment and into modern political thought from Marx to Francis Fukuyama, the French Revolution to radical Islamism. Centrally, he assails the contemporary American right (and staunch neoconservative fellow traveler Tony Blair), which after 9/11 advanced into the mainstream the utopianism previously confined to the extreme right and left. His eloquent and illuminating attack also challenges a notion common to the liberal establishment: that history moves inexorably toward the universal application of U.S.-style liberal democracy. He calls it a delusional article of faith that, like the utopian variants before it, easily justifies violence in the name of a greater destiny.