Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea by Alberto Toscano

By Alberto Toscano

A family tree of fanaticism—unearthing its lengthy background, earlier than it turned a device within the conflict of Civilizations.

The notion of fanaticism as a deviant or severe version of an already irrational set of non secular ideals is this day invoked by way of the West with a purpose to demonize and psychologize any non-liberal politics. Alberto Toscano’s compelling and erudite counter-history explodes this permitted interpretation in exploring the severe function fanaticism performed in forming glossy politics and the liberal kingdom. Tracing its improvement from the annoying Peasants’ conflict of early sixteenth-century Germany to modern Islamism, Toscano tears aside the sterile competition of ‘reasonableness’ and fanaticism. in its place, in a thorough new interpretation, he areas the enthusiast on the very center of politics, arguing that old and progressive alterations require a brand new figuring out of his function. exhibiting how fanaticism effects from the failure to formulate an sufficient emancipatory politics, this illuminating historical past sheds new gentle on an idea that maintains to dominate debates approximately religion and secularism.

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Thoreau's 'A Plea for Captain John Brown' (1860) had already spoken of Brown's 'immortal life'. See Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, New York: Dover, 1993,47. 30 The use of fanaticism as a term with which to brand opponents of imperial and colonial policies was not exclusive to the British. Reversing Catherine II's eighteenthcentury policy of tolerance and 'Islamization', and explicitly relying on the Lumieres' understanding of religious fanatisme as a key threat to political order and unity, Russian Tsarist administrators employed it to identifY Islamic political movements in Central Asia.

177. , 62. 54 22 Fanaticism menacingly prey to the passions and inevitably harbour 'a deplorable susceptibility to the excitations of envy and hatred' ,S7 he argues - referring to the spread of both anti-Semitism and doctrines of social revolution - that publics as immaterial crowds are a specific danger of the 'new democracies', pushed this way and that by the guile of demagogic writers who are, of course, capable on a whim of crystallizing dispersed publics into baying, 'acephalic' mobs. But though he too refers to fanaticism as a kind of political monomania, a pathology of excessive conviction, his real concern is with forms of social 'hypnotism'.

Allies for Freedom & Blacks on john Brown, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2001, 125. Figures ofExtremism 9 to the brink of self-destruction in the name of an abstraction'. 21 But what of the abolitionists themselves? What was their response to being stigmatized as blind fanatics, fulminating wildly in the mists of abstraction? FANATICS AGAINST SLAVERY As Joel Olson has recently shown, in work that makes a rare contribution to what he terms a 'critical theory of zealotry' 22 - a theory in which the consideration of fanaticism challenges the limitations ofliberal political theory- the epithet 'fanatic' was worn as a badge of pride among the radical wing of the abolitionist movementY Moreover, it was incorporated into a theory and practice of political rhetoric, agitation and action.

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