The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction

In 2016, white nativists are out in force in the United States, having seized control of a major political party; radical Islamists are influencing global politics and occupying significant swaths of North Africa and the Middle East; Britain is exiting the European Union; and tsarists are resurgent in Russia. In The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, Mark Lilla traces the intellectual roots of these developments. Lilla argues that the revolutionary has been thoroughly analyzed, but that academia has all but ignored its opposite, the reactionary. Shipwrecked is a successful first step in rectifying this absence.

The revolutionary is optimistic, perhaps utopian, looking to rip apart the past to build a better future. The reactionary dreams of a golden-aged past and seeks to restore it, whether that is a 1950s United States or an Islamic caliphate from the 6th century. Lilla accurately notes this affinity, "from the radical nativist on the far right to radical Islamists--who despise the present and dream of stepping back in history to recover what they imagine was lost." Reactionaries are fixated on political nostalgia based upon myth. The world was never the way it is in their fantasies, any more than the world can be shaped into the utopia of the revolutionary. 

Shipwrecked is an important work. It is accessible, even for the non-scholarly reader, and critical in helping explicate the current global political environment. It also contains one of the most astute readings of Michel Houellebecq's Submission; for that alone it deserves consideration. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa.

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