Monday, January 30, 2006

Two More for the Bookshelves

Filed under "Read." My last two train reads have been rather heavy duty.

Mark LeVine's Why They Dont Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil is accurately described in the review at Powell's as a "sprawling" book. Indeed it is, and by the end I was too tired to hear his conclusions. Much of the meat of the text, based around the uncontroversial idea that the "Us" and "Them" of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis is a gross oversimplification, is devoted to stats and anecdotes, which rarely sit comfortably side by side even if such an approach is, arguably, a legitimate way of combining "subjective" and "objective" sociological methodologies. There are some telling points made, but you have to dig them out with an oyster shucker, and I'm allergic. Nonetheless, it's a worthy book and has some stinging things to say about the traditional Left today that are worth reading.

By contrast, Bernard Flynn's The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political was a fascinating read that I genuinely didn't want to put down. It's a hard-core academic text, and I had to go back and re-read Machiavelli before beginning it, but it really was worth it, and I only wish Flynn had gone into greater detail, particularly given the effort I went to to locate this book (I bought it from a U.S. site in the end).

Lefort is hugely underestimated and neglected as a thinker, even in France, it would seem; Castoriadis has hogged the limelight as far as Socialisme ou Barbarie is concerned. But he has some important and interesting ideas about modernity and totalitarianism that bear considering and examination. Here's the Powell's blurb:

"From the beginning the French philosopher Claude Lefort has set himself the task of interpreting the political life of modern society, and over time he has succeeded in elaborating a distinctive conception of modern democracy that is linked to both historical analysis and a novel form of philosophical reflection. This book, the first full-scale study of Lefort to appear in English, offers a clear and compelling account of Lefort's accomplishment—its unique merits, its relation to political philosophy within the Continental tradition, and its great relevance today.

Much of what passes for political philosophy in our day is merely politicized philosophical concepts, a distinction author Bernard Flynn underscores as he describes the development of Lefort's truly political philosophy—its ideas formed in response to his own political experience and to the work of certain major figures within the tradition of political thought. Beginning with Lefort's most important single work, his book on Machiavelli, Flynn presents the philosopher's conceptions of politics, modernity, and interpretation in the context within which they took shape. He then draws on a wide variety of Lefort's works to explicate his notions of premodern and modern democracy in which totalitarianism, in Lefort's singular and highly influential theory, is identified as a permanent problem of modernity.

A valuable exposition of one of the most important Continental philosophers of the post-World War II period, Flynn's book is itself a noteworthy work of interpretive philosophy, pursuing the ideas and issues addressed by Lefort to a point of unparalleled clarity and depth."

Next up, a nice, gentle, lowbrow read: Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs and Cocoa-Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.


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