It has become customary, when criticising the imperialism of Western reason, to emphasise its reliance on the production of 'others' – pathological, animalistic, irrational, pre-modern. The tale told in this book was occasioned, like most genealogies and histories of ideas, by the attempt to confront and counter a prominent feature of its present: the designation of 'fanaticism' as the principal menace to social peace. In the metropoles of global capital, the first decade of the new millennium seemed to unfold under the ideological sign of a renewed war between Enlightenment and unreason – in the guise of that unstable amalgam of religion, politics and violence represented by international or, more commonly, 'Islamic' terrorism. There is no shortage of coruscating denunciations of how the spontaneous philosophy of the 'war on terror' – the many variations on how 'our values' of liberalism and tolerance are threatened by the murderous radicalisation of subaltern populations – spread a very thin veneer over a long global history of dispossession, racialisation and the instrumental uses of fundamentalist groups against popular movements and geopolitical foes. The task I set myself was very different, if not unrelated: not so much to engage in a critique of the dominant ideology, but to show, through the systematic investigation of certain crucial episodes in the life of an idea, how 'fanaticism' could serve both as an instrument of depoliticisation and as a kind of inverted prism through which to rethink the question of intransigent subjectivity, in a period when, throughout the world, precarious efforts at emancipatory politics are met by well-tested apparatuses of neutralisation.
The first years of the third millennium, captivated by a spectacular, if ambiguous, resurgence of religiously motivated violence, have seen the revival of a charged term in the Western political lexicon: fanaticism. Societal upheavals, revolutionary periods, religious wars, crises of legitimation, imperial projects – in the past five centuries, all have provided occasions for invoking fanaticism to stigmatise incorrigible enemies, whose disproportionate convictions and intractable beliefs put them beyond the pale of negotiation. Millenarian German peasants, anti-colonial ‘dervish’ rebels, terrorising Jacobins, anarchist bombers, anti-slavery ‘immediatists’, and eschatological Stalinists are just some of the figures thrown up by an investigation into the adversarial uses of this powerful idea. Exploring the historical semantics and polemical deployments of fanaticism reveals, among other things, its impressive plasticity. Cultic superstition and unbridled rationality, the refusal of progress and its immoderate celebration, intransigent particularism and expansive universality have all been the targets of the accusation of fanaticism.
This is partly accounted for by the closeness of fanaticism to extremism as a term of political abuse: as long as otherwise incompatible positions take sufficient distance from a standard of moderation or normality, they can be tarred with the same brush. Centrist denunciations of the excesses of Right and Left often take this form, as in the doctrine of ‘opposed convergent extremisms’ that was applied by Christian Democrats to Italian terrorism in the 1970s. Yet among political smear-words fanaticism has its own pedigree, which crucially includes two elements arising from its association with political theology and theological politics. First, fanaticism defines an ethic of conviction that abhors compromise. Second, fanaticism results from a politics of abstraction in which disembodied principles override pragmatism and mediation. In the fraught and discontinuous history of fanaticism, it was the reaction to the French Revolution’s egalitarian dictatorship of abstract reason that foregrounded these distinctive features. In particular, it was then that the reactionary trope of a ‘fanaticism of reason’ – mostly alien to the Lumières’ insistent condemnation of religious fanaticism – came into its own. It is not difficult to grasp how intransigence and abstraction, whether in religious or secular garb, could be associated with a certain ‘fatal purity’ – to quote the title of a recent biography of Robespierre. Twentieth and twenty-first century attacks on political fanaticisms continue to borrow from the arsenal of counter-revolutionary thought (be it liberal, conservative or fiercely reactionary, as in De Maistre), for which the Revolution’s frenzied attempt ‘to abstract and equalize’ society – to purify it of its stratifications, hierarchies, customs and differences for the sake of the ‘monstrous fiction’ of equality and human rights – was foredoomed to tyranny and catastrophe.
Soccer vs. the State — Gabriel Kuhn (PM Press)
A political perspective on the world’s most popular sport. Ex semi-professional footballer Gabriel Kuhn explores both the criticisms of soccer as a vehicle for right-wing agendas and its potential for radical activists providing an enlightening take on our notions about sport in general.
AAP 030 Anarchist Football (Soccer) Manual — AAP Collective (AAP Collective)
Published by Alpine Anarchist productions (AAP), Kuhn’s own publishing enterprise, this handbook explores the history of football from a uniquely radical angle. Arguing that the game is now a hotbed of commercialism, this bestselling pamphlet aims to enable anarchist fans to reconcile themselves to enjoyment of the game beyond the capitalist agenda of its modern-day manifestation.
Passion of the People?: Football in South America — Tony Mason
An analysis of the political role of football in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay that examines its positive and negative uses as an instrument of social control. Published in 1994, Mason's book examines the place of sport within the social fabric of these societies after Brazil’s World Cup win of that year. Passion of the People is an indispensable companion during the confluence of nations of widely varying degrees of wealth and political stability that is the Olympic Games.
Those Damn Yankees: The Secret Life of America’s Greatest Franchise — Dean Chadwin
Dean Chadwin’s investigation into America’s most famous baseball team reveals the discrepancies between the commercial and competitive aspects of the sport and its benign media image. This unflinching investigation into the hidden realities of professional sports is particularly relevant during Olympic season inviting the reader to question what lies beneath the wholesome veneer of the Olympic spectacle.
Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties—Mike Marqusee
Muhammad Ali’s appearance at the Olympics opening ceremony reflected his legendary status in the sporting world. Marqusee’s book highlights Ali’s political role as a radical and stresses his importance as a voice of dissent in the turbulent decade of the 60s. Marqusee assesses Ali’s biography within an international context explaining his appeal to the wider global community as represented in London this summer.
Theatres of Memory: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture— Raphael Samuel
Director Danny Boyle presented his personal stance on a broad sweep of British history in the Olympics opening ceremony to a world audience of billions. Samuel’s imaginative and original argument that history is a living practice, forged and mutated across generations, enables a critical evaluation of the implications of this kind of creative interpretation of history.
Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise — Mike Marqusee
American author Mike Marqusee reassesses the quintessentially English game of cricket. From his unique perspective Marqusee brings fresh insight to recounting its history and dares to probe into some of its controversies such as racism and sexism. As the world focuses on Britain during the Olympics, this book invites analysis of how this national and imperial pastime can illuminate the nation’s relationship with sport.
Critique of Everyday Life: Volume One — Henri Lefebvre
As a social, political and certainly consumerist event for the masses, how do the Olympic Games affect and reflect the ‘everyday life’ of contemporary society? Lefebvre’s seminal critique provides an intellectual framework by which to judge the Olympic phenomenon.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow — Eduardo Galeano
Galeano’s book charts the passionate highs and desperate lows of soccer in this compelling snapshot of the human side of the sport. With anecdotes and accounts from across the world, this memoir of the game is a refreshing and idiosyncratic insight into the intensity of the sporting life.
Peasant-Citizen & Slave: the Foundations of Athenian Democracy — Ellen Meiskins Wood
This radical re-reading of Athenian democracy seeks to and succeeds in fundamentally altering our perceptions of slavery and citizenship in ancient Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.
The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century— Peter Linebaugh
Peter Linebaugh’s bottom-up history of hanging in 18th Century London explores the complex political and economic contexts of criminalization and punishment in society. This history sheds light on the low-tolerance policing of the Olympics, which kicked off with the mass arrest of almost 200 cyclists during the opening ceremony.
Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night — Sukdhev Sandhu
Taking H.V. Morton’s 1926, The Nights of London as his inspiration and companion, Sandhu presents a series of memoirs of London’s nocturnal life as recalled by the ordinary people who inhabit it; from cabbies to cleaners. A world away from the manicured sterility of the Olympic Park, Sandhu’s book offers a rich and personal compendium of a side of the city that most tourists will miss.
Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea — Alberto Toscano
The phrase ‘sports fanatic’ will be used liberally this summer by media commentators. London’s hosting of the event may even turn the usually uninterested into sports fanatics in the name of patriotism but is our understanding of the notion of fanaticism accurate or even fair? Toscano argues that our associations with the word require re-evaluation and stresses the important role that forms of fanaticism have played in political history.
There are Reds under the bed. Or in the academies. Or worse: about to spill into the streets. So warns Alan Johnson in World Affairs, the esteemed Washington-based international affairs journal. Tracing the rising profile of a group of authors such as Alain Badiou, Bruno Bosteels and Slavoj Žižek and the popularity of their books, the columnist outlines what he sees as a nascent threat lurking in the incendiary words of Terry Eagleton and Toni Negri.