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Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea

A genealogy of fanaticism—unearthing its long history, before it became a tool in the Clash of Civilizations.
The idea of fanaticism as a deviant or extreme variant of an already irrational set of religious beliefs is today invoked by the West in order to demonize and psychologize any non-liberal politics. Alberto Toscano’s compelling and erudite counter-history explodes this accepted interpretation in exploring the critical role fanaticism played in forming modern politics and the liberal state. Tracing its development from the traumatic Peasants’ War of early sixteenth-century Germany to contemporary Islamism, Toscano tears apart the sterile opposition of ‘reasonableness’ and fanaticism. Instead, in a radical new interpretation, he places the fanatic at the very heart of politics, arguing that historical and revolutionary transformations require a new understanding of his role. Showing how fanaticism results from the failure to formulate an adequate emancipatory politics, this illuminating history sheds new light on an idea that continues to dominate debates about faith and secularism.

Reviews

  • “Succinct yet expansively allusive in scope, dense yet highly readable, Fanaticism is a multi-levelled investigation into the role that the idea of the fanatic has played in political discourse.”
  • “A tour de force in every sense—Toscano wipes the smug smiles off the self-righteous faces of the New Philosophers.”

Blog

  • Post Orlando / Post Brexit Anti-Islamophobia Reading List

    Following the tragic Orlando massacre at a gay nightclub, both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called for a return to “the spirit of 9/12,” a reference to a dark period of racism, surveillance, and state sanctioned Islamophobia after the September 11th attacks. In the United Kingdom, instances of xenophobia and Islamophobia have reportedly surged following the EU referendum, leaving migrants and minorities, particularly Muslim women, vulnerable to attack and discrimination. As events unfold and the "Brexit" debates continue, we present a reading list of key titles that shed light on the origins of Islamophobia and ways we can organize to fight it. 

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  • Franco Fortini: Letter to a Communist

    Franco Fortini (1917-1994) was one of the most fascinating intellectuals associated with Italian Marxist in the twentieth century. One of the country's most famous poets and essayists, his work remains sadly neglected outside of Italy. A lifelong Socialist Party militant, Fortini remained a staunch anti-Stalinist and lead to his position as one of the foremost anti-systemic thinkers in Italy, alongside Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti. His work always resisted the path of bourgeois progressivism, in favour of what Alberto Toscano terms a "a communism without guarantees", and "a politics of unevenness, of a difference, an otherness, an antagonism that couldn’t be happily resolved" unlike the stale dogmas of both Stalinism and Liberalism.



    This essay, translated from the first collection of Fortini's essays published in Italian (
    Dieci inverni. Contributo ad un discorso socialista, Feltrinelli, 1957), was originally published in English in the E.P. Thompson edited journal The New Reasoner in 1957. The essay, which includes the original editorial statement from the New Reasoner, analyses the rift in Italian Marxism between the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Socialist Party (PSI) and the hard fought struggle within each party against the Stalinist orthodoxy and for a new unity within the Italian left.

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  • A Structuralism of Feeling? Alberto Toscano on Frédéric Lordon

    As France witnesses a new upsurge of popular protest, Alberto Toscano reviews the Spinozian social science approach of Frédéric Lordon's work, as exemplified in his book Imperium: Structures et affects des corps politiques. Lordon is the author of Willing Slaves of Capital: Spinoza and Marx on Desire amongst many other works. Alberto Toscano is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and is the author of The Theatre of Production and FanaticismThis extract is from the January-February 2016 edition of New Left Review.


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