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The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  491 ratings  ·  81 reviews
A sense of nostalgia, of not feeling at home in the present, and an attempt to recover a lost philosophical or religious tradition characterize the twentieth-century intellectuals whose work Mark Lilla investigates in The Shipwrecked Mind.

From Franz Rosenzweig, who sought to lead assimilated Jews away from the world of history and politics and back to the sources of Jewis
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by New York Review Books (first published October 20th 2015)
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3.76  · 
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 ·  491 ratings  ·  81 reviews

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Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: criticism
Sentimental Rage?

Mark Lilla published The Shipwrecked Mind just four months before Pankaj Mishra published his views on the state of the world in The Age of Anger ( Near enough to call them contemporaneous. Both are first-rate intellects and intellectual writers. So I find the differences in their conclusions at least as interesting as their individual analyses.

Lilla presents his point succinctly: “Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.” No
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Essay in political science on what Lilla terms 'reactionary' political thought - which is more militant and revolutionary than regular conservatives. He views them as dreaming for an imagined past, embracing a narrative of a cultural decline after a cataclysm, and intending to create a future where this historical wrong is 'corrected'.

The first essays place this political reaction in a historical context, and how reactionary thinkers resemble another - even in such various guises as the theolog
Sep 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very quick read on a basic history of reaction. It reads extremely well, and is simply fascinating if you wish to understand where a lot of modern politics is coming from today. As the author notes, there is a lot written about revolution, but not its opposite, reaction. Both are powerful forces. Most of the book focuses on past and present writers who come from a reactionary frame of mind, and Mark uses their ideas to chart where the movement sprang from. This is mostly via the histories/myth ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The present (not the past) is a foreign country to modern day purveyors of hate and the reactionaries featured in this book. A neo-nazi drives his car into protestors and a Republican president's only response in 144 characters or less is "both sides are to blame" (8/12/17). How do Republican followers of Donald Trump embrace his reactionary politics and how do Hegel, Kierkergaard, Heidegger, Spengler, Toynbee, Leo Strauss and others explain what is going on within our country (and regretfully, ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Explores the mindset of reactionaries. Not a place I even enjoy visiting. Where the revolutionary projects on the blank canvass of the future the reactionary dreams of his lost Eden on the shipwreck of modernity. Usually, a revolutionary vision at least pledges some allegiance to rationality, the reactionary will take some form of transcendence and dissatisfaction ordinary life and thinking as justifications for their madness or irrationality. Like I said it is not a place I would not want to vi ...more
This was… um… interesting. Not quite what I was expecting, and not all that interesting except on a purely theoretical level.

Lilla’s definition of “reactionary” is at the crux of my ambivalence. I use that to refer to someone who wants to rewind the clock back, but not necessarily break it so it never moves forward again. Lilla is focusing mostly on that last aspect: that there are several political-philosophical perspectives that claim there was a “Golden Age” where humanity should simply rema
Apr 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This was not really what I expected. It starts out talking about reactionaries in modern America and France, noting that they are the true radicals in society with their stated intentions to revert to eras we’ve decidedly moved on from. So far, so good.

But then he veers off on a severe and lengthy tangent, talking about the foundational mythologies of Judaism and Christianity, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and St. Augustine. It’s really quite dense and esoteric stuff, at least for me. And it veere
Esteban del Mal
Throughout my reading life, I have sought a properly concise definition of reactionary politics. Lilla sums it as, "The Apocalypse meets the Golden Age."
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it
This is supposed to be a review of Mark Lilla’s “The Shipwrecked Mind,” a loose collection of essays about reaction, published as a group in early 2016, before the rise of Trump. Certainly, Trump himself is not a reactionary, for he has no coherent thought of any kind. However, just as certainly, he has been advised by men who are very definitely some brand of reactionary, most notably Steve Bannon and Michael Anton, the latter still serving in the White House. Until Trump, what little attention ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
The introduction to Mark Lila’s “The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction,” a book published in 2016, provides an excellent start to what I thought would be an insightful book about the mindset of reactionaries in the late 20th century and early 21st century in the United States, in Europe, and in the Islamic world. But the rest of the short 144-page book fails to deliver.
In the introduction, I double-underlined these three sentences: “Reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first
Friedrich von Uxküll
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
Disappointing and somewhat incoherent, does not achieve what it's ambitious claim at the beginning asserts, but still offers the reader some tasty morsels of insight which are appreciated.

The authors selected for establishing the analysis of a standard 'reactionary', Rosenzweig, Voegelin and Strauss, are not very reactionary to begin with. Although perhaps influenced by reactionary currents, they are by no means luminaries of the reactionary tradition. Although the arch-reactionary Joseph de Mai
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
rather loose. the folks are interesting but their presence explicates nothing. argument is uncommon, general, and lazy. deep interpretation is effectively shunned. all the profiles seem to be commission pieces scissored into introductory sketches fit for morning browsing, nothing more. no attempt at sustained interpretation is made. not a blurry draft, but a kodak flop. read it or not, there will be no difference
C. Varn
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While some will read this as a 'history of reaction,' this insightful and easily digested volume of essays is more like several essays on the subject. Generally, following a format related to book views and discussions in the history of ideas, collected around the central theme. I was little surprised to find that Lilla had published most of the chapters in New York Review of Books. While this is a limiting factor to the book, it does not make it un-insightful or particularly dross, or even repe ...more
Nick Mclean
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
2016 was an unpredictable and tumultuous year. Anyone interesting in understanding the reasons for the major political changes of 2016 and the seeming rejection of post-cold war liberal order and possibly the entire post war era that began in 1945 should take a look at this book. Economic factors, social factors, political loyalties, outside influence and big money all played a role. But, even in a political climate defined by populist anti-intellectuals, ideas played a role. Mark Lilla pointedl ...more
Stephen Wong
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Review of Mark Lilla's The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction

What is Mark Lilla's thesis on political reaction? It is one that is nostalgic of a happy age and harks back to its lost scent. When once before the hound was fixed on the wilds of progress and utopia, it is now retracing its nose to the juncture where the scent was lost, where perhaps the project could be relaunched, but even then only becomes the very project itself.

And so there, upon the shoals, in Lilla's analogic, the shipwr
Jim Coughenour
Mark Lilla's interpretative essays are always worth reading but for me the most interesting part of his new book is his Afterword.
Narratives of progress, regress, and cycles all assume a mechanism by which historical change happens. It might be the natural laws of the cosmos, the will of God, the dialectical development of the human mind or of economic forces. Once we understand the mechanism, we are assured of understanding what really happened and what is to come. But what if there is no such
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Oddly similar to Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind, in ways that go far beyond the titles: both are collections of essays originally published elsewhere, both are about reactionaries (to whom the authors are unsympathetic), and both begin with an introduction claiming that the reactionary -- a radical figure, distinct from the placid conservative carefully tending the aeons -- has been insufficiently studied. (Robin adds a meatier thesis, that "conservatism" per se has barely ever existed, and ...more
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
To Lilla's central tenet: "we [society] do not understand reaction," I disagree. We understand the forces of reaction quite well especially here in the United States where reaction is flourishing and has been for sometime. I will concede that we have certainly mislabeled "reaction" as simple conservatism. But really all the traits of Lilla's reactionaries are familiar to any Ron Paul acolyte: the cherished past-that-never-was done in by evil secular egalitarians/progressives/liberals, and a revo ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book contains essays written for New York Review of Books, with one exception. And it is excellent. A joy to read fluent prose of an obviously intelligent and well-read man. Often with this kind of book you get the feeling that the author is maybe a bit too smart. Not with this one.
Best the essay on Eric Voegelin. I now want to read the man. Mission accomplished. I do not know how many time I came across "Gnosticism" and I had only the vaguest idea what it actually means. Now I know and I t
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A quick read, but absolutely fascinating. As Lilla notes, very little has been written on the history of reactionary thought--but it informs much of modern politics from cultural conservatism of the USA, the resurgent nationalism in Europe and political Islamism. All are referenced in this slim volume, which is actually sympathetic to some of the reactionary analysis but also clear in pointing out its faults: rejection of reality in favour of a mythical past, for one. An important theme of this ...more
Bob Duke
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well worth reading with Trump about to become President in three days time. It explains the hankering in many countries at many times for a golden age. For many people the present is an alien country and they wish to go back to a past even though the memory of that past may be a false one. Putin and Trump exploit this with their respective populations. La Pen in France does the same and I my own country of New Zealand we have a populist by the name of Winston Peters who exploits the same sentime ...more
Alex Sooy
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Debating whether to keep using Goodreads in 2017... picked this up because I loved his "post-identity liberalism" op-Ed, it was a bit academic for me but still fascinating to think about the currents of reactionary thinking and their often religious roots. Liberal western society was created out of a Christian tradition that it has now forsaken, and at some point the check will come due.
Thomas Baughman
Interesting little book. I found it to be suggestive, but not fully persuasive
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
It was common in the days immediately following the November 2016 presidential election in the United States to hear those on the political left talk as if the sky itself were about to collapse. The sense of apocalyptic doom that came with Donald Trump’s victory, at least in some parts of the country, is hard to overstate. Despite the dark clouds, however, there were at least some disappointed partisans who hewed to a less popular, if more palliative, line. We might call them glass-half-full pro ...more
Feb 05, 2017 rated it liked it

In his engaging and lucid new study The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, essayist Mark Lilla argues, “reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first thing to be understood about them. They are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries.” At first, this might seem counter-intuitive but Lilla argues convincingly that the reactionary mind, often overlooked by scholars, can be just as radical (and disturbing) as any revolutionary ideolog
Steve Bender
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nicolo Marziani
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Lilla gives a measured account of several counter-enlightenment thinkers and the ideas that bind them. I found it an engaging introduction, and I look forward to reading some of his other work, particularly The Reckless Mind.
Dec 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
There may well be a time when political discourse in the US (and elsewhere) begins to devote more attention of ideas than has been the case recently, especially in the last US presidential election, where discussion of both ideas and programs was almost entirely absent for both candidates, moved out of place by name calling, threats, bluster, and bad faith. When that occurs, this new book by Mark Lilla will prove valuable. It is a discussion of political theory with a focus on reactionary though ...more
Adam S. Rust
Jul 19, 2017 rated it liked it
There are two books in this short 145 page collection of essays. The first book is the book in the Introduction and Afterword. The second book is the essays contained in between that are mostly tangentially, but not directly, related to what is promised in the first book. I wanted to read the first book, which starts with the promising and interesting insight that reactionary politics is militant nostalgia for some lost Golden Age. While the second book was good, it didn't deliver on what was pr ...more
Nov 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Very short, too short collection of essays, on reactionary forces with a strong focus on religion and theology. These are essays collected from NYRB about the lives of a few religious thinkers (Rosenzweig, Voegelin, Strauss) and a bit on modern developments (with a agreeable interpretation on Houellebecq's Submission), all connected by reactionary thought. But if you expect to get only politics, then you'll be disappointed, this is heavy on theology:

Th early chuch Father Tertullian called Saint
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“Houellebecq has created a new genre—the dystopian conversion tale. Submission is not the story some expected of an armed coup d’état, and no one in it expresses hatred or even contempt of Muslims. At one level it is simply about a man who through suffering and indifference finds himself slouching toward Mecca. At another level, though, it is about a civilization that after centuries of a steady, almost imperceptible sapping of inner conviction finds itself doing the same thing. The literature of civilizational decline, to which Zemmour’s Le Suicide français is a minor contribution, is typically brash and breathless. Not so Submission. There is not even drama here—no clash of spiritual armies, no martyrdom, no final conflagration. Stuff just happens, as in all Houellebecq’s fiction. All one hears at the end is a bone-chilling sigh of collective relief. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Whatever” 1 likes
“Modern man became a Prometheus, believing himself a god capable of transforming anything and everything at will. “When God has become invisible behind the world,” Voegelin said, “the things of the world become new gods.” Once this is understood,” 0 likes
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