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Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  852 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
For the decade that followed the end of the cold war, the world was lulled into a sense that a consumerist, globalized, peaceful future beckoned. The beginning of the twenty-first century has rudely disposed of such ideas--most obviously through 9/11and its aftermath. But just as damaging has been the rise in the West of a belief that a single model of political behaviour ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2007)
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Jim Coughenour
Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Picking up where he left off in his genuinely iconoclastic book Straw Dogs, John Gray turns his attention to the ineluctably human penchant for utopia and apocalyptic fantasy. His style here is less abrasive but no less bracing. A British commentator recently wrote of Gray, "He is so out of the box it is easy to forget there was ever any box" - which fairly describes the intellectual jolt he'll deliver to readers dulled by boxy thinking.

The previous reviewer has done a decent job of describing t
Rob Cook
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The paradox of this kind of brilliantly game-changing book is that most of the people who really need to read it won't, and those that do will dismiss it because it criticises them. What Black Mass essentially amounts to is a call for realism in politics (not the same thing as realpolitik at all), an acceptance and toleration of difference, and a plea for the civilised cause of modus vivendi. To get to that, though, you have to have your brain exploded by the most clear-eyed, devastating and dow ...more
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A singularly unsettling offering from John Gray, upsetter of apple-carts and disturber of conventional wisdom par excellence. In Black Mass he continues his assault upon Progressivism, this time concentrating on the pernicious effect of Western European monotheism - having infected philosophy and, subsequently, Enlightenment thought and science - on modern political and societal institutions, soaking the latter in eschatological and utopian myths and illusions and being ultimately responsible fo ...more
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
"Straw Dogs" by John Gray was probably one of the most iconoclastic books I've ever read. In the years since, I've continued to follow Gray's books and essays, and, in general, I find that they all tend to be derivative in some way of the argument made in that book. In "Black Mass," Gray locates the roots of contemporary political ideology in religious myth, particularly Christian millenarian traditions. This is similar to what he did in Straw Dogs where he traced the genealogy of contemporary s ...more

The first 100 pages or so is trademark John Gray, covering familiar terrains—so familiar to me after reading five of his books that it was actually rather repetitive and dull—but when he begins to scrutinize American politics in light of the millenarian genealogy he uncovers, things get more interesting. His trenchant analysis of the Iraq War is so on point and water-tight that I couldn't help nodding along even though I was not interested in the topic itself to begin with. Finally, his arg
Jack Petro
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Τα πέντε αστέρια είναι λίγα, πολύ λίγα...άκρως επιμορφωτικό.
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I just have to read Gray to get centred. This is largely an interpretation of the fairy stories inhabiting many of the key players in the disastrous and wicked decision to invade Iraq. As ever, the whole is interpenetrated with a hatchet job on neo-enlightenment myths ofprogress.
David Rush
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good book. It offers a cool way to understand how the modern world has apparently been taken over by irrational but thoroughly convinced fanatics, be they jihadists, christian fundamentalists or simple tea-party nut-jobs.

He starts off with a review of Millenarian-ism. And thinks that the idea of utopia came from religion but is now taken up by the modern conservative movement and many radical religious people. Meaning there is a wonderful and almost perfect world that is an achievable goal, but
Dimitrije Vojnov
Oct 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Pročitao sam BLACK MASS Johna Graya, knjigu u kojoj ovaj politikolog razjašnjava pitanja uticaja religije u savremenoj politici, prepoznaje njene konstruktivne i destruktivne uticaje, i slično mnogim drugim teoretičarima otvara pitanje sekularizma, i njegove povezanosti sa religijom odnosno neizbežne sprege religije i sekularizma. Međutim, ono što je ključni doprinos koji Gray donosi jeste iznošenje teze da su veliki utopijski projekti, od komunizma i nacizma do neoliberalizma zapravo bili bazir ...more
H Wesselius
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant so brilliant I read it twice. He describes the Enlightenment and its offspring's visions of progress as merely the secularization of the Christian eschatology, positioning the New Jerusalem on earth. Like all utopian movements its adherents are so faith driven they become compelled to impose it by force. Thus, he compares the Reign of Terror and the Purges to the Crusades and the Inquisition. Of interest is the tracing of secular utopianism from the left to the right in the form of neo ...more
Jan 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
One can easily think of ways in which organized religion has resulted in gross atrocities, but usually we attribute these to misrepresentations of the underlying belief system(s). This book goes further in laying the pointing to the basic premise of those religions that include the belief in a utopia or heaven. This basic belief causes even more chaos when taken up by secular systems (nazism, communism).
Working from the assumption that utopian thinking is pervasive in modern-day politics, much to its detriment, Gray lays out his argument for a rationalist approach. I like how he analyzes thinkers from a theory of utopia, but when he discusses American policies he becomes patronizing and rather tedious. Can't say I regret reading Black Mass, but I think I'll leave his other books for what they are.
Matt Ralph
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If anyone knows of a writer functioning at this level, on these topics and related (especially environmental issues), please let me know.

‘(Hannah) Arendt also portrayed totalitarian states as impersonal machines in which individual responsibility was practically non-existent.’ P. 53

‘Less well known is the work of Ilya Ivanov, who in the mid-twenties was charged by Stalin with the task of cross-breeding apes with humans. Stalin was not interested in filling the world with replicas of
Jon Beech
May 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Bracing stuff on why utopian narratives are all basically hollowed out religious texts with despotic tendencies, but along the way he sort of meanders off around the Iraqi Invasion and gets a bit boring
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the first I've read of John Gray. He was brought to my attention first, by Corey Robins book The Reactionary Mind, and then my friend Jason was kind enough to buy me Black Mass. I started it with high expectations since it was recommended to me with such high praise. After reading through it, and I believe it's one I'll be rereading soon, I can see how that praise is justified.
Gray's assertion of past and present Western ideas revolving around and working towards a vision of utopia that
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Now this a hard book to review. Part philosophical theory, part international relations comparative analysis, part anti-theist/anti-atheist treatise. It's good though, if hard to read at times.

My take away is that Gray views those who consider history as having a direction are wrong (in the same was those who view evolution as having a direction are wrong). Liberalism is an illusion, secularism is doomed to fail for it is defined by the absence of its enemy (religion), and millenarist religious
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dünyanın sürekli iyiye doğru gittiği varsayımına yönelik bir eleştiri. Bu varsayım Hristiyanlık kaynaklı bir yanılsama. Nazim ve sosyalizm ve günümüz liberalizminde bu yanılsama hala yerini korumaktadır. Beklenen saadet asrının geleceğinin hiçbir delili yoktur. Tünelin ucun kötü bir yere çıkabilir. Üstelik bu varsayım tehlikeli olabilmektedir. Daha iyiye ulaşmak için şiddet kullanılabileceği inancı, çökmüş devletler ve patlayan bombalar olarak geri dönmüştür yazara göre.
Simon Dean
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting book, but sometimes quite heavy to get into once I've put it down for a few hours. It was also a justified affront to my worldview! :(
Martin Adams
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
exceptional in its depth of understanding
should be on all educational curriculum to provide an explanation of the current situation globally
Samuel Hilton
I enjoyed reading this but the argument behind it is extremely weak.

Chris Lynch
John Gray has written a powerful critique here of those who would seek to apply their prescriptive political formulas to the whole world, demanding that human nature re-shape itself to fit their narrow ideals.

Gray's thesis is that the globalist utopian political movements of the past century - first totalitarian communism, then unfettered capitalism, are rooted in western Christian eschatological thinking and an expectation that, after some great apocalyptic struggle or upheaval, the world will
Al Bità
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another bracing foray by the maverick John Gray; this time essentially to critically examine the international politics of the last few decades or so. No one escapes his acerbic writing, and as he writes it, none of them should!

Gray's main thesis is that the horrors and stupidities perpetrated by the powers that be are all tinged with the grievous error of Apocalytic Religions which posit some kind of Utopia which they believe is achievable on earth through the implementation of military force i
Simon Wood

At the centre of John Gray's book "Black Mass" is the not unreasonable assertion that grandiose plans to turn the world upside down and reach Utopia overnight have entailed a great deal of human misery and very little Utopia. There is nothing particularly novel in this assertion, though it is a little more palatable from the pen of John Gray, than say Isaiah Berlin (see "The Crooked Timber of Humanity") who liked to promote his own particular -i
Clark Hays
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, John Gray, is not for everyone. Here’s a short list of people who probably shouldn’t read this book:

* Supporters of the Iraq war — you’ll be distressed to see all of the justifications ripped to shreds and various lies and contortions of “logic” laid bare.
* Opponents of the Iraq war – you will be distressed all over again.
* Religious fundamentalists – if you think religion (any of them) has the answers to the world’s problems, you will be
Ioan Prydderch
The fact that as a man who considers himself very much of the Left finds himself nodding along in agreement with a conservative philosopher underlines the ideological relationship between socialisms and conservatisms. The crux of the argument that the Enlightenment, rather than a liberation of humanity from religion has merely re-worked itself into modern political utopian ideologies, namely those of liberalism and, by extension, socialism is a compelling one.

The historicisation of the developm
Riley Haas
Dec 15, 2016 rated it liked it
"This is somewhat difficult for me because I mostly agree for Gray, but there are some very serious problems with this book.
First off, Gray's analysis of communism and Nazism is cursory and repetitive. It has been done better by many, by Voegelin (whom Gray cites once), Kolakowski (whom Gray also only cites once) and probably by Cohn (whom Gray seems to have gathered his argument from, since he doesn't claim to have taken it from Voegelin or Kolakowski).
I must take issue of his dismissing of A
Scriptor Ignotus
The leitmotif of Black Mass is the historical relationship between progressive or revolutionary thinking and religious apocalypticism. Gray argues that the very notion of revolution, conceived as the turning over of society into a new era and a metaphysical "rebirth" of humanity, is the consequence of a legacy of religious apocalyptic expectation. Christianity and Islam, the two great occidental religions, infused the religious quest for meaning into the fabric of history itself, producing a con ...more
May 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
John Gray's a pretty interesting character. Most writers I can fit into a category within the first 10 pages. With this guy I'm still not really sure how I feel about him. He definitely said a lot of things I hated but there are good things here as well. He points out that communism and capitalism, contrary to popular belief, are not polar opposites, that history isn't teleological, that humanity isn't better off trying to converge on one universal system of perfect governance and that many of t ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Even though this book is considerably less silly than Straw Dogs it is still full of empty criticism and half-truths. I get the point that there may be many different viewpoints in a society yet that doesn't mean that a capitalist system with a democratic system is anymore satisfactory than a communist system. This particular argument of pluriformity is only used by Gray against communism yet in democratic countries any real change on the economic side is barely - if at all -possible.
Another dub
Alex Zakharov
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In ' Straw Dogs' Gray takes on and utterly demolishes human nature, in ' Black Mass' he does the same for modern and post modern human institutions. The main thesis criticises western secular regimes of the last 200 years as utopian projects rooted in enlightenment-inspired eschatological ideologies. From Jacobins to Lenin, Mao, Hitler, to Blair and Bush the West has been unsuccessfully trying to rely on reason to bring about a final paradise, each time ending in disaster. All these projects are ...more
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John Nicholas Gray is a English political philosopher with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas. He retired in 2008 as School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Gray contributes regularly to The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman, where he is the lead book reviewer.
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“Towards the end of the last century the pursuit of Utopia entered the political mainstream. In future only one kind of regime would be legitimate: American-style democratic capitalism – the final form of human government, as it was termed in the fleeting and now forgotten mood of hubris that followed the Soviet collapse. Led by the United States, western governments committed themselves to installing democracy throughout the world – an impossible dream that in many countries could only produce chaos. At the same time they launched a ‘war against terror’ that failed to distinguish between new threats and the normal conflicts of history. The Right was possessed by fantasies, and like the utopian visions of the last century – but far more quickly – its grandiose projects have crumbled into dust.

In the twentieth century it seemed utopian movements could come to power only in dictatorial regimes. Yet after 9/ 11 utopian thinking came to shape foreign policy in the world’s pre-eminent democracy. In many ways the Bush administration behaved like a revolutionary regime. It was prepared to engage in pre-emptive attacks on sovereign states in order to achieve its goals, while at the same time it has been ready to erode long-established American freedoms. It established a concentration camp in Guantánamo whose inmates are beyond the reach of normal legal protection, denied the protection of habeas corpus to terrorist suspects, set up an apparatus of surveillance to monitor the population and authorized American officials to practise what in any other country would be defined as torture. Under the leadership of Tony Blair, Britain suffered, in a more limited way, a similar transformation.”
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