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Ernest Gellner looks for the cause of some surprising developments in the twentieth century: the rising strength of Islam (in particular, Muslim fundamentalism); the upsurge in nationalism; and the unexpected and total collapse of Marxism. Behind both Muslim fundamentalism and nationalism, Gellner sees a break from local communities and hierarchies. And the main fault in Marxism, says Gellner, was the abolition of the profane. The big success stories today, he writes, “are the plural, liberal societies – what I call the unholy alliance of consumerist unbelievers.”

The reactions to the Austrian conservatives joining forces with the FPÖ can be attributed to the established political parties¹ need for a common enemy. In the “post-political era” the choice between Left and Right has lost its meaning, says Slavoj Zizek. The return of the extreme Right is the price that the “Third Way” of social democracy is paying for its renunciation of any radical political project.

In a fascinating addendum to Native Son (1940), the novelist Richard Wright talked about “the deep fun” of writing the book, and his sense that the nightmarish but weirdly comic saga of an illiterate black killing an upper-class white was universal.

Without illusion, but with conviction

The pragmatism of Richard Rorty

“The goal of establishing a world federation, a ‘Parliament of Mankind’, seemed much more realistic fifty years ago than it does now. Then it was thought that the United Nations might evolve into something like a world government. Now nobody has this dream, even though the need for such a government has grown much more urgent”, says Richard Rorty in this 1999 interview.

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