The best books on intellectuals and fascism

Why am I passionate about this?

As a graduate student during the late 1970s, my mentor, Martin Jay, generously introduced me to two members of the Frankfurt School: Herbert Marcuse and Leo Lowenthal. These memorable personal encounters inspired me to write a dissertation on Walter Benjamin, who was closely allied with the Frankfurt School. The completed dissertation, Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption, became the first book on Benjamin in English and is still in print. The Frankfurt School thinkers published a series of pioneering socio-psychological treatises on political authoritarianism: The Authoritarian Personality, Prophets of Deceit, and One-Dimensional Man. These studies continue to provide an indispensable conceptual framework for understanding the contemporary reemergence of fascist political forms.


I wrote...

Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology

By Richard Wolin,

Book cover of Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology

What is my book about?

The publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in 2014 elicited shockwaves throughout the otherwise staid guild of Heidegger scholarship. We learned, for example, that Heidegger’s enthusiasm for Nazism dated from the early 1930s and that his commitment to (as he put it) “the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism” persisted until the end of World War II. These revelations were bound to have a transformative impact on the way that Heidegger’s philosophy was interpreted and transmitted. Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology seeks to expose and decipher the conditions that led to the controversial and disturbing alliance between Heideggerian “fundamental ontology” and German fascism.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich

Richard Wolin Why did I love this book?

When I first read Herf’s book during the 1990s, it totally transformed my understanding of National Socialism’s attitude toward technology and modernity.

Prior to its publication, Nazism was commonly perceived as anti-modern and anti-technological: as aspiring toward a vaguely defined pre-modern, martial-communitarian dystopia. Conversely, Herf shows that Nazism concertedly sought to integrate technological modernity within the movement’s militaristic, pan-German ideological framework. Here, the effusive expression employed by Goebbels to describe Nazism’s hypertrophic pro-technological enthusiasms, “steely romanticism,” says it all!

In this respect, Ernst Jünger’s allegorical glorification of totalitarian militarism in The Worker (Der Arbeiter) was paradigmatic. 

By Jeffrey Herf,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Reactionary Modernism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a unique application of critical theory to the study of the role of ideology in politics, Jeffrey Herf explores the paradox inherent in the German fascists' rejection of the rationalism of the Enlightenment while fully embracing modern technology. He documents evidence of a cultural tradition he calls 'reactionary modernism' found in the writings of German engineers and of the major intellectuals of the. Weimar right: Ernst Juenger, Oswald Spengler, Werner Sombart, Hans Freyer, Carl Schmitt, and Martin Heidegger. The book shows how German nationalism and later National Socialism created what Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, called the 'steel-like romanticism…


Book cover of Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France

Richard Wolin Why did I love this book?

Zeev Sternhell, who died in 2020, was a scholar of matchless integrity and a personal friend.

His groundbreaking study, Neither Right Nor Left, transformed our understanding of the history of fascism. It also upended the received wisdom that indigenous fascism had been nonexistent in France: the myth that fascist ideology had been brutally imposed on the French in 1940 by the Nazi conquerors. Sternhell’s book intervened in timely fashion to remind us that France was the birthplace not only of republican humanism, but also of the European counterrevolution, as represented by intellectuals such as Joseph de Maistre, Edouard Drumont, and Maurice Barrès.

He demonstrates that, at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1905), counterrevolutionary ideology metastasized into a series of diabolically antisemitic pro-fascist movements. Perhaps the best-known exemplar was the Integral Nationalism of Charles Maurras and the Action Française.

Sternhell’s stunning conclusion, which continues to be hotly debated today, is that the intellectual origins of fascism are neither German, nor Italian, but French

By Zeev Sternhell, David Maisel (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Neither Right nor Left as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Few books on European history in recent memory have caused such controversy and commotion," wrote Robert Wohl in 1991 in a major review of Neither Right nor Left. Listed by Le Monde as one of the forty most important books published in France during the 1980s, this explosive work asserts that fascism was an important part of the mainstream of European history, not just a temporary development in Germany and Italy but a significant aspect of French culture as well. Neither right nor left, fascism united antibourgeois, antiliberal nationalism, and revolutionary syndicalist thought, each of which joined in reflecting the…


Book cover of The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures

Richard Wolin Why did I love this book?

During the early 1990s, I had the good fortune to participate in Habermas’ legendary Monday night philosophy colloquium at the University of Frankfurt.

The experience transformed my understanding of the raison d’être of Critical Theory. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity is not a book about fascism per se. Instead, it tells the story of how, after the war, the titans of interwar German Kulturpessimismus – Nietzsche (albeit, posthumously), Carl Schmitt, and Heidegger – were canonized by the leading advocates of “French Theory” as the new maîtres à penser or “master thinkers.”

Yet, the canonization of German philosophy came at a high cost. After all, historically speaking, the philosophies in question stood in close proximity to fascist ideology.

Hence, the question arises: to what extent did such pro-fascist “ideologemes” infiltrate and inform the basic tenets of French poststructuralism?

By Jurgen Habermas, Frederick G. Lawrence (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This critique of French philosophy and the history of German philosophy is a tour de force that has the immediacy and accessibility of the lecture form and the excitement of an encounter across national cultural boundaries as Habermas takes up the challenge posed by the radical critique of reason in contemporary French postmodernism.

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity is a tour de force that has the immediacy and accessibility of the lecture form and the excitement of an encounter across, national cultural boundaries. Habermas takes up the challenge posed by the radical critique of reason in contemporary French poststructuralism. Tracing…


Book cover of The Jargon of Authenticity

Richard Wolin Why did I love this book?

To this day, Adorno’s pathbreaking Heidegger-critique, The Jargon of Authenticity, remains one of the most insightful and lucid exposés of fascist ideology ever written.

To begin with, Adorno wrote as an insider: as a scholar who had witnessed the implantation and criminality of German fascism firsthand. In Jargon, he used the Heideggerian's notion of “authenticity” as the point of departure for a brilliant semantic and rhetorical unmasking of the way that fascist linguistic habitudes suffuse the discourse of everyday life. After reading Adorno’s critique, it is impossible read Heidegger naïvely: that is, without careful attention to the ideological distortions of his Denkhabitus.

As Adorno deftly shows, Heidegger’s idiolect of “authentic” being-in-the-world masks a deep-seated longing for German geopolitical supremacy.

By Theodor Adorno,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jargon of Authenticity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Theodor Adorno was no stranger to controversy. In The Jargon of Authenticity he gives full expression to his hostility to the language employed by certain existentialist thinkers such as Martin Heidegger. With his customary alertness to the uses and abuses of language, he calls into question the jargon, or 'aura', as his colleague Walter Benjamin described it, which clouded existentialists' thought. He argued that its use undermined the very message for meaning and liberation that it sought to make authentic. Moreover, such language - claiming to address the issue of freedom - signally failed to reveal the lack of freedom…


Book cover of The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader

Richard Wolin Why did I love this book?

The ever-contentious debate about Heidegger’s filiations with Nazism was re-enlivened with the appearance of the so-called “Black Notebooks” in 2014.

However, unless one closely heeds the existential verbiage of Heidegger’s commitment to Nazism, one risks tilting at windmills; hence, succumbing to a plethora of misconceptions and misunderstandings.

This invaluable collection of original texts – which, in addition to Heidegger political speeches of 1933-34, contains the indispensable Der Spiegel interview, “Only a God Can Save Us!” – has taken on an entirely new meaning and importance in light of the “Black Notebooks’” publication. 

By Richard Wolin (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heidegger Controversy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This anthology is a significant contribution to the debate over the relevance of Martin Heidegger's Nazi ties to the interpretation and evaluation of his philosophical work. Included are a selection of basic documents by Heidegger, essays and letters by Heidegger's colleagues that offer contemporary context and testimony, and interpretive evaluations by Heidegger's heirs and critics in France and Germany.In his new introduction, "Note on a Missing Text," Richard Wolin uses the absence from this edition of an interview with Jacques Derrida as a springboard for examining questions about the nature of authorship and personal responsibility that are at the heart…


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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…


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