December 10, 2004


'Sacred Sociology: A French Approach to the Religious Dimension of Fascism’, Carlo Ginzburg, Leo Baeck Institute, London December 7 2004


Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘microhistories’ of belief-contagion (and of withcraft in particular) make him an enormous resource for students of hyperstition. The subject of Ginzburg’s lecture on Tuesday, held in the vaguely sinister atmosphere of the Leo Baeck Institute near Regents Park on, was the College de Sociologie, founded by Bataille, Roger Caillois and Michel Leiris in Paris in 1937.

The College de Sociologie from the start envisaged its mission to involve not the provision of a sociology of the sacred but the invention of a sacred sociology. The College explicitly abandoned the aim of studying religion with academic detachment; its three founding members didn’t want to be scholars so much as participants in a revivified cult of the sacred. In this ambition, naturally, they broke from the positivist pretensions of sociology. The founder of the discipline, Emile Durkheim, together with his nephew, Marcel Mauss, had precisely thought that sociology would ultimately supercede religion. The dispassionate appreciation of Society as Sovereign would replace supernaturalist superstitions, providing a rational(ist) and non-sectarian base for social cohesion in a way that religions never could. Rejecting this rationalist religion, Bataille, Cailois and Leiris wanted the religion, but without the rationalism.

Here, then, the rejection of Enlightenment is all-but complete. Rationality is repudiated, demonized. It is made equivalent with a process of modernization that is seen to be ‘taking us away’ from something essential that was supposedly present in all other human groupings – especially primitive societies – but which has now been ‘lost’, and which can only be recovered by either opiating reason or jabbing it into submission with Dionysian phalluses.

Accordingly, Ginzburg positioned Bataille and the College as part of a ‘Catholic-Satanic’ lineage (I’m not making this up, honest) Counter-Enlightenment tradition. Significantly, in the case of the College de Sociologie this flight from reason specifically entailed a rejection of the Jewish rationalist tradition of which Durkheim was a firm adherent.

If – as is established in Jonathan Israel’s work – Spinoza is the Jewish-rationalist inventor-discoverer of radical enlightenment, the most obvious source of the counter-enlightenment trajectory that culminated in the College and its irrationalist successors in postmodernity has usually been taken to be Sade. But Ginzburg took one step back along that well-travelled route, returning to Voltaire. In Ginzburg’s narrative, Voltaire emerged as the pitvotal counter-enlightenment figure: a disappointed rationalist whose inability to square his knowledge of the natural world with rational ethical principles made him cry out in moral disgust for a theodicy.


What is prima facie odd in Voltaire’s turn from rationalism is its strange doubling of the logic of the disappointed theist. Like those idiotically chauvinistic religious believers who only begin to question their faith in the Demiurge-Jahweh only when a member of their family is struck ill, Voltaire was famously morally shocked by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Since Voltaire had dispensed with faith in the personal God, his moral outrage at the 1755 disaster could not make him atheistic – he already was. What it did was make him question his ‘faith’ in rationalism.

Voltaire, then, is perhaps the first case study of what will become, in Nietzschean postmodernity, a familiar psychopathology. Rational analysis rounds upon itself. The scalpel of analytic reason – the capacity to understand Nature and the principles which animate it – becomes a weapon of auto-laceration turned both against reason itself and its agent. Never fully extirpated (because never fully extirpatable), reason is lured into a hideous line of abolition.

(Later, Nietzsche will be the consummate artist of what he himself will call, in Beyond Good and Evil, the long, slow suicide of reason. The object of Nietzsche’s remark is, as always a religious thinker, Pascal. But, as ever, Nietzsche finds himself guilty of the very vices of which he accuses the theists. Hence the negative atheologies of those Nietszchean all-too Nietzschean cults of un-reason, deconstruction and postmodernity. But that is to jump ahead. Nietzsche cast a vast shadow over Ginzburg’s narrative, but featured only very fleetingly as a player within it.)

Traumatized by the Lisbon catastrophe, Voltaire becomes morbidly obsessed with nature’s amoral rapacity. When he surveys Nature, he confronts a Boschian Garden of Earthly Delights, a proto-Burroughsian universe of devourer-eat-devourer. The planet as charnel house. ‘Earth is a single battlefield.’ (The) Meat causes him revulsion. ‘Can anything be more horrible than to feed oneself on corpses?’

It is only a short step to Sade’s naturalization of cruelty. Since nothing is more natural than murder, ethics is a sentimental indulgence, an inevitably failed effort to provide solace for ourselves in a world of pitiless consumption and degradation. Sade’s arguments are so familiar – and Sadeanism, along with its successor Nietzscheanism, is so widely disseminated, so blanket accepted, both culturally and academically – that there is little point jumping on the grim hedonic treadmill of his thought again here now.


But the next figure in Ginzburg’s story is much less celebrated: Joseph de Maistre. Maistre was a theist who abominated the French Revolution but who nevertheless followed the logic of his faith by recognizing that its occurrence must be part of a divinely-ordained Necessity. Maistre is therefore in every sense the exemplary reactionary conservative.

What Maistre’s cold survey of ‘the universal law of violent destruction of human beings’ adds to Voltaire and Sade’s vision of earth as a charnel house is the notion of sacrifice. It is ritualized sacrifice which allows civil society to some degree contain the cosmic reality of Evil. While cruelty, for Sade, is distributed throughout the whole body politic, for Maistre, modern society manages to sublimate its destructive impulses by limiting its licensed practice to the work of two abject figures who occupy a liminal relation to the ‘ordinary’ human world their despised existence both protects and makes possible: the soldier and the hangman.

Ginzburg lingered with an obvious relish over Maistre’s astonishing, appalled-fascinated evocation of the hangman, the anti-social but socially-necessary psychopath and for Ginzburg, it is the combination of Sade and Maistre that makes possible, not only the flaneur-decadence and debauched tristesse of Baudelaire, but also Foucault’s studies of discipline and the carceral.

Between Baudelaire and Foucault lie Bataille and the College de Sociologie, but implicit in Ginzburg’s narrative was a total debunking of any claims that Bataille’s advocacy of cruelty, sacrifice and the transgressive was in any way ‘radical’. On the contrary, and as should be clear by now, the College’s withdrawal from reason, its conception of the cosmos as a gigantic cruelty machine, is part of a well-established reactionary tradition.

Bataille emerged in Ginzburg’s story as a figure frighteningly close to Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man – a minor civil servant with fantasies that would be dangerous if they had any possibility of being enacted. Thankfully, they didn’t (‘Bataille was not a man of action,’ Ginzburg remarked, in a masterpiece of understatement). The story of Bataille’s ludicrous attempt to become a human sacrifice (he offered himself to three people, none of whom would kill him) is as comic as it is pathetic.

The connection between Bataille and fascism should by now be obvious: the same withdrawal from secularized modernity into a blood cult, the same ‘alphabet of unreason’ (Ballard). Naturally, it’s too quick, too crass, to say that Bataille was a fascist. But Ginzburg did more than enough to establish that it wasn’t for nothing that the Acephale group were accused of being ‘Surfascists’ (a name they themselves happily appropriated). The group had praised Hitler’s virile forthrightness and Bataille, Ginzburg said, had been bewitched by the phallic power of the Nazis. He sought, impossibly, tragically, to attain the ‘innocence of animals’, to sink into the porcine ignorance-bliss of a creature consciousness unburdened by intellect and reason.

Posted by mark k-p at December 10, 2004 12:20 AM




As everyone from Euclid through Goedel to Stillwell demonstrates: true 'radicalism'
is neither rational nor irrational, but rather arithmetical.

Posted by: nick at December 10, 2004 06:46 AM



Leiris is an interesting figure: the French Humphrey Jennings, anyone? One of the missing links between Surrealism, film, and sociology-anthropology. He tried to get Bunuel to accompany him on an anthropological project in Africa. Does rejecting Durkheim's model of sociology (which after all 'may contain traces' of positivism, even functionalism) really mean rejecting 'the enlightenment' tout court? Obviously this is so in the case of Bataille ('the Sunday immoralist' -- JG Merquior) but what of the project as a whole?

Posted by: henrymiller at December 10, 2004 12:19 PM



Mark, this essay is excellent.

Posted by: oliver at December 10, 2004 05:34 PM



yeah yeah ... wikked stuff mark ... like mark and nikk, i too used to think nietzsche and bataille was the real radikal shit ... but that's passé now and you gotta role with the times man ... it ain't rationality and reason and abstraktion and enlightenment and science that's the enemy ... it's perspektivism and embodiment and kontext and horizons and meaning and finitude and all that tired anti-enlightenment, krypto-romanticist, reactionary konservatism that gotta be wiped away man (and k-punk got the sponge!) ... if you wanna really be down these days you gotta start spittin' about spinoza and radikal enlightenment and kold rationality and the geometrik method and the infinity and abstraction and exkarnation and the gnostics man ... 'let no-one who is ignorant of non-euklidean geometry enter here' ... yeah, yeah ... big up pythagoras, big up plato, big up euklid, big up riemann, big up gauss, big up kantor, big up hilbert, big up goedel ... i don't understand any of them but i rekkon they is the truly radikal biskitts these days man ... let's make war on romanticism and historicism and phenomenology and life philosophy and dekonstruktion and every other mode of thought komplicit with the kapitalist konspiracy to make the parameters of diskursive possibility chime with the telos of ultimate intelligibility (the habermasian phantasy of the konsensual kommunity) ... fukk finitude man, fukk 'meaning' and 'intelligibility' and 'normativity' and 'kommunikation' (like k-punk put it, they ain't nothin' but the way the Shit-stem tries to vindikate itself) ... big up a pure rationality no longer held kaptive the konfines of 'experience' or 'meaning' or 'perspektive' or 'horizons' man ... big up the radical infinite ... mathematics in the grand style ... yeah yeah ... (i hope this fashion lasts longer than the others though, man, kos i just bought a bunch of expensive math books ...)

Posted by: Axiomatik (né Transgressive) at December 10, 2004 07:35 PM



Lots here needs chewing over carefully.
The word 'fascism' has become such debased currency its easy to slide into insectoid cognitive reflexes. What exactly is the accusation of fascism describing here?
As I noted in response to Reza above, Berman's definition of totalitarianism strikes me as the most plausible and also most rigorously conceived attempts to retain some structured understanding of it - his reading is very rich although (as a US 'liberal') he downplays the role of State-worship. He also runs Nazism and fascism together, which - even if he does it more persuasively than usual - remains problematic (note that antisemitism played a very minor role in Italian fascism or the Spanish phalange).
Not that I am disputing Mark's basic (relayed?) argument - Bataille-style romantic death-cultism definitely shares fascist traits. But these seem uncomfortably close to any romantic (passionate and elitist) revolt against the drab conformism of bourgeois existence, becoming almost indistinguishable from the aestheticist PoV in general - Aren't all artist 'fascists' - at least if they're interesting - which is why they should never be allowed anywhere near political power. The same is true, in a more Stalinist/depressing way, of all intellectuals - best just to shoot the mofos.

Basing his analysis on the latent 'political' formula of the Book of Revelation, Berman sees the post-cataclysmic ('purified') Millennium / Thousand Year Reich / Communist Utopia / Caliphate as a defining totalitarian aspiration. Does fascism necessarily incorporate a vision of post-apocalyptic purified social existence? (Bataille doesn't fit here very easily - but for sure he's a Catholic-satanist loser)

Anyway, I'm not sure how the invocation of fascism (as opposed to totalitarianism) connects with contemporary political quandaries - genuine question.

Secondly, on Spinoza - some rather dodgy moves in your discussion mark. For one thing, the guy was anathematized by the Dutch Jews (you've read the curse, right?) - he's hardly a model Jewish thinker. In fact, his relationship to 17th century Judaism was about as harmonious as Theo van Gogh's relationship to Islam.
The whole 'rationality' thing is more complex too. When Weber describes Judaism as 'rationalizing' religion he means it installs a transcendent divinity - this doesn't seem to bear much connection to the kind of (Spinozistic-immanentist) 'cold-rationalism' you are endorsing. Judaic monotheism - oecumenized by Xtianity - obliterates shamanic involvement in the sacred, 'de-sacralizing' quotidian existence and thus (IMHO) laying the pathological ground work for the Bataille-style howling that has irrupted ever since, in (futile) protest against the erasure of practical religion in the West.
[As you know, I find the return of the sacred in Xtian guise - crawling back to your rapist - perverse to the point of absolute revulsion, but it's certainly 'sociologically' predictable that people would want to drink blood and play with snakes in church - it's just sad the real thing was buried by the monotheists. Anyway, Bataille's morbid confusion is to be found somewhere in this f%*@-up and probably inevitably so - if a civilization suppresses religion (unmediated participation in the sacred) it is going to get a load of shit backing up in its social tubing and morality tales about 'fascism' aren't going to stop that happening]

Lot's more on this, but enough for now ...

Posted by: nick at December 11, 2004 02:18 PM




superb ...

>>> Lot's more on this

more more

Posted by: Reza at December 11, 2004 03:53 PM



Hey, Nick, that's not fair! I was only barking like a rabid dog like you taught us all to do back in Warwick, remember? It's not fair for you to turn all scholarly on me now - besides, you're not my supervisor anymore, and it's a little late to start playing Professor, don't you think? Plus, it's a bit hard to take the accusation of making "some dodgy moves" from the man who wrote 'The Thirst for Annihilation'! (or would you like me to remind you of some of the "dodgy moves" in there?)

As it goes, I didn't say that Spinoza was a "model Jewish thinker" at all, nor did I suggest that his relation to 17th century Judaism was "harmonious" (and did Luther stop being a Christian because of his heresy?). In fact I merely mentioned Spinoza incidentally as the discoverer-inventor of the radical enlightenment, and given Israel's compendious documentation of the origins of this movement, I hardly think that's contentious!

I'm reluctant to say this, since I've recently berated others for employing ad hominem tactics in place of arguments (not that we at the ccru have ever really concerned with checking our inferences for truth-table consistency!), but I suspect that you're just trying to undermine me in front of my blog-fans because you're worried that I may be trying to stage some kind of patricidal take-over by declaring Nietzsche and Bataille (= Nick Land) to be adherents of a merely reactionary counter-enlightenment conservatism and Spinoza (= Mark K-Punk) to be the truly subversive radical. But really, you shouldn't worry, for apart from the fact that we're both ineffectual nobodies, barking into the void, if you press me for an argument on all this hyperbole about "cold rationalism", you'll quickly find that it's just another coat of rhetorical varnish which I use to disguise my rather mediocre intellect and to appear more intimidating to the cretins who predictably lambaste me for nothing more than defying common sense (although, secretly, I live for them, and them alone). Like dying one's hair pink, rationalism is out of fashion, so I adorn myself with it - after all, if you want to set the trends and not just follow the fashions, you have to be able to choose just the right time to appear untimely!

Posted by: Resentocratic troll using the name 'mark k-punk' at December 11, 2004 07:04 PM



Mark - Holy shit that's weird and embarassing. Sure you don't want to delete it? - it sounds really pathetic.
Let's junk all this ad hominem crap [agree with you that's it's horrible] and return to proper roles as avatars of Lemurian Hyperstition.

Posted by: nick at December 11, 2004 11:08 PM



Shit, I wish you hadn't seen that. You're right, I'll delete it and we'll leave the ad hominem shit out from now on.

But I hope you believe me when I say that it really wasn't 'me' (whatever that means) that wrote it. I strongly suspect that some agent of Kapital is trying to sabotage the Hyperstition k-space and using my moniker to clone me. I’ll look into it and get back to you. Hold on ...

Posted by: Resentocratic troll using the name 'mark k-punk' at December 11, 2004 11:41 PM



Re: Blissblog's comment on the role of "play" in music as it pertains admittedly tangentially to your fine essay, but I wonder how Huizinga's Homo Ludens would fit into/interevene in/complicate this narrative of fascism?

Posted by: G E Light at December 12, 2004 12:17 AM



>>> but I suspect that you're just trying to undermine me in *front of my blog-fans*

Mark, despite all my respect for you (and i really mean it) ... i really couldn't expect such a K- (or whatever people may call) statement from you who enthusiastically try to kill oedipus in cyberspace or whatever?

Posted by: Reza at December 12, 2004 02:03 AM



sorry mark, i missed your second comment ...

Posted by: Reza at December 12, 2004 02:27 AM



Holy Shit indeed. Anyhow, not sure how this relates to Hyperstition; seems somewhat academic, albeit interesting. The reply to Nick was worth this post alone.

Posted by: tachiiru at December 12, 2004 02:29 AM



>>> Nick: Sure you don't want to delete it?

Nick you once told me "repression hardly works" ... i try to live with what you said; so why Mark or any of us should delete or remove our mistakes instead of reviweing them over and over and improve our K+ tactics, and getting a lesson from them? We only delete spams here ;) or irrelevant offensive posts which really try to repel writers or other commentators.

Posted by: Reza at December 12, 2004 02:35 AM



Not an academic conspiracy ... we all have many little oedipuses with ourselves ... we should understand it and try to eradicate them even by means of participation. Blaming all this at academics is surely one of the worst oedipal tactics. Let's don't escape blindly ... a blind line of escape can hardly resist the temptations of the ground.

Posted by: Reza at December 12, 2004 02:40 AM



Comment by troll deleted.

Posted by: Adam at December 12, 2004 10:55 AM



cor this is brilliant! that's a really well written forgery if forgery it is! congratulations.
i actually think reza wrote it. it seems like the sort of cruel trick he'd play. he's probably got some sort of hyperstitional justification for it but i reckon he did it just fr a laugh.

Posted by: luke at December 12, 2004 11:03 AM



yeah, this is getting good. this is fantastic! great comments adam, the thing about this lot is they're all amateurs when it comes to strategy.

thy'll learn, but it'/ll take a long time. they need to go ninja school innit. learn some higher level techniques.

Posted by: luke at December 12, 2004 11:09 AM



maybe mark should cut the apron strings and dissassociate himself with nick land entirely?

i mean, cor, think of all the sickly undercurrents there must be plus the consensus seems to be that land is washed up and marks star is rising. surely now would be the time for a clean break, leave land to the numerology, the dungeons and the dragons,the fantasies of being whipped in top floor docklands offices by cold eyed capitalist domanatrixes in power-suits and stilletoes, plough your own furrow mark. maybe thats the answer. so many questions...

a lot of interesting issues raised in this thread.

Posted by: luke at December 12, 2004 11:26 AM



'If Spinoza is the Jewish-rationalist inventor-discoverer of radical enlightenment, the most obvious source of the counter-enlightenment trajectory that culminated in the College and its irrationalist successors in postmodernity has usually been taken to be Sade.'

What I'm struck by most of all in the essay -- which is really illuminating, I wish I'd known about the lecture -- is the idealism of much of the argument. Unless you want to rub Bataille's (and indeed the Surrealists in general) nose in the dirt, I don't really follow. Because Nazism is not the 'realization' of the Idea of the anti-rational. (And most of the Surrealists were Communists.)
The lineages -- the rationalists and the anti-rationalists -- brings to mind Popper, in which you're *either* for the 'open society' or against it; the key operation is abstracting numerous different philosophies from their material bases. 'The rational' needs some explaining; wasn't Freud, as a positivist in some respects, working in a rational tradition? Or does the opposition have its limitations?

Posted by: henrymiller at December 12, 2004 11:49 AM



comment by troll deleted

Posted by: Adam55 at December 12, 2004 12:39 PM



Mark -
Sincerest apologies for thinking any post beginning "Hey, Nick, that's not fair! ..." could be from you - it's quite terrifying how unthinkingly a purported ID triggers an idiotically supine acceptance
Partly my ludicrous gullibility here was a side-effect of my assumptions about the Nazarene and all his works ("hey, once you discover Jesus, then anything's possible!")
Anyway, more apologies (grovel, grovel ...)

PS. Honestly, I wouldn't object to the death penalty for this sort of thing - maybe even a bit of torture thrown in ...

Posted by: nick at December 12, 2004 01:18 PM



Comment by troll deleted.

(All this one tells us is that, in addition to not being able to spell 'lambast', he also cannot spell 'Nietzsche').

Posted by: why-does-it-matter? at December 12, 2004 01:58 PM



lol ... i can just laugh.

Posted by: Reza at December 12, 2004 02:32 PM



why-does-it-matter - "shit-stirrer" indeed. if i was trying to invent a total turd it would sound pretty much exactly like you. Get a life ass-wipe

Posted by: nick at December 12, 2004 03:04 PM



Reza (who i trust as technomaster here) - lets delete a whole lot of this shit, if the tedious trolls think they can get a hearing here they'll just keep coming back

Posted by: nick at December 12, 2004 03:07 PM



Lets erase all these comments - no other way of demonstrating that trolling is futile
Then lets install principle that oedipal pranking gets ruthlessly purged - unless we hack this crap out now we're going to end up shutting down comments even for real contributions

Posted by: nick at December 12, 2004 03:28 PM