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Political Romanticism, Utopian Violence

“This book tells a story about the twentieth century, which has in it a lesson for the twenty-first—one that I would think unlikely to be learned, since it is a moral lesson, concerning the role of virtue in human existence, and we know about moral lessons.”  Thus begins William Pfaff’s incisive and bracing study of the appeal, and destructive history, of utopian violence in the 20th (and now 21st) century.

The Bullet’s Song is organized around six key figures (including artists, soldiers, intellectuals, and propagandists) of the last century, each of whom embraced violence as a legitimate means either to personal transcendence or to redemptive revolution.  They are T.E. Lawrence (the British officer who led the Arab revolt against the Ottomans), Ernst Junger (the German storm trooper and postwar scientist and author), Gabriele D’Annunzio (the Italian poet and playwright who took over the city of Fiume in 1919), Willi Munzenberg (the brilliant German propagandist who headed the Comintern during the 1920’s and 30’s), André Malraux (the French novelist and communist fellow traveler and later Gaullist), and Arthur Koestler (the expatriate Hungarian novelist who turned from Stalinism to militant anticommunism).  Other men considered are the Italian artist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, whose futurism prefigured fascism, and Benito Mussolini, who fused nationalism...

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