THE BULLET'S SONG: Romantic Violence and Utopia

William Pfaff, Author
William Pfaff, Author . Simon & Schuster $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-684-80907-6
Reviewed on: 10/04/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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In Pfaff's view, the Romantic movement and its notion of "redemptive, utopian violence" fueled the century-long conflagration that first engulfed Europe in August 1914. A National Book Award finalist for Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century (1989) and a political columnist for the International Herald Tribune , Pfaff believes the death of chivalry, "a code of national and personal conduct," and the growth of totalitarian utopias were the legacy of WWI. To explore this, Pfaff closely examines six influential artists, writers and intellectuals—T.E. Lawrence, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Ernst Jünger, Willy Münzenberg, André Malraux and Arthur Koestler—"who believed themselves committed to progressive causes" and styled themselves romantic warriors; all ended up disillusioned or murdered. In crisp learned prose, Pfaff weaves a tale of men driven by a lust for power fueled by the heroic notion of human society perfected through the application of romantic ideals. Pfaff holds the classical view that human life is fundamentally tragic, and for him, these utopias necessarily devolved into cruel, murderous totalitarian regimes. He concludes that we have no worldview today to replace the belief in religious or secular progress; he vaguely argues for a reawaking of the power of virtue over idealism. At a time when war has been cast as redemptive, this book deserves to be widely read and discussed. Agent, Emma Sweeney. (Nov. 5)

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