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The Myth of Disenchantment

Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences

Jason A. Josephson-Storm

The Myth of Disenchantment

Jason A. Josephson-Storm

400 pages | 5 figures | 6 x 9 | © 2017
Paper $32.00 ISBN: 9780226403366 Published May 2017
Cloth $96.00 ISBN: 9780226403229 Published May 2017
E-book $10.00 to $32.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226403533 Published May 2017
A great many theorists have argued that the defining feature of modernity is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm argues that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong, as attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Even the human sciences have been more enchanted than is commonly supposed. But that raises the question: How did a magical, spiritualist, mesmerized Europe ever convince itself that it was disenchanted?

Josephson-Storm traces the history of the myth of disenchantment in the births of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychoanalysis, and religious studies. Ironically, the myth of mythless modernity formed at the very time that Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult and spiritualist revivals. Indeed, Josephson-Storm argues, these disciplines’ founding figures were not only aware of, but profoundly enmeshed in, the occult milieu; and it was specifically in response to this burgeoning culture of spirits and magic that they produced notions of a disenchanted world.  

By providing a novel history of the human sciences and their connection to esotericism, The Myth of Disenchantment dispatches with most widely held accounts of modernity and its break from the premodern past.
Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
A Note on Texts and Translations

Introduction
A Philosophical Archaeology of the Disenchantment of the World
Reflexive Religious Studies: The Entangled Formation of Religion, Science, and Magic
Overview of the Work: Europe Is Not Europe

1          Enchanted (Post) Modernity
Weird America
Haunted Europe
Conclusion: New Age (Post) Modernists?

Part 1: God’s Shadow

2          Revenge of the Magicians
Francis Bacon and the Science of Magic
The Philosophes and the Science of Good and Evil Spirits
Conclusion: The Myth of Enlightenment

3          The Myth of Absence
Nihilism, Revolution, and the Death of God: F. H. Jacobi and G. W. F. Hegel
The Eclipse of the Gods: Friedrich Schiller
The Romantic Spiral: Friedrich Hölderlin
A Myth in Search of History: Jacob Burckhardt
Conclusion: The Myth of the Modern Loss of Myth

4          The Shadow of God
Spirits of a Vanishing God
The Haunted Anthropologist: E. B. Tylor
The Magician and the Philologist: Éliphas Lévi and Max Müller
Theosophical Disenchantment: Helena Blavatsky
Conclusion: Specters of the Transcendent

5          The Decline of Magic: J. G. Frazer
The Cultural Ruins of Paganism
The Golden Bough before Disenchantment
The Departure of the Fairies
The Dreams of Magic
The Lost Theory: Despiritualizing the Universe
Conclusion: A Devil’s Advocate

6          The Revival of Magick: Aleister Crowley
The Great Beast: A Biographical Sketch
The God-Eater and the Golden Bough
Disenchanted Magic
Conclusion: From The Golden Bough to the Golden Dawn

Part 2: The Horrors of Metaphysics

7          The Black Tide: Mysticism, Rationality, and the German Occult Revival
Degeneration and Mysticism: Max Nordau
Kant the Necromancer: Carl du Prel and Arthur Schopenhauer
Hidden Depths: Sigmund Freud
Conclusion: The Cosmic Night

8          Dialectic of Darkness: The Magical Foundations of Critical Theory
The Cosmic Circle
Magical Philosophy and Disenchantment: Ludwig Klages
The Esoteric Constellations of Critical Theory: Walter Benjamin
Conclusion: The Magic of Theory

9          The Ghosts of Metaphysics: Logical Positivism and Disenchantment
Philosophical Technocracy: Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer
Revolutionary Antimetaphysics: Positivist Disenchantment and Re-enchantment; Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath
Positivists in Paranormal Vienna: Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn
Conclusion: The Magic of Disenchantment

10        The World of Enchantment; or, Max Weber at the End of History
The Disenchantment of the World
Weber the Mystic and the Return from the God Eclipse
Conclusion: Disenchantment Disenchanted

Conclusion: The Myth of Modernity
The Myths of (Post) Modernity
The Myth of Disenchantment as Regulative Ideal
Against the Tide of Disenchantment
Notes
Index

Review Quotes
Randall Styers, author of Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World
“I know of no other study that offers such an ambitious reassessment of the genealogy of the notion of disenchantment. Building on impressive historical research, Josephson-Storm offers innovative readings of foundational social scientific and theoretical texts. This book is a major addition to the critical literature exploring the origins and nature of modernity.”
Jørn Borup, Religionsvidenskabeligt Tidsskrift
“This is a significant book. The Myth of Disenchantment is ambitious and well written, horizon broadening and provocative. . . . The book is definitely worthy of recommendation. It draws on modern esotericism research, engaging in a tradition where it demonstrates the importance of network thinking and circulation between domains. It is interesting as research history, and it is a breath of fresh air to the puritanical idealism that puts Western thinking on a pedestal undefiled by the muddiness of reality. It forces the sociologist to reconsider whether secularization and disenchantment are necessarily causally linked, and it vexes the science of religion’s self-understanding as a disciplinary tradition with a safe distance from the object it interprets and explains. In other words, the book is definitely recommended for critical reading.”
Peter J. Leithart, author of Gratitude: An Intellectual History
"A superb book. The kind that turns your brain upside down and gives it a good shake."
History of Humanities
The Myth of Disenchantment is a work of considerable clarity and directness. . .notable for its lucidity. . . . The Myth of Disenchantment is essential reading for those interested in the history of the modern humanities. It is directly engaged in this emerging field, investigating the figures and practices that constitute the history of the study of religion, critical theory, and other ‘human sciences.’ It features insightful syntheses of previous work, as well as original research into both obscure and well-worn areas of inquiry. . . offers a strong basis for future work.”
First Things
"As a factual matter, 'magic never truly vanished.' We’re told that the Reformation disenchanted Western Europe, but Luther threw his inkpot at the devil and Puritans put witches on trial. The rise of science has been blamed for destroying magic, but Newton dabbled in alchemy and spent his free evenings puzzling over the Book of Daniel. Modernity’s elites have always included more than a few spiritualists, theosophists, occultists, and magicians. . . .Josephson-Storm asks the key question: How did this factual myth become one of the myths that defines the modern age. . . .In Josephson-Storm’s telling, the cultural trajectory of the past two centuries has not been 'disenchantment' so much as 'de-Christianization.' . . .We need to get the story right to understand the world we live in. Our choice isn’t between “enchanted” religion and 'disenchanted' modernity. We’ll be more clear-sighted when we recognize that the choice is more typically among rival enchantments."
The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society
"As he traces the story, Josephson-Storm brilliantly pulls open the curtain on one of our oft-told and rarely questioned modern myths, helping us better to see to see the motley crew responsible for its production. . . .Josephson-Storm’s real gift is in making visible that a deanimated material world is not simply ‘the way things are,’ but an accomplishment of shared human understanding."
Magonia Review of Books
“The author displays impressive erudition in tackling what is, by any standards, a massive undertaking. . . Josephson-Storm exhaustively traces the development of Western thought on this subject through history to the present time, and convincingly argues that the magic never really went away after all. . . .While the underlying theme is eminently simple and understandable, some of the philosophical arguments become immensely complex. This book is a serious academic work. . .yet he reveals a capacity for lightness of touch. . . The Myth of Disenchantment is a most stimulating and informative book.”
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
 “The Myth of Disenchantment is a model monograph: a work that condenses a dizzying array of information into a tightly woven and significant argument and then relays it in easily understandable and enjoyable prose. Its impact on the field at large is sure to be felt.”
 
History of Psychology
“Josephson-Storm reveals the intentions that led him to write the book—a critique of the idea that magic and loss of magic are opposites, and that the former led to a superstitious society and the latter to a secularized and modern society. Starting from these considerations, the author’s overriding objective is to demystify both Weberian disenchantment and the criticisms of modernity of Adorno, Horkheimer, and the postmodernists. The book shows, conversely, that magic and secularism are not opposites but have coexisted and contributed to building contemporaneity, intertwining in various ways.”
Kritikos
“Everything is different, but nothing has changed. Apparently, the adage applies to magic and modernity as well. Josephson-Storm's foray is much like the Latourian 'we've never been modern' saga, but focused more specifically upon the status of myth-making as it pertains to faith, spiritual practices and the philosophy of religion over the last century or so.”
The Metropolitan Society for International Affairs
The Myth of Disenchantment offers a valuable lesson to self-consciously modern, Western analysts of international affairs. It reminds us that the concepts by which we define and justify our intellectual pursuits are myths. This is not to say that they lack any bearing on the real world, but rather to note that they function more to regulate our intellectual conduct than they do to describe a collection of historical facts. That being the case, Josephson-Storm gives us the chance to pause and ask what other myths we might take for granted in our analysis; he reminds us that many of the tools by which we study global affairs first developed to divide the west from the rest, and therefore enjoins us to ask whether how much our intellectual labor is really describing conditions as they are elsewhere in the world, and how much is simply repeating a story about who we’ve come to believe we ought to be.”
 
Journal of Ecclesiastical History
“Storm proposes an interesting and acute analysis. His intriguing conclusion is ‘an attempt to undo the myth that there is no myth.’ It suggests a new interpretation of an important issue of social and cultural history as well as a broader framework. We need to historicize the myth of modernity and its various incarnations in European social theory and Storm helps us to do so.”
Egil Asprem | Inference: International Review of Science
“Historical evidence is easily neglected, Josephson-Storm argues, when it crosses the grain of what we ought to believe. Disenchantment is a foundational myth of the new human sciences that emerged during the nineteenth century. By treating magic and religion as anachronisms, anthropology and sociology reinforced the myth of disenchantment, while promoting their own claim to scientific status. A taboo invites its own subversion. So, too, with disenchantment. The disavowal of the occult typically involved the public rejection and the private embrace of various enchantments…. This, Josephson-Storm suggests, is the very mechanism of occult disavowal. His book is a treasure trove of examples.”
 
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