Black Mass

How Religion Led the World into Crisis

Publisher: Anchor Canada
Fascinating, enlightening, and epic in scope, Black Mass looks at the historic and modern faces of Utopian ideology: Society’s Holy Grail, but at what price?

During the last century global politics was shaped by Utopian projects. Pursuing a dream of a world without evil, powerful states waged war and practised terror on an unprecedented scale. From Germany to Russia to China to Afghanistan, entire societies were destroyed.

Utopian ideologies rejected traditional faiths and claimed to be based in science. They were actually secular versions of the myth of Apocalypse–the belief in a world-changing event that brings history, with all its conflicts, to an end. The war in Iraq was the last of these attempts at creating a secular Utopia, promising a new era of democracy and producing blood-soaked anarchy and an emerging theocracy instead.

John Gray’s powerful and frightening new book argues that the death of Utopia does not mean peace. Instead it portends the resurgence of ancient myths, now in openly fundamentalist forms. Obscurely mixed with geo-political struggles for the control of natural resources, apocalyptic religion has returned as a major force in global conflict.

From the Hardcover edition.



“Gray’s books have the delighting, frightening, distracting and focusing qualities of a mist-to-dusk drive on the Pacific Coast Highway… These are works of intellectual cartography, clarifying boundaries among disciplines, with one primary goal: naming the ways that we call secularism unknowingly and stubbornly promotes a crudely religious way of looking at the world… [W]hen Gray considers the missionary project of this war [Iraq], he describes insiders’ decisions with deep understanding.” — Los Angeles Times (Online)

“[Gray] is a master of intellectual history. He has a sharp eye and a vivid writing style. And best of all, he dissects the pieties of others without regard for party, ideology, faith or faction. In all his books, there’s something to offend everyone — along with at least a few crystalline insights, a marvellous aphorism or two, and several bucketloads of overwrought pessimism. Gray’s latest, Black Mass, is no exception.” —Ottawa Citizen

“Gray writes controlled, clean and unfussy prose. . . . [Black Mass] is not a cheering work . . . and Gray’s conclusions, though never exaggerated or overstated, are bleak in the extreme. Yet the right expression of even the bleakest truths is always invigorating, and any half-sensible reader will come away from the book soberer and even, perhaps, wiser.” —Guardian

“Read John Gray, and remember to laugh.” —The Times (Online)

“Incendiary. . . . Compelling. . . . Gray–finder of worms, uncoverer of bitter ironies–feels at home in this epistemological hall of mirrors.” —Guardian

“Vintage Gray. Black Mass is a sparkling synthesis of religious history and contemporary political analysis. . . . A passionate and powerful polemic.” —The Spectator (UK)

“An often rollicking, sometimes bone-crunching history of medieval barbarism, millennial cults, the rise of totalitarianism and the nadir of fascism, ending with a precise account of the lies and self-deceiving hopes that hurried on the invasion of Iraq.” —New Statesman

“One of John Gray’s supreme qualities as a thinker is that he is bereft of illusions. Stripping away the meaningless verbiage which swaddles so much analysis, Gray discerns an underlying structure of thought (or lack of thought) in the political landscape. . . . Black Mass shows the intellectual linkage between today’s religious rhetoric and movements as diverse as the Bolsheviks, the Jacobins and the Nazis. His deep insight is that the underlying structure of modern politics derives from Christianity, and that the return of overt religious language to politics is merely the renewal of a latent characteristic. . . . Gray is unusual among contemporary Anglo-American philosophers in recognizing the primary role of the passions in forming ideas. He is a compelling writer, dismembering his targets with surgical irony.” —The Independent (UK)

"Black a limpidly argued and finely written synthesis of Gray's thinking over the decade or so since False Dawn, his highly regarded and influential study of globalisation. It is not a cheering work, to say the least, and Gray's conclusions, though never exaggerated or overstated, are bleak...Yet the right expression of even the bleakest truths is always invigorating, and any half-sensible reader will come away from the book soberer and even, perhaps, wiser." —John Banville, The Guardian

"Gray is right to scoff at the misplaced faith in progress propounded by Enlightenment philosophers...Gray reminds us about more ancient and truthful myths, which predicted that our reckless pursuit of knowledge and power would lead to disaster." —Peter Conrad, The Observer

“When the fashionable pundits of the age of globalization are as forgotten as those who, in the run-up to World War I, predicted globalization had rendered war obsolete, John Gray's work will still matter. It is at once a reproof and an antidote to the reigning wishful thinking that makes Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss look like a realist. Gray's work has always been about separating reality and delusion. In Black Mass, Gray dissects the greatest of all political delusions, utopianism, and maps the way in which, against all expectations it has migrated from left to right, from communism to neo-conservatism. This is that rarest of things, a necessary book.” –David Rieff

From the Hardcover edition.