...a timely and illuminating study of political reaction, historical and contemporary, and its devastating effects on the present-day world and, most likely, the world of the foreseeable future as well ... Lilla’s critics would do well to read The Shipwrecked Mind, for its range of reference, its common sense, its subtlety and persuasiveness ... Lilla sees clear to the heart of modern-day millenarianism and finds there the old, old story of longing for a lost golden age and the expectation of a brave new world to come.
Taken together they have new force, sketching a cast of mind that has shadowed European thought for a century, and one that may seem disturbingly familiar to students of American politics today ... Lilla’s chapters are as compact and elegant as they are erudite ... The second half of Lilla’s book explores recent reactionary thought on both sides of the Atlantic, on the political left as well as the right ... His book is a spur to self-critique instead. By studying reactionary thought, the centrist or progressive — and the conservative as well — can learn something about his own failings, if not their remedy.
All but one of the essays collected in The Shipwrecked Mind first appeared in the NYRB. They make rather odd book-fellows: three profiles; two round-up reviews; a report from the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting; and a meditation on Don Quixote ... Lilla’s insistence that he is bravely exploring terra incognita highlights a bizarre silence that symbolizes the book’s shortcomings ... My suspicion is that some of these essays are only 'about' reactionary politics in retrospect, threaded onto the necklace of that theme for the purposes of putting together a book ... One problem with this account of reaction is that it seems too broad. What Lilla calls 'apocalyptic thinking' tends to characterize the mindset of any group seeking a change from bad times ... The same problem — a definition of reaction so abstract and formal that it applies to things that aren’t reactionary — makes a hash of Lilla’s claims about the history of the movement.