Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hobsbawm and the Fatal Appeal of Revolution

Eric Hobsbawn shaped the way many contemporary Americans view the French Revolution. I remember having to read him in high school.  He portrayed Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette as complete nitwits. To quote from The Spectator:
Hobsbawm’s communism was a kind of religion. This is not a novel observation, merely one worth keeping in mind. Understood in this fashion his reluctance to grant his opponents the recantation they desired becomes more understandable. The true believer betrayed by actual events invariably finds himself in a lonely place. Nevertheless, I can understand how it can be that the purity of the original idea actually gains force the more the idea is corrupted by man’s imperfect attempts to put it into deliverable practice. There’s always a place for the melancholy of betrayed promise. (Read entire post.)
Paul Gottfried reflects upon the totalitarian double standard, saying:
What is hard for anyone who is not some kind of leftist ideologue to shove down the memory hole is Hobsbawm’s lifelong dedication to communism, most particularly his unswerving loyalty to Stalin’s memory...The paper also tells us that his friend and Marxist associate Christopher Hill had dropped out of the CP by the 1970s but Hobsbawm chose a different course. That path was of course one of total subservience to the Soviet Union, although Hobsbawm had objected when Khrushchev in 1956 had dared to comment on Stalin’s “cult of personality.”

One could only imagine, as my son reminded me, what the same sources would say if Hobsbawm, like Martin Heidegger, had once rashly come out in support of the Third Reich, even if, as in the case of one of the West’s greatest philosophers, he had subsequently withdrawn from politics. Obviously being a lifelong Stalinist is not like being a temporary Nazi in 1933. It brings bouquets for one’s idealism rather than a rash of anti-fascist tirades, masquerading as books, which are reviewed in the elite press. But let’s not pick such an extreme example. Let’s imagine that Hobsbawm went from being a Stalinist to something less ominous than a fleeting Nazi enthusiast. What if he had gone from defending the gulags to being an opponent of gay marriage? Would the Guardian have treated him any worse when he died at 95 as a one-time “Marxist historian”? You bet it would. (Read entire article.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

And tragically there were lots of little Communist puppets teaching in American colleges and universities during that time. My brother as well as my future husband would comment on the Communists leanings of many professors at their Alma Mater, the University of Washington in Seattle during the '50's.

We choose to portray teachers and professors of history as emoting pure and unadulterated facts when in fact many have their own agenda.