Briefly Noted

Like all of Lukacs’ books, 1945, Year Zero: The Shaping of the Modern Age is highly readable and highly opinionated. The author mixes autobiographical details with history, which makes for a compelling narrative. Unlike many traditional conservatives, Lukacs rates nationalism as an even greater force for evil than Communism. At times I feel he pushes this thesis too far. Certainly Russian nationalism, while obnoxious under the Tsars, had yet to become the sadistic mass-murdering phenomenon that it was under Stalin. The same was true of Germany prior to Hitler. Some other fact must account for the totalitarian qualities of Nazism and Communism than exaggerated patriotism. A historian like Richard Pipes points out that the expectations engendered by socialism made people frantic, envious and inclined to settle problems through violence. At the same time, I appreciate Lukacs’ point that “anti-Communism” is not a viable or deep outlook. Being merely “anti-Communist” led many people to blindly follow Hitler.

Among Belloc’s best historical essays are Characters of the Reformation. It cannot be too highly recommended, and is better than his chronicle, How the Reformation Happened, which covers the same territory, but in a more generalized, less vicarious manner. The sketches that appear in Characters are not so much detailed life studies as bold vignettes covering some aspect of character or intellect of twenty-three representative individuals. Belloc takes us up to the reign of Louis XIV (ending in 1715), which reminds us that Europe’s religious conflict was more than just a brief squabble between Luther and Calvin and the Church of Rome. It had lasting consequences – socially and politically as well as theologically. Few writers bring this home as well as Belloc, who was an apt judge of the psychological side of history and the impact that men’s personal choices have on human events.

Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology by Kenneth R. Minogue details many aspects of the radical philosophical agenda. It is a meticulous work, and one that would benefit from being less academic. I frankly found myself skimming some chapters. That said, the patient reader will discover some priceless insights into what the author describes as “the purest possible expression of European civilization’s capacity for self-loathing.” Ideology is ultimately an exercise in contradiction. Its method of achieving emancipation is to eliminate human freedom and individuality in any meaningful sense. To summarize the radical intellectual model: “At the heart of ideology lies the passion for a manageable universe.” As opposed to classic politics, which emphasizes intention or “what is desirable” within limited means, the new systems are obsessed with “outcomes” regardless of how they are attained or whether they are even empirically valid. Once in power, the impossible “pure theory” of revolution is hopelessly compromised and exploited by a ruthless party vanguard in order to secure and maintain control. Some of my earlier posts have discussed Minogue’s views on ideology and democracy.

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