A&L links to two discussions of communism and the influence of its Russian version. The first is to a review of two new books, Seven Years That Changed the World and Comrades! in “The Ash Heap of History” from The Economist. The author sees Brown’s book (Seven Years That Changed the World) as a useful discussion of Gorbachev’s reign but is especially impressed by Comrades!, in which he describes Robert Service’s strength:
With this volume he has produced one of the best-ever studies of his subject, even if he is much stronger on Russia than on other countries. Eschewing the usual convoluted language of Marxist debates, he provides a gripping account of communism’s intellectual origins, pedigree and impact.
Many of the Chicagoboyz family (colleagues and commentors) will have a better context for this review than I have.
An equally interesting but quite different and personal take on communism in western Europe can be derived from Arthur Koestler’s work; Theodore Dalrymple (often as provocative as well read) discusses this in City Journal. In “A Drinker of Infinity,” he analyzes Koestler’s force and charm. In passing, he creates an insight into rapists, derived somewhat from Koestler’s fiction but also from the author’s often-priceless perspective of years as a prison doctor. Of course, often Koestler’s subject and Dalrymple’s discussion is of the emptiness of communism. But, in the end, what interests both is death – whether in the responses to the death sentence of his fellow prisoners in Spain or his own illnesses at the end of his life. Dalyrmple examines Koestler’s autobiography (Arrow in the Big Blue and
The Invisible Writing).
It is precisely because Koestler’s life and work so deeply instantiate the existential dilemmas of our age that he is a fascinating figure, unjustly neglected, and too often dismissed as a sexual psychopath. He was not a naturally good man (far from it), but he was struggling toward the good by the light and authority of his own intellect; unfortunately, as Hume tells us, reason is the slave of the passions, and Koestler was an exceptionally passionate man.
Once I happened to find two first editions, very cheap, of Koestler’s books in a secondhand bookshop that I haunt. “Ah,” said the bookshop owner, “The Age of Longing and Dialogue with Death: a complete summary of human life, when you come to think of it.”