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June 5, 2007

Reflections on a Ravaged Century

Robert Conquest – 9780393320862

First published in 2000, Reflections deals with the mental distortions of Marxism and Socialism, their impact upon the 20th century and emphasizes the “certain carry-over” into the 21st. He predicts, as is already being demonstrated by the European Union, that these misconceptions are pure folly and doomed to failure.

It is a ponderous tome, difficult to review and difficult to read because of the profundity of the information, interpretations and conclusions offered. Still it is well worth the read—or a reread, as sit was for me.

He is adamant in his critique of Marx and Lenin, whose intellectual efforts he deems less than mediocre. The very notion that human activity is totally predictable, or can be channeled within textual parameters by government is absurd. Many who espouse such ideologies are well intentioned (modern intellectuals and liberals), but their complicity with the evil regimes of the 20th century was responsible for their successes, such as they were: war, genocide, etc. He observes that “a hundred soft-porn products of Hollywood did less harm [to France] than a single French philosopher (Rousseau) has done in the United States.”

Liberals of the era willing overlooked Stalin’s murderous activities as they had ignored Hitler’s. These things, “rationally speaking” were impossible--and therefore didn’t happen. Just so with “Tamerlane [who] could not have erected a pyramid of 70,000 skulls at Isfahan [in his 16th century conquest of present day Iran] for it would obviously have been economically counterproductive.” And besides, nobody is that irrational

Yet reliance upon reason alone is, in itself, irrational. According to Chesterton a lunatic is one who has lost everything except his reason. “There are minds of apparently high IQ, people of apparently great experience, who are unable to conceive of minds and men markedly different from themselves.” Chamberlain and Roosevelt, unlike Churchill, simply “lacked the scope needed to envisage alien minds as they really were.”

Throughout, this arch-critic of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany offers stunning examples and analysis of what went wrong, and offers stunning insight into the culture wars now accelerating in the 21st century.

“We are . . . in a period of conflict between cultures—a conflict which finds older [mostly Western] cultures in a position of disadvantage from lack of confidence in themselves, from divisions both internal and between each other. . . . The liberal . . . assumes . . . that the cultural conflict is one which can [politically], be adjusted by compromise, or [“religiously”] resolved by tolerance. . . . The frantic attempt . . . to find a political solution to what is not merely a political problem can . . . only lead to temporary and illusory benefits unless the deeper problem is faced and pondered.”

The Cold War was not a conflict between two ideologies, as is gospel to some. The Western approach was not ideological at all. It is obligatory that this be understood. Litvinov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR, was once asked what would happen if the West gave in to all of Moscow’s demands. He replied “It would lead to the West being faced . . . with the next series of demands.” When Stalin was asked what could be done to satisfy him he answered: “Nothing.”

No political treaties or trade agreements can guarantee peace. Psychological disarmament must be made a bargaining object in future negotiations. The use of all levers of pressure, political and economical, is for once morally justified. When the reckless destruction of the human race in the name of “its greater happiness” is undertaken, one might find that he is both “Red and Dead,” to use a former allusion. Even the USSR, ostensibly too rational, was prepared to fight and win a nuclear war. How much more so radical Islam?

I have said for years, including on this website, that much of the world is invested in cultures of one kind or another, but few can be considered civilized as the West defines it. Conquest observes that we must begin to distinguish between uses of the word civilization inasmuch as there are countries (China and many of the Middle Eastern countries come to mind) which have been civilized for millennia, yet have never established a civic order.

As the sole super-power the U.S. neither has nor wishes an “Empire.” There is no more than an interest in foreign policy and commitments consistent with a peaceful world. She has no intent of subjecting the world to American power. “It implies the withdrawal of American power in favor of congeries of mutually friendly nations.” Sensitivity to the charge of imperialism has led to reluctance to become involved in affairs of the Third World, leaving it in the hands of “kleptocratic dictatorships,” and maniacal ones which hasn’t served the world well.

Evolution to a united and peaceful world cannot be undertaken in a theoretical way. His commanding suggestion is that the English-speaking countries can and ought to create a center of power attractive to other countries with democratic traditions, thus forming the basis for a yet broader political unity in the longer run.

And finally he reminds, with an onerous Churchillian quote: “All the great struggles of history have been won by superior will-power wresting victory in the teeth of odds or upon the narrowest of margins.”

Conquest observes that only with careful considerations of what needs to be learned and unlearned can the West prevail and achieve a peaceful world . . . and that not likely in our lifetimes.

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Posted by respeto at June 5, 2007 12:03 PM