The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History Paperback – 9 Nov 2006
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"'Good and necessary fun' Christopher Hitchens"
About the Author
Robert Conquest, author of Reflections on a Ravaged Century and The Great Terror, was educated at Winchester and at Magdalen College, Oxford, and is a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. In 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honour awarded in the United States. He lives in Stanford, California.
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Read it and feel like you are sticking it for the man!
He identifies those academics as "a gaggle of misleaders" who include C P Snow, Simone de Beauvoir, John Kenneth Galbraith and CNN's television documentary Cold War. He accused Snow of failing to deal with Soviet writers objectively or recognising the repressive conditions under which they wrote. De Beauvoir is berated for justifying the controlled press in China as a means of educating the uninformed population while Galbraith was criticised for imagining, less than four years before the fall of communism, that Western and Soviet economies were converging. He contrasts these with George Orwell who recognised the true nature of Soviet rule long before he wrote Animal Farm. In particular, he reminds his readers that as early as the 1960's he was predicting the inevitability of the fall of communism, citing the inefficient management of society that came with the planned economy so beloved of left wing Western intellectuals.
Almost a third of the book is devoted to "horrible examples" of the reality of revolutionary rule which he contrasts with the idealistic view of communism held by prominent historians such as Eric Hobsbawm and E H Carr. Accusing Hobsbawm of "a massive reality denial" he notes Hobsbawm's "factually and intellectually disorienting account of the modern world" has not undermined his position as a favourite amongst the British establishment. The Russian revolution was not "made by the masses" as proclaimed by Hobsbawm but by a small group of professional revolutionary imposing their ideology on the masses by means of political terror. Conquest goes on to explain how the increasing availability of documents since the collapse of Marxism-Leninism reinforces the correctness of his own studies of the Great Terror of the 1930's during which time many Westerners, including Ambassador Davies of the United States and the Webbs in Great Britain became misinformers of the realities of Soviet life.
Neither was the Soviet hierarchy content to suppress democracy at home. It provided vast amounts of money for Communist parties throughout Europe to maintain a barrage of propaganda on its behalf. As early as 1921 the Communist Party of Great Britain received £55,000 per annum at a time when its own income was around £100. As such it created a false language which still permeates the far left of the political spectrum where "fascism" is a catch all term to describe non-Communist movements. Conquest attributes Soviet failures during the second world war to Stalin's inadequate grasp of Hitler's intentions and his irrational executions of Red Army generals both before and during the War. He criticises the Allies for not dealing honestly with the Katyn massacre which they allowed to be attributed to the Nazis when the evidence pointed to the Soviet Union as the guilty party (a fact which the Soviets admitted fifty years after the event).
Conquest emphases the failure of Western commentators to recognise that "the Marxist-Leninist creed saw the world as a scene of essential antagonisms and insisted that the conflict must be pursued until the overthrow of the non-Communist order the world over." This policy was only abandoned by the last Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze in 1990. He points to the success of the United States' policy of containment and accuses those who labelled the West as being aggressive as being in favour of the suppression of open societies. In the long term, of course, those societies freed themselves from the oppression of communist rule with the notable exceptions of North Korea, Cuba and China.
Conquest concludes that in the future, "our assorted idea-driven credos will appear to be primitive delusions and much of our cultures' output of sophisticated argument will seem absurd." In this volume, at least, Conquest has brought that day forward by ensuring that "our powers of dupe-detection (are) up to scratch. Ultimately, that is the power of the free society and the reason why it should be defended against all those who seek to destroy it.
Conquest analyses the erroneous myths of past and present that have caused so much suffering and destruction. He identifies a certain vague and abstract idea of righteousness with its own peculiar speech, that leads to a mindset of dislocation from reality.
In this vein, he looks at the way terms like Democracy, Progress and Liberty are used to distort reality. For example, democracy is meaningless without the rule of law and the acceptance of the rules of the political game.
In the chapter titled After Utopia, Conquest points out that the New Utopianism is primarily a rejection of reason - the embrace of nihilism. He brilliantly contrasts the French Enlightenment that led to the negative utopianism of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, with the British Enlightenment of Adam Smith, David Hume, James Madison and Edmund Burke, one that bore good fruits.
Western academia is dominated by negative utopianism and most of its intellectual elites are impervious to fact or argument.
In the chapter Slouching Towards Byzantium he dissects the idea of the European Superstate with a swift, sharp sword, demonstrating its non-representative nature as a bureaucratic monstrosity ruled by elites.
Chapter 10 looks at the massive deception practiced by the Soviet Union and how that propaganda was swallowed by a gullible Western media and even enthusiastically embraced by the liberal elites.
Quite appropriately, Conquest alerts us to the fact that there are deeper problems than terrorism or war. From the West came the blessings of individual liberty, economic prosperity and democracy under law, but also monstrous totalitarian ideologies.
The frightening fact is that the notions of this seductive nihilism are alive and well amongst the leftist intelligentsia. The author performs a remarkable job in defining the historical falsity and the risible bankruptcy of the arguments of moral equivalence and relativism.
Dragons Of Expectation is a work of great profundity and originality. Other books that complement this illuminating work include Our Culture, What's Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple, The West And The Rest by Roger Scruton, Fashionable Nonsense by Alan Sokal, The Death Of Right And Wrong by Tammy Bruce and The Force Of Reason by Oriana Fallaci.
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In it, veteran historian Robert Conquest endeavours, so far as I can determine, to put the world to rights; nothing more, nothing less.Read more
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