Sunday, December 12, 2010

Notes after reading Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs

Lots of complimenting each other; it is all quite civilized. Old fashioned courtesy and gentlemanly love for each other. Both fear for our civilization, not always rationally, but you see what they are getting at. Porn and popular culture gone wild, etc. (Am I a crank to demand more evidence of this?) Kennan offers up a bit too much equanimity for the Soviet Union. It was a murderous thug state, Sir. No mention, while both men descry the decay of culture, Nabokov, Updike, Vidal, Bellow, Mailer, Roth, Cheever, Gaddis not to mention the stolid modernists Joyce or Proust. For men who claim to treasure good writing and who demonstrate their love of good writing, would it have killed them to have read and followed American post-war lit? On the other hand these letters encourage me in my distancing myself from rabid conservatism and the mirror-mash of liberal ideas. I am confirmed in thinking our politicians shallow. But I am also confirmed in thinking our government blind and stupid and encumbered with needless bureaucracy; that something happened to American foreign policy after WWII; taken over by cowboys and ideologues (whew, especially in Latin America when Eisenhower or Kennedy decided to channel American largesse through the local militaries of each country. The military was seen as the only officiating institution, the only thing that worked in civil society besides the family. It was a mistake). The book gave me perspective. The constants of my life have been the growth of the American century, the stupidity of politicians, the rift between politicians and artists, the disintegration of the American family, the deterioration of the university, the strengthening of the military and the general loathing of all authority across the board. There are subdivisions of human conflict within these spheres, of course, but the general outlines are there. A thesis emerges from the letters, to wit: without any Kennan school or sphere of influence American foreign policy became a kind of candy store for politicians to eat and throw out the back end of a limo. No?

Lukacs occasionally irks as he tries to redefine every catagory of historical and philosophical thought. The odd tendetiousness, viz, the difference between nationalism and the state, populism vs nationalism. It gets tedious.

Lukacs and Kennan often criticize the right but narry a word for the malice of the left, the outright lies and will-to-power and desruction of the settled world that the left so delights in. They reserve their wrath for an odd effusion of Bill Buckley or National Review. I want to scream at them you've got to pick better enemies than Bill Buckley for God's sake. As diplomat and historian they are impatient with popular culture's presentation of Hitler and Stalin as outright monsters. Both men would have us reexamine Stalin and Hitler as statesmen of some kind of achievement however vile. Well, speaking as a populist, they were evil. That is not a wrong or just 'popular' view. I get impatient with the equanimity that Kennan extends to the Soviets and all the harshness he reserves for his own culture. And Lukacs harping on the degredaton of democracy and the United States. And their mild swipes at Jews really bother me. And the dismissal of Latin Americans and blacks. Cavalier is putting it mildly.

I want to say to them: you also might want to consider those film reels of the death camps and hundreds or thousands of naked floppy very dead cadavers being pushed into mass graves by bulldozers. That is, before you ask us to be more understanding or objective about Hitler's objective qualities as a leader or a populist or a nationalist or whatever. It is human to react and call him evil, when plainly he was. The popular reaction agaist him (and Stalin) as a monster is not off base.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well written. I loved the objectivity and the reminders to both men of the of the past we can never forget as a human race.

December 18, 2014 at 5:50 AM  

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