Carl Schmitt, preeminent antiliberal, is that rare thing, the modern political philosopher relevant long after his time. The simple remember him only for his grasping embrace of Nazism, but the more astute, especially on the Left, have in recent times found much to ponder in Schmitt’s protean writings. He did not offer ideology, as did so many forgotten political philosophers, but instead clear analysis of power relations, untied to any specific system or regime. So, as the neoliberal new world order collapses, and the old dragons of man, lulled for decades by the false promises of liberal democracy, rise from slumber, such matters are become relevant once more, and Schmitt informs our times, echoing, as they do, his times.
It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted. Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology. And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward. The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Thus, reflecting upon this book may help us choose the correct exit from the cavern, and to that end, it is worth bearing the unease that comes over us when we read books like this. This book, a staple of Holocaust studies for twenty-five years, has recently risen to fresh prominence due to repeated mentions of it by Canadian psychologist, and superstar, Jordan Peterson. His focus on the book arises from his own decades-long study of evil regimes, and his thought on how …
Ernst Jünger was one of the more fascinating men of the twentieth century. Remembered in the English-speaking world primarily for his World War I memoir, The Storm of Steel, he was famous in Europe for a range of right-leaning thought spanning nearly eighty years (he lived from 1896 to 1998). His output was prodigious, more than fifty books along with voluminous correspondence, and not meant or useful as a seamless ideology, although certain themes apparently recur. This book, The Forest Passage, was published in 1951, and is a compelling examination of how life should be conducted under modern ideological tyranny.
This is the story of a man—Robert de La Rouchefoucauld, scion of one of the oldest noble families in France, who lived from 1923 to 2012. He led a life in full; the focus of this book is his three years fighting against the Germans in France, as a résistant. It is a tale of bravery and derring-do, and it is gripping. But even more, it is terribly sad, because reading about this past makes us realize how masculinity and duty as exemplified by La Rouchefoucauld are no longer celebrated, but rather denigrated, to the detriment of all of us.
I am currently very focused on the ascent to power of Communism in Russia, not because it had anything to recommend it, but for the lessons it can teach us. Some of those lessons are ones the author of this book, Sean McMeekin, wants to impart—the dangers of left-wing ideology, primarily. Those are valuable lessons, certainly, but if we haven’t learned them after many decades of left-wing horror shows, we’re not going to learn them from this book. The lessons I am seeking, therefore, are more dynamic: how power can be grasped and used in fluid, chaotic situations, and by what kind of people. And those lessons are also on full display in this book, even if I did not learn any new ones.
When we think of the Soviet Union, we mostly think of it as a fully realized totalitarian state. We think of Stalin, of World War II and of the Cold War. Lenin is a shadowy figure to most of us, usually lumped in with the chaos that preceded and surrounded the Russian Revolution. As a result, biographies of Stalin and histories of the Cold War are a dime a dozen, but there are few objective biographies of Lenin. Lenin, though, was the true author of Soviet totalitarianism, and, more importantly, he, and he alone, was the indispensable man to the creation of Communism as a realized state, even if he did not live to see it. His life, therefore, is important, in that it illuminates history, and also in that it provides, in some ways, an instruction book for those seeking change today.
Mark Lilla’s books are all polished gems, perfectly and fluidly written, brief yet complete within the ambit Lilla sets for each of his works. This book, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, was written about a decade after the collapse of Communism. From its title, the casual browser might think it was a general attack on intellectuals. It is not that at all—Lilla is nothing if not an intellectual himself, and he sees a lot of merit in the world of ideas, if he also sees its limitations. Rather, this is an examination of why brilliant men and women of the modern world so often willingly dance with tyranny, and an attempt to draw a distinction between mere intellectuals, who often toady to raw power, and true philosophers, who pursue virtue.
Reading this third volume of Richard Evans’s massive study of the Third Reich, scenes from the TV show The Man in the High Castle kept flashing before my eyes. That show (based on a Philip K. Dick book) posits a Nazi victory in World War II, and depicts how the postwar Greater German Reich affects the people who live under it. The problem with Evans’s book is that it fails to paint such scenes for the actual Third Reich. Rather, it is an endless litany of dead innocents and how they were killed, mixed with occasional talk of political and military happenings, along with a tiny bit about daily life for average civilians. And while listing how millions of innocents were killed is certainly a task that could fill many, and longer, books, after a while it becomes a chronicle of atrocity, not a work of synthesized history.
This is the second of three volumes in Richard Evans’s massive history of the Third Reich. I noted in my review of the first volume of this trilogy, The Coming of the Third Reich, that Evans does not offer revisionist history, and that “the same bad people do the same bad things that anyone who has read about this period already knows about.” That statement is true of this volume as well, but the difference is that this “middle” period is less well-known than the other periods Evans covers, so this volume is particularly valuable, I think, to the general public.
This book failed in the two goals I set for it, either of which I would have accepted. It did not teach me anything new about drugs, and it did not teach me anything new about Nazis. Sad!