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!
For the past few months, we have been subjected to a tedious, hysterical stream of comparisons of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. As a reader of this book, The Coming of the Third Reich, will quickly figure out, such comparisons are both vicious and ignorant. One thing is clear to the reader of this book, the first of massive trilogy covering the Third Reich, and that is there is little evidence that we are heading the way of 1920s and 1930s Germany—but that if we are, it has nothing at all to do with Donald Trump. Nonetheless, this is an interesting book of history, and just because it’s not a warning, per se, does not mean that it does not contain interesting lessons.
“Defying Hitler” is one of those relatively few books (available widely in English at least) that are contemporaneous memoirs of events relating to the Third Reich. Any book, memoir or not, written after the war necessarily suffers from hindsight perception, so contemporaneous material is particularly interesting. (The classic modern example is Victor Klemperer’s diaries, which cover the war and pre-war period.) “Defying Hitler” was written in 1939, covering events in 1933, and was only published after the author’s death in 1999. The title of the book is a misnomer, because Haffner didn’t defy Hitler at all (which is his point).
Gun control is one of those few issues where there are zero good arguments on one side. Almost anyone who supports gun control is ignorant. Not a malicious ignorance, necessarily—more of an ignorance born of a love of moral preening. On the other hand, it is true that a few gun control supporters are not ignorant, but rather liars, who understand that gun control arguments make no sense on any level, factual or logical, but use them as a cover to achieve their end of keeping law-abiding citizens from having guns, in order to achieve their greater end of more government control of the citizenry. But mostly it’s ignorance—essentially every supporter of gun control knows nothing about guns, nothing about the insane and criminals, and nothing about history. It’s for that latter lack that this book is an excellent corrective, even though almost certainly no “gun control supporter,” a tautology for “invincibly ignorant person,” will read it. That’s too bad.
Most people have heard of Erwin Rommel, at least in passing. But most people probably associate his name with only two events: World War Two tank battles in North Africa, and Rommel’s forced suicide by Hitler because of his ancillary association with Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler. And most people probably have a general sense that Rommel was not so bad a guy, relative to the Nazi regime as a whole (as low a bar as that may be). This book contradicts none of that, but provides a broader sense both of who Rommel was, and also provides a different perspective on World War One than we commonly have.
Michael Burleigh is a noted European historian, primarily known for a synthesis approach that blends intellectual, cultural and “hard” history, frequently with a heavy focus on religious and moral elements. Sacred Causes, along with its earlier companion, Earthly Powers, aspires to a synthesis of religion and politics in all of Europe, from the French Revolution to now, with a primary focus on “political religions,” ranging from Jacobinism to Islamism, that are “the abusive exploitation of the human religious sentiment.”