Sunday, March 05, 2017
A fine article by Diana West published in December of last year contained this intriguing excerpt from her book, American Betrayal:
By 1936, after civil war broke out in Spain, George Orwell could sense a sea change in the writing of history, of news, of information, of the handling of what he called “neutral fact,” which heretofore all sides had accepted. “What is peculiar to our age,” he wrote, “is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written.” Or even that it should be, I would add. For example, he wrote, in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on World War I, not even twenty years past, “a respectable amount of material is drawn from German sources.” This reflected a common understanding—assumption—that “the facts” existed and were ascertainable. As Orwell personally witnessed in Spain, this notion that there existed “a considerable body of fact that would have been agreed to by almost everyone” had disappeared. “I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History ended in 1936,’ at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism generally, but more specifically of the Spanish Civil War.” He continued, “I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed . . . I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened.”
Then he hits it precisely: “I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’ ” (emphasis added). Ideology over all.
The rest of the article is similarly excellent, with one caveat: West tends to see these various trends of ominous threats in the 20th century to freedom and liberty as entirely -- or nearly, de facto entirely -- due to concerted efforts by Communists (both in the Red Bloc and among their sympathizers and agents in the West). She thus unwittingly generates an explanatory vacuum that tends to undervalue various amorphous sociopolitical factors that had nothing to do with Communism, pre-dated even Karl Marx's birth, and were essentially intra-Western tendencies; factors that tended to predispose many Westerners to be vulnerable to the wiles of the Communist saboteurs and disinformation specialists. When West says "ideology over all", it seems she neglects the parallel ideological current, of something for which we yet have no name, though I call it "PC MC" (Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism) for want of a better term. This PC MC would have little traction & effect -- not only in predisposing innumerable Westerners to the siren song of Communist utopianism in the later 19th century and throughout the 20th century, but also to the equally insidious sophistry of Islamopologists in our post-911 era -- were it not held sincerely by those affected. Part of the problem with PC MC is that it is sincerely held: once an idea or worldview takes root in the hearts and minds of people, it becomes far more sociopolitically dangerous (if its content, that is, is already dangerous) than if it remains imposed from without. The other problem is that its genesis is amorphous; one can only note watershed moments in history that helped catalyze its prevalence -- one of them being, in fact, the 18th century Enlightenment (another being the Protestant Reformation).
Indeed, in her book, American Betrayal, Diana West a few times invokes the Enlightenment as a font of the virtues which were, through the complex "betrayal" of her thesis (the rather sordid symbiosis -- which she documents in intricate and voluminous detail -- throughout the 20th century, even pre-dating WW2, between Communists and various Americans), being ignored or even undermined. Not once does she mention the Enlightenment as a problematic cultural historical event. It may never have occurred to Diana West that a good deal of the pathology that led to the spread of the Communist cancer in the 20th century (not to mention in one of its Founding Fathers, Marx himself, in the century before), has its roots in that very same Enlightenment.
But that's another story; anyone who would balk at its implications should first, at least, read a book published in 1975 by philosopher Eric Voegelin, From Enlightenment to Revolution. The reader may consult a brief review of it which I wrote a couple of years ago (unfortunately, the "amazing resource" I refer to in my first paragraph, the Library Genesis Project, has turned out to be not quite so amazing, and the link to Voegelin's book there no longer works).