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It's almost possible to pity someone like John Lukacs, a European refugee of aristocratic conservative bent who has had to watch as plebeian American conservatism salvaged his homeland and came to dominate his adopted nation. You can see why he'd think it unfair that the uncultured rabble of America achieved what their putative betters in the Old World could not. Almost, that is, except for his utter contempt for American conservatives and his loathing of American conservatism. though he's best known for his writings on Hitler, he's managed to save his particular venom for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, even stooping in this latest book to an obligatory Nazi (and Bolshevik, for good measure) comparison:
Hitler and Stalin are gone, and George W. Bush will soon be gone, too; but then so are their German National Socialism and their Communism and so will be his "conservatism."
Much of Mr. Lukacs's readability rests in his idiocyncracies, but that's well over the edge into looniness. The bigger problem though is that this animus clouds his perceptions and analyses of American conservatism and of America in its current conservative epoch, making the ideas and conclusions he offers in this book rather dubious.

At one point in the book, Mr. Lukacs offers a sensible definition of what it means to be an American:
[W]hat "Americanism" amounted and still amounts to is something like a creed, the essence of which creed is an American nationalism. An American is (and he may be a recent immigrant) whoever accepts this creed publicly and convincingly, so much so that there must be no difference from that in his private beliefs.
"American nationalism" is a misnomer, because nationalism is quite the opposite of such faith in a set of universally accessible ideas. Where German nationalism requires that one be German, anyone can be fully American who believes that:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
At any rate, it hardly seems a controvertible point that Americanism is and always has been inextricably wrapped up in these notion of God-granted liberty and human dignity. at its best America has vindicated and extended these ideals; at its worst it has violated them domestically and/or ignored their applicability abroad.

What's important to note for the purposes of Mr. Lukacs's book is how heavily the creed comes down on the side of liberty. Human history can best be thought of as the eternal struggle between freedom and security, and the attempt to strike a healthy balance between the two. Emphasis on liberty is the classic republican compromise on the conservative/Right side of the spectrum, just as emphasis on equality is the socialist compromise on the Left side. Thus, while America and the states of Western Europe are all liberal democracies, America's focus on liberty distinguishes it from someplace like France's emphasis on egalitie. We come down on the side of freedom; they on the side of security.

The populism that Mr. Lukacs is fretting about in this book can come from either side of that spectrum. Unwittingly adopting our freedom/security dichotomy, he says that:
One of the fundamental differences between extremes of Right and Left is this: in most instances hatred moves the former; fear the latter.
Though he doesn't make the connection, it is obvious when viewed through our frame of reference why this should be so. Those who are most driven by their insecurity will be consumed by fear of others. Those who are most driven by the desire to be free of all restraint will hate others. Populism, in Mr. Lukacs formulation, is a threat to democracy because of its appeal to these extremes:
Fear and hatred are human characteristics and we shall never be able to eliminate them entirely. We must recognize not only their existence but their latent -- and often more than latent -- presence among those who wish to wield power. Whether some of them will be actually able to achieve power depends on many matters, most of them unpredictable, and seldom visible among the ever more complicated and manipulated appearances of politics and powers in this age of mass democracy. It depends whether and how the devolution of democracy into populism proceeds in the twenty-first century.
Strangely though, even though he discusses the degree to which the 20th century saw the democracies shift towards the greater security/socialism side of the scales:
[George Bernanos] wrote in the 1930s: "Mankind is afraid of itself. ... It is sacrificing its liberty to the fear it has of itself."
...it is the specter of Right extremism that is most disturbing to Mr. Lukacs:
The "Left" has been losing its appeal, almost everywhere. It may be that in the future the true divisions will be not between Right and Left but between two kinds of Right: between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals, between nationalists and patriots, between those who believe that America's destiny is to rule the world and others who do not believe that; between those who trust technology and machines and others who trust tradition and old human decencies; between those who support "development" and others who wish to protect the conservation of land--in sum, between those who do not question Progress and others who do.
And it's here that things are at their strangest, for the hateful Right (and the hateful Left, for that matter) has a singularly awful track record in terms of its appeal to American voters. Americans have consistently rewarded the happy warriors and optimists and abjured the pessimists and haters. And those few haters who've snuck past the voters' radar--LBJ, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton--have paid high prices once in office. Meanwhile, never has the decent sort of Right he's described been represented better than it is by George W. Bush. far from being a hater, he's reached out to blacks and Hispanics personally and through policies like No Child Left Behind and immigration reform. In the wake of 9-11, even as he's fought to liberalize the Middle East he's disavowed exactly the kind of demonization of Muslims that an FDR resorted to where Japanese-Americans were concerned in WWII. He handed over sovereignty to the Afghanis and Iraqis just as quickly as he thought possible. He never questions the motives of his opponents, separating the merely political from the personal, despite the truly psychotic attacks that are routinely directed at him, like Mr. Lukacs's own deranged comparison of compassionate conservatism to Nazism and Stalinism. He's defended human dignity on issues like abortion and bioengineering, while calling into question the kind of technological fetishism that Mr. Lukacs' too rejects. Most of all, he's placed a clearly Christian worldview and a neighbor-love compassion at the center of the conservative movement and of American politics. He is exactly the kind of anti-populist, hateless, and fearless leader that democracy would seem to depend upon and whom Mr. Lukacs should welcome. That he does not do so tells us more about Mr. Lukacs than about America, democracy, or conservatism.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (D)

  

Websites:

See also:

John Lukacs (3 books reviewed)
Politics
John Lukacs Links:
    -John Lukacs (Wikipedia)
    -BOOK SITE: June 1941 (Yale University Press)
    -BOOKNOTES:  The Hitler of History  by John Lukacs (C-SPAN, March 1, 1998)
    -EXCERPTS: from A Thread of Years
    -ESSAY : It's the End of the Modern Age (JOHN LUKACS, April 26, 2002, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -ESSAY : It's the End of the Modern Age (JOHN LUKACS, April 26, 2002, Chronicle of Higher Education)
   -ESSAY: A Senseless Salute: The boy soldier salute, made popular by Ronald Reagan and used by President Bush, represents an exaggeration of the president's military role. (JOHN LUKACS, 4/14/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: How Certain Foreigners Saw New York (John Lukacs, Autumn 1993, City Journal)
    -AUDIO: Book Examines Relationship Between Hitler and Stalin: (Talk of the Nation, April 27, 2006)
    -INTERVIEW: History in a Democratic Age: A Conversation with John Lukacs (Bruce Coles, January 2003, Humanities)
    -ESSAY: The Price of Defending Hitler : A historian explains why a leading voice of 'Holocaust denial' lost his libel case (John Lukacs, April 24, 2000, Newsweek International)
    -ESSAY: 1945 and All That (John Lukacs, The National Interest)
    -REVIEW: of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945; Michael Beschloss (John Lukacs, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Eisenhower and Churchill, by James C. Humes (John Lukacs, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, by John Cornwell (John Lukacs, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of COPENHAGEN By Michael Frayn (JOHN LUKACS, The Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of Bernard Norling. Timeless Problems in History (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of L. Salvatorelli. Guglielmo Ferrero: Histoire et Politique au XX Siecle (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Roy Douglas. The Advent of War, 1939-40  (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of J. Lee Ready. Forgotten Allies: The Military Contribution of the Colonies, Exiled Governments, and Lesser Powers to the Allied
Victory in World War II. Volume 1, The European Theater; volume 2, The Asian Theater (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -INTERVIEW : "Vegetables Don't Have a History":  A conversation with historian John Lukacs. (Donald A. Yerxa and Karl W. Giberson, Books & Culture, Jul/Aug 2000)
    -ESSAY: The Reactionary Loyalties of John Lukacs (Lee Congdon, Summer 2003, First Principles)
    -ESSAY : Turning-point politics: from salvaging the past to protecting the future (Tom Nairn, 16 January 2002, Open Democracy)
    -ESSAY: Truth, not justice (David Warren, May 26, 2002, Sunday Spectator)
    -ESSAY : Differences, Patterns . . . Barbarity (Milo Clark, June 17, 2002, Swans)
    -ESSAY : Continuing Explorations In Perception And Perspective (Milo Clark, July 15, 2002, Swans)
    -ARCHIVES: "john lukacs" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : The New York Review of Books: John Lukacs
    -ARCHIVES: "john lukacs" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Richard Grenier, WorldNetDaily.com)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Michael McMenamin, Reason)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Shimshon Arad, Jerusalem Post)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Michael H. Shirley, Historian)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Michael Korda, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (David Pryce-Jones, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. 1945: Year Zero (Melvin Small, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. The Last European War: September 1939/December 1941 (Gordon Wright, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. A History of the Cold War (John L. Snell, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of John A. Lukacs. The Great Powers and Eastern Europe (E. C. Helmreich, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. Decline and Rise of Europe: A Study in Recent History, with Particular Emphasis on the Development of a European Consciousness  (E. C. Helmreich, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. Outgrowing Democracy: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century (John Braeman, Journal of American
History)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. Historical Consciousness: Or the Remembered Past (Donald M. Lowe, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE HITLER OF HISTORY By John Lukacs (V. R. Berghahn, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Hitler of History (Richard Brookhiser, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Hitler of History (Walter Sundberg, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (DAVID FUTRELLE, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Dennis Skiotis, Book Wire)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Sara Coelho and Doree Shafrir, Penn History Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Good Reports)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Russel Lemmons, Historian)
    -REVIEW: of THE HITLER OF HISTORY (Ian Ousby, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of A Thread of Years By John Lukacs (Fareed Zakaria, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Thread of Years (John Derbyshire, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of A Thread of Years. By John Lukacs (George McKenna, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of A Thread of Years (John Dorfman, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of A Thread of Years (Christopher M. Bellitto, America)
    -REVIEW: of At the End of an Age By John Lukacs (John Derbyshire, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of At the End of an Age (John J. Reilly)
    -REVIEW: of At the end of an age (Jules Wagman, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
    -REVIEW: of AT THE END OF AN AGE By John Lukacs ( Blair Worden, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian, by John Lukacs (Geoffrey Best, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of CONFESSIONS OF AN ORIGINAL SINNER By John Lukacs (David Pryce-Jones, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of DEMOCRACY AND POPULISM: Fear and Hatred By John Lukacs (Owen Harries, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of DEMOCRACY AND POPULISM: Fear and Hatred By John Lukacs (David Marquand, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW : of At The End Of An Age by John Lukacs (Blair Worden, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of June 1941: Hitler and Stalin by John Lukacs (Tim Rutten, LA Times)

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