Faites tomber ce mur, M. Gorbatchev! Ronald Reagan (Berlin, le 12 juin 1987)
Plutôt rouges que morts! Slogan des pacifistes allemands
Mr. Khrushchev said we will bury you I don’t subscribe to this point of view (…) Mr. Reagan says we will protect you I don’t subscribe to this point of view … Sting (1985)
Les révolutionnaires russes imitent volontairement et sciemment les révolutionnaires français. Ils sont animés du même esprit. Ils se meuvent au milieu des mêmes problèmes dans une atmosphère analogue. Albert Mathiez (« Le Bolchévisme et le Jacobinisme », 1920)
En ce 90e anniversaire de la République d’octobre …
Comment ne pas avoir une petite pensée pour celui qui, à la fois dans ses livres et via ses discours pour Thatcher et Reagan et donc contre la plupart de ses collègues, en fut (comme en témoigne son surnom, des Soviétiques eux-mêmes, d’anti-Sovietchik No. 1!) le plus formidable et précoce dénonciateur?
Et… qui se trouve aussi fêter ses 90 ans cette année?
A savoir l’historien britannique Robert Conquest, qui en a gardé, comme le rappelle Michael Ignatieff dans la critique de son dernier livre (« Le Féroce XXe siècle – Réflexions sur les ravages des idéologies »), une profonde méfiance pour le jacobinisme de la tradition politique européenne (à la fois bureaucratique, régulationniste et anti-américaine) et partant la préférence pour la tradition anglo-saxonne de la primauté du droit et de la liberté individuelle (« the Anglosphere ») …
The French Revolution, he insists, was a continental attempt to imitate England’s Glorious Revolution, and as soon as it went beyond installing a constitutional monarchy and descended into Jacobinism it drowned democracy itself in blood. Jacobin democracy—populist, egalitarian, naturally inclined to see Marx as the heir of Robespierre—is European. Real democracy—an independent civil society, rule of law, constitutional checks and balances—is an invention of « Anglo-Celtic civilization. »
Britain was lucky, rather than predestined, to be free. Liberty, he argues, is a happy accident of England’s history: « Since the collapse of Rome, there has never been any significant period in Britain when the state was strong enough to enforce its will without considerable concessions to the rights and liberties of important sections of its subjects and without reliance upon consent. » In Britain—and in America—society created and controlled the state. In continental Europe, the state created and controlled both society and nation.
In Conquest’s view, South Africa, India, and democratic Nigeria share more with Canada, the US, and Britain than they do with African and Asian neighbors with political cultures of non-English origin. Common institutions—liberal constitutionalism, the rule of law, checks and balances, and common values like tolerance and individual rights—as well as a common language provide the basis for « a more fruitful unity » than, for example, common membership in the divided and generally impotent United Nations.
The Man Who Was Right
The New York Review of Books
March 23, 2000
Reflections on a Ravaged Century
by Robert Conquest
Norton, 317 pp., $25.95
One of the few unalloyed pleasures of old age is living long enough to see yourself vindicated. Robert Conquest is currently enjoying this pleasure. He is eighty-two years old, a British historian, poet, and political writer, and longtime research fellow at Stanford. His best-known works—Kolyma (1978), The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), The Great Terror (1990)—laid bare the system of terror and extermination at the heart of the Communist state. He wrote them at a time when détente with the Soviet Union was the fashion, when even conservative opinion no longer believed that the Soviet system was propelled by murderous and expansionist energies. Soviet communism, Conquest argued, must either live by expansion or die of its contradictions. It remained inherently Leninist in its hostility toward bourgeois liberal democracies, and as such could not be treated as a normal state within the international system.
This was not a popular view when these books were published in the 1970s and 1980s. Liberal opinion—including, truth be told, that of this reviewer—assumed that the Soviet regime was an uncompromising defender of its interests rather than an expansionist menace. Liberals also assumed that Stalin’s campaigns of murder and repression were excesses that the system had left behind. Conquest disagreed. He stubbornly documented the Communist holocaust of the 1930s and argued that extermination had never been a lurid excess of the system, but was the true expression of its nature. Exterminatory policies flowed ineluctably from Leninist doctrine: from its definition of politics as war against the class enemy, its idolization of power as the dictatorship of the proletariat, and its scorn for moral scruple as bourgeois hypocrisy.
Even when, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet system appeared becalmed or stagnant, Conquest argued that it continued to be a clear and present danger. Conquest insisted that even détente’s major achievement—the Helsinki Final Act of 1975—would not tame an expansionist system. Quiet diplomacy on human rights, he also insisted, was no substitute for public expressions of outrage on behalf of people persecuted and exiled. Kosygin and Brezhnev, he reminded Western readers, were ruthless survivors of the « political slaughter pens » of the 1930s. These apparently somnolent survivors went on to crush the Prague Spring, deploy SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe, and embark on brutal expansionist adventures in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Many liberals were surprised but Conquest was not.
In 1979, he warned that the West and the Soviet Union were on a collision course, like two liners in a « fog of ignorance…fallacy [and] factiousness. » The factions responsible for Western fog, of course, were the Euro-communists and the fellow travelers in the socialist and social democratic parties who preferred rhetorical denunciations of Western, i.e., American, imperialism to a truthful recognition of the tyrannical realities to the East. Influenced by these voices, European leaders of détente were in danger of colluding with tyranny and presiding over the slow Finlandization of the continent. In We and They (1980) and The Present Danger (1979) Conquest sought to warn Reagan and Thatcher to steer a different course. Far from rejecting the label of « Cold Warrior, » he reveled in it, taking pride in being one of the main intellectual sources of the « evil empire » rhetoric of British and American conservatism in the 1980s. He was, of course, not the only intellectual to make such arguments. Martin Malia, Adam Ulam, Richard Pipes, and an earlier generation of English specialists on the USSR like Leonard Schapiro also shared the same intransigent views as Conquest, and their writings had an effect along with his.
All this is liable to convey the impression that Conquest is a hectoring old cold war fossil. In fact, he is an urbane English liberal and his best books—especially Harvest of Sorrow —are not ideological or polemics; they are distinguished and documented studies of the still-unmeasured horrors of « our ravaged century, » tracing in detail the processes by which millions of Ukrainian Kulaks were sent to Siberia to die in the 1930s, followed by large numbers of loyal Party members a few years later, and then by many thousands more who, often quite arbitrarily, were selected for punishment.
At the same time, his moral contempt for communism was always qualified by a willingness to admit Soviet achievements. In an early book, Common Sense about Russia, published in 1960, he praised the quality of its primary and secondary education system and its scientific research. The Soviet Union was never Upper Volta with rockets: communism left behind a literate and numerate society. This is the principal usable legacy of Soviet times as Russia today struggles to resume the road it left in 1917. In looking to Russia’s future, Conquest is optimistic. « Russia, » he writes, « has now had eight years of pluralistic politics. This is not as good as a thousand years, but much better than none. » Unlike many anti-Communists, he did not explain Soviet tyranny as a result of Russia’s autocratic political heritage. Russia’s history of liberty may have been short, but there is no reason to believe that its past condemns it to a dictatorial future.
The secret of Conquest’s prescience seems to lie in the fact that he actually took the Communist system at its word, paid close attention to the wooden rhetoric of self-justification, and understood that, until its dying years, its elite remained true believers. Furthermore, he never lost sight of the insupportable moral quality of the system itself. His work vindicates the proposition that a regime cannot be understood in its essence unless its underlying moral reality is seen for what it is. And this reality was, in the final analysis, terrible.
Most of the reviews of Reflections on a Ravaged Century have congratulated Conquest on his having been right about what is now past. Less attention has been paid to Conquest’s ideas about the future, about what new alliances among states and new political configurations might emerge in the West now that it has lost the identity and cohesion provided by the cold war. For fifty years the West defined itself against the Rest. Now that the cold war is over, what remains of the West? What remains of its common institutional and moral commitments? Conquest’s answer dissents sharply from two types of globalizing cliché. Technological determinists claim that global markets, the Internet, and e-commerce are dissolving the West’s distinctive identity altogether. The global economy of the future will render all the old political lines on the map obsolete. A global ruling class will speak English and its identity will be capitalist. The pessimists respond that this globalism will simply re-frame the old West versus Rest division along new lines of digital exclusion, with billions of people in Africa and Asia unlikely to benefit from the increased productivity that will emerge from Bangalore to Berlin. What these two positions ignore—and Conquest usefully brings back into discussion—is the possibility that the elective affinities of the future may be driven not by new technology but rather by political culture.
As an Englishman who has lived much of his life in the United States, Conquest argues that both America and Britain belong together at the head of an alliance of English-speaking democracies. Only in « English-speaking countries, » he argues, has a genuinely democratic culture taken root. Elsewhere, in Europe, democracy was a frail plant: « I took hold, flickered, faded, failed…. » Liberty, he believes, is an « Anglo-Celtic » invention. The Founding Fathers were faithful children of England’s Glorious Revolution: checks and balances, separation of powers, common law, and representative democracy remain the shared heritage of the Anglo-American peoples.
Britain and the United States, he argues, have more in common with each other than either have with continental Europe. The alliances embodied in the European Union and NATO made sense when the enemy was Russia but they no longer represent genuine affinities of political culture. NATO is liable, he writes, to the perils of European apathy or parochialism. Conquest doesn’t want to do away with NATO altogether, but he thinks the best way to prevent American isolationism and detachment from Europe is to anchor the US in a global alliance of democratic states in which Britain would play Greece to America’s Rome.
Conquest does not have in mind a white person’s club, a sort of latter-day Raffles Bar for Brits and Yanks. In place of the West versus the Rest, in place of North versus South, Conquest envisages a multiracial order of nations who can trace their political traditions back to the common law and the Mother of Parliaments. In Conquest’s view, South Africa, India, and democratic Nigeria share more with Canada, the US, and Britain than they do with African and Asian neighbors with political cultures of non-English origin. Common institutions—liberal constitutionalism, the rule of law, checks and balances, and common values like tolerance and individual rights—as well as a common language provide the basis for « a more fruitful unity » than, for example, common membership in the divided and generally impotent United Nations.
Conquest is vague about what form this « association » should take. It should, he says, be « weaker than a federation, but stronger than an alliance. » Not much pooling of sovereignty is envisaged; sovereign states with common traditions would work together, with a small secretariat to foster their interconnections. All this sounds like the Commonwealth plus the United States, and seems harmless enough. But haven’t we been here before? Has Conquest forgotten about the English-Speaking Union and similar worthy but rather dusty attempts to keep alive the memory of the glory days of Roosevelt and Churchill?
Conquest’s specific proposals for an association are less interesting than the arguments he makes for it, and the ways these arguments question the assumption of a common institutional heritage linking America with its European allies. European readers will be insulted that he gives their democratic traditions such short shrift, while both British and American ones may feel that his ideas seem stuck in the cold war clichés he wants to transcend.
Seen from the United States, Conquest’s proposal for an English Heritage Union ignores the ways in which immigration to the United States—from the Hispanic and Asian worlds—has transformed American identity. Millions of new American citizens simply do not look east across the Atlantic for their ancestry but south across the Caribbean and west across the Pacific. Their origins are in civilizations and cultures that are far from being « Anglo-Celtic. » These citizens of the republic certainly believe in its institutions just as much as people of European origin; but they would think it odd to be told that their natural allies lie north of the border with Canada and across the sea with the UK.
Seen from Britain, Conquest’s suggestion that the British destiny is Atlanticist and American plants him firmly in the conservative Euroskeptic camp. He is anything but a little Englander or a chauvinist and makes rather a display of his love of things French, but this love does not extend to France’s democratic traditions. The French Revolution, he insists, was a continental attempt to imitate England’s Glorious Revolution, and as soon as it went beyond installing a constitutional monarchy and descended into Jacobinism it drowned democracy itself in blood. Jacobin democracy—populist, egalitarian, naturally inclined to see Marx as the heir of Robespierre—is European. Real democracy—an independent civil society, rule of law, constitutional checks and balances—is an invention of « Anglo-Celtic civilization. »
This is an unfortunate formulation, implying as it does some culturally encoded genius for liberty in the various British peoples. Conquest dissociates himself from such implications, arguing merely that Britain was lucky, rather than predestined, to be free. Liberty, he argues, is a happy accident of England’s history: « Since the collapse of Rome, there has never been any significant period in Britain when the state was strong enough to enforce its will without considerable concessions to the rights and liberties of important sections of its subjects and without reliance upon consent. » In Britain—and in America—society created and controlled the state. In continental Europe, the state created and controlled both society and nation.
These are familiar arguments, but they ground the Euroskeptic case against further European integration in the irreducible distinctiveness of English liberty. The crux of Conquest’s case is that continental and Anglo-American institutions don’t mix. His argument is strongest when it comes to the law, where habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the adversary system of cross-examination often seem alien to the continental system, which puts power in the hands of examining magistrates. Even here, however, the differences are not easily summarized. For example, in the recent article in these pages on the trial of the Vichy official Maurice Papon, Robert Paxton described how, over a period of months, the jury was presented with detailed evidence from a variety of perspectives while the presiding judge gave Papon ample chance to refute the arguments against him.[*]
Moreover, at exactly the moment when Britain is incorporating the European Human Rights convention into its own domestic law, it seems old-fashioned to harp on the gulf between Anglo-American and continental jurisprudence. Differences certainly remain but thirty years of membership in the European Union are blurring them, and for the better. For a generation now, British citizens have been taking their authorities to court for violations of European human rights, including the rights of people arrested and mistreated by police in Northern Ireland. The victories in these cases have increased rather than diminished the margins of British liberty. Conquest’s conclusion—that Anglo-American and European democratic traditions are just too different to mix together—underestimates the degree to which Britain has become a European state, increasingly integrated into the institutional structure and norms of its continental partners. This doesn’t mean it is too late to resist further political integration, but it does mean that it is wrong to do so on the basis of the irreducible otherness of English institutions, especially since Scotland and Wales are becoming more autonomous and establishing their own relations with Europe.
If Britain’s political culture is closer to the European model than Conquest implies, it is also farther apart from the American than his cozy vision of an Anglo-American global alliance suggests. British social democracy always diverged from the American liberal tradition and was closer to its European counterparts. The British welfare state and national health service are unthinkable in current American political culture. A common legal and political heritage has not prevented substantially different types of capitalism from emerging on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps in the alliance of English-speaking countries he envisages, all the participating states would converge around the American capitalist model—low social welfare spending, private health insurance, relatively low taxes. This would be as unlikely as it is undesirable. Indeed, it poses just as gloomy a prospect of conformity as the one proposed by the hot-gospelers for global economic convergence. But if there isn’t such convergence of social models, what clear identity, what common purpose, will hold Conquest’s alliance of English-speaking peoples together?
Conquest might have paid more attention to the ways in which British and American cultures now diverge over questions of rights. In Britain, the right to bear arms is a dimly remembered vestige of eighteenth-century constitutionalism, while on the other side of the Atlantic, it remains the slogan of the most relentless and effective political lobby in American politics. Similar examples—from the campaign in the US against abortion to the popularity of the death penalty there—could be multiplied to show that a common rights tradition does not prevent America from clinging to practices that are radically different from those of the British, not to mention the Canadians, Australians, South Africans, and other children of « Anglo-Celtic » constitutionalism. Indeed, on matters of practical policy it is the Americans who are often the exception when it comes to Western liberal rights.
The same American tendency to follow its own direction surfaces with respect to reforms in international law. The US was one of the last countries to ratify the Genocide Convention and one of the few that still have not ratified the Conventions on the Rights of the Child. The US has also been a leader in attempts to restrict the jurisdiction of the proposed International Criminal Tribunal; it objects to the very idea that American citizens, including American military personnel, should ever be tried, or even have to explain themselves, before international tribunals or rights bodies. This adamant defense of American national sovereignty has broad bipartisan support in American culture, but it puts the US increasingly at odds both with nations, like Canada and Britain, which have supported international criminal jurisdiction, and with European states that have accepted limited abrogation of their sovereignty since the Treaty of Rome in 1956.
THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW ROBERT CONQUEST
Anti-Sovietchik No. 1
Feb. 3, 2007
PALO ALTO, Calif. — Those who were born in Year One of the Russian Revolution are now entering their tenth decade. Of the intellectual class that got its vintage laid down in 1917, a class which includes Eric Hobsbawm, Conor Cruise O’Brien and precious few others, the pre-eminent Anglo-American veteran must be Robert Conquest. He must also be the one who takes the greatest satisfaction in having outlived the Soviet « experiment. »
Over the years, I have very often knocked respectfully at the door of his modest apartment (« book-lined » would be the other standard word for it) on the outskirts of Stanford University, where he is a longstanding ornament of the Hoover Institution. Evenings at his table, marvelously arranged in concert with his wife Elizabeth (« Liddie »), have become a part of the social and conversational legend of visitors from several continents.
I thought I would just check and see how he was doing as 2007 dawned. When I called, he was dividing his time between an exercise bicycle and the latest revision of his classic book « The Great Terror »: the volume that tore the mask away from Stalinism before most people had even heard of Solzhenitsyn. Its 40th anniversary falls next year, and the publishers need the third edition in a hurry. Had it needed much of an update? « Well, it’s been a bit of a slog. I had to read about 30 or 40 books in Russian and other languages, and about 400 articles in journals and things like that. But even so I found I didn’t have to change it all that much. »
One of his lifelong friends, the novelist Anthony Powell, once wrote that all classes of Englishmen employ the discourse of irony and understatement. This would itself be an understatement of Mr. Conquest’s devastatingly dry and lethal manner, expressed in the softest voice that ever brought down an ideological tyranny. His diffidence made me inquire what else might be keeping him busy. « My publisher wants me to do a book called ‘How Not to Write About History,’ and I thought, yes. Then I’m doing an essay on the importance of India, and something about the U.N. and internationalism. »
I know that he used to serve in the British delegation at the U.N. But India? « My mother was born in Bombay, and I’ve always been impressed by how Indians have mastered English literature and culture. » What about the collection of limericks that he’s been promising for a while, in his capacity as the last remaining master of the form after the deaths of his other friends Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin? « I’m getting round to that, but there’s first my latest collection of poems, which I’m calling ‘Penultimata.’ Didn’t I mention it? Would you like a copy? » Yes, I would and — oh, what about the memoirs? « Starting tomorrow, when I’m finished with doing ‘The Great Terror.’ I’m going to try dictating them into this new machine . . . Liddie, what’s it called? » Mrs. Conquest — a scholar of English who first told me that Henry James always dictated his novels — comes up with the name of the new voice-activated software. « It’s called ‘Dragons Naturally Speaking Nine.' » Golly. « Well, my handwriting’s pretty bad and my typing is worse, » says Mr. Conquest apologetically. That’s true enough, as I know, but I can’t help thinking that if « Dragons Naturally Speaking Nine » really works, and if it had been available in the 1960s, then the Soviet Union would probably have fallen several years before it actually did.
A history here, an anthology of poems there, an assortment of limericks, a memoir, a lineup of contributions to learned journals and — I forgot to mention — a festschrift of essays in his honor to be edited by the Hungarian-born scholar Paul Hollander. This seems enough to be going on with. Meanwhile, his other great work on the Ukrainian terror-famine of the 1930s, « Harvest of Sorrow, » is being produced and distributed, with no profit going to the author, by a Ukrainian charity associated with President Viktor Yushchenko. Is it sweet to be so vindicated? As always, I have to crane slightly to hear the whispery answer. « There was a magazine in Russia called Neva, which found its circulation went up from 100,000 to a million when it serialized ‘The Great Terror.’ And I later found that at the very last plenum of the Soviet Communist Party, just before the USSR dissolved, a Stalinist hack called Alexander Chakovsky had described me as ‘anti-Sovietchik No. 1.’ I must say I was rather proud of that. »
Somewhere in the apartment is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to Mr. Conquest in 2005 at a ceremony which also featured Aretha Franklin and Muhammad Ali. I have a picture of him sitting next to the Queen of Soul, smiling demurely, having paid his own way to come to Washington. And it comes back to me that he rang me up on the day of President Bush’s first inaugural. « Did you see that line in the speech about the angel that rides the storm? Any idea where it’s from? I’m sure I know it. »
I wasn’t able to help, but I knew I would get a later call, which I duly did, identifying the line as coming from John Dryden. All part of the Conquest service. Like the limericks, some of which cannot be reproduced in a family-oriented newspaper but many of which are literary and intellectual mnemonic masterpieces. An instance? His deft compression of the entirety of Shakespeare’s « Seven Ages of Man » speech:
« First you get puking and mewling/ Then very p—ed off with your schooling/ Then f—s and then fights/ Then judging chaps’ rights/ Then sitting in slippers — then drooling. »
Just as one can never imagine Mr. Conquest raising his voice or losing his temper, so one can never picture him using an obscenity for its own sake. A few years ago he said to me that the old distinctions between left and right had become irrelevant to him, adding very mildly that fools and knaves of all kinds needed to be opposed and that what was really needed was « a United Front against bulls–t. »
For all that, his life has been lived among the ideological storms of the 20th century, of which he retains an acute and unique memory. He was himself a communist for a couple of years in the late 1930s, having been radicalized while studying in France and observing events in Spain. « I was even a left deviationist — my best friend was a Trotskyist and when King George V was crowned we decorated the college at Oxford with eight chamberpots painted in red, white and blue. » He left the party after asking what the line would be if Chamberlain ever declared war on Hitler, and receiving the reply: « Comrade, it is impossible that the bourgeois Chamberlain would ever declare war on Hitler. » This he found « oafish. » « I didn’t like the word ‘impossible.' »
Wartime service in Bulgaria, which made him an eyewitness to Stalin’s takeover of the country at the end, was proof positive. From then on, working as a researcher and later as a diplomat for the British Foreign Office, he strove to propose a social-democratic resistance to communism. « I’d always been a Labour man and somewhat on the left until the 1970s, when I met Margaret Thatcher and she asked my advice. » That advice — which translated into the now-famous « Iron Lady » speech — was to regard the Soviet system as something condemned by history and doomed to fail. If that sounds easy now, it wasn’t then (though Mr. Conquest insists that it was George Orwell who first saw it coming).
Like many people with a natural gift for politics, Mr. Conquest finds that he distrusts those who can talk of nothing else. His affiliations are undogmatic and unfanatical (he preferred Tony Blair over Margaret Thatcher’s successor John Major) and he does not bother to turn out at election times. « I’m a dual national who’s a citizen of the U.S. and the U.K., so that voting in either place seems rather overdoing it. » On the events of today he is always very judicious and reserved. « I have my own opinions about Iraq, but I haven’t said a great deal about the subject because I don’t know all that much about it. »
How often do you hear anyone talking like that? If he had done nothing political, he would still have had a life, and would be remembered as the senior figure of that stellar collection of poets and writers — John Wain, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis — who became known in the Britain of the 1950s as « the Movement. » Liddie Conquest happens to have written rather authoritatively about this group, though that’s not how they met. « I was teaching at the University of Texas in El Paso and he came to give a poetry reading. But it wasn’t until I met him later in California that something ‘clicked,’ as people like to say. »
Mrs. Conquest might be described as a force of nature, and also as the wielder of a Texan skillet that yields brisket of a rare and strange tenderness; Anthony Powell in his « Journals » was again committed to understatement when he wrote of her engagement to « Bob » that « she is charming, and he a lucky man. »
« I know you meet different lefties from the ones I know, » he says, referring obliquely to some recent tussles between your humble servant and the Michael Moore faction. « But I’ve always been friends with what I call ‘the good left.' » In the days of the old Soviet Union, he kept up a solid friendship with the radical Russian scholar Steve Cohen, author of a study of Nikolai Bukharin and husband of Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, and admired his objectivity. « I helped out Scoop Jackson against Kissinger on the Soviet Jewish question. Pat Moynihan helped me get a job at the Wilson Center in Washington in the 1970s. »
I remind him that I once introduced him to that other great veteran of the Bay Area, Jessica (« Decca ») Mitford, and that in the course of a tremendous evening she was enchanted to find that this dreaded friend of Mrs. Thatcher was the only other person she’d ever met who knew all the words to the old Red songbooks, including the highly demanding ditty: « The Cloakmaker’s Union Is a No-Good Union, » anthem of the old communist garment district. At the close of that dinner I challenged him to write her a limerick on the spot, and he gallantly and spontaneously produced the following:
« They don’t find they’re having to check a/ Movement of homage to Decca./ It’s no longer fair/ To say Oakland’s ‘not there’/ She’s made it a regular Mecca. »
The old girl was quite blown away by this tribute, and kept the inscribed napkin as a souvenir.
An agnostic in religion (« did you know that Milton Friedman was an agnostic, too? ») Mr. Conquest is likewise suspicious of anything too zealous or systematic in human affairs. He is also refreshingly empirical in his judgments. Asked why he, the great anatomizer and accuser of Stalinism, still regards Nazism as morally worse than the Gulag, he replies mildly but somehow irrefutably: « I simply feel it to be so. » In his most recent books, « Reflections on a Ravaged Century » and « The Dragons of Expectation, » he goes beyond the usual admonitions against Jacobinism and more recent totalitarian utopias, and argues for « the Anglosphere, » that historic arc of law, tradition and individual liberty that extends from Scotland to Australia and takes in the two largest multicultural democracies on the planet — the U.S. and India.
There was a time when this might have seemed quixotic or even nostalgic (at least to me) but when one surveys the wreckage of other concepts, and the increasing difficulties of the only rival « model » in the form of the European Union (of which he was an early skeptic) the notion seems to have a future as well as a past. One very much feels, as one also very much hopes, that the same can be said of the Grand Old Man of Stanford.
Mr. Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.