A Ripple of the Polonaise
No writer should complain about receiving the kind of extensive, serious and probing treatment that Perry Anderson (LRB, 25 November 1999) gives not just to my most recent book, History of the Present, but to my work over the last twenty years. I appreciate it. However, he makes some criticisms that need to be answered. Seasoned readers may recognise the continuation of a debate between us in these columns some three years ago (LRB, 8 and 22 February, 7 and 21 March, 18 April 1996). He charges me with a lack of ‘self-reflection’ in History of the Present. The trouble with ‘self-reflection’ is that it can so easily become self-importance. But since he has raised the issues so prominently, let me start with a few more personal comments before addressing the substantive argument.
1. He calls me a Cold Warrior, of the final generation. I plead guilty, and happily so. He goes on, with some vestiges of old thinking, to identify me as on ‘the Right’ (albeit ‘the liberal Right’) and an adviser to Margaret Thatcher. This is misleading. Throughout these twenty years I have consistently been an independent liberal, belonging to no political party, with friends on liberal Left and liberal Right – inasmuch as those terms still have any clear meaning. I make no apology for having written for the Spectator as well as continuing to write for those well-known right-wing journals, the Independent and the New York Review of Books. I only advised Margaret Thatcher once, at the (in)famous March 1990 Chequers seminar on German unification. Since other attendees included the liberal New York historian of Germany, Fritz Stern, and the Stanford historian Gordon Craig, it seems a fair assumption that we were gathered for our knowledge of Germany rather than our ideological soundness. So whatever this argument is, it has nothing to do with Left v. Right.
2. He detects ‘a ripple of the Polonaise’ in the scoring of my European themes. I would never deny a very special concern for Poland. But I also have a special concern for the British, the Germans, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Hungarians and, as he testifies, the Bosnians, Kosovars, Serbs, Croats and Macedonians. No one, but no one, can know about and care for all the peoples of Europe equally. This does not, however, mean that my overall analysis ignores the other parts. We should not, please, fall back into the bad old habit, so characteristic of Cold War polemics, of addressing people’s motives rather than their arguments. Let us be judged on our arguments.
3. He contrasts my notion of ‘history of the present’ unfavourably with a more conventional contemporary history, based on the retrospective study of all available sources – such as, he kindly observes, I practised in In Europe’s Name, my history of Germany and the divided continent. But I nowhere suggest that the former is a substitute for the latter, or that it can perform exactly the same task. I do maintain, however, that the work of an alert and sensitive eyewitness, particularly if he or she has an eye for the historian’s questions, is a necessary complement to, even a precondition for, the more conventional scholarly history; that the contemporary witness sees things that are otherwise lost to the historian; and that, for a number of reasons, such work has become more not less important in our time. Far from aiming to erect a pretentious barrier between scholarly history and higher journalism, one purpose of History of the Present is to knock a hole shaped like a question-mark through the wall between the two.
4. Anderson chides me for becoming ‘stuffily reverential’ in writing about European leaders, because of too great a proximity to them. His case can be made only by highly selective quotation. Completely ignored is my criticism of Walesa, Thatcher and Mitterrand, to name but three. Yes, I praise Helmut Kohl, at the moment of his retirement; but one of the central arguments of the book is a frontal assault on the European priorities he set. Yes, I praise the Pope; but Anderson parodies my argument for his importance in the end of Communism. I go on to say that the Pope’s teaching on contraception has resulted in ‘much needless, avoidable suffering’ bringing ‘unwanted children into lives of misery’. As for the European leader I know best, Václav Havel: at the heart of the book is a fundamental critique of his position on the relationship between politician and intellectual.
Anderson is curiously dismissive of my exemplars of intellectual independence, Orwell and Aron, but I’ll stick with them.
His most important substantive criticism concerns Western policy towards Central Europe and the Balkans. He objects to my contention that West European leaders set the wrong priorities after the end of the Cold War, as they concentrated on perfecting the existing arrangements in Western Europe through monetary union rather than setting out to build a ‘liberal order for the whole of Europe’ (please note: ‘whole’); that, in short, they fiddled in Maastricht while Sarajevo began to burn. Instead, he suggests that I myself am responsible for Western Europe’s failure in the Balkans, because I argued in the late Eighties and early Nineties that priority should be given to Central Europe: ‘A tireless lobbyist for aid and attention to be conferred on “Central” Europe, he remained oblivious to the Balkan crisis. If the voice of any individual in the public realm bears a measure of responsibility for the tragic inversion of priorities as Yugoslavia slid towards the abyss, it would be his.’ Here is a grave and extraordinary charge. If we make the reasonable assumption that politicians are ‘individuals in the public realm’, Anderson seems to be suggesting that my voice was more important than those of Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand or John Major …
Stripped of the hyperbole, there is a serious point, which I will answer as if it were made more temperately. First of all, I regret that I did not write more and sooner about the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia. I wish that I had raised my voice earlier, louder, more eloquently to say that something must be done, and to work out what the West should have done. Probably it would have made little difference. After all, many eloquent voices were raised, and they had little effect on Western policy. But I still wish that I had tried. And I feel guilty – particularly after travelling extensively through the Balkans in the second half of the decade and seeing the results in human suffering.
However, the reason that I did not do this in the early Nineties is not that I was tied up in ‘tireless lobbying’ for exclusive priority to be given to Central Europe. The reason is that I was engaged in the writing and afterbirth of the large, scholarly book of contemporary history which Anderson is kind enough to praise. In fact, in the years from the autumn of 1990 to the autumn of 1995, I wrote only a handful of commentaries containing ‘policy advocacy’, several of them co-authored with Michael Mertes and Dominique Moisi. It is these that Anderson repeatedly quotes, and he surely overstates their impact.
For, second and more important, it is simply not the case that West European leaders gave the priority to eastward enlargement of the European Community (subsequently Union) that I hoped they would – starting with the post-Communist countries most advanced and nearest to us, but certainly not stopping there. In fact, they did remarkably little even for Central Europe. Anderson waxes indignant about how all the EC/EU aid went to Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, but the truth is that they did not get much. It was hard enough to persuade West European leaders to give even that – and we still have not opened our markets to the Hungarians, Poles and Czechs as they have opened theirs to us. Far from there being a ‘Western Drang nach Osten after the Cold War’, there was a huge Western inclination to stay exactly where we were. Less Drang than drag.
Becoming what I suppose he would call ‘stuffily reverential’, Anderson avers that ‘the Western leader who did most to force through monetary union, François Mitterrand, was actually the only one with a unitary vision for Eastern Europe as a whole.’ Well, I was one of those invited to launch Mitterrand’s European Confederation in Prague in 1991, and I briefly describe that singular event in the book. Far from being a manifestation of a true vision for all the countries of post-Communist Europe, this was a device to put them all in a long-term waiting-room and talking-shop, while keeping an unenlarged, tight little European Community with France still at its centre.
Think back to the early Nineties. Was the ‘European debate’ in Britain, France, Germany or Italy dominated by Central Europe? Was this what the referendums were about in France and Denmark? A glance at the newspapers of the time will show that the debate about Europe was consumed by the Maastricht agenda. This was not the only reason for our failure in the Balkans, but it was a much more important one than my own (and other people’s) not very successful advocacy of enlargement.
Third, underlying his critique is an assumption that Central Europe was somehow going to be all right anyway. But what Central Europe had in 1990 was an almighty mess. it’s tempting today, but quite ahistorical, to believe that Central Europe was foredoomed to make a successful transition to some version (however tawdry and corrupt) of democratic capitalism. In fact, this is precisely the kind of mythopoeic idealising of ‘Central Europe’ that Anderson wrongly ascribes to me. He critically quotes, slightly out of context, my observation in The Magic Lantern – better known in this country as We the People – that ‘1989 was not a year of acute national and ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe.’ (It’s clear from the context that ‘Eastern Europe’ here refers, as was usual at that time, to the six states of the Soviet bloc.) He doesn’t quote my comment in the same chapter that one could ‘with a rather high degree of analytical plausibility’ paint for the former Eastern Europe in the Nineties a dark prospect: ‘less Central Europe than Zwischeneuropa, a dependent intermediate zone of weak states, national prejudice, inequality, poverty and Schlamassel’. My overwhelming concern was that even the best-placed post-Communist states would not make it, and I don’t think this fear was unfounded.
In advocating a priority for Central Europe, Mertes, Moisi and I argued that you simply could not do everything at once, and that a democratic, prosperous, stable and secure East-Central Europe might in time ‘become a magnet for South-East Europe, for the Baltic states, the Ukraine and, yes, for the European parts of Russia’. Looking at the positive role Poland now plays in relation to her eastern neighbours, looking at Slovenia and the prospects for Croatia after Tudjman, I think the magnet is just beginning to pull.
I repeat: morally and emotionally, I feel guilty about not having raised my voice louder, sooner, for the suffering of former Yugoslavia. But intellectually and politically, Anderson’s indictment is delivered to the wrong address.
Finally, he confuses not writing reportage from Russia with not seeing that Russia matters. (History of the Present also has little reportage from France, Spain or Italy – that doesn’t mean I think they are unimportant.) In another bold rhetorical manoeuvre, he says: well, Garton Ash doesn’t write much about Russia, but ‘another Polonist’, Zbigniew Brzezinski, does. He then devotes three columns to identifying me, on no evidence at all, with the view he attributes to Brzezinski, that Europe is America’s geopolitical bridgehead against Russia. This is like saying ‘Perry Anderson is a rich man on the left. So is Geoffrey Robinson. Anderson doesn’t say much about tax reform, but Robinson did, so for Anderson read Robinson.’ I am very happy to conduct a further debate with Perry Anderson about the global geopolitics of the post-Cold War world, but that is the subject of Brzezinski’s book, not mine. If we have a right to be judged on our arguments rather than our motives, we have an even more basic right to be judged on our own arguments, not other people’s.
Timothy Garton Ash
St Antony’s College, Oxford
Perry Anderson slightly disfigures an otherwise magnificent essay by an offhand repetition of the commonest misrepresentation of George Orwell. Far from ‘supplying officialdom with a secret list of suspect acquaintances’, Orwell showed a friend an open list of what he considered to be suspect public figures. One could hardly get more errors – or innuendos – into so few words. The friend – actually a former object of Orwell’s love – was a woman of the Left who worked for the Foreign Office. But Orwell showed his list to anyone who asked, and published its corollary opinions whenever he had the chance. Almost nobody on the roster was known to him personally. I suspect that the word ‘list’ (as in ‘blacklist’) is what does the subliminal damage here: it was actually more of a party game, played by himself and his friend Richard Rees. The public exchanges, with those on the ‘list’ like J.D. Bernal, were of course properly acid and serious. At exactly the same period, Orwell helped initiate a statement by the Freedom Defence Committee, signed by another ‘list’ of himself, E.M. Forster, Fenner Brockway, Henry Moore, Harold Laski and others, which said that any government employee suspected of Communist or Fascist sympathies should be entitled to an open hearing, and should have the right both to be accompanied by a lawyer or a trade-union representative, and to cross-examine hostile witnesses. The statement explicitly said that information from the ‘security’ services should not be taken unless independently corroborated.
The statement was published in the Socialist Leader on 21 August 1948 and in Peace News on 27 August. Together with all of Orwell’s private correspondence and public activity of the time, it shows that he was resolutely opposed to any sort of inquisition. The entire list appears as Appendix 9 in Vol. XX of the Complete Works of George Orwell (1998).
Perry Anderson mentions Robert Seton-Watson, and his influence in shaping Western views of East-Central Europe. But he makes no mention of Henry Brailsford, whose understanding of the Balkans proved much better founded than Seton-Watson's idealised picture. Brailsford was undoubtedly less influential, but his critique of the facile enthusiasm for the creation of new states and the break-up of old empires (outlined in A League of Nations, 1917) proved remarkably prescient. Many of the most lasting analyses of East-Central Europe between the wars were produced by leftists or left-liberals (which included Seton-Watson in his youth) whereas after the Second World War most leftists produced ideological or scholastic analyses. During the Cold War, there was no time for the kind of sober analysis which Brailsford had been able to provide in Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future (1906), which scholars still refer to.
Also omitted in Anderson's overview is any discussion of alternative views to the soft liberal consensus on Eastern Europe epitomised in the articles by Garton Ash collected in The Uses of Adversity (1989) and We the People (1990). Anderson predictably mentions Bahro. But there was no shortage in Eastern Europe of alternative views to the soft consensus. In Poland, Jadwiga Staniszkis's interpretation of the dynamics of change in Eastern Europe proved much more accurate and prescient than the picture Garton Ash provided. In Hungary, Tamas Bauer produced interesting analyses. Not everybody in Eastern Europe was guilty of the illusion of immediacy.
Like many of your readers, I trust, I read with a rising fury Jenny Diski's review of Francis Wheen's book on Karl Marx (LRB, 25 November 1999). It seemed a special perversity that she should compare this study so unfavourably with Yvonne Kapp's life of Eleanor Marx, a masterpiece which did indeed derive new insights from his private character for his public reputation. Francis Wheen's book performs the same service, with a whole range of new discoveries and comparisons, for a new generation, indeed, for the new century.
Hedging His Bets
At several places in his close reading of Andrew Marvell’s poetry (LRB, 25 November 1999) Tom Paulin opts (as he admits) for an over-simple formalism and creates meanings which in some cases seem clearly at odds with a straight, full reading of the text. Thus when he describes the comic metempsychosis of verse 7 of ‘The Garden’, he skips a stanza so as to yoke to verse 7 the closing couplet of verse 8:
Two paradises twere in one
To live in Paradise alone
He then ventures that Marvell is ‘masking’ a ‘dangerous pantheism’ – dangerous to whom? – ‘behind Christian piety and a jokey light-verse tone’. This is hardly likely: if one reads the whole of verse 8, the couplet can be seen as an aphoristic conclusion to a conventional account of Adam’s solitary, unfallen state. The two paradises are the external, tangible Garden of Eden and the internal garden as Adam sees and interprets it. Cartesian maybe, but nothing to do with pantheism.
The problem with the way Paulin sees Marvell is that because Marvell was a friend of Milton, a supporter of the Republic and a wonderful poet, Paulin wants to include him in a sacred canon of Nonconformist, left-libertarian English writers. However, he neglects to point out that Marvell’s three long verse tributes to Cromwell – the ‘Horatian Ode’, ‘The First Anniversary’ and ‘Upon the Death of His Late Highness the Lord Protector’ – amount to a remarkable triptych of political sycophancy. I cannot see how Paulin can take a passage like
Thou in a pitch how far beyond the sphere
Of human glory tower’st and reigning there
Despoiled of mortal robes, in seas of bliss,
Plunging does bathe, and tread the bright
and argue that this is a metaphor for the ‘chaotic void at the heart of political action which turns the world upside down’. When the passage is read in full, it is immediately recognisable as Marvell’s own version of the vulgar apotheosis of absolute monarchy. It is reminiscent of the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall Palace, commissioned by Charles I and painted in the 1630s by Rubens, in which the father of the king whom Cromwell later had executed is portrayed soaring through the firmament surrounded by bouncing cherubs.
Marvell’s public poetry reveals a politician who hedged his bets and backed different parties at different times. Paulin concedes that in his youth, Marvell was a Royalist. He converted briefly to Roman Catholicism between 1639 and 1640, and ‘Flecknoe’ (c.1645), though a satire, is an affectionate one. However, once radical Protestantism won the war, Marvell didn’t, unlike Winstanley, defend the rights of Catholics to religious freedom within the Republic. Instead, he spouted the usual propaganda, and addressed the first and perhaps only case of English-managed genocide with the merry couplet: ‘And now the Irish are ashamed/To see themselves in one year tamed.’
The common thread running through the political poems is not Marvell’s prototypical love of democracy or freedom of belief and conscience, but the glorification of military conquest and subjugation. We are treated to a series of portraits of Cromwell confronting destiny, forging with fire and sword sublime order out of grubby chaos, and taming the Irish, the Scots, the Jews, the French, the Whore of Babylon and all the rest of the rabble. In ‘The First Anniversary’ Marvell devotes 60 lines to a story of how the sins of his subjects caused Cromwell to crash his chariot in Hyde Park with near-fatal consequences; but somehow the demigod managed to resurrect himself and carry on ministering to his people for a good few years. Perhaps Marvell was only pursuing the conventions of the time, but if the whole point of Cromwell was his self-effacing humanitarianism, as Christopher Hill and others have made out, I hope he was suitably embarrassed by the tedious excesses of his laureate.
Testing out the Route
A type of droit de cuissage, which is discussed by Gabrielle Spiegel (LRB, 11 November 1999), flourished in parts of Borneo as late as the Fifties. It was a tacit custom in some rubber plantations that, when a Dusun tapper married, the European manager (often a Scotsman) had the right if he so desired – and he usually did desire – to spend the first night with the young bride. This droit de propriétaire was accepted and the tapper enjoyed full employment for life.
Where’s the carburettor?
My Rutgers colleague, Benjamin Martin Bly, seems not to grasp that there is a difference between, on the one hand, trying to find out ‘the way the structure of our minds depends on the structure of our brains’ or ‘the basis of cognition when it depends on a subtle interplay among brain regions’ and, on the other hand, making brain maps of what lights up where when one thinks about teapots (Letters, 9 December 1999). Roughly, it’s the difference between a scientist who has a hypothesis and one who only has a camera.
Stalin at the Movies
In his review of J. Hoberman’s book The Red Atlantis, Peter Wollen (LRB, 25 November 1999) states that Trotsky refused to defend the POUM leader Andres Nin and draws an analogy between Trotsky’s position on the Kronstadt uprising of 1921 – his support of armed suppression – and his position on the murder of Nin in 1937. This grossly misrepresents important – and well-known – historical facts. In brief, Trotsky was totally on Nin’s side, speaking of him later as ‘an old and incorruptible revolutionary’ who had been murdered because he was incorruptible. Wollen also cites the revolutionary novelist Victor Serge as someone who ‘clearly and forcefully’ expressed the view that Lenin led to Stalin. Quite the contrary. In his 1937 book From Lenin to Stalin, Serge argues that ‘everything has changed’: the aims of the Revolution, the Party, the climate of daily life – everything had changed under Stalin.
After nearly 25 years as a member of an Augustinian Order of Canons Regular I would like to endorse everything James Wood writes about Augustine (LRB, 30 September 1999). Over those years, to a background of the eulogising of ‘our father Augustine’, I slowly moved from seeing this man as an anguished spiritual genius of theological profundity to a pervert who has had a more malign effect on Western culture than probably any other individual. I still find breathtaking his ability to distort scripture – also noted by his contemporary St Jerome – as well as the persuasive rationality with which he twists reality. But it is when one has to deal with people who have been traumatised by the crass application of his teachings (bereaved mothers who were told that their unbaptised children would be eternally damned) that the time comes to say enough is enough.
More a Jest than Life
Frances Wilson's review of the new edition of Thomas Lovell Beddoes (LRB, 28 October 1999) concludes with the observation that Edmund Gosse brought out an edition of Beddoes's poetry. Gosse only saw specimen pages of the Fanfislico Press two-volume edition, dying before the work was published in 1928. This conjuncture caused the publisher, the expatriate Australian Jack Lindsay, to note its peculiar harmony with Beddoes's attitude to death:
For death is more a jest than life: you see
Contempt grows quick from familiarity.
I owe this wisdom to Anatomy.
University of Newcastle
Ourimbah, New South Wales