The Clarity of Robert Conquest


It’s never too late to find new heroes.  So at 39 (again), I’ve found Robert Conquest.  Conquest, now 93, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, but he made his bones as a historian of the Soviet Union, one of the few who was fearless is his condemnation of the Sauron-like evil that emanated from the place.   His hostility to the USSR, and his contempt for their enablers in the West, was born not of any particular political ideology, but out of a deep-seated love of political liberty, and an understanding of what it takes to make that work.  In 2000, he wrote Reflections on a Ravaged Century, about the West’s conflict with leftist totalitarianism.  Several quotes jumped out at me:

A democratic community enjoying political liberty is only possible when the attachment of the majority of the citizens to political liberty is stronger than their attachment to specific political doctrines.  And this is to say that on many controversial issues a certain comparative apathy must prevail among a large part of the population.  But apathy cannot appear a virtue to the man who has committed himself to an intellectually elaborated scheme or policy.

One of the great political successes of the Left has been to relegate that attachment to political liberty to a political doctrine in itself, and having largely chased it from one of our major political parties.  One of the more inspirational developments of the last two years has been the emergence of a political movement which appears to be largely agnostic or even divided about many issues, except for its attachment to liberty.

Then, this:

But Marxism’s greatest success has been the demonizing of “capitalism.”  No one is likely to raise barricades under the flag of “capitalism” – presumably the skull and crossbones.

I don’t know if Conquest even remembers writing these words, but I wonder if he’s surprised that a somewhat different flag of capitalism has been dusted off, albeit thankfully without the barricades.