January 4, 2013

1. The Newtown Shooting

When I was first told about the Newtown shooting, I could hardly believe it — so many were killed, they were so young. Rarely does a shooting target young children, and rarely is the ratio of killed to wounded so high.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, seems to have had Asperger’s (a mild form of autism), though it’s often difficult to say precisely who has such an illness and who doesn’t. Asperger’s is probably congenital. I suspect that Lanza didn’t receive good parenting; perhaps he wasn’t wanted or loved. A combination of nature and nurture, of Asperger’s and early-childhood experiences, probably made Lanza doubly solitary, doubly indifferent to others. It would be a mistake, in my view, to regard Lanza as insane, psychotic, or schizophrenic.

I suspect that Lanza’s father had little influence over him, partly because his parents divorced, partly because his father was a busy executive, partly because Adam Lanza was a younger son, and his older brother probably received most of his father’s “parenting energies.” As I said in my Kennedy essay, “A father usually identifies most closely with his eldest son, and usually has most influence over his eldest son.”

Saddam Hussein was raised in a fatherless environment. In my discussion of Saddam, I wrote, “while a fatherless environment can make a hero, it can also make a criminal. The father is the main source of the super-ego, the conscience, and a boy without a father may lack a conscience; an example is Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy.” Oswald, Saddam, Stalin, Hitler — none of them had a normal or healthy relationship with their father, and I suspect that Adam Lanza didn’t have a normal or healthy relationship with his father. A psychologist’s description of Saddam might fit Lanza, too: “He has the most dangerous personality configuration, what we call ‘malignant narcissism,’ such extreme self-absorption, he has no concern for the pain or suffering of others, a paranoid outlook, no constraint of conscience.”

Lanza was 20 at the time of the shooting. This is a difficult time for him because high school is over, he can’t find his footing in college or in the work-force, and he probably has few (if any) friends/girlfriends. Newtown may have been a great town for a family with children, but for a 20-year-old single man it probably wasn’t a great town. His relationship with his mother was very bad; perhaps she taught him to shoot, and practiced shooting with him, because it was the only chance for positive interaction between them.

In his bedroom, Lanza had several articles about Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who slaughtered 77 people, mostly teenagers, in July 2011. The Norwegian shooting seemed to inspire Lanza; evil is infectious. But while Breivik, like the Unabomber, tried to justify his crimes with philosophical treatises, Lanza didn’t philosophize, he seemed drawn to violence for its own sake. Lanza was much younger than Breivik and the Unabomber; he not only targeted children, he was himself childish. In an earlier issue, I discussed “copycat crimes,” the infectious nature of evil, and evil as the result of possession.

The Newtown shooting is an argument for gun control. Why does society allow people to own rifles that seem designed for mass murder or war, that aren’t designed for hunting or self-defense? On the other hand, the Newtown shooting is also an argument against gun control: if you create a gun-free zone, then one person with a gun is all-powerful; if you outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns; if someone who worked in the Newtown school had a gun, Lanza might have been stopped.

In an earlier issue, I discussed shooting sprees, and I argued that they’re a symptom of a spiritual void, of nihilism, of a breakdown of culture and religion. If violent movies and video games fill this spiritual void, then sadistic impulses are unleashed. (Lanza was fond of violent video games.) Perhaps the need for media-control is as urgent as the need for gun-control.

2. Sherlock Holmes

In an earlier issue, I discussed the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle:

Doyle emphasizes intuition as much as reasoning. He often describes his hero reclining on a couch, his head wreathed in smoke — the picture of relaxation. Holmes unravels mysteries by relaxing; relaxation allows the unconscious to speak, allows the intuition to speak.

Maria Konnikova has written a book called Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. She notes that Holmes’ approach involves relaxing, “‘throwing his brain out of action,’ as Dr. Watson puts it.” “More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there.”1 Konnikova notes that Holmes’ approach is related to meditation, to mindfulness; meditation also ‘throws the brain out of action.’

3. Appeasement

Pretend you’re a high-school history teacher, and you’re trying to explain the history of the 1930s, and the policy of appeasement. You choose one student to represent the Nazis (let’s call him Adolf), and one to represent the English (let’s call him Neville). Neville is walking down the street when suddenly Adolf confronts him, pulls a knife, and says, “Give me $20.” Should Neville accede to Adolf’s demand (appeasement), or defy Adolf, and risk being stabbed (risk war)? Most of us, if confronted by a mugger, would give him $20, and indeed the English did begin by appeasing Hitler.

The confrontation between Neville and Adolf can be varied in countless ways. For example, you could imagine that Neville is walking to a bridge to commit suicide, so when Adolf confronts him, Neville says, “Go ahead, stab me, I’m not giving you a penny.” Neville doesn’t care if Adolf kills him because he wants to die anyway. Or you could imagine that Neville loves his life, and has five young children at home, so he’d prefer to give Adolf everything in his pocket rather than risk death; he feels an obligation to his family. Or you could imagine that Adolf and Neville are surrounded by a crowd of people, so if Neville gives in to Adolf, he loses “face” as well as money. Or you could imagine that, after Neville gives Adolf $20, Adolf asks for $30, or asks for the clothes that Neville is wearing.

There are many reasons why appeasement might be sensible. Perhaps the strongest is that, even if you have enough courage to face death, your life isn’t the only life that would be affected by your death, other people would be affected, too. The English weren’t just risking their own lives by fighting Hitler, they were also risking countless other lives — the lives of allies like Australians and Canadians and Americans, the lives of Jews who would be more vulnerable in war-time, etc. In an earlier issue, I quoted the arguments of Jung and Hoffer, both of whom felt it was a mistake to try to stop Hitler, he should have been steered toward the East.

Perhaps the problem with appeasement is that the English didn’t do enough of it. When Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland, perhaps the French and British should have continued the policy of appeasement. It didn’t help the Poles to have the French and British join the fray. In fact, the Germans would probably have treated the Poles (and the Jews) better if the war were local and limited, rather than world-wide and total. Perhaps we shouldn’t use “appeasement” as a pejorative term; perhaps it’s a good policy, if the only alternative is world war and genocide.

There’s a clear link between genocide and world war. When the French and English decided to abandon appeasement and fight, the fate of the Jews was sealed. Niall Ferguson looks at a German town called Krefeld: “From 1933 until 1939... the Gestapo had harassed the 832 Jews still living in the Rhineland town of Krefeld with increasing zeal.... Nevertheless, it was only after the outbreak of war that Krefeld’s Jewish community could systematically be wiped out.”2 What’s true of the Jewish community is also true of other groups, such as the mentally ill; in 1935, Hitler said that “if war should break out, he would take up the euthanasia question and implement it.”3 It seems that Hitler was waiting for a war before beginning genocide; he seemed to feel that genocide was impossible in peace-time. In a 1939 speech, Hitler said, “If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will [be] the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”4

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that the French and English were responsible for the Holocaust. What’s clear today wasn’t as clear in 1939. Today we can see that siding with Poland led to world war, and world war led to genocide, but that wasn’t as clear in 1939. Even in 1944, people couldn’t believe that genocide was occurring (as we saw in the last issue), so they certainly couldn’t have imagined it in 1939.

As I read the history of the period before World War II, I continually think, “the situation could have been managed better, world war could have been avoided, nobody really wanted world war, Hitler didn’t want to conquer the world, he only wanted to expand eastward — to expand into areas where Germans had lived for centuries.” But on the other hand, I believe in Fate, I believe that World War II was fated to occur, and was predicted (by Nietzsche and others) long before it occurred. So as I read about the 1930s, I’m torn between fate and freedom, between the thought that World War II could have been avoided, and the thought that it was destined to occur. Is this what the historian should describe? Should the historian describe the tension between fate and freedom?

If I say, “appeasement wasn’t carried far enough,” some people will respond, “appeasement shouldn’t have been tried at all. When Hitler made his first move, the Allies should have refused to accept it. The Germans were weak in 1936, they could have been stopped rather easily.” This is a valid argument, but is it a stronger argument than “appeasement should have been carried further”? To put it another way, once the Allies accepted Hitler’s move into the Rhineland in 1936, and into the Sudetenland in 1938, then wouldn’t it have been wise to accept his move into Poland in 1939?

In my view, Hitler’s aim was eastward expansion. By resisting that aim, what did the Allies accomplish? Eastern Europe became Stalin’s instead of Hitler’s. Appeasement of Hitler (before 1939) was replaced by appeasement of Stalin (after 1943).

There are countless arguments in favor of appeasing Hitler, and countless arguments against it. Wouldn’t it be a perfect topic for a debate in a high school history class?

Today, foreign-policy hawks say, “We should have kept a force in Iraq. After investing so much blood and treasure in Iraq, it was a big mistake to withdraw completely.” And they make a similar argument with respect to Vietnam; they say that victory was within reach, that we shouldn’t have withdrawn so hastily from Vietnam, etc. In short, foreign-policy hawks say that the problem with our Vietnam and Iraq policies is that they weren’t continued. The argument for appeasement is similar; it says, “the problem with appeasement is that it wasn’t continued, it wasn’t taken far enough.” Thus, both the hawk and the dove can argue that they were right, that their advice should have been followed for one more year.

Just as there are arguments in favor of staying out of World War II, so there are arguments in favor of staying out of World War I. In 1914, why were so many nations so willing to enter the fray, to enter a war from which everyone emerged weaker, a war that had no winners but only losers? Perhaps one reason is that the public was clamoring for war, and governments felt that they would be overthrown if they didn’t accede to the popular will. The Russian public was ardently pro-Serbia, and if Austria-Hungary went to war with Serbia, Russians demanded their country stand with Serbia. The Russian government feared that the Czar would be overthrown if they didn’t help Serbia.5 The irony is that they sided with Serbia, but the Czar was overthrown anyway. The Russian people, like other peoples, seemed to under-estimate how long, how difficult, how costly the war would be.

In Britain in 1914, some cabinet members argued that “standing aside would be dishonorable.”6 This raises the question, How many millions of lives should be risked in order to preserve a nation’s honor? Another argument made in the British Cabinet was that “not intervening would bring the government down.” In other words, the people and their representatives demanded intervention, so the government must intervene in order to survive — the same reasoning that we saw in Russia. It isn’t the government that’s dragging the people into war, it’s the people that are dragging government into war.

4. John Lukacs

A. General Remarks

I’ve been watching interviews, and reading essays about, the Hungarian-American historian John Lukacs.7 Lukacs is an unusual man, with an unusual background. Lukacs’ father was a Hungarian-Catholic doctor, his mother was Jewish. [Update 2021: Wikipedia describes both his parents as “Jewish converts to Roman Catholicism.”] His parents divorced when he was eight. His maternal grandparents were “most responsible for the person he was to become. ‘They were the most admirable people I have ever known... They were well-to-do, modest, Jewish and thoroughly bourgeois.’” His mother converted to Catholicism, and raised him as a Catholic. Lukacs has been called “a serious Catholic with a commitment to a traditional faith.”

His mother instilled in him a love for all things English, and sent him to a school in England in 1938, when he was about 15. When Lukacs returned home about a year later, Hungary was beginning the ordeal of World War II, the ordeal of being between the Nazis and the Soviets, an ordeal that was doubly difficult for a Jew or half-Jew. Lukacs managed to evade both Fascists and Communists, and make his way to the U.S. In one of the interviews that I saw, Lukacs dissolved in tears as he told of his mother staying up late, listening to the BBC, and telling him that the Americans have joined the war. They knew then that the Germans would lose.

Lukacs has written about a variety of subjects. One might call him a “man of letters” as well as a historian. He has written several volumes about Churchill and Hitler, and the clash between them. He has written two volumes about his own life, and he has written much about modern times, about which he’s pessimistic. He had a long friendship with George Kennan, and he wrote several books about Kennan and the Cold War. In 1961, Lukacs wrote his History of the Cold War, which Kennan called “a really great work of philosophical-historical analysis.”

Lukacs was a professor, but doesn’t take academia seriously. Likewise, he has little interest in how his books sell. He sees himself as primarily a writer, an intellectual, and he probably aspires to be read by posterity. His writings were aimed at “an educated rather than a scholarly audience.”8

In Lukacs’ vocabulary, the term “bourgeois” is a complimentary term, roughly equivalent to “orderly, traditional, educated, upper-middle-class.” Another complimentary term in Lukacs’ vocabulary is “reactionary,” roughly equivalent to “respectful of tradition.” Lukacs argues that “anti-Semitism was a modern phenomenon and that, like Hitler, its chief purveyors were nationalist and democratic, not reactionary and bourgeois.” In other words, its chief purveyors were men of the people, not men from the upper class. “The kind of populist nationalism that Hitler incarnated has been and continues to be the most deadly of modern plagues.”

Though Lukacs had no respect for the Soviet system, and came to America to get away from it, he’s also critical of anti-communists: “Not only did anti-communism bring Hitler to power, it poisoned American public life and misdirected American foreign policy, especially in the era following World War II.” Lukacs “regarded Sen. Joseph McCarthy as an opportunistic thug who represented the crudest, most threatening expression of populist nationalism.”

Though in many ways a conservative, Lukacs is critical of both Eisenhower and Reagan. He says that the U.S. began to come apart in the 1950s, the Eisenhower decade. He says that the U.S. declined because of a “a passion for equality,” because of “unregulated immigration of non-Europeans,” and because of a “youth syndrome” that valued what was young and new, valued science and progress. “Only during the relatively brief ‘bourgeois interlude’ — 1895-1955 — did the American social order, especially in the older cities of the east, measure up to Europe’s patrician societies.” He took a dim view of Reagan: “For Lukacs, Reagan represented the triumph of American demagogic populism.”

Lukacs laments the decline of the ideal of the gentleman. Lukacs thinks that Western civilization is probably dying: “It’s probably all over for most of the world that I cherish.” Lukacs’ pessimism about the West reminds one of Solzhenitsyn and Kennan. Lukacs laments the changes in American society that took place between 1950 and 1975, including the rise of suburbs: “the dissolution of the bourgeois and urban standards became more and more obvious.” Lukacs has “a profound suspicion of the modern world.” He thinks we should praise Churchill even if our civilization dies, because Churchill prolonged its life for fifty years: “Fifty years before the rise of new kinds of barbarism... before the clouds of a new Dark Age may darken the lives of our children and grandchildren.”

I’m not as gloomy as Lukacs. It seems to me that every civilization dies, and makes way for a new civilization. The pagan civilization was replaced by the medieval civilization, which was in turn replaced by the Renaissance civilization that Lukacs respects. The death of a particular civilization doesn’t mean the death of all civilization. The death of the old is followed by the birth of the new. I admit, there’s no guarantee that the civilization arising now will reach as high a level as the civilizations of the past, but we shouldn’t resign ourselves to a Dark Age.

Lukacs sympathizes with the environmental movement, and criticizes Republicans on this issue. For about thirty years, Lukacs was on the planning board in his town (a small town, west of Philadelphia, called Schuylkill Township), and he tried to restrain development. In his home, Lukacs has a library of some 10,000 books, but he has no truck with computers.

One commentator on Lukacs wrote,

Like all historians of stature, Lukacs rejects every form of historical determinism. He made that rejection explicit when he chose as a motto for The Duel some words of Johan Huizinga, the historian whom, perhaps, he admires above all others: “The historian... must always maintain towards his subject an indeterminist point of view. He must constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the known factors still seem to permit different outcomes. If he speaks of Salamis, then it must be as if the Persians might still win.”

I disagree. If there’s a Fate in human events, and I think there is, then the historian should acknowledge it, and show how events that seem contingent were actually fated, and were predicted long in advance. Thus, the historian should do what Shakespeare does when he shows us how Macbeth’s future was foretold by the witches, Caesar’s future by the soothsayer, etc.

Let’s take an example. Let’s pretend that the driver in front of your car throws a bottle out of his window, and your car gets a flat tire. If we assume that the driver didn’t look behind him, and doesn’t know you, we might conclude that this was an accident. If, however, you dreamed the previous night that you ran over broken glass and got a flat tire, and if that’s the only time you ever dreamed of a flat tire, then we might conclude that the flat tire wasn’t an accident, some sort of fate was at work. The future is woven in advance, determined in advance, hence it can be foretold by prophets, dreams, etc. The historian should describe the flat tire, and also the dream that foretold it.

Likewise, if Nietzsche predicted the world wars in 1885, and predicted the Holocaust in 1885, the historian should mention this, and point out that what seems contingent may have been determined, woven in advance. The historian who is describing the start of World War I should say that the Archduke’s chauffeur took a wrong turn, making the assassination possible, but he should also say that the Archduke’s tutor dreamed of the assassination before it occurred, and was so convinced that his dream was prophetic that he wrote it down, and summoned two people as witnesses. Thus, an event that seems accidental from one perspective, seems pre-determined from another perspective.

Lukacs is now 88, and still writing.

B. Lukacs on Hitler

In a Booknotes interview, Lukacs discusses his book, The Hitler of History, which he says is a biography of Hitler biographies. The Hitler of History was inspired by a book about Napoleon studies called Napoleon: For and Against. Lukacs is a fan of Ian Kershaw, author of a two-volume biography of Hitler; though this biography hadn’t been published at the time of the interview (1998), Lukacs knew it was coming, and seemed to think it would be the best Hitler biography. Meanwhile, he says that the best long biography of Hitler is Joachim Fest’s. Lukacs has high praise for a German writer named Sebastian Haffner, author of The Meaning of Hitler and other works. Lukacs is rather critical of Toland’s biography of Hitler, and he says that Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is superficial.

Lukacs says that Hitler feared and disliked his father (this didn’t surprise me; I discussed Hitler’s relationship with his father in an earlier issue). Lukacs says that Hitler was profoundly, unusually devoted to his mother. This I didn’t know. Doubtless Hitler’s devotion was matched by, and caused by, his mother’s devotion to him. His mother’s deep love for him was probably the foundation of his self-confidence. I’m reminded of Elvis Presley, who “formed an unusually tight bond with his mother.”9 As with Hitler, this tight bond was probably the foundation of Elvis’ self-confidence. Such a bond is less likely if the mother has other children. Elvis was an only child, and during Hitler’s first five years, he was his mother’s only child, and his sickliness brought him even closer to his mother.

Lukacs says that Churchill had a “fabulous understanding” of Hitler, as the result of “some kind of genius.” Even in 1930, Churchill said that Hitler was “very dangerous.” Lukacs says that Hitler came very close to winning the war, but Churchill prevented him from doing so. Lukacs describes himself as a reactionary, and also describes Churchill as a reactionary; Hitler, on the other hand, he describes as a revolutionary.

Lukacs says that Hitler was secretive, and once said, “you’ll never know what I really think.” This is consistent with the Ibsen-Hitler theory that we discussed earlier; this theory says that Ibsen’s plays provided a kind of blueprint for Hitler, but he didn’t talk about Ibsen, he kept this blueprint secret.

Lukacs often says that Hitler wasn’t mad; he was conscious of what he was doing, and responsible for his actions. Lukacs says that he’s interested in thinking, conscious thinking, he’s not interested in the unconscious. But I think Hitler can only be understood if we understand his psychological condition, which was partly mad. His psychology allows us to understand his peculiar relation to drama, to opera, to Ibsen, etc. A historian should also be a psychologist; he shouldn’t refuse to explore the unconscious. On this point, I disagree with Lukacs.

Lukacs says that Hitler had a great memory. This seems to be characteristic of genius, or of introversion. In an earlier issue, I quoted Vasari’s remark that “Michelangelo was a man of tenacious and profound memory.”

Lukacs says that

Lukacs began his career as a Tocqueville scholar. He says that Tocqueville was a great letter writer. Lukacs edited and translated a volume of Tocqueville’s writings, The European Revolution & Correspondence with Gobineau.

Lukacs prides himself on being a stylist, and he says that good history must be well-written. When Brian Lamb asks him, “What do you want people to take away from this book,” Lukacs responds, “That it’s well-written.” I don’t believe, though, that Lukacs is a great stylist, as Kennan was.

In interviews, Lukacs often damns writers for being “unreadable.” Evidently, he loathes scholarly jargon, and likes clarity and simplicity. On this point, I’m in complete agreement with him. Lukacs praises the historian Owen Chadwick, calling him the greatest living historian. He also praises the historian Edward Crankshaw, though not effusively. Lukacs dismisses the popular historian Paul Johnson as superficial.

I’ve watched lots of Brian Lamb’s interviews, and I’ve rarely seen any conflict between Lamb and the person he’s interviewing. But there was some conflict between Lamb and Lukacs. Two of Lukacs’ former students wrote an essay about him, and said, “He can be a difficult man to deal with: getting his own way is important to him, even at the cost of intellectual influence or financial gain. Lukacs’ assertiveness predisposes him to conflict and strife.” It can also be said, though, that Lukacs is a character, an interesting character, a strong character.

5. Andrew Roberts

Lukacs has high praise for an English historian, Andrew Roberts, who wrote an acclaimed history of World War II, a study of Napoleon and Wellington, a biography of an English Prime Minister named Salisbury, etc. In a Booknotes interview, Roberts comes across as lively, knowledgeable, and articulate. Like Niall Ferguson, Roberts is young enough to be called a rising star in the field of history, but old enough to be called an established star. Roberts was born in 1963, one year before Ferguson. Like Ferguson, Roberts is conservative in his politics, and like Ferguson, Roberts often writes for newspapers and magazines. While Ferguson holds various academic positions, Roberts has no academic position. Apparently Roberts was chosen to write the authorized biography of Henry Kissinger, then this decision was reversed, Roberts returned his advance, and the job was given to Ferguson.

Lukacs points out that people don’t read novels today — at least, not contemporary novels — but they do read history. Perhaps one sign of the decline of the novel is that talents like Ferguson and Roberts choose to write history rather than fiction; in the Victorian period, perhaps such talents would have been novelists.

6. Niall Ferguson

In a recent issue, I mentioned that I was reading Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World, and described it as “a history of the 20th century.” Perhaps I should have described it as an analytic history (as opposed to a narrative history). Ferguson discusses questions like, Why did the Japanese launch the Pearl Harbor attack? He doesn’t describe events; rather, he looks at underlying causes — economic, demographic, etc. But the line between analytic history and narrative history is a blurry one: an analytic history has some narration, and a narrative history has some analysis. The subtitle of Ferguson’s book is “Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West.” His focus is on the world wars, and he devotes some space to other conflicts, too. He argues that the influence of the Western nations in other parts of the world diminished during the course of the 20th century. While the theme of the 19th century was the extension of Western power, the theme of the 20th century was Western retreat. This retreat led to power vacuums and instability. The collapse of the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc. created instability, ethnic conflicts, and wars.

Ferguson points out that, around 1920, Spengler predicted the rise of Hitler, etc. “In this century,” Spengler wrote, “blood and instinct will regain their rights against the power of money and intellect.... The masses will accept with resignation the victory of the Caesars, the strong men, and will obey them.”10 When I looked at Wikipedia’s article on Spengler, I found more predictions. In his 1934 book Hour of Decision, Spengler “warned of a coming world war in which Western Civilization risked being destroyed.”11 In 1936, shortly before his death, Spengler wrote, “the German Reich in ten years will probably no longer exist.” Spengler was critical of Nazi anti-Semitism, and critical of Hitler, whom he had met and spoken with at length. Spengler was not, however, left-leaning; he was friendly toward some forms of German nationalism, and he “argued for an organic, nationalist version of socialism and authoritarianism.”

7. Tolkien and World War II

I’m woefully ignorant of many things, and one of them is Tolkien. I haven’t read his Lord of the Rings, though it was voted the most popular book in England. But I never let ignorance of a subject stop me from writing about it. In my book Realms of Gold, I mentioned Tolkien during a discussion of Beowulf: “The king [in Beowulf] is often referred to as the ‘ring-giver’, the lord of the rings; Beowulf inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was an Old English scholar.”

I now discover that Tolkien’s work was influenced not only by Beowulf but also by World War II. Niall Ferguson says that The Lord of the Rings was conceived during the First World War and written during the Second. “‘The Shire,’ with its thatched cottages, dappled sunlight and babbling brooks, was England precisely as she imagined herself in 1940.... Mordor was the totalitarian antithesis, a blasted industrial hell... spewing forth monstrous hordes and devilish weaponry.” Tolkien said that his story was “quickened to full life by war,” and he called his book “a history of the Great War of the Ring.” Tolkien said his work was “a homage ‘to England; to my country’ [and] a celebration of ‘the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds.’”12

So we can view World War II, at least in 1940, as the little hobbit (England) against the huge monster (the Nazi Empire). We can also view it as new, modern systems (Fascism and Communism) against traditional England. John Lukacs sees the duel between Churchill and Hitler as a duel between a reactionary and a revolutionary. As one Englishman put it, the Fascists and Communists “are both an attempt to get away from an effete civilization which the countries we represent are trying desperately hard to cling to and to revivify. It is indeed a revolutionary war and we are on the side of the past.”13

Note September 2022:
An article in the New York Times says, “Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader who is likely to be the next prime minister of Italy, used to dress up as a hobbit [and] revered The Lord of the Rings and other works by the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien.” The Italian Right is “looking to a traditionalist mythic age for symbols, heroes and creation myths free of Fascist taboos.” Meloni sees herself as a conservative, a champion of old values and old ways, and she believes “Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in.”

© L. James Hammond 2013
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1. New York Times back
2. The War of the World, ch. 11, “Mordor” back
3. The War of the World, ch. 7, “Protecting the Blood,” p. 264 back
4. Ibid, p. 269 back
5. The War of the World, Ch. 3, “The Generals’ War,” p. 102 back
6. Ibid, p. 107 back
7. One of the essays I read is by Lee Congdon. Congdon is a Hungary specialist, and the author of George Kennan: A Writing Life. Congdon’s essay on Lukacs can be found here. It was apparently published in 2003 in a quarterly called Modern Age, which is published by ISI, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Then it was apparently re-published in 2008 by ISI’s web journal, First Principles. ISI is a conservative think-tank based in Wilmington, Delaware.

I also read an essay in The American Conservative written by two former students of Lukacs, John Rodden and John Rossi.

Lukacs appeared on the C-SPAN series “In Depth” for a 3-hour interview, and he appeared on Booknotes for a 1-hour interview. In another, shorter interview, Lukacs discussed his book about a Churchill speech. back

8. According to his former students, he believes that “Even if his literary and intellectual achievements are undervalued by the present generation of scholars, posterity will vindicate him.” back
9. Wikipedia back
10. Epilogue, footnote on p. 645. The quote is probably from Spengler’s Decline of the West, which was published between 1918 and 1922. back
11. Wikipedia back
12. The War of the World, ch. 11, “Mordor” back
13. The War of the World, ch. 12, epigraph back