Magazine article The Spectator

Blindfolds and Mindmists

Magazine article The Spectator

Blindfolds and Mindmists

Article excerpt

THE DRAGONS OF EXPECTATION by Robert Conquest Duckworth, £18, pp. 256, ISBN 0715634267 . £14.40 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Without the existence of 'apparently [my italics] sophisticated circles', which the great historian and poet Robert Conquest also calls 'an intellectually semi-educated class' (soon abbreviated into just 'cerebral jellies') his latest book would never have been written. For its express purpose, he avers, is to tease 'these misinformed strata' -- yet another description -- into abandoning the 'brain blindfolds' and 'mindmists' which have robbed them of all sense of present realities and future possibilities. Since it goes without saying that Spectator readers, never having been seduced by Stalin, tempted by communism, or by any of the other Utopianisms of the 20th century, come into none of these derisive categories, it might be thought that this chasteningly, sardonic book is not for them.

No so, however, for two reasons. First it is always enjoyable to watch a master dialectian scoring knockouts, in Conquest's case without ever hitting below the belt, particularly when the targets include world-revered leftwing icons like the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm and Nobel Prize-winner Dorothy Hodgkin. A more substantial reason, however, is that by showing lucidly and fairly how other clever and well-meaning people have allowed themselves to be misled in the past, Conquest's new book may help to deter today's generation of well-meaning intellectuals -- some of whom may be readers of The Spectator -- from falling into the same kind of trap.

The ever-recurring danger, as Robert Conquest makes clear, springs from a natural human tendency, to which idealists are most prone, to feel so strongly about present evils, the evils which are to be seen before their eyes, that their brains entirely fail to register the potential evils -- so much less easy to discern -- of the panaceas being peddled to replace them. Thus it was that so many of the West's best and brightest between the wars, horrified by the evils of American capitalism in the Depression, refused to recognise the far worse evils of their favoured cure, Soviet communism. European federalism also falls into the same category in Conquest's book. For it was because European idealists after the second world war had their minds full of the vices of the nation state that they entirely lost sight of its invaluable virtues. Another example, of course -- which Conquest does not mention -- was the postwar obsession of the highminded, particularly in America, with the evils of colonialism, quite regardless of the calamitous consequences, at least in Africa, of putting an end to it. …

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