Reflections on a Ravaged Century

Robert Conquest, Author, Conquest, Author, Weil, Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-04818-6
In a book that is as cantankerous as it is insightful, historian Conquest (The Great Terror, etc.) takes grim stock of the bloody fruit of 20th-century political ideology. ""We cannot do without ideas; but we should not make ideas into Ideas. We should note the catastrophes due to fascination with fantasy, addiction or absolutes."" Accordingly, he offers withering critiques of Marx, Lenin and anybody who took seriously the idea that the complexities of human social life could be adequately explained by any one theory. With great passion and a formidably wide array of references, he describes the intellectual mediocrity of Marxism and Marx: ""outside his sect few serious philosophers accepted his philosophy; few economists accepted his economics; few historians accepted his theories of history."" To the extent that his target is not just communism but the very notion that any theory could explain and predict human social behavior, Conquest aspires to the same kind of humanistic perspective championed by Isaiah Berlin or Hannah Arendt, and, like Berlin, he celebrates pluralism and civil society as the sane antidotes to ideological purity. But both Arendt and Berlin took account of the idealism that led so many people who should have known better into complicity with evil regimes. These authors understood that the road to hell could be paved with the best of intentions, and they managed to honor those intentions while still calling hell, hell. They were thus able to convey the moral tragedy of the 20th-century romance with ideology. In these pages, Conquest often writes with such contempt for those who seized on Ideas that, in the end, he doesn't so much analyze history as scold it. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.