Anyone who
remembers his American history courses in grade and high school – when American
history was still being taught, because very little of it is today – will also
remember all the glowing, adulatory accounts in standard textbooks of Woodrow
Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. One encountered nary a disparaging
word about them. They “saved the world,” were “forward
looking,” or “ahead of their time,” and “served
selflessly” the cause of “democracy” and “social
justice.” These particular presidents appeared in those textbooks as
squeaky clean, literal saints, and were held up as models of political and
national leadership.

They could do no
wrong, and if these real-life Dudley Do-Rights failed in their missions to
reorient the electorate to be more easily led to moral adventures, the New
Frontier, and Great Societies, it was all the fault of greedy obstructionists
and other Snidely Whiplash villains in Congress or the Supreme Court.

Worse still, it was
implied ever so subtly that we the people didn’t deserve to have them as
leaders. They were too good for us. We’d be punished for not living up to their
expectations, for eschewing the need for “leaders.”

And we have been
punished: We got Barack Obama.

Wilson, Roosevelt,
and Kennedy were not totalitarians, but their basic political agendas, at first
interventionist and regulatory, are the groundwork for eventual total
government. It was not for lack of trying. A statist principle cannot be
applied only half-way, not in the long term. Sooner or later, if not checked and
repudiated, it must be fully applied, across the board and over everyone and
everything. As statist policies are implemented incrementally, the electorate
must be made incrementally receptive to them, surrendering their liberties
piecemeal over time in exchange for ever-dwindling but more expensive messes of
pottage.

School textbook
portrayals of historical persons are based on what respected historians have
written about them. What students have read in textbooks about the forenamed
presidents is but a thin gruel distilled from approving weighty biographical
tomes and sycophantic histories of movers and shakers. And of destroyers.

Recently, Eric Hobsbawm,
a respected British historian, died and received glowing obituaries in British
and American newspapers.

Eric who? When I first read the surname in a
Daily Mail article, I immediately presumed it was either a name borrowed by
J.R.R. Tolkien for a character in his The
Lord of the Rings
trilogy, or one invented by J.K. Rowling for a character
in her Harry Potter series. Then, to
my surprise and dismay, I learned he was an actual person, that he was an
unrepentant Communist, that he taught history from the Marxist perspective in
the best British schools, and that he wrote a number of histories from an
unapologetic Communist standpoint.

Then I saw the
Daily Mail’s photograph of him. I immediately nicknamed him The Horrible
Hobgoblin of History.

As he was revered,
so were his books. At least they were in Britain. The New York Times ran a long
article on him, while The Washington Post ran two, one an extended obituary,
another a fond retrospective of his work.

A.N. Wilson,
writing for The Daily Mail, enlightened me about Hobsbawm and just how revered
he was:

On Monday
evening, the BBC altered its program schedule to broadcast an hour-long tribute
to an old man who had died aged 95, with fawning contributions from the likes
of historian Simon Schama and Labour peer Melvyn Bragg.

The next
day, the Left-leaning Guardian filled not only the front page and the whole of
an inside page but also devoted almost its entire G2 Supplement to the news.
The Times devoted a leading article to the death, and a two-page obituary.

You might
imagine, given all this coverage and the fact that Tony Blair and Ed Miliband
also went out of their way to pay tribute, that the nation was in mourning. Yet
I do not believe that more than one in 10,000 people in this country had so
much as heard of Eric Hobsbawm, the fashionable Hampstead Marxist who was the
cause of all this attention. He had, after all, been open in his disdain for
ordinary mortals.



Yet the nation was
not in mourning. Wilson suggests that most Britons were left scratching their
heads trying to recollect just who this person was and why well-known persons
such as Blair and Miliband were shedding tears over his passing.

Unlike Wilson at The
Daily Mail, William Grimes of The New York Times penned a nonjudgmental,
praising article about Hobsbawm, subtly implying that if Americans hadn’t heard
of him until now, then they ought to have, because he was a very important
person.

Eric J. Hobsbawm,
whose three-volume economic history of the rise of industrial capitalism
established him as Britain’s pre-eminent Marxist historian, died on Monday in
London. He was 95….Mr. Hobsbawm, the leading light in a group of historians
within the British Communist Party that included Christopher Hill, E. P.
Thompson and Raymond Williams, helped recast the traditional understanding of
history as a series of great events orchestrated by great men. Instead, he
focused on labor movements in the 19th century and what he called the
“pre-political” resistance of bandits, millenarians and urban rioters in early
capitalist societies.

Grimes thought it apropos
to quote an admiring professor of history from 2008:

“Eric J. Hobsbawm was a brilliant
historian in the great English tradition of narrative history,” Tony Judt, a
professor of history at New York University, wrote in an e-mail in 2008, two
years before he died.  “On everything he
touched he wrote much better, had usually read much more, and had a broader and
subtler understanding than his more fashionable emulators. If he had not been a
lifelong Communist he would be remembered simply as one of the great historians
of the 20th century.”

To judge by
Hobsbawm’s political prejudices, had he not been a lifelong Communist, he might
not have been an historian at all. Where’s the fun in reporting and narrating
facts? In discussing real causes and real effects? No, the Communist philosophy
of history is to fit it all into a cockamamie ideology, and to dispense with
facts if they won’t cooperate. Very much the philosophy of Nazi history, and
Islamic history, as well.

Christopher Hitchens,
in a 2003 book review of Hobsbawm’s autobiography, neatly distilled the
author’s life as others did or would not:

Eric Hobsbawm has been a
believing Communist and a skeptical Euro-Communist and is now a faintly
curmudgeonly post-Communist, and there are many ways in which, accidents of
geography to one side, he could have been a corpse. Born in 1917 into a
diaspora Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, he spent his early-orphaned
boyhood in central Europe, in the years between the implosion of
Austria-Hungary and the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

This time and place were
unpropitious enough on their own: had Hobsbawm not moved to England after the
Nazis came to power in 1933, he might have become a statistic. He went on to
survive the blitz in London and Liverpool and, by a stroke of chance, to miss
the dispatch to Singapore of the British unit he had joined. At least a third
of those men did not survive Japanese captivity, and it’s difficult to imagine
Hobsbawm himself being one of the lucky ones.

No, it is unlikely
Hobsbawm would have survived Japanese captivity. He was an intellectual snob
who would have been an abrasive fellow prisoner-of-war. As Wilson writes:

Hobsbawm
came to Britain as a refugee from Hitler’s Europe before the war, but, as he
said himself, he wished only to mix with intellectuals. ‘I refused all contact
with the suburban petit bourgeoisie which I naturally regarded with contempt.’
Naturally.

Naturally, but not
so inevitably. Hobsbawm must have witnessed the turmoil in Berlin and the
street battles between the Communists, Nazis and other political groups vying
for power in the expiring Weimar Republic. Spartacus, a self-educational blogsite
connected with the left-wing Guardian, noted:

When Adolf Hitler gained power in
1933, what was left of Hobsbawn’s [sic] family moved to London. He later
recalled: “In Germany there wasn’t any alternative left. Liberalism was
failing. If I’d been German and not a Jew, I could see I might have become a
Nazi, a German nationalist. I could see how they’d become passionate about
saving the nation. It was a time when you didn’t believe there was a future
unless the world was fundamentally transformed.”

It must have been hard
choosing sides in Germany then, one gang of thugs battling another gang of thugs,
both gangs fighting for the right to impose their brand of totalitarianism on a
whole nation. Hobsbawm must have tossed a mental coin and it came up tails:
Communism. After all, the Nazis allowed businesses and industries to keep their
property, if only to have it serve Nazi purposes. The Communists were more
thorough in such an expropriation; they took it all.

Douglas Murray,
writing for Gatestone, is just as scathing as A.N. Wilson in his appraisal of Hobsbawm:

A writer in the Times
recalled the dead Communist to have been – “a man of deep intellect,
humility and charm” – on his only meeting with him; going on to claim that
the talent the man had shown had “superseded” the ideology.

I do not see how this could be
so. This man’s career was spent whitewashing, minimizing, excusing and stooging
for some of the worst crimes in human history. Having been given ample years to
recant his views, he resisted the call, instead holding them to the end. The
system he supported prevented many people reaching even a quarter of the age he
was fortunate enough to live to. But for him human life always took an – at
best – secondary importance. The really crucial thing was communist ideology –
surely, along with Nazism, the most bankrupt and destructive ideology the world
has ever seen? Asked in a BBC television interview in 1994 whether the creation
of a communist utopia would be worth the loss of “15, 20 million
people,” he replied clearly, “Yes.”

 

But Nazism, or
fascism, lost the coin toss. Communism lost it, too, at least in Russia. Murray
hypothesizes:

Had he joined the Hitler youth
voluntarily in 1933 and stayed inside fascist movements until his death; had he
denied the Holocaust and said that the death of six million Jews and many
millions of others would have been worth it for the achievement of the ideal
Nazi state he would have died in ignominy. He would not have been celebrated in
his life and he would not have been celebrated after death. Irrespective of any
consideration of his works he would not have had plaudits from politicians of
any stripe, let alone the leaders of political parties of the right.

Formal Communism is
certainly dead. China has a “communist” ruling elite, which is more
fascist than communist. Britain is nominally “socialist,” but is
governed by a kind of watered-down, kid-gloves brand of fascism subscribed to
and disguised by both major parties. The United States has been creeping unopposed,
yet ever so cautiously, in the direction of fascism ever since FDR’s first term
in the White House. The current occupant has deliberately albeit pragmatically accelerated
America towards a full national socialist polity.

But, in the end, it
matters little which brand of totalitarianism governs men, because the results
are always the same: slavery and death and destruction. Historians like Eric Hobsbawm
– and there are more of his ilk in academia, pale pinks and flagrant reds and retiring
grays – give short-shrift to that slavery and death and destruction. They claim
it’s all part of a price to pay to shepherd the survivors – the meek, the
humble, the morally lame and the halt – in the direction of that collectivist
City on the Hill that is actually a prison built to save mankind.

Hobsbawm preferred
one style of totalitarian architecture; Howard Zinn another.