Difference in enlightenment

Posted by Tory Historian Wednesday, August 29, 2007 ,

Tory Historian has been reading Robert Conquest's latest book (some more are in the pipeline) "The Dragons of Expectation", which is subtitled "Reality and Delusion in the Course of History". Professor Conquest is a man of many parts, a noted Sovietologist and historian, poet, novelist, literary critic and political analyst.

The essays in this book range widely from discussion of the Soviet Union, communism and its misguided supporters in the West to discussions of the state of modern art. There is even a long poem, entitled "Reconnaissance", that summarizes the author's views of the world and the universe.

One particular idea struck Tory Historian as being of great interest (actually, there were others but these will be discussed in other postings):

In the eighteenth century, the English enlighteners, if you wish to call them that, debated in pubs and clubs and homes, the French in châteaux and salons and academies. In politics, there could scarcely be two "activists" more different than John Wilkes and, say, Condorcet.

Earlier, Voltair and others validated the British experience, but in the long run it was the theorists and emotionalists who triumphed mentally in Paris.

The French, and European, Enlightenment thus emerged not on the absis of a political class or political institutions, but from minds more or less bombinating in a vacuum.

The two cultures can accept a measure of spillover from each other, as with parts of the U.S. Constitution. So if we speak of the two traditions as muturally exclusive we are only generalizing. Still, the historical or historico-cultural difference stands.
In a way this idea is a continuation of Shakespeare's comparisons as seen in Henry V but, naturally, enough the play was more or a propaganda.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. Good old Conquest: "I told you so you fucking fools".

  3. I expect most of our readers realize that there was a definite reason and context for that comment. Conquest didn't just say it about nothing in particular.

  4. Anonymous Says:
  5. Quite. I don't assume that your readers are fools; do you?

  6. Anonymous Says:
  7. There is a wide space between being a fool and not knowing the origin of that quote.

    For someone, not a fool, who does not happen to know the back-story, it sounds as if Dearieme is criticizing Mr. Conquest.

  8. Tory Historian had better rush into the breach here (see Henry V again) though Dearieme's meaning will have to be explained by him/her.

    Back in 1968 Robert Conquest produced a seminal work "The Great Terror", which was necessarily incomplete and tenuous in some of its details. He, together with other Sovietologists of that ilk, was lambasted by all the "it couldn't possibly have been that bad" brigade but the book was actually quite popular, largely because of events in Czechoslovakia.

    When, in the nineties, discussions started about a new updated edition, Conquest suggested that it should be entitled "I told you so, you f***ing fools".

    Since then he and others have acknowledged that, if anything, he was underestimating the numbers dead, arrested and the devastation of the country.

  9. Anonymous Says:
  10. Google turns up the quote immediately, LG, for those who don't know it. I just think it's one of the best quotations of the second half of the 20th century. I attended a seminar by Conquest once - wonderful to see the lefties squirm between their natural tendency to consort with the famous and their loathing of everything he said.

  11. Anonymous Says:
  12. Well, I agree it is a great quote, and I wish it were more well known.

    You must move in very enlightened circles, since I do not think it is a quote that is widely known to the generality of even well-read people.

    I wish it were otherwise.

  13. You are right on both counts, Lex, the stated and the unstated. It is a great quote and ought to be better known with the background. Furthermore, in the unstated part, quotations, except the extraordinarily well known ones, should not be flung around without any explanation, just to show off. Look at me, I have heard of this comment.

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