Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let the Sun Shine

Allow me to use the occasion of the publication of a new biography of Arthur Koestler to encourage you all to read his most famous novel, Darkness at Noon. As I haven't read the new bio, I can't say anything about its quality. I do note, however, that Jerry Brennan over at The American Spectator thinks it well worth the time. But be warned! Koestler's private life was apparently an abomination, and his biographer faithfully chronicles it. However, his public contributions, as yet another "witness" against the evils of socialist totalitarianism, were, and still are, invaluable. But, as I say, I haven't read this latest biography and, as a result, I can't recommend it, or not.

What I have read, however, is Darkness at Noon, and I highly recommend it. It's short, captivating, and, I assure you, will not disappoint. First published in 1941, the plot is basically the imprisonment, show trial, and execution of a former Bolshevik who is accused of becoming an enemy of the state. An enemy, that is, who was once himself a prominent leader of and intellectual apologist for that very same state. As such, he understands like few others, even more so than most of his accusers, the stakes associated with his arrest and trial. But his recollections, ruminations, and conversations with interrogators throughout the novel make it clear that what is actually on trial is the utilitarian ethic that guided the state's vanguard. An ethic that serves to justify any and all means, no matter how hideous or brutal, so long as the end pursued is glorious enough.

The title is an obvious allusion to the gospel accounts of the mid-day eclipse that attended Christ's suffering and, three hours later, death on the cross. Alongside the title of another work which Koestler edited, The God That Failed, a non-fiction collection of essays by former communists, he demonstrated his acute understanding of the perverse religious quality which defined these otherwise haters of all things religious. "Immanentizing the eschaton," as someone once said, creating heaven on earth, is not only what motivated them, it is also what ultimately justified their every crime, even the most heinous.

I can't read Darkness at Noon without becoming angry all over again at every Western intellectual who defended, and persisted in defending, the murderous communist regimes that described for much of the twentieth century, China, Russia and all their unfortunate satellites. (I know, China's still formally communist. But, with absolutely no intention of defending its continuing abuses, it's Arcadia compared to what it was under Mao.)

So why read it now? The Cold War's over after all. It has long been my contention that in the West, those who constitute the political Left were, and remain, the chief ideological heirs of Lenin. For that reason, I've always sensed that lurking beneath and behind all their reasoning and all their justifying is a willingness to sacrifice, quite literally, the few, and often a very large few, for the sake of the many. A many they imagine will one day enjoy untold spiritual and material riches in the brave new world that only awaits their construction. Read it!

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