Reappraisals: Part I – The Heart of Darkness

As I have been reading Tony Judt’s collected essays in Reappraisals, I can see a connection between the Parts I & II.  Both of these parts explore intellectuals in the 20th century one of the main focuses of this book.  In Part I, he examines Koestler, Primo Levi, Manes Sperber, and Hannah Arendt.  These intellectuals all have similar backgrounds; they were Jewish (though secularized), from Central Europe, lived through the Second World War, and all felt some initial attraction to Communism before denouncing the Soviet project.

I think that it is important that these intellectuals Judt plucks from history are Jewish and from Central Europe as they reveal details that Catholic intellectuals from France cannot.   First of all, being Jewish they have unique perspective of the Second World War and the Holocaust as they were all rooted and scattered throughout Europe some even sent to camps by the Nazis.  I think that this gave these thinkers a broader perspective of European society and understanding of what the state can do.  This understanding is probably what led most of them to study and for a time join the communist party believing in the power of the worker and the people to challenge the state.  Yet again, because of their Jewish background, they held a differing perspective of evil and violence, and seeing the crimes of the Soviet state they quickly became disillusioned with communism.  Turning now to anti-Communism, they produced books, ideas, and concepts about the evils of communism that won them favor in the West.  Because they had seen evil, been seduced by communism, and observed the evil of communism and abandoned it, they created some of the salient and informative works on the Soviet system of the time.  Many of their works have become classics that still help students understand the crimes of the Soviet system.

For Judt, these four intellectuals are important because of their shared experiences during WWII, they are able present an accurate and persuasive view of the evils of the 20th century.  Not only have the seen the evil of the fascist, racist, and militarized Nazi state but also accurately saw the evils of Soviet Union and its crimes before many Western intellectuals.  They may have used differing methods to present their messages but they thinkers revealed darkness of the last century.

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