Reappraisals: Part II – The Politics of Intellectual Engagement

In part II of Tony Judt’s Reappraisals, he examines the role of intellectuals in politics including some of the most well-known and influential thinks of our time such as Edward Said and Eric Hobsbawm.  In this section, he is both critical and praising towards these chosen intellectuals.  While not in full agreement, Judt finds scholars like Camus, Said, and Kolakowski intellectually honest and representing historical truth in their works.  On the other hand, he denounces Althusser, Hobsbawm, and the late Pope John Paul II as great minds that whose ideological and philosophical ideas are incompatible with historic reality – their ideas falsely interpret history.  Now we must understand that these opinions are expressed by Judt and are based on his interpretation of history.  The best essays in this section in my opinion are on Kolakowski and Hobsbawn.  When examining Kolakowski we see an Eastern European who in his early life fell in with communist movement but who defected in 1968 living the remainder of his life in the UK while condemning the Soviet Union.  Consequently, Judt presents Hobsbawm as a Western intellectual who is a lifelong Marxist and still refuses to denounce the crimes and atrocities of the Soviet Union.  Here, Judt shows us that it is easy to live in the West and become seduced by Marxist ideology, but that it is not until you live in the system like Kolakowski did that you come to realize the inherent evils and failures of the communist experiment. When Judt discusses Kolakowski, he mentions a public spat with E.P. Thompson in which Thompson degraded Kolakowski for abandoning the communist experiment, but in a brutal rebuttal, available online, Kolakowski puts Thompson in his place. This also emphasizes Judt’s argument that intellectuals in the West have lost important positions in influencing public opinion.  How does the public take seriously a man like Hobsbawm, who has one of the sharpest minds ever to grace this Earth, if he continues to espouse and support a failed and violent ideology?  This also relates to why academics and the professoriate are stereotyped as leftist: many refuse to believe that professors have changed and continue to think that colleges are bastions of Marxism.

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