Monday, January 25, 2021

Historians, Political Scientists and novelists


Maybe true historians are being ignored by people of power.  I've gotten at various times into medieval history, the English, and American Civil Wars for example.  I can't think why any of the powerful people of the last century would be interested in them.  But I've also been interested in Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations and Francis Fukuyma's The End of History and the Last Man.  Huntington and Fukuyama are political scientists rather than historians.  Huntington is circular in the sense of seeing the various power centers as being semi-permanent.  The United States is the (I forget his term) leader of the Western Civilization, China of the Sinic, Russia of the Orthodox.  Wars will flare up on the borders and when necessary the leaders will step in and terminate the border clashes in some way.

Fukuyama, a student of Huntington, was more progressive, that is, he followed Hegel in seeing history progressing, but disagreed with Hegel's follower Marx by arguing that the end of history wasn't in Communism but in Liberal Democracy.  Fukuyama's arguments inspired the movement Neo-Conservatism which advocated helping the move toward Liberal Democracy whenever possible, the war against Saddam Hussein was the chief example.  Saddam Hussein was a major holder-back of Liberal Democracy in the Arab world.  Fukuyama, however, was appalled by the Neo-Conservative movement and denounced it in a separate book.  Like modern historians a proper political scientist should should observe what is happening and not become a practical advocate of his beliefs.  He should especially not argue for something like a war.

Fukuyama distanced himself further from Neo-Conservatism by co founding a monthly magazine, The American Interest.  In it a year or so ago he rated his arguments versus Huntington and conceded that history subsequent to the publication of their two books supported Huntington's views more than it did his own. 

Years ago when I was still under the mistaken impression that I would end up in academia, I thought I should choose some novelists to have in mind for future concentration and settled on Hardy, James, and Conrad.   I read all, or almost all of their novels.  I was powerfully affected by such novels as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D'urbervilles, and The Return of the Native, but Hardy's pessimism weighed on me.  I didn't want to concentrate on a writer who could be startled that a bird could sing of a beauty he had no conception of.

Being self-programed to continue on even though I was slowly deciding to abandon the idea of academia, I continued to read James and Conrad.  I don't recall that I ever decided between them.  But I believe now it is easier for me to return to Conrad than to James.  I wonder if James hasn't, with his archaic-like style, dated himself.  Conrad on the other hand remains accessible.

And his Heart of Darkness has become his most accessible story, perhaps.  I intended to read Maya Jasanoff's recreation of Conrad's voyage and then follow it by rereading Conrad's novel.  But then in a recent issue of the New Yorker, I read a memoir by Ann Patchett of her "three fathers" which impressed me.  I was further impressed by learning that one of her novels, State of Wonder (published in 2011) seemed influenced by Conrad; so I read that -- and was impressed enough to give up my return to Conrad and instead read another of Patchett's novels, the one said by some to be her best, Bel Canto, which I've just started and am already impressed by her immersion in and knowledge of opera.

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