The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Friday, May 16, 2008


Here's an argument you don't see very often, from Tony Judt's introduction to his new collection of essays, Reappraisals:
Moreover, and here the memory of war played once again an important role, the twentieth-century "socialist" welfare states were constructed not as an advance guard of egalitarian revolution but to provide a barrier against the return of the past: against economic depression and its polarizing, violent political outcome in the desperate politics of Fascism and Communism alike. The welfare states were thus prophylactic states. They were designed quite consciously to meet the widespread yearning for security and stability that John Maynard Keynes and others foresaw long before the end of World War II, and they succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. Thanks to half a century of prosperity and safety, we in the West have forgotten the political and social traumas of mass insecurity. And thus we have forgotten why we have inherited those welfare states and what brought them about.
You should - but you don't.


Elsewhere in the same piece Judt writes about the role that the intellectual used to play in public life and doesn't anymore; he cites among many others
Arthur Koestler, whose life, allegiances and writings established him for many decades as the intellectual archetype of the age, is no longer a household name. There was a time when every college student had read - or wanted to read - Darkness at Noon. Today, Koestler's best-selling novel of the Moscow show trials is an acquired, minority taste.
I think this last sentence is pushing it a bit. If we want to be mock-pejorative, call it a museum piece, no longer relevant, which might go some way to explaining why it's no longer widely read. We watched Smiley's People on BBC4 a while back, and it was like another world. I tried to imagine explaining the milieu to someone born after 1989. It would take you ages.

Nonetheless, though I haven't read Darkness at Noon I've had it mentally earmarked since I was at university in the early '90s. I kept coming across references to it, and the tones in which Koestler's name was mentioned clearly implied he was heavy-duty, significant. I hardly think he's disappeared from the public mind - or at least I did until I asked a couple of colleagues, "Who wrote Darkness at Noon?" and drew a blank. Each of them has not only a degree but a master's in history.

Well, shit
, thought I.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home