Den ytliga liberala människosynen — och det totalitära alternativet.

Artikeln ‘The Silence in Russian Culture’ publicerades i Foreign Affairs 1957. Isaiah Berlin beskriver där bland annat den intellektuella bakgrunden till den sovjetiska totalitarianismen.

Over a century ago Russian critics denounced European civilization for its lack of understanding. It seemed to them characteristic of the morally desiccated, limited thinkers of the West to maintain that human activities were not all necessarily interconnected with each other – that what a man did as a writer was one thing and what he did as a citizen was another; that a man might be a good chemist and yet maltreat his family or cheat at cards; that a man might compose profound music and yet hold stupid or immoral political views that were no business of the critics or of the public.

This notion of life, according to Russians of almost all shades of opinion, was artificial and shallow and flew to pieces before the deeper insight of the all-embracing view, according to which the life of individuals and the life of their institutions was one and indivisible. Every faculty and element in the individual were in a state of constant interplay; a man could not be one thing as a painter and another as a citizen, honest as a mathematician and false as a husband; it was impossible to draw frontiers between any aspects of human activity, above all between public and private life.

Any attempt to insulate this or that area from the invasion of outside forces was held to be founded upon the radical fallacy of thinking that the true function and purpose of a human being does not penetrate every one of his acts and relationships – or worse still, that men had, as men, no specific function or purpose at all.

It followed that whatever most fully embodies this ultimate total human purpose – the State, according to the Hegelians; an elite of scientists, artists and managers, according to the followers of Saint-Simon or Comte; the Church, according to those who leaned towards ecclesiastical authority; an elected body of persons embodying the popular or national will, according to democrats or nationalists; the class designated by ”history” to free itself and all mankind, according to Socialists and Communists – this central body had a right to invade everything. The very notion of the inviolability of persons, or of areas of life, as an ultimate principle was nothing but an effort to limit, to narrow, to conceal, to shut out the light, to preserve privilege, to protect some portion of ourselves from the universal truth – and therefore the central source of error, weakness and vice.

Isaiah Berlin, ‘The Silence in Russian Culture‘, Foreign Affairs,  Vol. 36, No. 1 (Okt. 1957) , s. 4-5.

Isaiah Berlin och upplysningen

En god vän har uppmärksammat mig på att en understreckare häromdagen framförde en märklig synpunkt på Isaiah Berlin. En skribent vid namn Clas Johan Gardell skriver om en bok av Zeev Sternhell under titeln ‘Motupplysningen lade grunden för fascismen‘.

Sternhell följer den intellektuella produktionen från Vico till vår tids religiösa fundamentalister och placerar många tänkare på kontraupplysningens parnass. [. . .] Kalla krigets totalitarism-teoretiker, som Jakob Talmon och den brittiske filosofen Isaiah Berlin på 1950- talet, fördömde upplysningsfilosofin och hävdade att Rousseaus och Voltaires tankar var ansvariga för den ryska revolutionen och det stalinistiska skräckväldet. I en intervju 1990, när Berlin blev tillfrågad om sina intellektuella förebilder, räknade han bland annat upp Vico och Herder samt Sorel och greve Joseph de Maistre. Den sistnämnde, som levde 1753–1821, var en fransk monarkist som hävdade att den franska revolutionens förödande tsunami utlöstes av ett skalv på 1500-talet när den lutherska reformationen frigjorde individen från den katolska kyrkans trygga kollektiva famn.

Detta är ganska märkligt. Vico och Herder är väl en sak, men att Berlin skulle vara influerad av Sorel och de Maistre är svårare att svälja. Att Berlin ägnade sig åt sådana tänkare var i mångt och mycket för att just förstå uppkomsten av totalitära politiska ideologier. Och därtill, i stycket ovan görs ingen åtskillnad mellan att vara intellektuellt influerad av någon samt att dela dennes politiska slutsatser.

Skälet till att Berlin ifrågasatte upplysningen var att han ansåg att vissa av dess grundantaganden var politiskt farliga. Enligt Berlin så utgörs upplysningens politiska arv inte bara av liberal demokrati utan även av kommunismen. Det var för att komma till rätta med de potentiellt farliga antagandena i upplysningen som Berlin försökte utkristallisera det gångbara och sunda inom motupplysningen. Det kan tilläggas att en person som instämmer med de Maistre aldrig med glädje skulle kunna skriva att Voltaires ”life and writings probably liberated a greater number of human beings than those of any man in recorded history”.

Jag gjorde en sökning på Sternhells bok och hittade en recension skriven av Adam Kirsch i The New Republic:

What is missing from Sternhell’s book is any sense of why the anti-Enlightenment flourished in the first place, and how it produced thinkers of the stature of Burke and Herder. Sternhell takes for granted that the Enlightenment—or his preferred version of it—is mankind’s only hope, so that its opponents cannot seem anything other than perverse and malevolent. Yet it was not just these thinkers who felt that the advance of science and liberalism was making the world less happy. The same intuition can be found in almost all the literature of the nineteenth century, from Wordsworth to Dostoevsky, and sometimes even in Mill, the greatest liberal of all. And it was not just conservatives such as Carlyle who attacked the dehumanizing effects of modern life. Liberals and socialists such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and William Morris all felt the same way. When such thinkers looked back to a more organic and religious past, it was not because they were enemies of the human spirit, but because they felt that the spirit was starving in modern conditions. Traditionalism is not always the same as authoritarianism.

Sternhell never really engages this critique of the Enlightenment and its legacy. He simply dismisses it out of hand, leaving the reader to wonder why some of the arguments of Burke and Herder sound so reasonable. [. . .]

At the same time, Sternhell’s belief in the power of ideas means that he offers little sense of how political, economic, and social changes affected the way ideas were received and transformed. He blasts Renan, for example, for writing that “the masses only have the right to govern if they know better than anyone else what is best,” a frankly elitist and anti-democratic notion. But as Sternhell notes, Renan wrote this in reaction to the demise of the Second Republic in France, when the majority of the people elected Napoleon’s corrupt, ineffectual nephew as president and then applauded his decision to abolish democracy and become emperor. It was this coup that, Renan said, “made me disgusted with the people,” and it was a feeling shared by many liberals at the time. Even Mill opposed universal suffrage.

Berlin, Isaiah (2006), Political Ideas in the Romantic Age, (Princeton: Princeton University Press), s. 36.

Garton Ash om 1989

Timothy Garton Ash i The New York Review of Books:

Every writer on 1989 wrestles with an almost unavoidable human proclivity that psychologists have christened ”hindsight bias”—the tendency, that is, to regard actual historical outcomes as more probable than alternatives that seemed real at the time (for example, a Tiananmen-style crackdown in Central Europe). What actually happened looks as if it somehow had to happen. Henri Bergson talked of ”the illusions of retrospective determinism.” Explanations are then offered for what happened. As one scholar commented a few years after 1989: no one foresaw this, but everyone could explain it afterward.

A great virtue of Mary Elise Sarotte’s 1989 is that she makes the problem of hindsight bias explicit, and systematically explores the roads not taken. She reminds us, for example, how close East Germany may have come to bloodshed in Leipzig on October 9, 1989: the authorities mobilized a force of eight thousand men, including police, soldiers, and Stasi; hospitals were told to prepare beds for possible victims.

[. . .]

The year 1989 was one of the best in European history. Indeed, I am hard pushed to think of a better one. It was also a year in which the world looked to Europe—specifically to Central Europe, and, at the pivotal moment, to Berlin. World history—using the term in a quasi-Hegelian sense—was made in the heart of the old continent, just down the road from Hegel’s old university, now called the Humboldt University. Twenty years later, I am tempted to speculate (while continuing to work with other Europeans in an endeavor to prove this hunch wrong) that this may also have been the last occasion—at least for a very long time—when world history was made in Europe. Today, world history is being made elsewhere. There is now a Café Weltgeist at the Humboldt University, but the Weltgeist itself has moved on. Of Europe’s long, starring role on the world stage, future generations may yet say: nothing became her like the leaving of it.

Isaiah Berlin om kommunistpartier (1936)

Isaiah Berlin, Flourishing. Letters 1928—1946, Chatto & Windus, London, 2004, s. 167.

Brev till Stephen Spender, 25 april 1936.

News […] that you have joined the C.P. seems to me to alter nothing. You are quite right about it in England. On the continent, where in any case there was a tradition of government persecution, revolutionary parties automatically were conspiratorial, met abroad, talked about nothing save tactics & revolution, had no time for life or art, & were like Lenin so to speak. In England where this is not so, the C.P., is as you say, neo-liberal. It is a radical-intellectual revolt against the bureaucracy & stale corruptness of the Labour-Party, i.e. those who were socialists in 1920 are now communists, they don’t really hope for a revolution, & are more highbrow than Socialists, & more intelligent & less vulgar. Sigle Lynd says that only applies to the insignificant handful of intellectuals, while real party is different. Possibly. Only the former really alter the tone of the process.

Uppgörelser med Kambodja-vänstern

Apropå Peter Wolodarskis text om Kambodja i dagens DN. Boken Marxismens filosofi (Symposion, 2007) handlar om uppgörelser med det förflutna (Medverkar gör Sven-Eric Liedman, Invar Johansson, Svante Nordin och Stefan Jonsson). Till största delen sker det på ett teoretiskt plan, men verkligt lärorik blir boken när man får inblick i vilka teoretiska tankar som ledde fram eller ursäktade praktiska galenskaper.

Ingvar Johansson bekänner i slutdiskussionen:

Jag blev socialist i full vetskap om vad Stalin ställt till med. Jag blev kommunist i ganska så stor vetskap om hur det stod till i Östeuropa med odemokratiska metoder och liknande. Jag såg det som något tillfälligt. Det kunde rättas till med en bättre och mer demokratisk planekonomi.

Här är det svårt att inte komma att tänka på Karl Popper och hans insisterande på att politiska felbedömningar är det oundvikliga resultatet av historicistiska ideologier (vilket jag bl a tar upp i den Popper-essä som jag nyligen skrev)

Och angående Kambodja.

[…] Man blir alltid betraktad som stalinist så fort man sagt att man varit med i ett kommunistiskt parti eller ett vänsterparti. Men vad jag kan säga då: Jag blev det ju långt före Kambodja, jag kunde förstå varför man tömde Phnom Penh — därför att det var ett bondeland. Det var ju subsidier från USA som befolkningen i Phnom Penh levde på. Men jag kunde inte drömma om att ledare med en socialistisk ideologi i huvudet kunde ställa till med det folkmord som de gjorde i Kambodja.

Nej herregud, vem hade kunnat tro det?

Den enda vettiga slutsats man kan dra, tror jag, är att vissa människor föds med bristande politiska instinkter. För de flesta inser att när en regim ”tömmer” en stad så är det fara på färde.

För Ingvar Johanssons del krävdes det en gigantiskt feltolkning innan han insåg följande basala sanning:

Så ingen kan ju längre tro att bara man — så att säga — pratar på rätt sätt, så utför man därigenom också goda handlingar.

(Alla citat, s. 130)