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Hobsbawm, Unlamented


British historian Michael Burleigh lets rip into that now-departed apologist for mass murder, Eric Hobsbawm (New School for Social Research, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Society of Literature, Stanford, King’s College, Cambridge, The British Academy, Companion of Honour, etc., etc.):

I can almost hear the wave of mourning that is about to fix Hobsbawm in the public consciousness as “the most celebrated British historian of the 20th century”. You have to understand the British Left, which is still near hegemonic in the humanities and social science departments in our universities, to grasp why those of a more liberal conservative persuasion will disagree.

First there is the tendency to worship at the feet of foreign gurus, a failing George Orwell (or as Hobsbawm had it, the “upper-class Englishman Eric Blair”) attributed to Britain’s alienated intellectuals taking “their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow”. This led them to give credibility to such evanescent charlatans as Michel Foucault, the chief exponent of “knowledge as power”, and the Palestinian activist and literary critic Edward Said…

Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin’s stooges, while being manifestly nonplussed by the democratic transformations of Central Europe since 1989-90. That the secret police – the Sword and Shield of the Revolution – would end up running Vladimir Putin’s FSB-mafia state was literally inexplicable to him.

Hobsbawm’s implacable refusal to recant his views when faced with their grotesque consequences tells us something about the belligerent mindset of the wider British Left. But the eminence that he and his fellow travellers have enjoyed also speaks to the bovine complacency with which, since Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives have allowed such dubious figures licence to dominate the soft culture of the BBC and our universities.