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Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred Hardcover – March 8, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
A prolific historian and theorist of international relations, Lukacs (The Hitler of History) offers a compact view of political change in Europe and the United States from the Napoleonic Wars to the present, with a particular focus on his area of expertise, WWII and the decades just before and after. For him, Western democracy as we have known it may have already begun to follow a course similar to that of Nazi Germany, where demagogic populists seized power, took control of the media and brainwashed their way through subsequent "elections." Lukacs derides familiar models of modern politics that pit liberals against conservatives; true conservatives, who stress aristocracy and traditional authority, have (he argues) been in decline since at least 1870. Instead, modern history shows a steady increase in popular sovereignty, in the power of public opinion and in the appeal of aggressive nationalism, which tends to control that opinion given a chance—with the aid of mass media. Lukacs decries the "devolution of liberal democracy into populism" and "popular nationalism," especially but not only under George W. Bush. He also decries gay marriage, television, contemporary feminism, "permissiveness" and American "decadence." His hauteur, fast pace and frequently cantankerous asides may impede what is otherwise a thoughtful warning from a very knowledgeable source. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Lukacs has written imaginatively (A Thread of Years, 1998) and persuasively (At the End of an Age, 2002) about the present as the conclusion of an era. That he also descries the rough beast shuffling on the immediate horizon this concentrated discussion of political modes and motivations attests. Aristocracy and monarchy died in the modern era, and democracy prevails as the regnant form of governance. Moreover, such styles of democracy as socialism and liberalism have failed, overpowered by nationalism and populism; for instance, Russia turned from an international to a national socialism under Stalin and never reverted, while the prevalence of politics by poll and publicity in the West has marginalized political parties, encouraged charismatic candidates, and led politicians to be concerned with what "the people" want. The temptations of crude majoritarianism and of strongmen embodying national destinies are rampant. Lukacs believes deeply in the power of ideas and insists upon defining terms precisely, based on their actual usage and effects; this accounts for some of the most striking passages, such as his discrimination of fascism from national socialism, in a book so dense and cogent that many will want to read it repeatedly and refer to it often. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In his books, the theme is embedded, also posited by Alexis de Tocqueville, that traditional aristocratic elites have been replaced by new democratic elites. These new elites keep power by appealing to the masses; an appeal that prostitutes their intellectual and financial resources to the lowest element; a prostitution that has a denigrating effect on aesthetics and ethics. In 2002, he wrote another book, “At the End of an Age”, where he forecasts the end of the modern era which he says began with the Renaissance. He traces a decline in chivalrous and honorable conduct to the kind of skyrocketing vulgarity that is now epidemic throughout the world. Traditional Western civilization needs to be defended against mass culture because mass culture has become barbarian. Lukacs sees our drive for pleasure, profit and power at all costs as Barbarian. To me, this seems unfair to the barbarians but that is another subject.
An author, educator and historian, John Lukacs is a fine writer and clear thinker. With persuasive prose that will unsettle the most complacent reader, you will question our modern direction. Born in 1924 in Budapest to a Catholic father and Jewish mother, his parents divorced while he was young. Later forced into a Jewish labor camp, he evaded deportation to the death camps and in 1946 fled Hungary to come to the United States. Tracing populism as the force behind both National Socialism and Communism, he denies a clear identity to fascism separate from populism. The common thread totalitarian cultures share is that they connect with the lowest appetites of the masses even while betraying those same masses. To satiate these appetites, they reject even pretense of belief in normative truth.
A proponent of traditional western culture, Lukacs is an odd mix of Hungarian Anglophile, elitist, isolationist and practicing Catholic. He has been embroiled in controversies with other historians, tracing their positions to assumptions rooted in either populism or anti-Antisemitism. Opposed to both communism and McCarthyism, he considered the Soviet Union a weak and tottering power and thought the cold war was badly misguided. Overall, this book will both focus the power and expand the breadth of your thinking.
After having read the "Big" books of Mr. Lukacs with enormous pleasure, this is a big disappointment.
No clear thinking, that traduces in quite confusing writing. Plain vanity at a very high level. The author not only disavows reputed writers and historians, with just a couple of phrases: he also denies common wisdom with a "not so" and no more explanations. It seems like his purpose is "èpater le bourgeois" once and then again.
He "opens" themes that never come to fruition, meanders in a way impossible to follow, confuses the reader without evidently having made the effort to stream his lines of thought.
All this may be attributed to decay, old age of the author, lack of something new to say or just laziness.
But there is too a more malign component, if that is the word. The author simply cannot ignore he is lying when he asserts:
1) That Hitler and the Nazi Party evolved from a mere 2% of the vote, arriving to "more than 43 in March 1933". Everibody who knows anything about the Third Reich, knows that those last elections were rigged and fiercely manipulated. (See Richard Evans "The Third Reich in Power" for a detailed explanation). But in this precise point of the authors discourse (page 97) it is convenient for Mr. Lukacs to show that the Nazis had a substantial percentage of the vote. He, of all authors can not ignore the above.
2) Why on earth to lie again on this aspect of Hitler's personality: (Page 209): "He (Hitler) was no sadist, he took no particular pleasure in watching, or even being informed about the sufferings of his declared enemies".
Again, Mr. Lukacs cannot ignore the infamous films that Hitler had made of the slow dying of the conspirators of July 44. Hanged slowly with piano strings to a dreadful dead. Is quite well known that the dictator spent time looking those gruesome details.
I have a theory: again, he always tries to show he knows best than all other authors, and of course than the common knowledge.
In sum, a very poor performance and a waste of time.
Note: I include the pages of those two mistakes without giving details of the edition, because I am absolutely certain that this is going to be the only one.