Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Changing the World, One Mind at a Time

I've been meaning to link to this excellent column on Arthur Koestler in the NYSun since yesterday, celebrating the centenary of his birth.
Arthur Koestler, that one-time titan in the Cold and culture wars, was born 100 years ago this year. Those who remember him tend to think of Koestler (in more or less descending order of interest) as a high journalist of near genius; a battle-hardened and even invincible polemicist; a scientific popularizer of something well short of genius; a dubious dabbler in the occult. But that is not all. If it were, his centenary would be little more than an occasion to muse on fleeting fame. He was also a novelist, and, in "Darkness at Noon" (1940), his masterpiece about the Soviet Terror, Koestler wrote one lasting book - just one, but one is enough - that once upon a time really did help to change the world.
Koestler certainly changed my world, politically speaking.

Before I read Darkness at Noon, I was an unexceptionable milque-toast liberal, adhering to the social norm. And by the time I finished with it, I had changed into a hawk. I actually think hawk-dom is my true nature, not milque-toast liberalism. But until that point my passion for politics -- except in the realms of feminism and Israel -- had not been awoken. Koestler's narrative, with its naked truthtelling, galvanized me awake. Showed me a whole other perspective on the world. And made me seek out others that held it as well.

I don't forget, either, that a great deal of the impetus for this terror war was formed from the detritus of the Cold War. We would not now be fighting if the USSR, for incomprehensible reasons, had not decided, entirely cynically, that it was in "the interest of the good of humanity" to attack Afghanistan and bring it under its sphere of control permanently.

"Darkness at Noon" is an intellectual's masterpiece. "Reason run amuck" is its theme. Few works of art have ever shown revolution's horror, or savored its ironies, more bitterly. The book is so entangled in its own argument with evil that Koestler once received a letter from a young Frenchman, thanking him for converting him to Stalinism and its true light. "Darkness at Noon" will always be read by those struggling to understand: why? Why was half of humanity once subjected to the inhuman horrors of the police-state, trapped in the tyranny of a "rationality" that left them impoverished, terrorized, and reduced to material, moral, intellectual, and spiritual squalor - and every five or 10 years or so, mass murdered by the millions? Yes, indeed, that "rationality" is facing some mighty tough questions, one of which is why so many good and decent people had such faith in "reason run amuck."

Nor do I forget that the KGB was Arafat's ideological tutor, the bureau which forged an identity for him, only to revel later on in the aptitude of their protégé.

The two prongs of this terror war -- one trained and sponsored by the KGB and the other part of it forged to fight against the USSR, and then turning its ire, now loose, against the West.

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