To the Editor:
I have read J. A. Lukacs’s article on “Lessons of the Hungarian Revolution” (September) several times, and after each reading I have come away less sure of what really has been said. Mr. Lukacs reminds me of Arthur Koestler, and as is my usual conclusion after reading Koestler, I sense that here is intellect, originality, style—and underlying confusion and error.
If I understand Mr. Lukacs correctly, he is telling us that the course of history is determined, that Western morality and democracy—which are undefined—will inevitably prevail, and that Western morality and democracy are associated somehow with Hungarian refugees in “blue jeans and cowboy boots” who are the material for a new European “aristocracy.” (Following this argument, one might conclude that the juvenile delinquents, with whom Mr. Lukacs compares the Hungarians, would seem to be the material for a new American aristocracy.) Mr. Lukacs also seems to be saying that Poland and Hungary have formed the unrecognized pivot of European history (and culture?), that Russia has a spirit which is not “radiant,” that “every” Russian idea has come from the West, and that Russia will continue (always?) to threaten Europe with her “tremendous weight.” (Note that it is not simply the Soviet Union of which Mr. Lukacs speaks.)
Mr. Lukacs is entitled to his opinion, of course, but if he reads as I interpret him, I think that much more definition and explanation are necessary to bolster what appears to be a superficial and disorganized presentation of very subjective views. Is “Western morality” derived from the Judeo-Christian ethic which conceives of history as a constant process of creation and redemption, or from a determinist argument (Calvinist, Marxist, or “scientific”) which conceives of the future as inherent in the past, in the very nature of society? Is “democracy” a cultural, economic, or political concept, and does Mr. Lukacs find democracy among the refugees at Camp Kilmer, in Hungarian and Polish history, in Tocqueville? What part does East European nationalism play in Mr. Lukacs’s argument (with due respect to the “genetic fallacy”)? Where should we place Dostoevsky’s comment that the true Russian is a brother to all men? (Where, indeed, should we place Dostoevsky?)
In short, if the truth resides in Mr. Lukacs’s argument that Western morality will prevail, and if Western morality is symbolized by blue jeans, cowboy boots, juvenile delinquency, and the proletarian aristocracy which Mr. Lukacs somehow finds and reconciles, then I would be a pessimist where Mr. Lukacs seems to be an optimist. (And where does Mr. Lukacs’s professed “conservatism” tie in with this?) If the truth resides in Mr. Lukacs’s argument that Poland and Hungary, as seen in the past as well as the present, are the cornerstones of Europe, and that Russia will continue to threaten Europe with her weight, then I would be a pessimist. Fortunately (for me, at least), I find Mr. Lukacs’s article extremely confusing, his recognizable premises false, his conclusions contradictory or unwarranted; fortunately, I find truth and optimism to lie elsewhere.
Los Angeles, California
Mr. Lukacs writes:
- I do not wish to remind people of Arthur Koestler.
- No, Mr. Mornell did not understand me correctly.
- Because of this I am sorry that I cannot answer his multiple and extensive questions in detail.
- My article, as well as practically everything that I have ever written, reflects my profound conviction that the course of history is not, and cannot be, predetermined.
- I am inclined to think that “democracy” is not a cultural, economic, or political “concept” but a State of Things.
- If “we” were Dante, probably we would place Dostoevsky in Hell. In my opinion, Dostoevsky was a somewhat-better-than-mediocre writer and a dangerous epileptic, whose influence, especially on American philosophical and literary thought, has been most pernicious.