This Is Our World, by Louis Fischer
Reportage vs. Analysis
by George Lichtheim
This Is Our World. By Louis Fischer. Harper. 522 pp. $5.00.
Although dedicated to “the Gandhians of all countries,” Mr. Fischer’s latest volume is more likely to appeal to admirers of Mr. Nehru, not all of whom are as enamored of Gandhi as is the author. There is indeed an unresolved tension between Mr. Fischer’s professional preoccupation with daily happenings in the political sphere and his half-suppressed yearning for a metapolitical standpoint leaving the world-weary traveler free to brood over the spiritual meaning of the events jotted down in his casebook. This may account for the obvious fascination Nehru has for him, and his liking for the Indians generally. Unfortunately, most of the book is cast in the form of a travel diary which takes the author away from his favorite haunts to uncongenial places such as Berlin, London, and Washington, though here and there—in Paris, talking to Sartre and Malraux, in Belgrade, arguing Communism with Djilas—he is able to operate simultaneously at both levels. Not surprisingly, the accounts of these discussions are more satisfactory than either the travel notes or the purely political digressions that interlard them.
The difficulty in reviewing Mr. Fischer—or indeed in reading him—is that the conflict is never resolved to the author’s own satisfaction. This Is Our World has a Guntheresque theme, but Mr. Fischer lacks John Gunther’s passion for detail. He is more interested in ideas than in facts. This may explain why his generalizations on France ignore economics and population statistics, while giving prominence to the views expressed by that baleful trio, Sartre, Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir. There are similar lacunae in the chapters devoted to Germany and Britain. If a less blurred image of Yugoslavia emerges from his conversations in Belgrade, the reason may be that the local politician-intellectuals were able to ply him with statistics, while generalizing about doctrine to their (and his) heart’s content. If only Malraux had been Premier during the week when Mr. Fischer paid one of his hurried visits to Paris, instead of having to expound Gaullism at a café table, the French scene would perhaps have come out almost as richly colored as the Yugoslav.
Instead of a consistent theme, This Is Our World presents something more personal and impalpable: an attitude. Mr. Fischer has carried into maturity the democratic idealism of his youth, enriched by the experience of watching the Soviet experiment go sour. “Travel Notes of a Disillusioned Idealist” would not be a bad subtitle to the volume. The book is clearly addressed (consciously or not) to what has come to be known as the “homeless Left,” an audience roughly definable as comprising all those who saw their early hopes wither during the 1933-53 Hitler-Stalin epoch. Here and there, however, something tougher and more clearly definable emerges, and it is on these occasions that the non-American reader, metaphorically speaking, pricks up his ears. Mr. Fischer is on terms of personal familiarity with Mr. Acheson and General Clay, as well as M. Sartre and Mlle. de Beauvoir, and he is able to throw light, if not on state secrets, at least on the atmosphere in which important political decisions were taken on some crucial occasions during the postwar period. His description of the flurry in Washington which accompanied the sudden promulgation of the “Truman Doctrine” in 1947 is particularly illuminating, and—casting back twenty years—it is useful to have a reminder that as early as 1927 Stalin talked to American visitors in terms of a “two worlds” concept implicitly pointing to the later Soviet-American antagonism.
These are not the only nuggets brought to light by Mr. Fischer’s exploratory globe-trotting among the shambles of our world. Unfortunately, the book is too diffuse to do justice to its theme. It contains numerous good things, such as Mr. R. H. S. Crossman’s remark, “If we were part of a united Europe, all the unemployed Italians would come here,” and the author’s own explanation of why dentists tend to become Communists (to compensate their boredom); but these casual jottings do not add up to a coherent whole, and the total impression is one of a rather unsatisfactory compromise between reportage and analysis.