[Milton-L] concerning Christopher Hill

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Sun Nov 18 15:24:14 EST 2007

I am ashamed to have to confess that I found myself momentarily bedazzled by the recent glowing encomia of Christopher Hill's prolific accomplishments as a historian. It is far from a mitigation that I was also partly constrained by an unreflecting adherence to the principle of de mortuis nil nisi bonum, and that my cool reflection was not much advanced by the Hill Party's perfervid  endorsement of William Simpson's less than civil and loudly righteous attack on Alan Rudrum for his reference to old suspicions generated by Hill's well-known and self-proclaimed ideological passions. 

The recollection of a little detail in all the noise brought me to my senses--together with John Leonard's helpful footnote in defense of Professor Rudrum. 

The little detail appeared, of all places, in Mr. Simpson's tirade. In an obiter dictum he invites our admiration for Hill's record as a "sharply critical Marxist, a member of the Communist Party Historians Group," who "resigned from the Party after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, 1956." The year and place cited, mind you, was 1956, not (say) 1930 and 1931 in Holodomor. 

I well remember the sufferings in Hungary in the year Simpson mentions. For many of us including me, the ruthless Soviet crackdown was morally repugnant in the highest degree--but it led to no rude awakening. Coming from the people who brought the world the vast and intricate totalitarian juggernaut of gulags, obscenely vindictive show trials, and systematic mass inhumanity that blighted the world since the establishment of Stalin's regime and its Stalinoid sequels, the Hungarian sufferings came to us (to put it mildly) as far from a surprise. Now that I have rid myself of my momentary awe and bedazzlement (of which I am not proud), I once again vividly remember what the world owes to its "sharply critical" true believers whose belated change of heart comes after years of ingeniously rationalized worship at the altar of this or that god that failed. 

No doubt a true-believing historian can serve us well despite the glacial pace of his "sharp" intellectual processes; no doubt, with diligence, rhetorical flair, and an eye for the big picture, he can earn our serious attention. But, on pain of being intellectually degraded into true believers ourselves, little of consequence that he says can earn our implicit trust. And as for the odor of sanctity, the noses of some of us are assailed by a very different odor.

More information about the Milton-L mailing list