[Milton-L] concerning Christopher Hill

Alberto Cacicedo alc at mac.com
Sun Nov 18 16:19:40 EST 2007


I think perhaps it's time to return to Milton and leave aside 20th  
century politics.  What Prof. Skulsky says about the USSR and its  
epigones is of course true.  But it is also true of the US and its  
epigones as they respond to and become mirror images of the Soviet  
camp.  The 20th century was an awful century, and as historian, a true- 
believing historian of Soviet truth is no better or worse than a true- 
believing historian of American truth (I acknowledge that "American"  
is probably an error in this sentence, but I know no convenient  
substitute).  I think we all accept the idea that the wars of truth  
can be fought only with a great deal of skeptical distancing from any  
dogma.  So says John Milton, at any rate, and (again) to him we ought  
to return.

On Nov 18, 2007, at 3:24 PM, Harold Skulsky wrote:

> 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.
>
>
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