John Lukacs

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John Adalbert Lukacs (born Lukács János Albert on 31 January 1924) is a Hungarian-born American historian who has written more than thirty books, including Five Days in London, May 1940 and A New Republic. He was a professor of history at Chestnut Hill College (where he succeeded Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn) from 1947 to 1994, and held the chair of that history department from 1947 to 1974. He has served as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, Princeton University, La Salle University, Regent College in British Columbia and the University of Budapest, and Hanover College. Lukacs describes himself as a reactionary.[1]

Views[edit]

Lukacs was born in Budapest to a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother. His parents divorced before the Second World War. During the Second World War he was forced to serve in a Hungarian labour battalion for Jews. During the German occupation of Hungary in 1944-45 he evaded deportation to the death camps, and survived the siege of Budapest. In 1946, as it became clear that Hungary was going to be a repressive Communist regime, he fled to the United States. In the early 1950s however, Lukacs wrote several articles in Commonweal criticizing the approach taken by Senator Joseph McCarthy, whom he described as a vulgar demagogue.[1]

Lukacs sees populism as the greatest threat to civilization. By his own description, he considers himself to be a reactionary. He claims that populism is the essence of both National Socialism and Communism. He denies that there is such a thing as generic fascism, noting for example that the differences between the political regimes of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy are greater than their similarities.[2]

A major theme in Lukacs's writing is his agreement with the assertion by the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville that aristocratic elites have been replaced by democratic elites, which obtain power via an appeal to the masses. In his 2002 book, At the End of an Age, Lukacs argued that the modern/bourgeois age, which began around the time of the Renaissance, is coming to an end.[3] The rise of populism and the decline of elitism is the theme of his experimental work, A Thread of Years (1998), a series of vignettes set in each year of the 20th century from 1900 to 1998, tracing the abandonment of gentlemanly conduct and the rise of vulgarity in American culture. Lukacs defends traditional Western civilization against what he sees as the leveling and debasing effects of mass culture.

By his own admission a dedicated Anglophile, Lukacs’s favorite historical figure is Winston Churchill, whom he considers to be the greatest statesman of the 20th century, and the savior of not only Great Britain, but also of Western civilization. A recurring theme in his writing is the duel between Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler for mastery of the world. The struggle between them, whom Lukacs sees as the archetypical reactionary and the archetypical revolutionary, is the major theme of The Last European War (1976), The Duel (1991), Five Days in London (1999) and 2008's Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, a book about Churchill’s first major speech as Prime Minister. Lukacs argues that Great Britain (and by extension the British Empire) could not defeat Germany by itself, winning required the entry of the United States and the Soviet Union, but he contends that Churchill, by ensuring that Germany failed to win the war in 1940, laid the groundwork for an Allied victory.

Lukacs holds strong isolationist beliefs, and unusually for an anti-Communist émigré, "airs surprisingly critical views of the Cold War from a unique conservative perspective."[4] Lukacs claims that the Soviet Union was a feeble power on the verge of collapse, and contended that the Cold War was an unnecessary waste of American treasure and life. Likewise, Lukacs has also condemned the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In his 1997 book, George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944-1946, a collection of letters between Lukacs and his close friend George F. Kennan exchanged in 1994-1995, Lukacs and Kennan criticized the New Left claim that the Cold War was caused by the United States. Lukacs argued however that although it was Joseph Stalin who was largely responsible for the beginning of the Cold War, the administration of Dwight Eisenhower missed a chance for ending the Cold War in 1953 after Stalin's death, and as a consequence the Cold War went on for many more decades.

The Hitler of History[edit]

From around 1977 onwards, Lukacs became one of the leading critics of the British author David Irving, whom Lukacs accused of engaging in unscholarly practices and having neo-Nazi sympathies. In a review of Irving's Hitler's War in 1977, Lukacs commented that as a "right-wing revisionist" who had admired some of Irving's early works, he initially had high hopes for Hitler's War, but found the book to be "appalling".[5] Lukacs commented that Irving had uncritically used personal remembrances by those who knew Hitler to present him in the most favorable light possible.[6] During his review, Lukacs argued that although World War II ended with all of Eastern Europe being left under Soviet domination, a victory that left only half of Europe to Stalin was much better than a defeat that left all of Europe to Hitler.[7]

In part, Lukacs’s 1997 book, The Hitler of History, a prosopography of the historians who have written biographies of Adolf Hitler, is a critique of Irving’s work. Irving in his turn has engaged in what many consider to be anti-Semitic and racist attacks against Lukacs. Lukacs is a Catholic, but because of his Jewish mother, Irving disparagingly refers to him as "a Jewish historian". In letters of 25 October and 28 October 1997 Irving threatened to sue Lukacs for libel if he published his book, The Hitler of History without removing certain passages which were highly critical of Irving's work.[8] The American edition of The Hitler of History was published in 1997 with the passages included, but because of Irving's legal threats, no British edition of The Hitler of History was published until 2001.[8] As a result of the threat of legal action by Irving under British libel laws, when the British edition was finally published, the passages containing the criticism of Irving's historical methods were expunged by the publisher.[9][10]

In The Hitler of History, inspired by the example of Pieter Geyl's book, Napoleon For and Against, Lukacs examines the state of Hitler scholarship, and offers his own observations about Hitler. In Lukacs’s view, Hitler was a racist, nationalist, revolutionary, and populist.[11] Lukacs criticizes Marxist and Liberal historians who claim that the German working class were strongly anti-Nazi, arguing that the exact opposite was the case. Each chapter of The Hitler of History is devoted to a particular topic, such as whether Hitler was a reactionary or revolutionary, a nationalist or a racist, and he examines the roots of Hitler’s ideology. Lukacs concludes that Hitler’s claim in Mein Kampf that he developed his belief in racial purity while living in Vienna under the Habsburg monarchy is false. Instead, Lukacs dates Hitler’s turn to anti-Semitism to 1919 in Munich, in particular to the events surrounding the Bavarian Soviet Republic and its defeat by the right-wing Freikorps. Much influenced by Rainer Zitelmann's work, Lukacs describes Hitler as a self-conscious, modernizing revolutionary. Citing the critique of National Socialism developed by German conservative historians such as Hans Rothfels and Gerhard Ritter, Lukacs describes the Nazi movement as the culmination of the dark forces which lurk within modern civilization.

In Lukacs’s view, Operation Barbarossa was not inspired by anti-Communism or any long-term plan to conquer the Soviet Union, as suggested by historians such as Andreas Hillgruber who claims that Hitler had a stufenplan (stage-by-stage plan), but was rather an ad hoc reaction forced on Hitler in 1940-41 by Britain’s refusal to surrender.[12] Lukacs argues that the reason Hitler gave for the invasion of Russia was the real one. He claimed that Britain would not surrender because Churchill held out the hope that the Soviet Union might enter the war on the Allied side, and so Germany had to eliminate that hope; other historians however have argued that this reason was just a pretext.[13] For Lukacs, Operation Barbarossa was as much anti-British as it was anti-Soviet. He argues that Hitler's statement to the League of Nations High Commissioner for Danzig, the Swiss diplomat Carl Jacob Burckhardt, in August 1939 that "Everything I undertake is directed against Russia…", which Hillgruber cited as evidence of Hitler's anti-Soviet intentions, was part of an effort to intimidate Britain and France into abandoning Poland.[14] Lukacs takes issue with Hillgruber's claim that the war against Britain was of "secondary" importance to Hitler compared to the war against the Soviet Union.[15] Lukacs has also been one of the leading critics of Viktor Suvorov, who has argued that Barbarossa was a "preventative war" forced upon Germany by Joseph Stalin who, Suvorov claims, was planning to attack Germany later in the summer of 1941.

Later work[edit]

In his 2005 book, Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, Lukacs writes about the current state of American democracy. He warns that the populism he perceives as ascendant in the U.S. renders it vulnerable to demagoguery. He claims that a transformation from liberal democracy to populism can be seen in the replacement of knowledge and history with propaganda and infotainment. In the same book, Lukacs criticizes legalized abortion, pornography, cloning, and sexual permissiveness, as marking what he sees as the increasing decadence, depravity, corruption and amorality of modern American society.[1]

More recently, he has written June 1941: Hitler and Stalin (2006), a study of the two leaders with a focus on the events leading up to Operation Barbarossa. In 2007, Lukacs published George Kennan: A Study of Character a biography of his good friend George F. Kennan based on privileged access to Kennan's private papers. His book Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat (2008) is a continuation of a series of books Lukacs has written on what he regards as the greatness of Winston Churchill. Last Rites (2009) continues the "auto-history" he published in Confessions of an Original Sinner (1990). His latest work, The Future of History, was released on April 26, 2011.

Endnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Heer, Jeet (March 2005). "The Anti-Populist - Traditionalist historian John Lukacs laments the direction of conservatism in America". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-08-04. [dead link]
  2. ^ Lukacs, John The Hitler of History New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 page 118
  3. ^ Lukacs, John At the End of An Age Yale University Press, 2003 page 3
  4. ^ Stromberg, Joseph (2005-02-07) An Anti-Imperialist's Reading List: Part Two, Antiwar.com
  5. ^ Lukacs, John "Caveat Lector" pages 946-950 from National Review, Volume XXIX, Issue # 32, August 19, 1977, pages 946-947
  6. ^ Lukacs, John "Caveat Lector" pages 946-950 from National Review, Volume XXIX, Issue # 32, August 19, 1977, page 946
  7. ^ Lukacs, John "Caveat Lector" pages 946-950 from National Review, Volume XXIX, Issue # 32, August 19, 1977, pages 949-950
  8. ^ a b Evans, Richard J (2001). Lying About Hitler. p. 27.
  9. ^ Adams, Tim (24 February 2002). "Memories are made of this". Observer. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  10. ^ Lipstadt, Deborah (2007). "Search: 2007-01-01 to 2008-01-01". Deborah Lipstadt's Blog. Blogspot. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  11. ^ Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 218-219
  12. ^ Lukacs, John The Hitler of History New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 133 & 149-150
  13. ^ Lukacs, John The Hitler of History New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 149-151
  14. ^ Lukacs (1997), p.147.
  15. ^ Lukacs (1997), p. 149.

Works[edit]

  • The Great Powers and Eastern Europe (New York: American Book Co., 1953).
  • A History of the Cold War (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961).
  • Decline and Rise of Europe: A Study in Recent History, With Particular Emphasis on the Development of a European Consciousness (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1965).
  • A New history of the Cold War (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966).
  • Historical Consciousness; or, The Remembered Past (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).
  • The Passing of the Modern Age (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).
  • A Sketch of the History of Chestnut Hill College, 1924–1974 (Chestnut Hill, PA: Chestnut Hill College, 1975).
  • The Last European War: September 1939–December 1941 (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1976).
  • 1945: Year Zero (New York: Doubleday, 1978).
  • Philadelphia: Patricians and Philistines, 1900–1950 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981).
  • Outgrowing Democracy: A History of the United States in the Twentieth century (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984).
  • Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988).
  • Confessions of an Original Sinner (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1990).
  • The Duel: 10 May–31 July 1940: the Eighty-Day Struggle between Churchill and Hitler (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1991).
  • The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1993).
  • Destinations Past: Traveling through History with John Lukacs (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994).
  • The Hitler of History (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1997).
  • George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944–1946: the Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence, Introduction by John Lukacs. (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1997).
  • A Thread of Years (New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 1998).
  • Five Days in London, May 1940 (New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 1999).
  • A Student's Guide to the Study of History (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000).
  • Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian (New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2002).
  • At the End of an Age (New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2002).
  • A New Republic: A History Of The United States In The Twentieth Century(New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2004).
  • Democracy and Populism: Fear & Hatred (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
  • Remembered Past: John Lukacs On History, Historians & Historical Knowledge: A Reader (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2005).
  • June 1941: Hitler and Stalin. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2006 (ISBN 0-300-11437-0).
  • George Kennan: A Study of Character. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2007 (ISBN 0-300-12221-7).
  • Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning. New York: Basic Books, 2008 (ISBN 0-465-00287-0).
  • Last Rites. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2009 (ISBN 978-0-300-11438-6).
  • The Legacy of the Second World War. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2010 (ISBN 0-300-11439-7).
  • The Future of History. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2011 (ISBN 0-300-16956-6).
  • A Short History of the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press, September 16, 2013 (ISBN 978-0-674-72536-2)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Allitt, Patrick Catholic Intellectuals And Conservative Politics In America 1950-1985, Cornell University Press, 1993.
  • Williamson, Chilton The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact Today's Conservative Thinkers, Citadel Press, 2004.
  • John Rodden; John Rossi (2008). "John Lukacs: Visionary, Critic, Historian". Society 45 (3): 222–232. doi:10.1007/s12115-008-9095-3. 

External links[edit]

Lectures[edit]

Essays[edit]

Lukacs Reviewed[edit]

Lukacs Interviewed[edit]