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John Lukacs

John Adalbert Lukacs (born 31 January 1924 in Budapest; in Hungary his name spelled Lukács) is a Hungarian-born American historian who has written more than twenty-five 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 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, and at the Eötvös Loránd University.

Views

Lukacs was born to a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother. His parents divorced before World War II. Although Lukacs was raised Catholic, he was forced to serve in a Hungarian labor battalion for converted Jews during the war. He evaded deportation to the death camps in 1944-45 and survived the Siege of Budapest. In 1946, he fled Hungary for the United States to escape increasing Communist influence in the Hungarian government. In the early 1950s, Lukacs wrote several articles in Commonweal criticizing Senator Joseph McCarthy, whom he described as a vulgar demagogue..

Lukacs sees populism as the greatest threat to civilization. By his own description, Lukacs considers himself to be a reactionary. In Lukacs's view, the essence of both National Socialism and Socialism was populism. Lukacs does not believe in generic fascism, in his opinion the differences between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were far greater than the similarities.

Lukacs has argued that the best form of government is that of an enlightened elite, preferably a Catholic elite. A major theme of Lukacs's writing has concerned an assertion by the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century that all states, whether monarchies or republics, had been dominated by aristocratic elites, and the age of aristocratic elites was drawing to a close and the age of democratic elites reflecting the interests and concerns of the masses was dawning. Much of Lukacs's writings are concerned with what he regards as this transition from aristocratic to democratic elites and its consequences, especially towards historiography. In his 1999 book, At the End of an Age, Lukacs argued that the modern age of history in the West that started with the Renaissance was coming to an end. The subject of the rise of populism and the decline of elitism is also the theme of Lukacs's only novel, A Thread of Years (1998), which contains a set of vignettes set in each year of the 20th century from 1900 to 1998, which traces what Lukacs regards as the collapse of the traditional American values of gentlemanly conduct and politeness to the vulgarity and profanity of modern American culture. Lukacs sees himself as the defender of the traditional values of Western civilization against what he regards as the debasing leveling effects of modern mass civilization.

By his own admission an intense Anglophile, Lukacs’s favorite historical figure is Winston Churchill, whom Lukacs considers the greatest statesman of the 20th century and the savior of not only Great Britain, but also of Western civilization. A recurring theme in Lukacs’s writing is one he regards as the great duel between Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler for mastery of the world. The great struggle between the contrasting personalities of Churchill and Hitler, 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 Lukacs’s latest book, 2008's Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, a book about Churchill’s first major speech as Prime Minister. Through Lukacs argues that Great Britain by itself could not defeat Germany and the primary responsibility rests with the United States and the Soviet Union, Lukacs has contended that in the decisive year of 1940 that Churchill ensured that Germany could not win the war, and hence laid the groundwork for the ultimate Allied victory.

Lukacs holds strong neo-isolationist beliefs, and perhaps unusually for an anti-Communist Hungarian émigré, was strongly opposed to the Cold War. Lukacs often argued his belief 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 is strongly critical of the administration of George W. Bush and has 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; both Lukacs and Kennan criticized the New Left interpretation of the Cold War being caused by the United States. Lukacs argued that though Joseph Stalin was largely responsible for the beginning of the Cold War, it was the administration of Dwight Eisenhower which missed the chance for ending the Cold War in 1953 after Stalin's death, and thus unnecessarily allowed the Cold War to go on for decades more.

The Hitler of History

From around 1977 onwards, Lukacs has been one of the leading critics of the British historian David Irving, whom Lukacs has often accused of engaging in unscholarly practices and of 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 had initially had high hopes for Hitler's War, but found the book to be "appalling. Lukacs commented that Irving had uncritically used personal remembrances by those who knew Hitler to present him in the most favorable light possible. During his review, Lukacs argued that through World War II had a disgraceful end with all of Eastern Europe being left under Soviet domination, that nonetheless a victory that left only half of Europe to Stalin was much better then a defeat that left all of Europe to Hitler.

In part, Lukacs’s 1997 book, The Hitler of History, a prosopography of the historians who have written biographies of Adolf Hitler contains a substantial 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 quite proud of his Catholic faith, but because of his Jewish mother, Irving has disparagingly referred to Lukacs as "a Jewish historian." Irving has often threatened Lukacs with a libel lawsuit, which has yet to materialise.

In The Hitler of History, Lukacs examines the state of Hitler scholarship inspired by the example of Pieter Geyl's book, Napoleon For and Against, while at the same time offering his own observations about Hitler. In addition, The Hitler of History was intended to serve as the beginning of the "historicization" of Hitler as called for by Martin Broszat in an 1986 essay.

In Lukacs’s view, Hitler was a racist, nationalist, revolutionary, populist who drew his strongest support from the middle classes and above all the working class. Lukacs has often criticized Marxist and Liberal historians who have claimed that the majority of the German working class were strongly anti-Nazi. According to Lukacs, the exact opposite was true. 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 examining what he considers the real roots of Hitler’s ideology. Lukacs has concluded that Hitler’s claim in Mein Kampf that he developed his belief in racial purity ideology while living in Vienna under the Hapsburgs is false. Instead, Lukacs has dated Hitler’s turn to anti-Semitism to 1919 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 has described Hitler as self-conscious modernizing revolutionary. Citing the critique of National Socialism developed by such German conservative historians such as Hans Rothfels and Gerhard Ritter after 1945, Lukacs has described the Nazi movement as the culmination of all the dark forces lurking within modern civilization.

In Lukacs’s view, Operation Barbarossa was not inspired by anti-Communism or any long-term plans on the part of Hitler for the conquest of the Soviet Union as suggested by such historians as Andreas Hillgruber who claimed 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. Lukacs has argued that the reason that Hitler offered for the invasion of Russia was indeed the real one. Hitler claimed that Britain would not surrender because Churchill held out the hope that the Soviet Union might enter the war on the Allied side, which left Germany with no other choice than to eliminate that hope; many historians have argued that this reason was just a pretext. At the same time, Lukacs has been one of the leading critics of Viktor Suvorov, and has often attacked the latter's view that Barbarossa was a "preventative war" forced on Germany by an aggressive Joseph Stalin who Suvorov claims was planning to attack Germany later in the summer of 1941.

Later work

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 considers that this devolution from liberal democracy to populism is evident in such things as popular sentiment being the new substitute for what was once public opinion - and propaganda and infotainment over knowledge and history. In the same book, Lukacs criticized legalized abortion, pornography, cloning, and sexual permissiveness as marking one he sees as the basic decadence, depravity, corruption and amorality of modern American society.

More recently, Lukacs has written 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 latest 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.

Endnotes

Works

  • 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).

References

  • 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.

See also

External links

Essays

Lukacs Reviewed

Lukacs Interviewed

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