If all I ever did was to use this blog to record the insightful things Clive James wrote in his book “Cultural Amnesia,” it would still be a better thing than most of the ways I spend my time.
Today’s quotes, one from a profiles of German writer (and disillusioned communist) Manes Sperber, the other from a profile of Margret Thatcher (both well worth reading in their entirety) highlight dangerous territories in politics. The first, feeling too much – the second thinking too much.
There is no excuse, either passionate or intellectualized, for denying each other our common humanity.
As always with James, every word is good – but it’s the last line that kills. Enjoy.
“We are entitled to point out a gaping hole in (Manes Sperber’s) analysis of the political forces contending in the last years of the Weimar Republic. He is good and honest about saying why he believed in communism against all the evidence that was coming out of the Soviet Union, and even in despite of the Comintern’s incomprehensible instructions that the Communists should join the Nazis in voting against the Social Democrats. But he doesn’t say enough about the Social Democrats. There were always more people voting Social Democrat than voting Communist, right to the end. Why did not the Social Democrats see the Party as the only hope? Sperber doesn’t tell us. One can only conclude that even while he was writing his monumemtal autobiography, at the end of his life, he still clung to the belief that the people who fell for neither of the political extremes weren’t fully serious about politics. Such is the long-term effect of an ideological burden: when you finally put it down, you save your pride by attributing the real naivety to those who never took it up.”
“The opinions of intellectuals might be an adjunct to sound government but are no substitute for it. The Russian Revolution was prepared by theorists who were able to persuade themselves, in a period of chaos, that their theories would be put into action. But the only political theories worthy of the name are descriptive, not prescriptive. If prescriptive theories have plausible hopes of filling a gap left by a decayed or underdeveloped institution, the game is already lost.