Friday, November 18, 2011

Five essential works about fanaticism

Alan Charles Kors is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Oxford). In 2008 he named five essential works about fanaticism for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Education of a True Believer
by Lev Kopelev

By the 20th century, in Europe at least, it was political, not religious, superstition that led to new terrors. What sort of political fanaticism would lead a bright, idealistic, sensitive young man to join in the immeasurable cruelties of the Bolsheviks' murderous grain requisitions and their deliberate mass starvation of millions of peasants unsympathetic to the future that the Communists desired? Lev Kopelev's autobiographical work puts us inside the fanatical thought and callousness that led to and was indifferent to the suffering of whole peoples. In his chapter titled "The Last Grain Collections (1933)," we see this lover of literature and philosophy taunting a terrified and weeping peasant woman on the verge of death: "Your children will be left hungry, without a mother." He was aware of the human cost but "persuaded" himself not to "give in to debilitating pity." Kopelev and his comrades, after all, were "realizing historical necessity ... our revolutionary duty." That "duty" slew more in a decade than any witch-hunter ever could have imagined possible.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue