The Hungarian-born sociologist Paul Hollander died last month, at the age of eighty-six, at his home in Northampton, Massachusetts, after a brief illness. Paul, who over the years wrote some two dozen pieces for The New Criterion—his last was a “Letter from Romania” in November 2018—fled Budapest on foot with only the clothes on his back in 1956 during the brutal Soviet repression of the short-lived Hungarian revolution. He made his way to the United States and took a Ph.D. at Princeton in the early 1960s.
Paul was a prolific writer of books as well as intellectual journalism. He will be remembered especially for two long works that have been published in several editions. Political Pilgrims, which first appeared in 1981, provides an exhaustive anatomy of Western intellectuals’ romance with totalitarian regimes from Cuba and Vietnam to the Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Anti-Americanism, first published in 1992, is a companion study that exposes the curious hostility that the world’s most generous country has elicited not only from its foreign beneficiaries but also from its own intellectuals. A couple of tidbits from Susan Sontag epitomize both the intensity of the romance and the fury of the hostility. Traveling to Vietnam in 1967, Sontag acknowledged that her account tended to idealize the country. Nevertheless, she insisted, she had found it from “direct experience” to be “a place which, in many respects, deserves to be idealized.” “The Vietnamese,” she continued, “are ‘whole’ human beings, not ‘split’ as we are.” Then there is the fury against America:
A small nation of handsome people . . . is being brutally and self-righteously slaughtered . . . by the richest and most grotesquely overarmed, most powerful country in the world. America has become a criminal, sinister country—swollen with priggishness, numbed by affluence . . .
As Paul noted, with his usual understatement, and as this passage from Sontag exemplifies, “anti-Americanism implies more than a critical disposition: it refers to critiques which are less than fully rational.” Paul Hollander recognized in his adopted country a beneficent alternative to the brutal Communist regime he had fled. He devoted his life to cataloguing the folly of intellectuals who, though priding themselves on their sophistication and higher virtue, regularly fell prey to the blandishments of utopian promises and ended up complicit with some of the most horrific regimes in history. Everyone who values individual freedom and the rule of law is in his debt. RIP.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 37 Number 9, on page 3
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