YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 9, 2011

Jean-Francois Revel and Father Mapple

This blog is about Jean-François Revel’s How Democracies Perish (1983), and how recent “anti-imperialist” scholarship as conducted in the most elevated reaches of academe has added to the demoralization of “the West” as it faces the threat of Islamic jihadism.

Revel (1924-2006) was a prolific French author, whose political background had put him in a favorable position to evaluate the weak response to Soviet aggression. He was a member of the French resistance during WWII, and later worked for President Mitterand as a speechwriter. One Facebook friend complained that Revel was a right-wing social democrat, implying that he was untrustworthy, but I find the liberal anticommunist position to be of great interest, since Revel seems to be a giant among public intellectuals. Compare his love of freedom to those in the current liberal academic elite who are leaders in condemning America and the civilized world as white racists and which, to this day, illicitly profit from white skin privilege. The latter academic opinion leaders have succeeded in ratifying the old Soviet line that the “free world” was in fact a slave world, undeserving of its defense against the peace-loving Soviet empire or Communist China and their client states in the Third World. The writing of U.S. history is almost entirely controlled by this cohort of Stalinoids. I do not refer solely to ethnic studies departments that are known to be separatist and bogus.

Such a claim that the West remains essentially racist takes the focus off of the foreign policy blunders of all American Presidents (up to Reagan) and most of the West after WWII. Revel’s major claim is that there was no Cold War at all, for that would assume that both superpowers acted in their own interest. Pas du tout, wrote Revel: The West was entirely submissive as the Soviets expanded without opposition, breaking their treaties, most of all the Yalta agreement, that had not “carved up the world” (as I was taught) but rather promised free elections in Poland, to give one stunning example of public ignorance of the facts. Stupidly and self-destructively, he wrote, the Allied armies abandoned Europe to the Soviets, allowed the Soviets to take and hold all of Eastern Europe and East Germany, were toothless when the Berlin Wall went up, and then the Soviet-directed Western peace movement imagined that the U.S. was not militarily weak and inferior to Soviet arms. In short, a failure of nerve and reluctance to use the traditional tools of diplomacy (i.e., you don’t make concessions before you begin negotiations), consigned the West to a foreign policy that was at best, flaccid. I have not begun to exhaust the claims of Revel’s classic work, all of which ring true to me.

I could have titled this blog “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” That was a quote from the first chapter of Moby-Dick, and was written in the voice of Ishmael, the narrator. Most academic Melville critics pass over that remark as if it had merit as a statement of the human condition. But in the text itself, Ishmael has just rationalized his (unmanly) submission to an abusive ship’s captain. Ishmael’s passivity is contrasted to the abolitionist Father Mapple’s subsequent fiery and defiant sermon in seeking out the truth, no matter how apparently powerful the adversary.  Revel reminds us how weak the Soviet Union was immediately after the war, and moreover, that Stalin would have remained allied to Hitler had the latter not invaded the Soviet Union. What were our leaders thinking? (See my book Hunting Captain Ahab for a portrait of one Stalinist Melville biographer and critic, Jay Leyda, who remains untainted to this day in legitimate Melville circles, though he was a wily subverter of literary history and obviously a convinced communist and anti-American.)

We were chumps then, and the question remains, are we similarly toothless in resisting internal subversion and the threat from foreign terrorists alike? Will even liberal anticommunists such as Revel be dismissed as “rightists” who are paranoid and/or superpatriots?

[My thanks to political scientist Tom Nichols for recommending this book to me. Diane Ravitch even placed it in a recommended reading list, before she switched sides.]

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8 Comments »

  1. […] read Jean-François Revel, who complained that America did not fight the Cold War hard enough. See http://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/. (Would the US ever had been a superpower had not Europe destroyed itself in the follies of two […]

    Pingback by “America is in decline”: cui bono? | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 8, 2014 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  2. […] that the Cold War was fought too weakly (see Revel’s How Democracies Perish, summarized here: http://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/), but quite another to claim that America was occupied by commie-symps for decades, that […]

    Pingback by Melodrama and its appeal | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 9, 2013 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

  3. Clare Spark, your articles are much less dense, much more accessible, – thank you, well done!
    I truly appreciate the great effort and detail you’ve devoted to your subjects.

    Comment by alzaebo — March 15, 2012 @ 7:58 am | Reply

  4. I see Teddy and Wilson’s acolyte, FDR, attempting to create an American Soviet.
    His wartime strategies make more sense if one realizes he only responded when his ally, Stalin, was threatened- for instance, by Germany and Japan.

    The Ivy League descendants of the Confederates resurrected “filibustering” (1850′s raids) hoping to reclaim Grandad’s lost slave empire. They did so because they were watching Empires in real time.

    Their Frankenstein’s monsters came circled back to them in time: they recognised one another as fellow travellers. The WWII supply chains became Cold War international biznis structures after the soldiers went home. We have a statosphere or spy economy operating beyond borders, thus beyond law.
    The socialists have created a shadow (only partly visible) culture, an alternative civilization, operating in tandem with the visible Anglosphere structures.

    Mssr. Revel’s book came out the year after Gorbachev made a deal with Euro-communist parties to erect a new Soviet west of the Urals. Interesting.

    Comment by alzaebo — March 15, 2012 @ 7:44 am | Reply

  5. [...] At the same time, there was an older generation of professors ready to grant them tenure, for the anti-imperialist, antiwar, anti-American tradition had multiple adherents, some of them Stalinoid if not actively Leninist (see http://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/). [...]

    Pingback by Turning points in the ascent/decline of the West « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 24, 2011 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

  6. Dear Clare,

    In fairness to the postwar West and Yalta (and I write this as a Polonophile who speaks Polish, loves Poland and hates Communism in general and Stalinism in particular) we were trying for a very, very big prize in return for acknowledging Soviet security interests there – to bring Stalin’s Russia in from the cold and slowly civilize it. In some way it was more our own hubris, war-time callousness (what mattered Poland’s or East Europe’s wartime suffering if it successfully appeased Stalin), recognition of how near-run a thing was WWII (defeating the Axis even with the combined might of the Axis was harder than we made it appear at the end)and desire never ever to repeat the experience of world war that made us acquiescent to Soviet imperialism. Even Churchill was willing to take the bet of establishing a cooperative relationship with the Soviets for a while (certainly longer than many of his postwar statements after he lost power would lead one to believe)…

    Comment by David Curp — June 1, 2011 @ 5:39 am | Reply

  7. “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” – This is an underlying theme of the Gospels, that we tend to enslave ourselves to God’s will and graces or our own ‘solutions’ to our weaknesses, fears, etc.

    Comment by Warren Jewell — April 9, 2011 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

    • The religious interpretation of Ishmael’s question is part of the meaning, especially as Melville was immersed in the Bible, both New and Old Testaments. But in the context of Moby-Dick, it takes on other resonances as I mentioned above. Melville struggled with authority, including religious authority, all his life. Hence the deep disagreements among his readers as to what he was, at bottom, arguing. In my book, I put forth the argument that he was a waverer, not unlike many of his contemporaries. So that Ishmael and Ahab express opposing sides of his character and beliefs, sometimes interpenetrating each other. It takes great patience to “get” Melville, and I suggest that readers start with his earliest work, Typee, and move on chronologically, through to the end (“Billy Budd”). Alas, few these days have the tenacity to embark upon such a project, though it would only take a few months, as he was not as prolific an author as, say, Hawthorne or Henry James.

      Comment by clarespark — April 9, 2011 @ 11:33 pm | Reply


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