#RIP Eric Hobsbawm: a talented historian who outshone his Marxist ideology


 

 

 

Oliver Kamm

Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, died this morning, aged 95. I’ve written critically in the past about Hobsbawm’s politics and their influence on his writings about the 20th century. In the last conversation I had with Christopher Hitchens, we touched on the issue. Hitch was scathing that Hobsbawm’s eventual parting from Communism was due to a simple failure, at the end of the catastrophic history of the USSR, to renew his subscription.

It was an extraordinary failure of imagination that caused Hobsbawm to write, with Raymond Williams, a notorious Cambridge pamphlet supporting the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-40. As Williams later recalled (in Politics and Letters, 1981, p.43), without shame: “We were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words.”

Hobsbawm was a young man at the outbreak of the Second World War, but as far as I know he never expressed contrition for this act of intellectual prostitution in the service of totalitarianism. (In his memoirs, by the way, Hobsbawm claims that the pamphlet has been lost. It hasn’t: I have a copy.)

I mention this, because you can’t understand Hobsbawm without grasping his commitment to what came to be known as Eurocommunism – an adherence to Marxist theory allied with an acceptance of Western parliamentary democracy. And Eurocommunism, despite its ideological compromises, was deeply implicated in associating with Soviet Communism.

Hobsbawm was also an outstanding historian – and you can’t understand him, either, without having read his three-volume account of England in the 19th century. He was a superb economic historian who, in spite of his Marxism, never underestimated the role of the individual in historical change (as assessed in his book Primitive Rebels, among others). On my only meeting with him, I found him a man of deep intellect, humility and charm. It was one of the ironies of his generation that ideology could seize some of its most talented figures. The talent, in Hobsbawm’s case, superseded it, even so.

@oliverkamm

Read The Times obituary for Eric Hobsbawm

 

Bill Maher: “Atheism Is a Religion Like Abstinence Is a Sex Position”


During last night’s New Rules segment, Bill Maher noted that “Until someone claims to see Christopher Hitchens‘ face in a tree stump, idiots must stop claiming that atheism is a religion.” He goes on:

Not only is atheism not a religion, it’s not even my hobby. And that’s the great thing about being an atheist — it requires so little of your time….

There is a growing trend in this country that needs to be called out, and that is to label any evidence-based belief a “religion.” Many conservatives now say that a belief in man-made climate change is a “religion,” and Darwinism is a “religion,” and of course atheism — the total lack of religion — is somehow a “religion” too, according to the always reliable Encyclopedia Moronica.

To believers he says, “You don’t get to put your unreason up on the same shelf as my reason.” Then he un-baptizes Mitt Romney‘s dead father-in-law, because hey — if religious people get to do wacky things like that, why not atheist Bill Maher?

Watch the segment , via http://www.mediaite.com/tv/bill-mahers-new-rule-atheism-and-religion-are-not-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/

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