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Friday, December 1, 1989

A Reviewers Notebook: The Survival of the Adversary Culture

Paul Hollander was Hungarian-born, but educated in sociology in a “somewhat casual and unpremeditated manner” in England, in Illinois, and at Princeton. He is less interested, he says in The Survival of the Adversary Culture (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 299 pp., $27.95), in exploring the injustices and defects of American society than he is in studying the injustices and deformities of other political systems, namely, those of the Soviet variety. He still manages to retain over the years “a naive astonishment and occasional indignation over the fact that Western intellectuals, including perhaps most American social scientists, show so little appreciation of or support for the institutions which sustain them.”

He accepts it as a given fact that most people need a “Mecca,” and if they can’t find it in a religion they will find it on this earth. He quotes British novelist Doris Lessing with approval. Says Lessing, “it’s fairly common among socialists [that] they are in fact God-seekers, looking for the kingdom of God on earth, trying to abolish the present in favor of some better future. If you don’t believe in heaven you believe in socialism.”

Hollander’s curiosity led him tO make an extended study of “political pilgrimage” among intellectuals. Currently they are turning to Nicaragua in default of anything better. They went along with Soviet Russia until Stalin made it impossible for them to deny their eyes and ears. Then they turned to China. But Mao, killing his millions in the name of culture, was no better than Stalin.

That left Cuba, with Fidel Castro, and Nicaragua, with Ortega. So an issue of Sojourner’s magazine says “we believe that something unprecedented in Central America is happening in Nicaragua.” Hollander “wonders if it would have made any difference had they known that many similarly hopeful travellers also believed that something unprecedented was happening in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Albania, Bulgar ia, Mozambique or many other countries of a similar political inspiration.”

The behavior of intellectuals on political pilgrimage to Managua or Havana taxes one’s credulity. The Reverend Jesse Jackson visited what he was told was a “model prison.” The inmates played baseball. But “as soon as Jackson had left the balls and bats were taken away and the prisoners returned to their cells.”

In Nicaragua the Sandinistas’ Tomas Borg has two different offices. One is for meetings with religious delegations and delegations from democratic political parties. Before Borg meets with a religious delegation he memorizes Bible passages for quotation. But in his “real office” there are no crucifixes or Bibles—only Marxist literature and “posters of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.”

Borg, of course, is the Marxist who said the Central American revolution recognizes no boundaries.

The palpable effort in Managua is to reproduce in Central America the atmosphere of the American college campuses of the 1960s. A San-dinista network in the U.S. funnels tour groups to Nicaragua. Hollywood types are welcomed.

George Kennan’s changing views are thoroughly analyzed by Hollander. Kennan’s famous 1947 article that set forth the policy of containment is no longer considered relevant. In 1981 Kennan had come to believe that the negative image of the Soviet Union is “a monster of our own creation.” The Soviet leaders, says the “new” Kennan, are “ordinary men who share the horror of major war.”

Hollander says that “perhaps we can share” Mr. Kennan’s concern for the earth’s limited resources, “but it is hard to see why tackling that problem and keeping the Soviet Union from expanding its influence should be mutually exclusive.”

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.