All Commentary
Thursday, April 1, 1965

Gerdas Empire


Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Viking Press, 1941) analyzes the dictator complex ex­emplified in Gerda, encountered by Miss West and her husband in their travels through Yugoslavia.

Gerda has no sense of process. That is what is the matter with Gerda. She wants the result with­out doing any of the work that goes to make it…. She is angry because we have some money. She feels that it might just as well belong to her… For her, the money might as easily have been attached to her as to us by a move­ment as simple as that which pastes a label on a trunk… As she has no sense of what goes to bring people love, or friendship, or distinction, or wealth, it seems to her that the whole world is enjoying undeserved benefits; and in a universe where all is arbi­trary, it might just as well happen that the injustice was pushed a little further and that all these benefits were taken from other people, leaving them nothing, and transferred to her, giving her everything.

Given the premise that the uni­verse is purely arbitrary, that there is no causality at work any­where, there is nothing absurd in that proposal. This is the con­queror’s point of view… Let us admit it, for a little while the whole of our world may belong to Gerda. She will snatch it out of hands too well bred and com­passionate and astonished to de­fend it. What we must remember is that she will not be able to keep it. For her contempt for the proc­ess makes her unable to conduct any process… To go up in an aeroplane and drop bombs is a simple use of an elaborate process that has already been developed. But you cannot administer a country on this principle… Gerda’s empire… will be an object of fear and nothing else. For this reason, I believe that Gerda’s empire cannot last long. But while it lasts it will be ter­rible. And what it leaves when it passes will also be terrible. For we cannot hope for anything but a succession of struggles for lead­ership among men whose minds will have been unfitted for leader­ship by the existence of tyranny and the rupture of European tra­dition, until slowly and painfully, the nations re-emerge, civilization re-emerges.