Page 1 of 2from The Collected Works
The Ugliness of Intellectual Fraud:
Eric Voegelin reviewed many books between the year 1923, when he was only twenty-two, and 1955, when his horizons became occupied with the project of Order and History. Sixty-five reviews are collected in CW Vol 13, Selected Book Reviews, translated and edited by Jodi Bruhn and Barry Cooper. In some respects the following review is typical. Things that can be praised are praised and mention is made of underlying principles of political science which determine the selection of materials. In this particular review Voegelin has also chosen to show the slight-of-hand techniques of a dishonest intellectual. This review might also be taken to suggest a cautionary note concerning contemporary political thought.
Professor Schuman has written a comprehensive volume on Soviet politics that will remain the representative treatise for quite some time to come. An introductory part, subtitled “A Book of Origins,” deals with Marxism and its penetration into Russia, with the background and career of Lenin, the history of the Russian Communist movement, and the victory of the revolution, and with those factors of Russian history that still are determinants in the period of Soviet rule. The principal part, “A Book of Peace and War,” presents Soviet political history, the development of institutions, and the policies, both foreign and domestic, from the victory of the October Revolution to the end of the Second World War. The concluding part, “A Book of Prospects,” deals with the outlines of post-war politics as far as they have become visible and with the probabilities of internal development and foreign relations of the Soviet Union in the future.
The amount of material digested in these more than 600 pages is enormous; and every one who wishes to inform himself on any aspect of Soviet politics (with the exception of economic problems and institutions, which are excluded from treatment) will do well, as a first approach, to consult this volume.
It was not the purpose of the author, however, to present a piece of original research; the scope of the volume reflects rather the intention “to see steadily and to see whole the total fabric of Soviet politics, from the barbarian migrations to the Changchun Railway Co., from Marx in the British Museum to the Soviet Intelligentsia, from peasant rebellions to collective agriculture, from Portsmouth and Brest-Litowsk to Potsdam and Lancaster House.” This plan, rather of encyclopedic synthesis than of intensive monographic study, does not, however, prevent the author from treating certain aspects of Soviet constitutional life, to which he draws specific attention (xv), with a thoroughness surpassing earlier attempts.
The materials are presented with the intelligent vivacity that we can expect of Schuman. A conscious care for style is visible. In the formulation of terms and titles the author resorts frequently to the artistic device of alliteration that is known to the reader of his earlier literary productions. We find again such old friends as the forces of fear, fraud, and favors by which rulers keep their subjects in obedience; and we encounter new recherché coordinations like “Cipangu and Cathay” (for Japan and China) reminiscent of Marco’s account of his call on the khan at the court of Cambaleschia. The book is written throughout with a deliberate mellowness that will make its message tasteful to many.
Beyond this point the reviewer is somewhat at a loss about a critical evaluation of the volume. It is a book of opinion, not of scientific analysis. The facts are reported correctly, with a few negligible exceptions, but the interpretation does not conform to any standards of scientific method. The objectivity for which the author has striven is not one of science but of political judgment. Under these conditions there is not much sense in stating agreement or disagreement concerning specific propositions, and we might well conclude at this point. [ It’s summertime, so we can say, “Here it comes!” —ed]
Nevertheless, Schuman’s approach to politics is of a certain importance both because it is representative of a trend in contemporary political science and because the resulting picture of Soviet politics might influence a considerable public. A few reflections on the author’s aims and the means employed in their realization will, therefore, be appropriate.
What the author considers a sympathetic, objective analysis of the Soviet system is in fact a skillful apology. How in good faith is that identification of objectivity with apology possible? It is possible because Schuman proceeds on the tacit assumption that a rational, scientific approach to politics does not exist. People are for or against the Soviet system for emotional reasons, and objectivity consists in striking a middle course between unconditional Marxist praise and unconditional anti-Marxist antipathy.
The attitude expresses itself in a complete disregard for the considerable literature on Marxism and Russian events written from a well-elaborated theoretical position. The reader will search in vain in Schuman’s book for a justification of the author’s position as against the positions of such writers as Notzel, Gurian, Maritain, or Berdiaev, to take a few examples. Instead he will find the author engaged in achieving a more unbiased view than that provided by the “sick soul” of Max Eastman, or the charming “crypto-Fascist” Clare Luce, or Hiram Johnson “who died, as he lived, in his sleep,” or the “Menshevik” Dallin.
The author has succeeded, indeed, in steering a safe course between the Scylla of adulatory comrades and the Charybdis of enemies of the system or, as he would perhaps prefer to formulate it, between the Daily Worker and the Dies Committee; still, we shall not be surprised that an objectivity resulting from an equidistance from two parochialisms does not rise very high above the level on which the exaggerated distortions occur. In order to illustrate the result, I shall comment on a few of the points that attracted my attention in the chapter on “The Soviet State.”
(1) On pages 291 ff. the author discusses the election system of 1918, with its method of indirect election, under which the lower Soviets send delegates to the next higher, through a hierarchy of four levels, up to the central representation. Schuman compares this system with the indirect election of the United States Senate and president under the constitutional provisions of 1789 and with “the traditional form of American political party organization.”
The comparison, which obviously tries to engage the reader’s sympathy, is mistaken. In the first place, the Russian indirect system was applied, not to a Senate or president, but to a body that functionally would correspond to the House of Representatives. In the second place, the American indirect election has one level of indirection, and not four like the Russian, for the vast majority of the electorate; and third, the election to a representative legislative body is one thing, while an internal party organization is quite another.
Moreover, the method of election of 1918 is not at all inspired by Western models but is an adaptation of the electoral law of June 3, 1907, which Stolypin devised in order to get rid of the liberal membership of the first and second Dumas. The electoral body was split by Stolypin’s law into four colleges of landowners, urban population, industrial workers, and peasants. The election was made indirect, with three stages for workers, four for the peasants. The electoral procedure of 1918 abolished the landowners and nonproletarian urban population but retained the device for workers and peasants. The arrangement permitted Stolypin to manipulate the representation in the desired direction, and the Communist Party used it with equal success.
If I remember the figures correctly, the ratio of Communists to non-Communists at the lowest level of Soviets was 1 to 9, while in the central representation this ratio was inverted. Presumably Schuman chooses to omit this Russian context of the 1918 election procedure because he prefers to arouse in his readers associations with American democratic procedures rather than with the tsarist tricks for the prevention of democracy. The “facts” are rendered “correctly” by the author, but the interpretative wrappings may arouse misgivings among “crypto-Fascists.”
(2) On page 291 we find the sentence: “Like the Congress of the United States, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets and its CEC were vested with enumerated powers (Articles 49–52), but since they were of very broad scope and included ‘altering and supplementing of the Constitution,’ this legislature resembled more closely the British Parliament which, in theory, possesses unlimited sovereignty.” Again the attempt to arouse sympathy by comparison with American and British institutions is obvious. The trick lies in the equivocal use of the term legislature. The Russian “legislature” of 1918 resembled in no way the American Congress or the British Parliament except in the scope of its jurisdiction. But on the point of jurisdiction, there is no difference between Parliament and an absolute monarch. The relevant differences, may I suggest, lie elsewhere.
(3) In discussing the constitution of 1936 on page 301, the author considers Article 141, which vests the right to nominate candidates for election in various organizations of the working people. He omits to state that there is also an Article 126, which provides that the Communist Party forms “the leading nucleus of all organizations of the toilers.” Instead he stresses that “in contrast to the United States, where citizenship is defined by the federal constitution and suffrage by the States within the limits of federal constitutional restrictions, both citizenship and suffrage in the USSR are defined in the Union Constitution.” The net impression is that the election of representatives based on general suffrage is in Russia better secured than in the United States. The fact that the nomination of candidates is controlled by the Communist Party is suppressed. Otherwise the “facts” are reported with scrupulous correctness.
(4) On pages 304 ff., in discussing the federal organization of the Soviet Union, the author says, “The greatest glory of the Soviet State is its achievement of effective equality in rights and opportunities for peoples of all races, languages and cultures. Under the formula of a new civilization ‘national in form and proletarian in content,’ each ethnic group has been guaranteed cultural autonomy and local self-determination within the political and economic framework of Soviet society.” The facts again are correct. But there is a noticeable absence of comment precisely where it would have been necessary to explain that “national in form and proletarian in content” means in practice the ruthless extermination of national culture, of the social form as well as of its spiritual expression, insofar as it is incompatible with Communism as a creed and as a political and economic form of society. And all national culture is incompatible except language and perhaps a few customs on an innocuous folkloristic level.