Mr. Rachman rightly identifies Life and Fate as a great novel , which he then scavenges , in the most cursory way, as somehow relevant to the present Age of Trump, and various Populist Bad Actors .
Of inestimable value, that provides a record of Grossman’s reporting, published and unpublished , from various fronts of World War II, that was the raw material for his novel, is A Writer at War edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova. This book offers telling insights to both the writer’s life, and the political obstacles he faced. Chapter 24 titled ‘Treblinka July 1944’ is very hard to read, it must have been angering, anguished and sorrowful to write for Grossman!
Mr. Rachman identifies the real demon of the present ‘Identity Politics’ a term of derision used in retrograde defense of the utterly collapsed Neo-Liberal Experiment: that proved to be, not just a misstep, but a world historical catastrophe. That birthed the Populist Menace, that Rachman attempts to slay, with his use of a great novel as his weapon of choice, to wage bourgeois political holy war.
That is because political ideas that emphasise group identity, rather than individual rights, are back in fashion — as both the nationalist right and the progressive left slide towards identity politics.
Mr. Rachman has missed Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen, which posits the idea/reality that ‘identity’ is a field, in which the person draws from in terms of appropriate responses to the sifting contexts of life.
In an American context, on the vexing question of ‘Identity Politics’ look to Jesse Jackson’s ‘Rainbow Coalition’ and the modern Democratic and Republican Parties that are both collections of diverse ‘identity groups’ who unite to achieve agreed upon political ends.
My first reply @WMD
Am anxious to read the sourcing for your introduction of Berlin into the conversation? I read the novel ‘Life and Fate’ and ‘A Writer at War’, but perhaps not having read the new biography of Grossman, ‘Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century’ by Alexandra Popoff ,leaves me in a position of ignorance?
My second reply to @WMD
Thank you for your comment in reply to mine.
‘My introduction was very simply about the closeness of the defining ideas of the Grossman books to the philosophical ideas propounded by Berlin, helped by the fact that they were almost direct contemporaries, although I believe Grossman’s works were, for obvious reasons, unknown to Berlin.’
One could also make the same observation about the Grossman’s lack of knowledge of Berlin’s writings. Yet Berlin made a trip to USSR and wrote a celebrated essay about his visit to Akhmatova. Although, were these Berlin essay available in samizdat ? remains an interesting conjecture.
Perhaps you could have more effectively begun your comment with the revelatory quote from ‘Life and Fate’ rather that with the highfalutin rhetorical frame offered by Berlin. Or was that the point of your intervention?
Let me offer this caveat to your comment : should the reader take the evidence offered by David Caute in his ‘Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic’ as demonstrative of Berlin’s exercise of sub rosa defamation, not to speak of black-balling of a fellow scholar. This a demonstration of Berlin’s personal and civic commitment to the ‘Liberal Value’ of ‘…men and women declared enemies of the great and bright idea of public good.’ ?
Mt third reply to @WMD
The point of my comments is/was first that Rachman engaged in the use of a highfalutin rhetorical frame, as not just a rickety frame for ‘Liberal Apologetics’ , but as the weapon of choice, by employing ‘Life and Fate’ as a touchstone of that defense. Which you embroidered upon, with the help of Berlin.
‘Academic back-biting’ does not begin to describe Berlin’s defamation and black-balling of Isaac Deutscher. Here is an insightful, revelatory review of Caute’s book from Los Angeles Review of Books of August 10, 2013:
Given that Herzen was Berlin’s paradigmatic hero-yet he was nothing like him, but just an academic politician defaming Deutscher as a coward with power would! See also Kai Bird’s ‘The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy: Brothers in Arms’ for the insights offered on Berlin’s political romance with the utterly notorious Bundy Bros.
My ‘animus’ toward Berlin, if it be that, is founded, not in the irrational, but in the facts about how he conducted himself, in the secret confine of the Academy, if ‘animus’ be defined as the search for who Berlin was, and how he conducted himself outside of public view!