Wednesday, May 6, 2009

John Lukacs on Democracy & Populism

Over an extended weekend during a trip to the Pacific Northwest I was able to read and complete Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred (2005) by John Lukacs. The book is an extended essay built around the topics of the title, looking primarily at nineteenth and twentieth century Europe and the United States. Lukacs is very difficult to summarize. In his more recent books he tends to offer opinions and conclusions without much in the way of argument, citation, or development. Some support for his opinions and conclusions, of course, but brief, and often all too fleeting. However, whatever these shortcomings, he challenges and inspires thought and consideration on just about any topic he touches upon. Thus, to give a sense, some quotes from the book to provide a sample of what he and his book are about:

“Perspective is an inevitable component of reality; and all perspective is, at least to some extent, historical, just as all knowledge depends on memory.” (7)
“As always, Samuel Johnson is right: ‘Definitions are tricks for pedants.” Still, Right and Left retain some meaning, even now. . . . The “Right”, by and large, feared and rejected the principle of popular sovereignty. The “Left” advocated or supported or at least would propose democracy. It still does. The “Right” for a long time, was not populist. But now often it is—which is perhaps a main argument of this book.” (18)