Daily Briefing: ISRAELI HISTORIAN JACOB LEIB TALMON SPEAKS TO OUR TIMES (September 11,2020)

The 9/11 Anniversary and the 9/11 Wars:  Clifford D. May, JNS, Sept. 9, 2020

The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was a wakeup call. It led to a high-intensity armed conflict that, within a few years, defeated the fascists of Europe and Asia. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington were a wakeup call. They led a low-intensity armed conflict that, 19 years later, remains inconclusive.

So, it should be instructive to hear what U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden say about this week’s 9/11 anniversary. My best guess: Both will eulogize the victims, but say little about the policies and strategies necessary to prevent those who call themselves jihadists from achieving their goals over the years ahead.

Americans today face a complex threat matrix. We are menaced by China’s ambitious and ruthless rulers; by a virus those rulers somehow let loose on the world; by a revanchist Russia; by a North Korean dictatorship that our diplomats failed to prevent from acquiring nuclear weapons; and by an Iranian regime vowing “Death to America!” Domestically, we are a deeply divided nation. Dazzled by this chaos, you could be forgiven for thinking jihadists are no longer a serious concern. But you’d be wrong…. [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Jacob Leib Talmon (Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:
The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy, by J. L. Talmon:  Irving Kristol, Commentary Magazine, September 1952
J. L. Talmon: The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, (Introduction) (1952), Panarchy
From Rousseau to Totalitarian Democracy: The French Revolution in J. L. Talmon’s Historiography: José Brunner, History and Memory, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 60-85
Was the Reign of Terror Totalitarian? A Study of Hannah Arendt and J.L. Talmon:  Hannah Malcolm, Appalachian State University, April 3-5, 2014

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The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy, by J. L. Talmon
Irving Kristol
Commentary Magazine, September 1952The problem of liberalism today is essentially the problem of a surviving rhetoric and a crumbling philosophy. It is true that this is also the problem of conservatism, and to a more extreme degree; our technological society is moving with a resolution that scornfully converts all conservative phraseology into romantic cant. But conservatism can afford, in principle, to fall back on a stubborn and mindless balking, whereas liberalism is committed to the general idea and the reasoned program, and its crisis is therefore the more poignant.Among the key words of modern liberalism that now ring somewhat hollow are Progress, Revolution, and Liberty. Traditionally, all of these terms have been summary evocations of a world-view. Progress was the movement of time, not merely from the known to the unknown, but from the worse to the better; it contained within itself the fact of change and the positive evaluation inevitably accruing to it. Revolution was not merely a political overturn, but one that held a promise for the future—otherwise it was Reaction. Liberty was not merely the absence of unjust restraint, but the absence of all possible restraint—restraint itself was regarded as at best a necessary evil. Beneath these studied ambiguities were the basic premises: man is a “progressive being” (the phrase is John Stuart Mill’s) whose nature is good and will improve if its potentialities are permitted to flower; history is the record of the struggle between Freedom and Authority, Reason and Prejudice, Left and Right, with the victory of the former assured by the growing preponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational conduct.It is no longer fashionable to state these postulates baldly, but they receive an unspoken assent that has far-reaching consequences. One such, is to saddle liberalism with a bad conscience in the face of Communism, which claims these premises for itself, as “scientific” truths, and which further claims to draw the ultimate conclusions and to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. (In the same way, conservatives have their own bad conscience before fascism.) This liberal bad conscience is evident in various and not so subtle forms. Let a Communist denounce racial or social inequality in the United States, and the liberal will reply with a defiant apologetic quite unlike the contemptuous indifference with which he reacted to the same accusation from Dr. Goebbels. That Mao’s China is excluded from the United Nations is, for the liberal, an unhappy fact, even if temporarily justified; in contrast, that Franco’s Spain may be admitted to the United Nations is a calamitous prospect. The small neo-Nazi movement in Germany provokes the liberal to anxious polemic and calls for action; the infinitely larger Communist movement in France moves him to sermons on the desirability of improving the French economic and social order. Everywhere, the very existence of a flourishing Communist movement is interpreted by the liberal as a moral indictment of the society threatened by it. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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J. L. Talmon: The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy
(Introduction) (1952)
PanarchyThis study is an attempt to show that concurrently with the liberal type of democracy there emerged from the same premises in the eighteenth century a trend towards what we propose to call the totalitarian type of democracy. These two currents have existed side by side ever since the eighteenth century. The tension between them has constituted an important chapter in modern history and has now become the most vital issue of our time.It would of course be an exaggeration to suggest that the whole of the period can be summed up in terms of this conflict. Nevertheless, it was always present, although usually confused and obscured by other issues, which may have seemed clearer to contemporaries, but viewed from the standpoint of the present day seem incidental and even trivial. Indeed, from the vantage point of the mid-twentieth century the history of the last hundred and fifty years looks like a systematic preparation for the headlong collision between empirical and liberal democracy on the one hand, and totalitarian Messianic democracy on the other, in which the world crisis of to-day consists.
 
(1) The Two Types of Democracy, Liberal and Totalitarian

The essential difference between the two schools of democratic thought as they have evolved is not, as is often alleged, in the affirmation of the value of liberty by one, and its denial by the other. It is in their different attitude to politics. The liberal approach assumes politics to be a matter of trial and error and regards political systems as pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity. It also recognizes a variety of levels of personal and collective endeavour, which are altogether outside the sphere of politics.

The totalitarian democratic school, on the other hand, is based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics. It may be called political Messianism in the sense that it postulates a preordained, harmonious, and perfect scheme of things, to which men are irresistibly driven, and at which they are bound to arrive. It recognizes ultimately only one plane of existence, the political. It widens the scope of politics to embrace the whole of human existence. It treats all human thought and action as having social significance, and therefore as falling within the orbit of political action. Its political ideas are not a set of pragmatic precepts or a body of devices applicable to a special branch of human endeavour. They are an integral part of an all-embracing and coherent philosophy. Politics is defined as the art of applying this philosophy to the organization of society, and the final purpose of politics is only achieved when this philosophy reigns supreme over all fields of life. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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From Rousseau to Totalitarian Democracy: The French Revolution in J. L. Talmon’s Historiography
José Brunner
History and Memory, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 60-85

Past and Present “L’histoire ne servirait a rien, si Ton n’y met les tristesses du present.” Jules Michelet’s dictum is the motto chosen by Jacob Talmon for The Myth of the Nation and the Vision of the Revolution. In the book’s epilogue he explains that his fascination with the events of the French Revolution, its ideologists and activists, started in 1937-38, when he was struck by the analogy between the Jacobin period’s combination of an ultra-democratic constitution and terror – on which he was writing an undergraduate seminar paper – and the Moscow trials which took place at the time.2

Undoubtedly, when a historian examines the past, he always writes in some way about the present. It appears, however, that Talmon’s historical experience not only provided the background or subtext to his historical vision, but that its overpowering impact on his thinking brought him to read history backwards by means of analogies drawn from later events and projected onto earlier ones. For Talmon, the meaning of the past – that is, the writings of the philosophes and Rousseau, as well as the events of the French Revolution – is supplied by the present. The light that Talmon shed on the French Revolution was refracted by the lens provided by the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, with the result that Robespierre became a Stalin, and finally even Rousseau turned – albeit indirectly – into an ideologist of the Gulag.

Already on the first page of The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (hereafter Origins) Talmon describes himself as writing in a period of world crisis, in which an empirical and liberal democracy collides with a totalitarian Messianic democracy. From the vantage point of this collision, the preceding one hundred and fifty years were for him but a long period of From Rousseau to Totalitarian Democracy preparation leading up to a cataclysmic clash between the forces of good and evil. To be sure, considering the French and the Russian Revolution as two of a kind, and even telescoping them into one, was also part of the Bolshevik revolutionary self-image, such as when Lenin claimed in 1903 that 44 [a] Jacobin firmly committed to organizing a proletariat that has become conscious of its class interest is precisely what a revolutionary social democrat is.”3 Talmon’s historiography adopts this metaphorical self-understanding of the Russian revolutionaries, but – having learned the bitter lessons of Stalinism – extends its logic until it is made to self de (con) struct. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Was the Reign of Terror Totalitarian? A Study of Hannah Arendt and J.L. Talmon
Hannah Malcolm
Appalachian State University, April 3-5, 2014

  1. Introduction

The Terror was perhaps the most complex moment of the French Revolution, when revolutionary fervor was at its highest. During this brief episode, the revolutionary government, under the leadership of Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety, attempted to create an ideal society. Their attempts to recreate both man and society 986 influenced future revolutions and political movements. With the background of Stalin’s regime in Russia and the Nazis in Germany, twentieth-century scholars sought to understand the phenomenon of totalitarianism that had shaped their time. Political theorists J.L. Talmon (1916-1980) and Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) both turned to the French Revolution and the Terror, hoping to better understand modern events by re-examining it and comparing it to totalitarian movements. Despite the superficial similarities of the Terror to totalitarian regimes, Arendt makes the case that the Terror, upon closer examination, lacks many of the defining characteristics of totalitarianism. She does not make this argument explicit, but it can be gleaned through a study of her many works. On the other hand, Talmon’s argument is fully captured in his book On the Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, in which he is confident that the Terror is totalitarian – or, at least, proto-totalitarian.

Although the two disagree, both of their arguments are driven by personal needs to understand and deal with the real force of totalitarianism, which, in the form of German Nazis, had so deeply influenced their lives. Furthermore, the mere fact that they compared the Terror to more contemporary totalitarian regimes influenced other scholars, notably François Furet and George L Mosse, to view the Terror in that light. Furet’s Revolutionary France 1770-1870 (1992) shares a similar interpretation of the Terror and Rousseau’s influence with Talmon, while Mosse’s The Fascist Revolution (1999) devotes a chapter to explaining how the Terror held the origins of fascism. These scholars’ attempts to compare the Terror to contemporary totalitarian regimes highlights the twentieth-century desire to make sense of its chaos by reaching into the past.

The biographies of the two main scholars analyzed in this essay, Hannah Arendt and J.L. Talmon, are rather similar. Both were Jews who had to flee mainland Europe because of the Nazis. Talmon was originally from Poland; he studied in Israel and France before immigrating to London, England, where he wrote On the Origins of Totalitarian Democracy in 1952. Arendt was German, and she first moved to France, where she ended up being put in an internment camp.1 She then settled in New York, where she wrote her many works. This essay draws on the following four: The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), The Human Condition (1958), Between Past and Future (1961), and On Revolution (1963). Both authors have been described as “Cold War liberals,” and both rejected Marxist thought. Undoubtedly, their experiences influenced their quest to understand totalitarianism. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK– Ed.]
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FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:

The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy:  J.L. Talmon, Internet Archives.

The Mideast War: A Rejoinder: J.L. Talmon, New York Review of Books, Jan. 24, 1974 Issue (Note: In the November 15 issue of The New York Review appeared a statement on the Mideast War signed by twenty-one members of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the November 29 issue Professor Daniel Amit of The Hebrew University replied in the form of an open letter to Professor Jacob Talmon, one of the signers of the statement. Professor Talmon’s rejoinder to Professor Amit follows.)

Micro-Totalitarianism and the Search for a ‘Knowledge of the Whole’:  Alex Gooch, Epoch Magazine, July 22, 2020 In an emotion which many of us will probably recognize in ourselves: the longing for what Strauss calls ‘knowledge of the whole’, the longing to find, or even to create, an overarching understanding of the world worthy of our unreserved, wholehearted commitment.
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Access this week’s: Communiqué: Explosion de Beyrouth: tous les chemins mènent au Hezbollah (Sept 10,2020)

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