Three days before the election, and a day before I left for Ohio, I went to the Brooklyn library and took out a wide enough range of books so that whatever the election outcome, I'd have something fitting the mood. I'm about halfway through Paul Roberts' The End of Oil, which despite its hyperbolic title offers a surprisingly balanced and lucid view of the energy issues we're facing now and in the decades ahead. I'm actually less worried about this problem after reading half of Roberts' book than I was before.
The other book I'm working through seems even more appropriate to the time. It's Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler. I think I first became aware of this book after hearing Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or both make reference to it in relation to their political travails. 100 pages in, this seems extremely melodramatic and self-aggrandizing to me, but the analogy might make more sense as I go on.
What I do find striking about the book, which depicts the fall from official grace of a lifelong revolutionary operative who seems parallel to Leon Trotsky (a historical figure who has always fascinated me in his combination of idealism, brilliance, ruthlessness and hypocrisy), is that it seems resonant with certain current political realities. One can't read much about Grover Norquist and the right-wing "movement" for long without seeing references to Lenin. And this passage, written in the voice of the protagonist, Rubashov, struck me as particularly relevant to the forces now driving our politics:
We have learnt history more thoroughly than the others. We differ from all others in our logical consistency. We know that virtue does not matter to history, and that crimes remain unpunished; but that every error has its consequences and venges itself unto the seventh generation. Therefore we concentrated all our efforts on preventing error and destroying the very seeds of it... We were held for madmen because we followed every thought down to its final consequence and acted accordingly. We were compared to the inquisition because, like them, we constantly felt in ourselves the whole weight of responsibility for the superindividual life to come. We resembled the great Inquisitors in that we persecuted the seeds of evil not only in men's deeds, but in their thoughts. We admitted no private sphere, not even inside a man's skull. We lived under the compulsion of working things out to their final conclusions.
I make no comment upon Koestler's personal life, which evidently was repugnant in many respects. But his passionate repudiation of the Bolshevik vision holds true today for the ideologues of the other side, whom I believe have similarly set themselves up as responsible only to history and unbound by ethics or the norms of politics.