In this post-historical age, where getting the facts right takes second (maybe third) place to the maintenance of convenient fictions, historian Robert Conquest (1917-2015) is probably best known for his Three Laws of Politics:
1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
Here’s the post I wrote when he died. Conquest was a very important part of my political education, along with other “apostates” like George Orwell, Rebecca West and Arthur Koestler. I have no political “ideology.” Not really. I distrust ideology. I distrust Orthodoxy. I distrust GROUPS. I’m great at parties! If I had a political “ideology” it would be something along the lines of the Hippocratic Oath, I guess. But the one constant in my sparse personal political system is that Man should never be trusted with power. Neither should Woman. Either. Neither should be trusted with power. Ever. I mean, that’s basically it. Let the chips fall where they may, and we will spend our lives making messes and then cleaning them up, but that’s the only place to start. Don’t trust ANYONE with the keys to the castle. No one is immune to corruptibility. And those who present as “incorruptible” are often the WORST. Keep your wits about you. Idolize no one. Distrust anyone who speaks of Utopias, especially political Utopias. Conquest is one of the ones who taught me that.
Greatest regret, from my point of view: an updated version of Conquest’s book The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties did not come out with the title I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. (Conquest didn’t actually suggest that title — old friend Kingsley Amis came up with it — but I’m sure he would have endorsed it.)