Robert Conquest, 1917-2015

Another great historian has passed. The Telegraph:

Robert Conquest, the writer on Soviet Russia who has died aged 98, was a polemicist and a serious, published poet; but above all he was an historian, one of the outstanding scholars of his time, whose books did as much as any other man’s to alter our view of the communist experience.

Conquest personified the truth that there was no anti-communist so dedicated as an ex-communist. His career illustrated also what the Italian writer Ignazio Silone, another former communist, meant when he said to the communist leader Palmiro Togliatti that “the final battle” of the 20th century would have to be fought between the two sides they represented.

An ardent Bolshevik as a young man, Conquest became a bitter foe of Soviet “Socialism”. He had first visited Russia in 1937 as a youthful devotee of the great experiment. It was a half century before he returned in 1989, having spent his life between chronicling the horrors the country had endured, and emerging, in the view of the Oxford historian Mark Almond, as “one of the few Western heroes of the collapse of Soviet Communism”. “He was Solzhenitsyn before Solzhenitsyn,” said Timothy Garton Ash.

Of his many works on the subject, perhaps the most important was The Great Terror, published in 1968 and detailing the full enormity of what Stalin had done to the Russian people in the 1930s and 1940s. The Mexican writer Octavio Paz paid the most succinct tribute to this book when he said in 1972 that The Great Terror had “closed the debate” about Stalinism.

Peter Gay, 1923-2015

From the New York Times:

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Peter Gay, Historian Who Explored Social History of Ideas, Dies at 91

MAY 12, 2015

Peter Gay, a German-born historian whose sense of intellectual adventure led him to write groundbreaking books on the Enlightenment, the Victorian middle classes, Sigmund Freud, Weimar culture and the cultural situation of Jews in Germany, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his stepdaughter Elizabeth Glazer.

Mr. Gay, a refugee from Nazi Germany, devoted his career to exploring the social history of ideas, a quest that took him far from his original area of specialization, Voltaire and the Enlightenment. “He is one of the major American historians of European thought, period,” said Sander L. Gilman, a cultural and literary historian at Emory University.

It was his work on the 18th century that sealed Mr. Gay’s reputation as one of the pre-eminent historians of his generation. “Voltaire’s Politics,” published in 1959, was followed by “The Enlightenment: An Interpretation,” a monumental two-part study whose first volume, subtitled “The Rise of Modern Paganism,” won the National Book Award in 1967. The second volume, subtitled “The Science of Freedom,” was published in 1969.

“That is the last great work to provide a synthetic account of the philosophes and their world,” said Margaret Jacob, a professor of history at U.C.L.A. “It was canonical. He just had an encyclopedic grasp of the subject.”

A longstanding interest in Freud’s ideas led Mr. Gay to train at the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis and motivated him to write a revisionist psychohistory of the Victorian middle classes, “The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud,” whose five volumes were published in the 1980s. He also wrote the acclaimed “Sigmund Freud: A Life for Our Time” (1988), the first substantial Freud biography since Ernest Jones’s three-volume one in the 1950s.

Freud and Mr. Gay were both assimilated, nonreligious Jews nourished by and trapped in a Germanic culture whose anti-Semitic undercurrents gathered strength around them. Their shared predicament provoked some of Mr. Gay’s most personal and anguished historical writing, notably the essays in “Freud, Jews and Other Germans” (1978) and the autobiographical “My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin” (1998).

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More at the link.