Book Reviews

What Maisky Knew

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In the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. This fine volume covers the personal writings of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom during the critical period of 1932 to 1943. Here’s a bit of my judgment of the man:

In the 1930s, British foreign policy was still a matter of balancing the continental powers, particularly France and Germany; and if we avoid the arrogance that hindsight can bring, we should also remember that Neville Chamberlain genuinely thought he was securing a course for peace in Europe. Britain knew how weak its armed forces were—its army, especially—and this knowledge, as Lloyd George told Maisky, was doubtless a factor in Chamberlain’s “deal” with Hitler at Munich.

Maisky, however, had nothing but contempt for such calculations, coming across at certain times here as a kind of thirties neoconservative. Indeed, it’s hard at times to discern that Maisky was a Communist at all, or that he represented a brutal, totalitarian government. His comportment in these pages is measured; his language free of cant. Even his looks—the well-fed, portly body, the kindly eyes, the authentic smile—will strike the reader as very different from the dour, self-defensive faces of that era’s most prominent Soviets.

Read the whole thing here.

FDR, Warts and All

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At The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed an excellent new biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the historian Alonzo Hamby. Ultimately I admire Roosevelt but can’t get past my first impression of him as a power-hungry chief executive:

Of course, the best populists are usually elitists who possess both the means and self-regard to speak for the people. Born into a patrician New York family, FDR was convinced of his own righteousness and felt entitled to exercise it over others, displaying all the qualities of someone who recognized no limit to translating his outsized will into political power.

The review is available in the March 7 issue. Read the whole piece here.

Free to Choose?

In my latest piece for The Weekly Standard, I review David Boaz’s book The Libertarian Mind, which, though brilliant and well written, unintentionally reveals why libertarianism does not command broader support:

Arguing that libertarianism has become increasingly popular, Boaz cites the declining support for central economic planning. He does not acknowledge (or, perhaps, does not realize) that socialism has pivoted from economics to culture. Most radical leftists these days don’t care about nationalizing heavy industry; they are concerned mainly with putting traditional Western culture through a kind of Maoist struggle session. Since the libertarian theory of freedom is highly rationalist, based on axioms and syllogisms, its proponents are at a disadvantage against such irrational and illogical attacks.

That’s why culture, often deftly avoided by free market thinkers, is so important to sustaining political liberty. Libertarians ignore just how much their philosophy derives from (and depends on) Western culture; thus they ignore how shifts in that culture affect the reception and survival of libertarian ideas. They tend to think that since libertarianism is logical and internally consistent, everyone will eventually accept it​—​a very Whiggish, and very dangerous, belief.

Read the whole thing here.

Winston Churchill and the British Empire: A Love Affair

Over at The Weekly Standard, I have written a review of Lawrence James’s brilliant new biography of Winston Churchill, bluntly entitled Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist. The book examines Churchill’s relationship with the British Empire—a passion that drove his fierce patriotism and tenacity in the face of global threats. But as the sun finally set on the Empire, so it set on Churchill. (more…)