Share

John Lukacs, iconoclastic historian, dead at 95

Share

NEW YORK (AP) — John Lukacs, the Hungarian-born historian and iconoclast who brooded over the future of Western civilization, wrote a best-selling tribute to Winston Churchill, and produced a substantial and often despairing body of writings on the politics and culture of Europe and the United States, has died.

Lukacs died of heart failure early Monday at his home in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, according to his stepson, Charles Segal. He was 95 and had lived in Phoenixville since the 1950s.

A proud and old-fashioned man with an eminent forehead, cosmopolitan accent, and erudite but personal prose style, Lukacs was a maverick among historians. In a profession where liberals were a clear majority, he was sharply critical of the left and of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. But he was also unhappy with the modern conservative movement, opposing the Iraq war, mocking hydrogen bomb developer Edward Teller as the “Zsa Zsa Gabor of physics” and disliking the “puerile” tradition, apparently started by Ronald Reagan, of presidents returning military salutes from the armed forces.

“John Lukacs is well known not so much for speaking truth to power as speaking truth to audiences he senses have settled into safe and unexamined opinions,” John Willson wrote in The American Conservative in 2013. “This has earned him, among friends and critics alike, a somewhat curmudgeonly reputation.”

Lukacs completed more than 30 books, on everything from his native country to 20th century American history to the meaning of history itself. His books include “Five Days in London,” the memoir “Confessions of an Original Sinner,” and “Historical Consciousness,” in which he contended that the best way to study any subject, whether science or politics, was through its history.

Trending:
The Results of a Critical Election Recount Were Just Announced

He considered himself a “reactionary,” a mourner for the “civilization and culture of the past 500 years, European and Western.” He saw decline in the worship of technological progress, the elevation of science to religion, and the rise of materialism. Drawing openly upon Alexis de Tocqueville’s warnings about a “tyranny of the majority,” Lukacs was especially wary of populism and was quoted by other historians as Donald Trump rose to the presidency. Lukacs feared that the public was too easily manipulated into committing terrible crimes.

“The kind of populist nationalism that Hitler incarnated has been and continues to be the most deadly of modern plagues,” he once wrote.

He belonged to few academic or political organizations and was unafraid to challenge his peers, whether Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Hannah Arendt or British historian David Irving. In “The Hitler of History,” published in 1997, Lukacs alleged that Irving was sympathetic to the Nazis, leading to threats of legal action from Irving and the removal of passages from the book in England. In recent years, Irving has been widely condemned because of his ties to Holocaust deniers.

Hitler and Stalin were Lukacs’ prime villains, Churchill his hero. Lukacs wrote several short works on Churchill’s leadership during World War II, focusing on his defiant “Blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech as the Nazis were threatening England in May 1940. Lukacs wrote that the speech was at first not well received and that instead of having a unified country behind him, Churchill had to fight members of his own cabinet who wanted to make peace with the Nazis.

“If at that time a British government had signaled as much as a cautious inclination to explore a negotiation with Hitler, amounting to a willingness to ascertain his possible terms, that would have been the first step onto a Slippery Slope from which there could be no retreat,” Lukacs wrote in “Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian,” published in 2002. “But Churchill did not let go; and he had his way.”

One Churchill book attained unexpected popularity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Rudolph Giuliani, then New York City’s mayor, held up a copy of Lukacs’ “Five Days in London,” declared he had been reading it and likened New Yorkers to the citizens of London.

Quietly published in 2000, the book jumped into the top 100 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. But Lukacs was not entirely grateful. He noted that “Five Days in London” had little to say about how Londoners endured the Nazi assault, and he rejected comparisons between London in 1940 and New York City in 2001.

“The situation was totally different,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. “As a matter of fact, it was much worse in England.”

More recently, “Five Days in London” was widely cited as a source for “Darkest Hour,” the 2017 film starring Gary Oldman in an Oscar-winning performance as Churchill.

Related:
Officials Reveal Andrew Cuomo Is Currently Under Federal Investigation

The historian was born Lukacs Janos Albert in Budapest. Lukacs had a Catholic father and Jewish mother, making him technically a Jew, although he was a practicing Catholic for much of his life. For the Nazis, who occupied Hungary in 1944, being half a Jew was enough to be sent to a labor camp.

By the end of 1944, he was a deserter from the Hungarian army labor battalion, hiding in a cellar, awaiting liberation by Russian troops. Within months of living under Soviet control, he fled the country on a “dirty, broken-down train” to Austria. In 1946, he arrived by ship in Portland, Maine, his youthful affinity for communism shattered.

Lukacs was a visiting professor at Princeton University, Columbia University and other prominent schools, but spent much of his career on the faculty of the lesser-known Chestnut Hill College, a Catholic school (all girls until 2003) in Philadelphia where he taught from 1946-1994. He was married three times (his first two wives died) and had two children.

A pessimist by definition, he often expressed personal contentment. He wrote warmly about his enjoyment of romance, friendship, books, teaching and the rural life, the “pleasure of fresh mornings, driving alone on country roads, smoking my matutinal cigar, mentally planning the contents of my coming lecture whose sequence and organization are falling wonderfully into place, crystallizing in sparks of sunlight.”

“Because of the goodness of God,” he concluded in his memoir, “I have had a happy unhappy life, which is preferable to an unhappy happy one.”

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →



We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

Tags:
Share
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
Location
New York City




Conversation

The Western Journal is pleased to bring back comments to our articles! Due to threatened de-monetization by Big Tech, we had temporarily removed comments, but we have now implemented a solution to bring back the conversation that Big Tech doesn't want you to have. If you have any problems using the new commenting platform, please contact customer support at commenting-help@insticator.com. Welcome back!