John Lukacs

This article is about the historian. For the anthropologist, see John R. Lukacs.

John Adalbert Lukacs (born Lukács János Albert on 31 January 1924) is a Hungarian-born American historian who has written more than thirty books, including Five Days in London, May 1940 and A New Republic. He was a professor of history at Chestnut Hill College (where he succeeded Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn) from 1947 to 1994 and held the chair of that history department from 1947 to 1974. He has served as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, Princeton University, La Salle University, Regent College in British Columbia and the University of Budapest, and Hanover College. Lukacs is Roman Catholic. [1] [2] Lukacs describes himself as a reactionary.[3]

Early life

Lukacs was born in Budapest to a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother. His parents divorced before the Second World War. During the war, he was forced to serve in a Hungarian labour battalion for Jews. During the German occupation of Hungary in 1944 and 1945 he evaded deportation to the death camps, and survived the siege of Budapest. In 1946, as it became clear that Hungary was going to be a repressive Communist regime, he fled to the United States. In the early 1950s, however, Lukacs wrote several articles in Commonweal criticizing the approach taken by Senator Joseph McCarthy, described as a vulgar demagogue.[3]


Lukacs sees populism as the greatest threat to civilization. By his own description, he considers himself to be a reactionary. He calls populism the essence of both National Socialism and Communism. He denies that there is such a thing as generic fascism and claimed, for example, that the differences between the political regimes of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were greater than their similarities.[4]

A major theme in Lukacs's writing is his agreement with the assertion by the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville that aristocratic elites have been replaced by democratic elites, which obtain power via an appeal to the masses. In his 2002 book, At the End of an Age, Lukacs argued that the modern/bourgeois age, which began around the time of the Renaissance, is coming to an end.[5] The rise of populism and the decline of elitism is the theme of his experimental work, A Thread of Years (1998), a series of vignettes set in each year of the 20th century from 1900 to 1998, tracing the abandonment of gentlemanly conduct and the rise of vulgarity in American culture. Lukacs defends traditional Western civilization against what he sees as the leveling and debasing effects of mass culture.

By his own admission a dedicated Anglophile, Lukacs’s favorite historical figure is Winston Churchill and considers him to be the greatest statesman of the 20th century and the savior of not only Great Britain but also Western civilization. A recurring theme in his writing is the duel between Churchill and Adolf Hitler for mastery of the world. The struggle between them, whom Lukacs sees as the archetypical reactionary and the archetypical revolutionary, is the major theme of The Last European War (1976), The Duel (1991), Five Days in London (1999) and 2008's Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, a book about Churchill's first major speech as Prime Minister. Lukacs argues that Great Britain (and by extension the British Empire) could not defeat Germany by itself and that winning required the entry of the United States and the Soviet Union, but he contends that Churchill, by ensuring that Germany failed to win the war in 1940, laid the groundwork for an Allied victory.

Lukacs had strong isolationist beliefs, and unusually for an anti-Communist émigré, he had "surprisingly critical views of the Cold War from a unique conservative perspective."[6] Lukacs claims that the Soviet Union was a feeble power on the verge of collapse and contended that the Cold War was an unnecessary waste of American treasure and life. Likewise, Lukacs also condemned the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In his 1997 book, George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944-1946, a collection of letters between Lukacs and his close friend, George F. Kennan, exchanged in 1994-1995, Lukacs and Kennan criticized the New Left claim that the Cold War was caused by the United States. Lukacs argued, however, that Joseph Stalin was largely responsible for the beginning of the Cold War, the administration of Dwight Eisenhower missed a chance for ending the Cold War in 1953 after Stalin's death, which kept it on for many more decades.

The Hitler of History

From around 1977 onwards, Lukacs became one of the leading critics of the British author David Irving, whom Lukacs accused of engaging in unscholarly practices and having neo-Nazi sympathies. In a review of Irving's Hitler's War in 1977, Lukacs commented that as a "right-wing revisionist" who had admired some of Irving's early works, he initially had high hopes for Hitler's War, but found the book to be "appalling".[7] Lukacs commented that Irving had uncritically used personal remembrances by those who knew Hitler to present him in the most favorable light possible.[8] During his review, Lukacs argued that although World War II ended with all of Eastern Europe being left under Soviet domination, a victory that left only half of Europe to Stalin was much better than a defeat that left all of Europe to Hitler.[9]

In part, Lukacs’s 1997 book, The Hitler of History, a prosopography of the historians who have written biographies of Adolf Hitler, is a critique of Irving’s work. Irving in his turn has engaged in what many consider to be anti-Semitic and racist attacks against Lukacs. Because of his Jewish mother, Irving disparagingly refers to him as "a Jewish historian". In letters of 25 October and 28 October 1997 Irving threatened to sue Lukacs for libel if he published his book, The Hitler of History without removing certain passages which were highly critical of Irving's work.[10] The American edition of The Hitler of History was published in 1997 with the passages included, but because of Irving's legal threats, no British edition of The Hitler of History was published until 2001.[10] As a result of the threat of legal action by Irving under British libel laws, when the British edition was finally published, the passages containing the criticism of Irving's historical methods were expunged by the publisher.[11][12]

In The Hitler of History, inspired by the example of Pieter Geyl's book, Napoleon For and Against, Lukacs examines the state of Hitler scholarship and offers his own observations about Hitler. In Lukacs's view, Hitler was a racist, nationalist, revolutionary, and populist.[13] Lukacs criticizes Marxist and liberal historians who claim that the German working class were strongly anti-Nazi and argues that the exact opposite was the case. Each chapter of The Hitler of History is devoted to a particular topic, such as whether Hitler was a reactionary or revolutionary, a nationalist or a racist, and he examines the roots of Hitler's ideology. Lukacs denies that Hitler developed a belief in racial purity in Vienna, under the Habsburg monarchy. Instead, Lukacs dates Hitler's turn to anti-Semitism to 1919 in Munich, in particular to the events surrounding the Bavarian Soviet Republic and its defeat by the right-wing Freikorps. Much influenced by Rainer Zitelmann's work, Lukacs describes Hitler as a self-conscious, modernizing revolutionary. Citing the critique of National Socialism developed by German conservative historians such as Hans Rothfels and Gerhard Ritter, Lukacs describes the Nazi movement as the culmination of the dark forces which lurk within modern civilization.

In Lukacs’s view, Operation Barbarossa was not inspired by anti-Communism or any long-term plan to conquer the Soviet Union, as suggested by historians such as Andreas Hillgruber, who claims that Hitler had a stufenplan (stage-by-stage plan), but it was rather an ad hoc reaction forced on Hitler in 1940-41 by Britain’s refusal to surrender.[14] Lukacs argues that the reason Hitler gave for the invasion of Russia was the real one. He claimed that Britain would not surrender because Churchill held out the hope that the Soviet Union might enter the war on the Allied side and so Germany had to eliminate that hope; other historians, however, have argued that the reason was just a pretext.[15] For Lukacs, Operation Barbarossa was as much anti-British as it was anti-Soviet. He argues that Hitler's statement to the League of Nations High Commissioner for Danzig, the Swiss diplomat Carl Jacob Burckhardt, in August 1939, "Everything I undertake is directed against Russia," which Hillgruber cited as evidence of Hitler's anti-Soviet intentions, was part of an effort to intimidate Britain and France into abandoning Poland.[16] Lukacs takes issue with Hillgruber's claim that the war against Britain was of "secondary" importance to Hitler compared to the war against the Soviet Union.[17] Lukacs has also been one of the leading critics of Viktor Suvorov, who has argued that Barbarossa was a "preventative war" forced upon Germany by Joseph Stalin who, Suvorov claims, was planning to attack Germany later in the summer of 1941.

Later work

In his 2005 book, Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, Lukacs writes about the current state of American democracy. He warns that the populism he perceives as ascendant in the U.S. renders it vulnerable to demagoguery. He claims that a transformation from liberal democracy to populism can be seen in the replacement of knowledge and history with propaganda and infotainment. In the same book, Lukacs criticizes legalized abortion, pornography, cloning, and sexual permissiveness, as marking what he sees as the increasing decadence, depravity, corruption and amorality of modern American society.[3]

More recently, he has written June 1941: Hitler and Stalin (2006), a study of the two leaders with a focus on the events leading up to Operation Barbarossa. In 2007, Lukacs published George Kennan: A Study of Character, a biography of his good friend George F. Kennan, based on privileged access to Kennan's private papers. His book Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat (2008) is a continuation of a series of books Lukacs has written on what he regards as the greatness of Churchill. Last Rites (2009) continues the "auto-history" he published in Confessions of an Original Sinner (1990). His latest work, The Future of History, was released on April 26, 2011.

In A Short History of the Twentieth Century (2013), Lukacs attempts to challenge the idea (common to both professional historians and International Relations experts) that the Cold War presented a bipolar system or a major strategic rivalry or conflict, instead arguing that the twentieth century was one of American dominance. Citing the biographical example of Hitler, as well as left and right wing populism in the United States, Lukacs also argues in the book that populism was the most destructive force of the twentieth century and attempts to disentangle the concept of populism from its frequent (though, Lukacs argues, inaccurate) conflation with the inherent stances of left-wing politics.


See also


  3. 1 2 3 Heer, Jeet (March 2005). "The Anti-Populist - Traditionalist historian John Lukacs laments the direction of conservatism in America". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-08-04. Archived May 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. Lukacs, John The Hitler of History New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 page 118
  5. Lukacs, John At the End of An Age Yale University Press, 2003 page 3
  6. Stromberg, Joseph (2005-02-07) An Anti-Imperialist's Reading List: Part Two,
  7. Lukacs, John "Caveat Lector" pages 946-950 from National Review, Volume XXIX, Issue # 32, August 19, 1977, pages 946-947
  8. Lukacs, John "Caveat Lector" pages 946-950 from National Review, Volume XXIX, Issue # 32, August 19, 1977, page 946
  9. Lukacs, John "Caveat Lector" pages 946-950 from National Review, Volume XXIX, Issue # 32, August 19, 1977, pages 949-950
  10. 1 2 Evans, Richard J (2001). Lying About Hitler. p. 27.
  11. Adams, Tim (24 February 2002). "Memories are made of this". Observer. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  12. Lipstadt, Deborah (2007). "Search: 2007-01-01 to 2008-01-01". Deborah Lipstadt's Blog. Blogspot. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  13. Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 218-219
  14. Lukacs, John The Hitler of History New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 133 & 149-150
  15. Lukacs, John The Hitler of History New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 149-151
  16. Lukacs (1997), p.147.
  17. Lukacs (1997), p. 149.




Lukacs reviewed

Lukacs interviewed

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