There were two very important omissions, it seemed to me, in the exhibition. The first was the profound effect of the First World War. Surely membership of a decimated generation must have had something to do with the extremity of [Paul] Eluard’s and [Louis] Aragon’s hatred of western civilization as expressed in their Surrealist manifesto of 1925, Revolution First and Always:
We want to proclaim our absolute separation, and in a sense our purification from, the ideas that are the basis of European civilization . . . and even of all civilization based upon the intolerable principles of necessity and duty. . . . Everywhere Western civilization reigns all human relations cease except those founded on interest, payment on account. . . . We are the revolt of the mind; we consider bloody Revolution as the ineluctable revenge of the mind humiliated by you [the educated classes who remain patriotic].They subsequently realized that the Soviet Union offered the best hope for the destruction of the civilization that they so hated (although they were honored by and comfortable in it). This perhaps explains Raymond Aron’s observation that faith in the Soviet Union was at its most religiously fervent when the country was at its worst, at its most prolifically murderous; faith began to waver when mass murder declined into everyday pervasive oppression.
The Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris recently held an exhibition entitled “Intelligentsia”, presenting original documents of correspondence demonstrating the relationship between French intellectuals and the Soviet Union. Dalrymple’s review in the New Criterion (subscription required) quotes one exhibited item that relates what many leftist intellectuals today no doubt believe but refuse to say openly: