I am not sure what the purpose of Christopher Hitchens latest piece on Arthur Koestler is. Is it indicative of his own future change in course? Or (more likely) it is just another missive that he has fired against his past intellectual and political creed.Though in this article he (brilliantly) summarizes Darkness at Noon, the key point is really the intellectual restlessness of Koestler and his final betrayal of his adopted causes.
For the rest of his life, Koestler swung between various forms of rationalism and pseudo-science. He was one of those people who is so intelligent and polymathic—and, one suspects, so easily bored—that no topic could detain him for long….but he also wrote a book on the Khazars, in which he favored the theory that many Jews originate from the conversion to Judaism of this now-lost population on the frontiers of Persia and Armenia. If anthropologically valid, this would mean that they had no ancestral connection with historic Palestine. (I remember a communist enemy of Koestler’s pointing this out with some bitterness, saying that he had yet again adopted a cause only to betray it …)
As Hitchens points out, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is the epitome of his career, it has always surprised me that the novel was written in 1940 at all, only Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes published in February 1917 surpasses it in its near prophetic vision.
Indeed, Koestler captured the dilemma of the 20th century left wing intellectual with clinical accuracy.
Thus mused Rubashov, the Bukharin like central character awaiting a certain death in a GPU prison in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon:
“All our principles were right, but our results were wrong. This is a diseased century. We diagnosed the disease and its causes with microscopic exactness, but whenever we applied the healing knife a new sore appeared…We brought you the truth, and in our mouth it sounded like a lie. We brought you freedom and it looks in our hands like a whip…we brought you the future, but our tongue stammered and barked”.