The American Spectator, which is a fairly right-wing magazine, asked me and several others to make some recommendations for Christmas reading.
I appreciate their insistence on calling it Christmas rather than holiday reading: no pretense that by “holidays” we mean anything other than Christmas. (Whenever anyone tells me holiday season is the time of love and good cheer, I remind them that Hanukkah celebrates the overthrow of occupying forces and the smiting of enemies. My kind of holiday.)
Given the audience, I thought The American Spectator could use some Babeuf and communism. So I recommended, among other texts, Babeuf’s defense at his conspiracy trial and a sympathetic study of Soviet spy Anthony Blunt.
Here’s what I say about the latter:
The other book is Miranda Carter’s Anthony Blunt: His Lives. Ever since he was exposed as a Soviet spy in 1979, Blunt has been the subject of speculation and scrutiny. So great are the contradictions of his story that it almost writes itself. A Communist whose friends were killed in the Spanish Civil War was also the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. An art historian whose job it was to detect the fake and the fraud was himself a fake and a fraud. The cool appraiser of classicism was the hot lover of mystery and intrigue. But where most commentators have taken their lead from George Steiner, who found in Blunt an almost arctic inhumanity, Carter offers a warmer, if more depressing, picture. Among friends and colleagues, Blunt was supportive and caring; in the tutorial, he was passionate and engaged. It was this cloistered fraternity rather than grand ideology that led him to become a spy. As his star rose in later life, long after he had ceased to work as a spy, he distanced himself from his past and ultimately his inner life. Ironically, it was as an ex-communist that Blunt most resembled the stereotypical Communist.
You can read the whole thing, including my other picks, here.