How Russian History, and Literature, Can Explain Western Sympathy for Hamas

November 17, 2023 | Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro
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In weighing its moves, the Israeli government has little choice but to keep in mind sentiments in the U.S., which are shaped in part by the legions of progressives, many of them Jewish, who sympathize with Hamas. “This phenomenon,” write Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, “is not new.”

Lenin supposedly called people of this sort “useful idiots” and, as the phrase suggests, he had utter contempt for them, especially the liberals of the Kadet (Constitutional Democratic) party. Although they did not themselves practice terrorism, the Kadets apologized for, even applauded, it. . . . No sooner had Lenin seized power than the Bolsheviks proclaimed Kadets “outside the law,” which meant anything could be done to them. Right away two Kadet leaders were murdered in their hospital beds.

In his cycle of novels about the Russian Revolution, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn poses this very question. In one memorable scene, he describes the novel’s hero, Vorotyntsev, at a meeting of the Kadets. “They were all overwhelmingly certain that they were right, yet they needed these exchanges to reinforce their certainty,” he thinks. And despite his better judgment, Vorotyntsev goes along with them as if he were hypnotized—not because he felt he was wrong, but out of fear of saying something reactionary.”

Today, many are unwilling to risk being called “conservative” or worse, not just to avoid the consequences that such a reputation might entail, but so as not to tarnish their sense of self, which is inextricably tied up with being on the progressive side of everything.

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