As a student of Marxism and historian of ideas, as an original thinker and a writer of exceptional brilliance, George Lichtheim, who died in April of this year, first came to the attention of general readers with the publication of Marxism in 1961. Previously, he had been known to a limited intellectual circle in the United States as a first-rate political journalist and the author of numerous articles—erudite, witty, often splenetic—on a variety of subjects. In England only a very few had heard of him; he belonged neither to the political-cultural establishment nor to any of the anti-establishment cliques, and he had—wisely, as students held no real interest for him and he was not an outstanding speaker—resisted attempts to draw him into the academic world. Up until the very end it was difficult to place him. Was he a gifted dilettante or a thinker of major importance? Where did he belong politically? His writings, though lucid, were of great complexity, and defied usual categories; though they abounded in ideas and forcefully stated opinions, they held no single message. For this reason, and because he did not identify with any organized political movement, George Lichtheim never achieved the kind of vogue that came the way of a number of political thinkers in the 50's and 60's, despite the fact that he was intellectually superior to almost all of them.
George's encyclopedic knowledge, his deep powers of intellect, his phenomenal memory and total independence of judgment, above all the rare gift of synthesis which he possessed, should have led him to write a large, fundamental work analyzing the basic political and cultural trends of our time. But he shied away from this task, for which he was uniquely equipped, except, indirectly, in his last book, Europe in the Twentieth Century, written in a few months at a time of great personal stress. For all his intellectual arrogance, George was too modest in appraising his own talents. He considered himself a “mere” historian of ideas, and in his very last letter to a friend he wrote that he would probably be remembered as a popularizer. Like his accomplishments, his abilities were greater than he himself knew.
George Lichtheim was born in Berlin in 1912 of a well-to-do and thoroughly assimilated Jewish family that hailed from Eastern Prussia (in later years he signed letters to close friends “Regiomontanus”—Königsberger). He was named George after his grandfather, a highly successful businessman who had himself had no Jewish education. The style of the Berlin Jewish haute bourgeoisie in those early years of the century differed little from that of their non-Jewish neighbors—they kept horses, lived in big, comfortable houses, summered at seaside resorts on the Baltic coast or at Kronberg in Taunus. Richard Lichtheim, George's father, noted in his autobiography that until the age of twenty he never met anyone who observed the Jewish ritual laws. Neither did he encounter manifestations of anti-Semitism at school (before World War I anti-Jewish activity in Germany was restricted to the political fringe, whereas in France, for example, it occupied a place close to the center).
Yet even though he was himself remote from things Jewish, Richard Lichtheim found something radically wrong with the reaction of his fellow Jews to the prevailing attitudes toward them in German society. They were tolerated but not fully accepted, and the fact that they acquiesced in this state of affairs reflected adversely on their pride, their self-esteem. Full assimilation was not impossible, Richard believed, but the price being demanded was too high. And so Richard Lichtheim became one of the first German Zionists of the post-assimilatory variety, a Zionist who had virtually no ties to speak of with Judaism.
When George Lichtheim senior died in 1909, leaving his children financially independent, Richard, who was just about to conclude his studies, instead went to work full time for the World Zionist Organization. In 1910 he traveled to Palestine, and in 1911 undertook a mission to Constantinople. In the house of a local Ashkenazi Jewish family there he met Irene Hafter, a young lady of striking beauty; they fell in love, became engaged, and were married the same year. (Irene's father had fought in Garibaldi's army; on the groom's side was Johann Jacoby, the stormy petrel of the far Left of German liberalism: radical democracy was part of the family tradition to which George Lichtheim fell heir.) The young couple—Richard was twenty-six when he first became a Zionist diplomat—settled in Berlin where George was born in 1912. Richard at the time was editor of Die Welt, the central organ of the World Zionist Organization. In 1913 he returned to Constantinople, this time for four years; the Turkish capital was then the center of Zionist politics. Owing to his connections with the German foreign ministry, Richard Lichtheim was able to play a role in the history of Jewish Palestine which until recently has not been fully recognized. It was his intervention that helped pressure the Turkish authorities to cease expelling Jews from Palestine after the outbreak of the war; but for him and a few of his colleagues there would have been no Jews left in Palestine by 1917 and the Balfour Declaration might have remained a dead letter. Richard returned to Berlin in 1917, and the family took an apartment in the Lietzenburger Strasse, Olivaer Platz, a few yards from the Kurfuerstendamm. George once told me that one of his earliest “political” recollections was watching the return of the defeated Imperial army in 1918.
Immediately after the end of the war the Lichtheims decided to emigrate to Palestine, and Richard moved to Holland on the assumption that it would be easier to obtain an immigration permit from a neutral country. From Amsterdam he was recalled by Chaim Weizmann to join the Zionist executive in London. For the next two years George went to school in Hampstead, where he excelled, mirabile dictu, in athletics; those who knew him in his London school days remember him as an exceedingly well-behaved boy. But Berlin, where the Lichtheims returned in 1923, was imcomparably more exciting than London and the next ten years, of high school and university, were the really formative ones in his life. These too were the golden years of the Weimar Republic, the “second Periclean age,” with Berlin serving as the center of the avant-garde world, the spearhead of everything new and exciting, the capital of the modern theater and the cinema, of neo-Marxist thought and of psychoanalysis. Historians have called this period a false blossoming, a dance on the rim of a volcano, but contemporaries saw it differently, at least before 1930 when the Nazis emerged as the second largest party in the country.
It was in these surroundings that George grew up; unlike many youngsters his age he did not belong to a youth movement—not for him the summer camps, the communal activities, all the neo-Romantic trappings and mystique of youth. Instead he moved in a circle of close acquaintances consisting mostly of his own classmates and those of his sister and the sons and daughters of family friends. Relations with his father were good though perhaps not very close: intellectually they were even then poles apart—Richard was a Kantian (of the Fries-Nelson school), George an almost fanatical Hegelian; where the father was, if anything, anti-socialist, the son had been converted to Marxism at an early age. Yet the two respected each other. George envied his father his outgoing, extrovert personality, his self-confidence; Richard recognized early on the intellectual stature of his son, and saw too that he would not have an easy life. With his mother things were a little more complicated. Moody, afflicted with a variety of minor diseases, Irene led a withdrawn life; she seldom went out, preferring the semi-darkness of her bedroom, where she read French novels, to the active social life her husband liked to lead. When George enrolled at Heidelberg in 1932 she joined him there—unusual behavior as far as George's fellow students were concerned.
Those who attended high school and university with George recall him as strikingly good-looking, with a dreamy look, and also as immensely well read, a master of German style (his great model was Heine). Already he exhibited the first signs of that Weltschmerz which marked his later years, the tendency to introspection and biting irony. He had no close friends; he once said that a glass wall separated him from other people. A pattern of unhappy and inconclusive love affairs characterized his youth, as it would his entire life.
He became a Marxist as a result of his own reading and long conversations with Boris Goldenberg—a friend of the family and an erstwhile leader of the Communist student organization who left the party in the late 20's. Then, during his year at Heidelberg, Richard Lowenthal exerted considerable influence on him. George at this time belonged to the periphery of the SAP, a left-wing group that had split away from the Social Democrats in the early 30's (like most of the small independent groups of the Left it consisted largely of Jews). For the Social Democrats, utterly lacking in style, dynamism, or an instinct for power, George and his friends had nothing but icy contempt; it seemed useless even to bother criticizing them. The SAP directed its polemical energies instead at the Communists, who despite their suicidal line and Stalin's reactionary policy were not yet thought to be beyond redemption.
George read Marx assiduously, including the early writings which had just been discovered; he also studied Georg Lukács and Karl Korsch at this time; and there was one young ex-Marxist writer of great originality, Franz Borkenau, in whom he saw a kindred spirit. Borkenau was a genius of sorts, a man of deep insight and erudition; though he was frequently mistaken in his political analyses and prognostications, one could profit from his mistakes rather more than from the incontrovertible findings of pedestrian thinkers. In the preface to Marxism George acknowledged his debt to this “argonaut of the spirit.” Aside from Gershom Scholem, and to a certain extent in his last years the German philosopher Juergen Habermas, Borkenau was the only one whom George ever acknowledged as his master—this, despite the fact that Borkenau became an outspoken anti-Marxist in later life.
When George went to Heidelberg in April 1932 at the age of twenty it was in order to study law, a subject which turned out to be not of the slightest interest to him. Nor did he devote a great deal of time to politics, limiting his activity to discussion meetings and, on one or two occasions, distributing SAP leaflets in nearby villages. He would get up late, attend a lecture or look up a book in the Institute of Social Sciences, have lunch at the Heberlein restaurant in the Schlossgraben, and proceed from there to the Kafesoe, a coffee-house in which foreign papers were available. Already a man of firm habit, George could not live without the Manchester Guardian, at that time one of the world's great newspapers. Life was conducted at a leisurely pace during this idyll before the storm. Then in July 1932 von Papen deposed the Social Democratic government in Prussia. George told a friend that this marked the beginning of fascism in Germany, but neither he nor the handful of German-Jewish students who were his comrades could do anything about the situation but wait. In January 1933 the Nazis came to power and he and his friends left the German universities.
The two semesters at Heidelberg were the beginning and the end of George's higher education. From Germany he proceeded to London where he found work as a floorwalker in the Oxford-Orchard Street branch of Marks & Spencer, the famous department-store chain; his principal assignment was dispensing change to the salesgirls. George stayed at this job for about six months. Kilburn, where he lived, was a fairly dismal neighborhood; although his position was neither better nor worse than the usual lot of a new immigrant, it could hardly be called congenial to his talents. He went to movies frequently and became a Greta Garbo fan. (The cold beauty of the Swedish film star may have reminded him of his great unrequited love from Berlin days, a Russian girl with an aura of mystery who had now disappeared from his life altogether.)
I am not certain whether George was fired by Marks & Spencer or whether he left of his own accord, but his stay in London came to an abrupt end in the summer of 1934, when he left for Palestine. In some respects this was an anticlimactic move, a transition from the political center of the Western world to a semi-civilized backwater in which Europe and European culture seemed light years away. Palestine was a strange, unfamiliar country to George, with its mix of British colonial administrators, Arabs, and an East European Jewish establishment with which he had nothing in common. George had never been a “good Jew,” he considered the Zionist idea of an “ingathering of exiles” crazy, and while he had every sympathy for the Jewish settlers, and later for the Jewish state, he remained firmly convinced that everyone would have been much better off without Zionism's antiquated ideology: according to his Marxist convictions the age of small nations and states was very nearly over.
Yet with all these reservations, and despite the difficulties of acculturation—George never learned Hebrew properly, though his Hebrew was not as bad as he pretended—Jerusalem in the 30's had its compensations. The neighborhood of Rehavia, where he lived, was what sociologists call a face-to-face community, and George became part of it. After a false start in business, for which he had no aptitude, he joined the staff of the Palestine Post in 1935; eventually he became its foreign editor. For the first time in his life he was earning his living at a job which provided some satisfaction, even though he began grumbling early on about the limited scope provided by a small-town newspaper. The Palestine Post was actually not a bad newspaper at all; in fact it was (and, as the Jerusalem Post, still is) the best English-language paper between Paris and Calcutta. Gershon Agronsky, the paper's founder, not a great writer himself but a brilliant editor, had the insight to recognize the outstanding ability of this awkward and aggressive young man, and the faith both to hire him and then to keep him on despite his frequently outrageous behavior.
His colleagues called him “Poor George,” in view of his unchanging pessimism. George was convinced, and so wrote, that the British policy of appeasement would be continued indefinitely, that Hitler would occupy Poland without a shot, and that the invasion of Britain was imminent and would likely succeed. At the same time he was quite certain that Hitler would lose the ensuing war. In general, on short-term political trends George was not a reliable prophet, while on long-term developments he was seldom totally wrong.1 In those days, the analyses of world politics he wrote for the Palestine Post (under various pennames like “Proteus” or “European”), though undeniably brilliant, sometimes erred on the side of rationality; for the imponderables of politics, both national and international, he would acquire a feeling only in later years.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out George felt morally committed to join the Republican forces; the fact that he did not bothered him long afterward. He had no such qualms of conscience about World War II, however, perhaps having formed a more realistic assessment of his own potential contribution to the war effort. His military training was limited to a four-day course at Neve Ya'akov arranged by the Haganah about the time of the El Alamein campaign; there, along with other members of the Jerusalem intelligentsia, he was taught how to shoot and throw a hand grenade. But Gershon Agronsky had decided that George's place during the war was in the editorial offices of the Palestine Post, and so it was to be.
During his Jerusalem years George led a relatively normal life, much in contrast to the years before and after. He had a circle of friends and acquaintances from Berlin and London—Lea Ben Dor, T. R. Fyvel, Boris Goldenberg, and others. His parents had moved to Jerusalem (in 1939 his father would leave again to take over the Geneva office of the Jewish Agency, from where he was one of the first to transmit, in November 1942, news of the “Final Solution”). Through the philosopher Hans Jonas, whom he had known in London, George came in contact with a group of scholars, all a bit older than himself, who provided company, intellectual stimulation, and the education he had missed receiving in Germany. For several years, every Saturday afternoon, a group known as “Pilegesh” (Hebrew for concubine) met for tea and cake in George's little rooftop apartment in Radak Street, opposite the Italian consulate. In addition to George, “Pilegesh” consisted of the Orientalist H. J. Polotski, Hans Jonas, Hans Lewy (a classicist who died in 1945), the physicist and historian of science Shmuel Samburski, Gershom Scholem, and occasional visitors. Originally the circle had met in Hans Lewy's apartment and had included women, but as one by one the members got married the group became exclusively male in constitution. The conversation ranged from metaphysics to analyses of the latest reports from the Russian front. Members of the group were fond of writing poems in German, in the style of Goethe, Schiller, or Heine, in honor of a friend's birthday or some other important event.
A great deal could be written about this remarkable group of intellectuals, their quarrels, the inspiration they provided one another. But what is of importance here is that they and their wives provided a kind of home for George Lichtheim and made for a certain stability in his life. Twice a week he went to the movies with a girl friend, followed by dinner at Hesse's, the leading Jerusalem restaurant. Several times a week he saw his analyst, a gentleman of great erudition in philosophy and other fields; much in contravention of Freudian orthodoxy, their dialogue ranged over a wide spectrum of intellectual topics. At this period too George translated Scholem's magnum opus, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, into English, and, prodded by Hans Jonas, pursued his philosophical studies. For a while he also undertook to learn Arabic and Russian with Polotski, but did not acquire much proficiency; he could recite the beginning line of Tatiana's letter to Yevgeni Onegin and a smattering of kitchen Arabic (“this sausage is tasty”). George kept in touch with most of his Jerusalem friends up to the end of his life; these, he often said, were his happiest years.
As the war drew to its close George decided to leave Palestine—whether for a year or five or forever was not clear to him at the time. He once told me that the subsequent decision to settle permanently in London rather than Germany came to him one day in the middle of the war as he was reading an article by Martin Buber, of all people, in the waiting-room of a Jerusalem physician. In autumn 1945 he went to cover the Nuremberg trials for the Palestine Post. This was followed by an extended visit to Europe in the course of which it became clear to Gershon Agronsky that George would not return; albeit with a heavy heart, Agronsky decided to keep him on as European correspondent. George traveled in Austria and Italy, then moved on to France where he wrote about de Gaulle (whom he greatly admired) and the French literary scene. All in all, he saw a Europe in ruins but full of life; “the West is not barren of ideas,” he wrote at a time when it was fashionable to proclaim the impending demise of European civilization.
But above all George was fascinated by Britain, and in 1946, at the age of thirty-four, he settled in London for the third time in his life. He wrote that the British Labour government was suffering from “overwork and mediocrity,” and correctly predicted “critical times till 1950.” In 1954 he saw reason for cautious optimism: new realism had prevailed, and “John Bull had lost a lot of fat but acquired bigger brains in the process.” But the Foreign Office's handling of the Suez crisis made him despair of British statesmanship; a series of scathing articles on Anthony Eden (“he strangled himself with the old school tie—this confirmed his reputation for statesmanship”) provoked a reaction from the Foreign Office, through the British embassy in Tel Aviv, in the form of vague threats of expulsion. (The Foreign Office was apparently not aware that George had in the meantime acquired British citizenship.) Yet his infatuation with Britain withstood his outrage and/or cynical despair at British politicians. English Jewry, on the other hand, might as well not have existed for George; he found it inferior in most respects to German, Russian, or American Jewry and to the best of my knowledge in all his years as a correspondent in London he never once commented on it. This non-recognition was mutual: the Anglo-Jewish establishment traditionally has not had much use for intellectuals unless they have been knighted or received the Nobel prize; at George's funeral the Jewish community of his adopted country was not represented.
Scanning his journalistic writings during the postwar decade one is struck in retrospect by the multitude of exceedingly astute comments, and a number of truly astounding foresights: on the emergent character of the cold war, for example, on American foreign policy, and on Soviet policy in the Middle East. At the same time there were the inevitable misjudgments of a political commentator who hardly ever deigned to go to briefings or press conferences but produced think-pieces at home. (Thus, the notion that John Foster Dulles would ever be U.S. Secretary of State seemed fanciful to him, and he once cabled his paper that Britain would not intervene at Suez, a position he maintained right up to the moment British troops were landed.) From a strictly professional point of view, George qua foreign journalist was the bane of all his editors; he never kept copies of his cables or articles and attempts to query a specific statement were fruitless. He made up for this, and more, by maintaining in his work the highest possible standards of intellectual rigor and cogency, and by his unique combination of corrosive wit, skepticism, and the irrepressible delight he took in the powers of the critical intelligence to explain and interpret the behavior of men in society.
Early on during his stay in London George (often using the pseudonym, G. L. Arnold) began to publish articles and criticism in British and American periodicals—the Nineteenth Century and After, the Cambridge Journal, and on the other side of the Atlantic in COMMENTARY, Partisan Review, and the New Leader. He became a member of the editorial committee of the Nineteenth (later the Twentieth) Century and for a while its chief editor; his association with COMMENTARY led in later years to a prolonged stay in New York as a member of the editorial staff, and after his return to London to permanent association as a contributing editor.
During the 50's the journalist became an author. He had not yet lost his interest in current affairs, but philosophy, history, and the social sciences came increasingly to preoccupy him. He had read voraciously and more or less systematically in these subjects ever since high school; in conversation he was given to ex cathedra statements which brooked no contradiction. But to write a book seemed a different proposition altogether. In 1943-44 he had composed a work on the politics of the postwar world in which among other things he had predicted the advent to power of the Labour party in Britain, though he attributed to the party a greater degree of farsightedness and determination than it was actually to demonstrate. At the time George Lichtheim was an unknown and a leading British publisher whom he approached showed no interest in the manuscript. This setback discouraged him and it was only ten years later that he began work on another book which was a succès d'estime but not much more. With Marxism in 1961, the transition was achieved from political journalism to historiography and, above all, to the study of the socialist movement which was to occupy him for a decade.
George Lichtheim became the leading historian of socialism of his time. He broke no fresh ground as far as matters of fact were concerned, the field having been well tilled by many capable scholars before him. Rather, his great contribution lay in offering a synthesis which had hitherto been lacking in discussions of socialism either as a political movement or as an ideology that took its place within the general context of 19th and 20th century intellectual history.
His views (which, incidentally, changed surprisingly little in the course of the years) would be impossible to summarize in the framework of a brief essay, nor is the task made any easier by the fact that of all Marxists he was the least orthodox. George was much interested in Marx's theories on primitive, feudal, and Oriental society, and above all he saw Marx as a master economist in the classical tradition and of course the premier analyst of the capitalist mode of production. At the same time, however, he took it as axiomatic that society had moved beyond the stage with the analysis of which Marx had been concerned; also, that Marx had misconstrued the immediate future; and that Marxism's accomplishments were “incompatible with its ultimate aims.” In addition, he harbored deep reservations about historical materialism—partly out of an inclination since his childhood toward hero-worship, partly out of an innate pessimism, and partly out of sheer intellectual honesty: but for Lenin, Communism would not have come into power in Russia; without Hitler, in all probability Nazism would never have prevailed in Germany. A theory which belittled the role of the individual seemed therefore of limited use to a student of history. Furthermore, George's Jerusalem friends had demonstrated in countless conversations that in history the economic base was often of little help in explaining the ideological “superstructure.”
What then attracted George Lichtheim in Marxism? As Eric Hobsbawm has expressed it, Marx's dreams and visions rather than his theories. To be a bit more specific, George was drawn on the one hand to the Promethean element in Marx, the grand vision of man as the center of the universe, the challenging of all established authority, the quest for freedom from economic degradation; on the other hand, he was fascinated by Marx as the philosophical heir of Hegel and as perhaps the greatest of all Victorians, the Marx of sweeping hypotheses and grandiose syntheses proclaimed with absolute certainty. Marx, as George Lichtheim saw him, came at the end of a century which had witnessed changes more profound than had occurred in any previous era. Marx recognized more acutely than his contemporaries the full extent of the transformation, and so he marked the transition to a new age which he him-self in some measure helped to bring on. Marxism was unique because it was both a philosophy and the “theory of a revolutionary movement supposedly able to close the gap between speculative contemplation and empirical practice” (Marxism in Modern France). And even though the movement with which it was associated failed historically to attain its aims, the intellectual breakthrough signalized by Marx's thought was of enduring value. The Leninist revolution in Soviet Russia, an attempt to “overcome” philosophy by “realizing” its aims in practice, failed, but this had the paradoxically beneficial effect of freeing theory from practice, thought from action, and of enabling the independent Marxist to revert to the contemplative disposition which Marx believed he had safely left behind.
Among the movements bearing the label “Marxist,” the Communists had failed because they confused socialism with state ownership, while the European Social Democrats were unsuccessful because they equated socialism with labor reformism and the welfare state. Soviet Communism in George's view was actually closer in inspiration to Blanquism and populism than to Marxism. Populism also manifested itself in an even clearer form in Maoism and other Third-World national-socialist movements. What occurred in these countries was the establishment of a dictatorship by the intelligentsia (or, to be precise, by an elitist avant-garde drawn from the intelligentsia) together with a drive toward modernization in order to insure national survival. Modernization could be carried out equally under fascist, pseudo-socialist, or straightforwardly nationalist regimes. Ideologues of movements of “national liberation” usually identified socialism with nationalism, the proletariat with the peasantry, anti-capitalism with anti-imperialism. George Lichtheim admitted that populism might indeed be suited to the Third World, more so than Marxism, but the idea (as propagated by sections of the New Left) that it could serve as a model for more advanced countries struck him as grotesque: “It is a waste of time to argue with populists, for they are able to hold contradictory beliefs with complete sincerity. In fact, they no longer need a theory, for practice grows out of populist sloganeering just as power is supposed to grow from the barrel of a gun.”
George Lichtheim was totally out of sympathy with the fashionable view of the 60's that a new light was about to shine from the East; like Hegel and Marx, he was a firm believer in the inequality of nations. For countries like India he predicted nothing but catastrophe in the decades to come, just as he thought a nuclear war between Russia and China a distinct possibility ten years hence. As for the United States, however, he was convinced there was a good chance that democratic socialism—though under auspices very different from those in Europe—might prevail in the not-too-distant future, simply because the problems facing America were insoluble under liberal capitalism.
Indeed, despite his generally gloomy assessment of the actual condition of the world's socialist movements, and his derisory condemnation of Communism, George held firmly to his belief in an evolutionary socialism tacitly attuned to the technocratic necessities of the West's new industrial and post-bourgeois age. Technocracy had emerged as the dominant ideology of the post-liberal social order, and the line of division “no longer separates conservatives from socialists, but democrats from technocrats” (Europe in the Twentieth Century). The new socialism, transcending its class origins, would represent the “aspirations of the intelligentsia as well as those of the working class, itself in process of acquiring new skills and higher levels of education and awareness.”
The obstacles on the road to progress were of course formidable. The post-industrial development of automation had given rise to a new hierarchy of functions, the bureaucracy had expanded, new forms of social conflict had come into being. It was more difficult than ever to join egalitarianism to the drive toward higher levels of economic performance: “The prospects of socialism in the classical sense are brightest where economic pressures are negligible and people can envisage an egalitarian way of life on the basis of social ownership of the means of production. In this sense the preconditions of a socialist order do not at present exist anywhere” (Short History of Socialism). This was not, however, to say that socialists were bound to fail, in the manner, say, of liberals, whose system in George's opinion had disintegrated both as a philosophy and as a way of managing the political order. The kind of society envisaged by socialists was not inscribed in the logic of the immediate future, and there was no longer a place for the old faith in automatic progress. Still, skepticism need not necessarily lead to inaction; George ended the introduction to his Imperialism with an invocation of the old motto of the Huguenots: Point n'est besoin d'espoir pour entreprendre, ni de succès pour persévérer (one does not need hope to begin an undertaking, nor success to persevere in it).
This in briefest outline was George's interpretation of the historical fortunes and prospects of Marxism and the socialist movement. He used to describe his approach in later years as close to that of the Frankfurt School of “critical theory.” And he did share certain philosophical tenets of the Frankfurt School, including its Hegelianism and its hostility to positivism, although he found the neo-Marxism of the school's founders outdated. During his last years, politics, even in the broadest sense, began to bore him, and his interest shifted back to philosophy—from Marx, as it were, to Hegel. But he wondered whether there was any point in pursuing philosophical studies since the philosophers had not been notably successful in either interpreting or changing the world. In a long letter written during the last year of his life he provided his own personal answer to this question:
The German philosophers have in fact Europeanized China by way of Hegel and Marx, and considering that there are 800 million Chinese in the world, this circumstance is not without importance. The same, I should say, applies to England's lasting impact on India. It was all done via thinkers like Mill or Marx. . . . Insofar as human history makes sense at all, certain moral and intellectual breakthroughs have made a permanent difference. . . . Profound changes are always brought about by some religious or philosophical genius. Take as an example, if you like, the emancipation of women or the impact of modern psychology on the treatment of children and of sexuality. I say nothing about what really matters to metaphysicians—la condition humaine: the ability to live without a belief in God and immortality, and so forth. Doesn't that concern every one of us? Two years ago I contemplated suicide. . . . If in the end I decided to carry on, that must have something to do with the Kantian attitudes I inherited from my father. . . . In the end, the only things that really count are those with which the poets and the philosophers are concerned: love and life, and the ability to carry on in the teeth of misfortune.
My account of the main phases in George Lichtheim's biography and intellectual development can offer only the background of a fruitful and not-too-happy life. The genius of a major novelist or biographer would be required to capture faithfully all the qualities that made this complex personality so unique—his rudeness and generosity, his pedantry and his wit, his obsessions and his astonishing novelty of mind. When he was nineteen and just about to enter the university George accompanied some friends on a skiing holiday. Being a novice he naturally found the going difficult and after the third fall he gave up, turning aside the injunctions of his friends to persevere with the remark, “Don't you know, I have lemonade in my veins, not blood.” It would be easier to write about him if the statement were even remotely true, or if he had been the aesthete and dilettante a young academic reviewer of his last book, a collection of essays, made him out to be.
In the late 50's George moved from a boarding house in Ryder Street, near the editorial offices of the Economist, to the top floor of a house belonging to his friends Francis and Ruth Carsten, in Hampstead. He lived there to all intents and purposes as a member of the family, relieved of many of the little chores of daily life that are so aggravating to a bachelor. He had sufficient space for his library; it was one of his many peculiarities never to quote from a book unless he owned it. For lunch he went to one of the little restaurants in Hampstead, in or off High Street; in the afternoon he walked to Hampstead Heath. The 60's were his most productive period. Work gave him satisfaction and he wrote quickly, as if the time at his disposal were limited. His manuscripts were sent to Esther Howell in Letchworth, the only person (he claimed) who could decipher his handwritten emendations. George took the most meticulous care with proofreading; he used to boast from his days as editor at the Palestine Post that material which passed through his hands never contained an error, and in later years he was even more obsessively painstaking. A printing error was to him a source of lasting mortification.
George traveled twice more to Israel but after the death of his father in 1963 he decided against further visits—it was too upsetting. Twice he stayed in America for lengthy periods; he fell in love with San Francisco (he was a visiting professor at Stanford University), and liked the intellectual stimulation provided by New York, but did not for a moment consider living in America permanently. His entire outlook was European, and he felt ill at ease in an atmosphere which (he said) lacked history and tradition; the writings of American social scientists (with a few exceptions) provoked some of his most sarcastic essays. In later years he very seldom left London; every trip became a major trial involving countless decisions that disturbed his daily routine. Dinner invitations were accepted only if the host lived not too far away; at 10:30 or 11 he would get up and leave.
In the 60's too came fame. His books were translated into several languages, and widely adopted as textbooks. There were teaching offers from many universities. Even in England people took notice—George's (anonymous) contributions to the Times Literary Supplement were widely read and discussed. Research students knocked on his door and letters flowed in, but most callers were sent away and correspondents were disposed of in two or three lines, often with a great deal of unnecessary rudeness. After several disastrous love affairs with ladies of intellectual distinction but (in one or two cases) emotional instability he reestablished contact with his distant beloved of Berlin days. They saw each other rarely but the relationship gave George the stability needed to function. When she died of cancer in 1970 he lost most of his incentive to write. He was increasingly plagued by insomnia, and this condition eventually became the fact overshadowing everything else in his life. He complained of loneliness and isolation; he would have been a welcome guest among friends almost any day of the week, but this was not what he had in mind.
Our conversations during the last year or two were dominated by one subject, suicide. George was reading Schopenhauer, listening to recordings of Bach, and had virtually stopped working. The old aggressiveness had gone out of his talk. Was there anything more for him to do? A biography of Marx in two or three volumes, perhaps, or a history of political thought in the 19th and 20th centuries? Others could do it as well. He would disappear when he wanted to, he asserted, not when the doctors said. A first attempt to take his life acted as a kind of shock therapy. He had always tended toward melancholy and pessimism, yet at the same time the will to live was still strong; he had wanted to die but now he found he wanted to live. He said that he had gotten it out of his system and would not try again. His friends half-believed him. I did not see him for two months during the spring. On Easter Monday Theodore Draper, who had had lunch with George a few days before, came to tea. We talked about George and how much better he seemed. In the middle of the conversation came a telephone call announcing that George had after all made another attempt to take his life and that this time the attempt had succeeded. He was sixty-one years old.
1 At the height of the Blitz in 1940 he gave a friend a sealed envelope containing his forecast of the subsequent course of the war. Among other things, his predictions concerning the campaigns in North Africa and in Russia turned out to be amazingly accurate. His only mistake was in assuming that the war would end in 1943 with the opening of an Allied second front in Europe.