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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 145-147

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Lee Congdon, Seeing Red: Hungarian Intellectuals in Exile and the Challenge of Communism.DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001. 235 pp. $40.00.

What do the father of the sociology of knowledge, the author of Darkness at Noon, the foremost modern theorist of the scientific method, and two brothers who conceptualized the nature of modernity all have in common? Karl Mannheim, Arthur Koestler, Imre Lakatos, and Karl and Michael Polanyi led roughly parallel lives. All were born and educated in Hungary and molded by their direct contact with the twin forces of fascism and Communism. All went on to attain the pinnacles of honor and fame within their respective disciplines following their emigration to the West. They engaged in émigré politics, kept abreast of one another's work, and helped one another and fellow Hungarian intellectuals to obtain visas, find academic positions, and seek out publishers. They also shared something more profound—a highly intellectualized desire to devise a moral basis for social organization at a time of profound spiritual crisis.

The opening line of Lee Congdon's meticulously researched and ably written book, Seeing Red: Hungarian Intellectuals in Exile and the Challenge of Communism, states forthrightly that "this is an interpretive study of two generations of Hungarian émigré intellectuals." The book ends with a paragraph infused with wisdom and its handmaiden, remorse:

Not all the subjects of this study moved beyond anticommunism.... But wherever they ended their intellectual and spiritual odysseys, they all recognized that Communism offered much needed faith to men and women living in a post-Christian society and confronting the challenges of nihilism.

These bookends suggest that the intervening 185 pages of text recount how two generations of Hungary's finest minds came to believe in, profess, support, lose faith in, deride, deconstruct, and finally move beyond Communism. This cycle of intellectual and spiritual confrontation with Communism is the framework Congdon uses to structure the elements of his study.

The book is divided into four chapters of roughly thirty pages each—"The Soviet Experiment," "The War Years," "The Cultural Cold War," and "New Émigrés"—plus [End Page 145] an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter corresponds roughly to a distinct period in Hungarian postwar history and is divided into three sections: an exposition of the macrohistory of Europe during the period; an overview of the lives, thoughts, and deeds of the émigré Hungarian intellectuals who were most active at the time; and an in-depth focus on the struggle to come to terms with Communism in the seminal works published by Hungarian writers. Karl Polanyi and his preparations for writing The Great Transformation take center stage in the first chapter. Koestler and his Darkness at Noon raise the historical narrative to the personal and metaphysical level in the second chapter. Koestler and Michael Polanyi illustrate the tensions in thought, feeling, and ideas of the postwar Stalinist years. An analysis of Imre Lakatos and his transformation from murderous leftist to hard line anti-Communist complements the history of changes in Communism and in its critics in the years following the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

If Seeing Red were merely a history of Communism in Central Europe and the intellectual responses to it, it would make an admirable contribution to studies of émigré intellectuals (such as Stefan Korbonski's Warsaw in Exile) and to the still- burgeoning literature on the seduction and redemption of the Western mind by the promises and failures of Communism (a theme taken up long ago in Czeslaw Milosz's Captive Mind). Yet Seeing Red offers more, indeed much more. It is a book of philosophical depth and wisdom primarily because of two choices Congdon has made. First, he sees Communism not as a set of historically contingent actions taken by Vladimir Lenin, Josif Stalin, Mátyás Rákosi, János Kádár, and others, but as a deeply flawed solution to a metaphysical challenge posed by the rise of nihilism at the onset of modernity. Second, although...