ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Brilliance and Dogmatism of Hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm was a pioneer in introducing new methods and perspectives in the historian's craft and breaking the bounds of the discipline. His intellectual contributions to our understanding of the world, even in contexts far removed from what he studied and wrote about, are exceptional. However, his academic brilliance was scarred by his unquestioning loyalty to the Communist Party of Great Britain, which made him compromise academically when writing on the history of the 20th century. Yet, despite this fl aw, his intellectual achievements are staggering.

This is an expanded version of an essay published in Prospect, October 2012.


The web version of this article corrects a few errors that appeared in the print edition.

Arthur Koestler once remarked that he would gladly exchange a 100 readers ­today for 10 readers in 10 years time, and for one reader in a 100 years time. Most serious writers would endorse this sentiment. Newspaper columnists and writers of pulp fiction write for the moment, but literary novelists and scholars seek to write for posterity, or at least for the next generation. But while the hope (or conceit) is ubiquitous, few novelists successful in their own day are read 20 years hence, and even fewer scholars. Who now reads Talcott Parsons, once (in the 1950s and 1960s) the most prominent sociologist in America and the world? And who now remembers Mikhail Sholokhov, the most famous socialist novelist of his time, a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature?

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