VIEWSrnHistory as Paranoiarnby Andrei NavrozovrnThere are many conservative, intelligent people who willrnhappily tell you that there is no such thing as the absoluterntruth of histor)’, only difFerent, mutually complementary versions.rnHistory, they will say, is a mutable, fluid continuum,rnwhose multiple truths are constanfly undergoing revision andrnrevaluation in one another’s reflected light, as well as in thernlight of other, ever newer truths, ceaselessly emerging fromrndarkness and oblivion. This is all very well, I say in reply, butrnwhat about the absolute lie of history? Surely there is such arnthing.rnI’o begin with a rather extreme example, there are those versionsrnof history which I periodically read about in national newsrnmagazines in the wake of some big education survey: 64 percentrnof all urban 14-year-olds c[uestioned believe Fidel Castro isrnpresident of the Lhiited States, every eighth 1 5-year-old inrnAmerica imagines that The Waste Land was written by MinniernMouse, half of all teenagers in Pennsylvania mark Brunei asrn”(D), a cathedral town in Shropshire” . . . Surely the historicalrnfalsehood contained in such statements, made out of nearly absoluternignorance, is for all intents and purposes absolute?rnNo doubt it is. Yet, laughable as these private untruths are,rnthey are hardly more mendacious than the public untruths tornwhich I, along with a billion others in China and elsewhere,rnwas born just a few decades ago. “The Russian Revolution,”rn”The Civil War,” “The New Economic Policy,” “The Collectivizationrnof flie Peasantr)’,” “The Kirov Assassination and thernShow Trials of the 1930’s,” “The Unprovoked Cerman Invasionrnand the Great Patriotic War” . . . To these, with fresh hindsight,rnone may now add “The Twentieth Congress and thernCreat Thaw,” “The Years of Stagnation,” “The GorbachevrnRevolution,” and “The Collapse of the Soviet Union.”rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’ European correspondent.rnThe amazing fact about the text implicit in these textbookrnentries is not that it consisted of shameless lies dictated fromrnabove and instilled in young minds by a totalitarian regime intentrnon world domination. That, after all, is what totalitarianrnregimes sometimes like to do, just as public schools sometimesrnlike to produce stahstically significant proportions of the populahonrnwho believe that Beria was the inventor of the lightbulb.rnNo, a far more amazing fact is that the Western version of thatrntext can now be shown to have consisted of as many lies, whichrnwere just as shameless, ever-shifting, and self-contradictory asrnthe original totalitarian version.rnhideed, the two versions grew out of the same source, namely,rnthe perfecfly natural attraction of the individual interpreter ofrnhistory to political power—especially unlimited political powerrn— and to the blessings, material and otherwise, that he expectedrnwould accrue to him by way of reward, not necessarilyrnearthly, for more or less toeing the line. Wlien these individualrnliars, East and West, are viewed collectively, what one observesrnis a kind of magnetic field whose energies are distributed alongrna whole panoply of public and private channels, from universityrntenure to journalist accreditation, from peer pressure to cleanrnconscience, from family tranquillity to professional perk. Therncumulative result, in ever case, is a nearly absolute conformit’rnenshrining a brazen falsehood.rnThe study of the magnetic field of conformism is complicatedrnby the inherenfly revisionist nature of the discipline. Sincernso much of the history written by liars is made up of their overturningrnof the history written by the liars who have come beforernthem, the intellectual credibility of lying is perpehially, and effectively,rnrenewed. Thus the historian who, many decades afterrnStalin is dead and buried, ridicules one of his scholarly precursorsrnfor disseminahng Stalin’s lies, thereby garners the credibilit}’rnhe needs to disseminate the lies of Khrushchev, and be-rnMARCH 2001/13rnrnrn