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on May 30, 2002
"Tragedy and Hope" is a sprawling history of the world during approximately the period 1890-1960. If one is looking for the details of some half-forgotten international incident during this period, he is likely to find them somewhere in this book. Reading "Tragedy and Hope" is a good refresher course for anyone wishing to understand twentieth-century history, especially the two World Wars, the events leading up to them, and their consequences. Unfortunately the index is sketchy and not always helpful in this process. Furthermore, footnotes and a bibliography are entirely lacking. Although the author, Carroll Quigley, was an eminent academic, this is not an academic textbook, and it is hard to tell just what was its intended audience.
The archetype of "Tragedy and Hope" is the work of Procopius, a courtier in the time of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, whose official history, the " De Aedificiis," celebrated the accomplishments of his monarch - but who supplemented it with a secret history, the "Anecdota," in which he spilled the dirt on the emperor and his wife Theodora. Much of the interest in Quigley's book centers around his dirt-spilling account of the machinations of international bankers and of the organizations they formed to exert influence behind-the-scenes on political and diplomatic activity, such as the Round Table, the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Council on Foreign Relations. While his discussion of these matters occupies a fairly small number of the book's 1300-odd pages, it has drawn the attention of so-called "conspiracy theorists," mostly on the political right (e.g. the John Birch Society) but also some on the left, such as the sociologist G. William Domhoff, who pursue much the same theme - that the domestic and international policy of the United States (and other countries) are manipulated by a "power élite" in a way that makes their supposed democracy largely a sham.
Quigley falls neither into the right- or left-wing camps, and was in fact a liberal internationalist who held views essentially sympathetic to those of the supposed conspirators. He did, however, object to the secretiveness with which they pursued their goals. His book went out of print after its first run despite popular demand. He attributed this to an attempt to suppress it by the forces he "exposed," which have been paranoia on his part, or evidence of an easily bruised academic ego - but certainly encouraged the conspiratorial view among others. Bill Clinton's public acknowledgment of Carroll Quigley as his mentor touched off renewed conspiratorial theorizing.
A broad view of human societies can do nothing but confirm the truth that élites are and have always been an inevitable feature of them all. That there has been an élite in western Europe and North America, made up of a mixture of financiers, industrialists, high-ranking government officials, and the social upper crust; and that this élite has exerted an influence disproportionate to its numbers, should hardly come as a surprise. If all these people were to have been eliminated in one fell swoop, they would simply have been replaced by another élite, differently constituted and differently motivated. What Quigley makes clear is that the élite he describes acted with a curious blend of altruism, self-interest, and often, naïveté. Their best-laid plans many times were based on misinformation and came disastrously a-cropper. The impression one gets is more often one of bumbling rather than of sinister genius.
Two points emerge from Quigley's presentation of this history. First is that he believes in the rule of experts - that people with proper knowledge and understanding (like his) would not have committed the errors he describes. Academics and professionally-trained managers are to be preferred to members of the big business haute-bourgeoisie and the decaying landed aristocracy. This book first appeared in the era of "the best and the brightest," and Quigley shows himself to be a creature of its zeitgeist. How ironic that managerial bureaucrats of the Robert McNamara type proceeded to steer us into the Vietnam quagmire and "stagflation"!
Second, one of Quigley's repeated strictures on the old Eastern establishment is that it was "Anglophile." It is important to understand what this meant at the time the establishment described by Quigley was in its ascendancy. Then the sun never set on the British empire, and London was the world's financial center. New York was the American satellite of that sun, and exerted a degree of financial dominance over the rest of the United States we have not experienced in many years. There was, in the great American heartland, a strong suspicion of this arrangement, as expressed by such conservative figures as Sen. Robert Taft and Col. Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. This view is most superfically and inadequately dismissed as "isolationism." Much of the history Quigley recounts suggests that the United States entered World War I as a result of the Anglophilia of the Eastern establishment, and the conclusion to which that war came as a consequence of American intervention set the stage for World War II. Although this in many ways confirms the suspicions of the "isolationists," Quigley cannot bring himself to say anything good about such unspeakable Midwestern yokels and hayseeds. Yet he does not approve of the "Anglophilia" of the Eastern establishment.
How much of Quigley's point of view was determined not by his academic studies but by something much closer to the heart - his identity as an Irish Catholic? From his office on the Georgetown campus he looked to the west and saw hordes of unwashed Methodists and Baptists, disgusting to his Roman Catholic sensibilities; Norman Rockwell America, but with Klan robes in its closet. Looking to his east he saw the hated Sassenach, hereditary enemy of the Irish, allied to an "Anglophile" and Protestant - mainly Episcopalian - eastern-seaboard American establishment that aped English manners and tastes. He could not stomach either group, and so he wrote this book.