on March 13, 2002
DARKNESS AT NOON remains one of the 20th Century's most incisive political allegories because of its ironic, literal historicism. The title refers to the hour when Christ, whom Christians revere and worship as personal Savior and Redeemer of Fallen Man in history, dies a criminal's death. Rome and people he came to serve are the instruments of execution wherein THE DELIVERER is delivered to abandonment and ultimate shame. Koestler's Rubashov is no Christ. On the contrary, he is a consummate liar and has lived his life ruthlessly pursuing POWER in guise of "deliverer" and friend of freedom.
Arthur Koestler...former communist who witnessed The(first)Great Betrayal incarnated in Stalinist Purge Trials of the late 1930's...writes his novel in form of "anti-Augustinian" confession.Its banal, un-melodramatic narrative of a politcal revolutionary's life as idealogue, spy and terrorist is anti-Gospel..."bad news"...that would enslave and murder millions in the cause of secular salvation. Rubashov stands for ruthless men...would be self-apotheosized gods...promising land, bread and end to tyranny.History shows what their Darkness at Noon brought.
The novel...along with Czeslaw Milosz'essay THE CAPTIVE MIND...is recommended to readers needing refresher in psychology of political deceit. Americans who believe Political Correctness serves anything but a "Judas Project" might find Koestler's closing chapter of DARKNESS AT NOON ("The Grammatical Fiction") particularly illuminating/unnerving. Koestler's Rubashov is neither hero nor anti-hero. He is totalitarian bureaucrat; a secular demon serving a secular Hell.DARKNESS AT NOON is portrait of a dedicated liar following the Political Primer of the Father of Lies......
on February 8, 2002
Arthur Koestler wrote this book after his disillusionment with Communism led him to reject his Marxist beliefs. Communism is, and will always be, an intellectual movement. It is probably the only form of government that came from books and writings of intellectuals. Apologists and other types of Neo-Marxists today try and shrug off the atrocities of Communism. They say that Stalinism and the like were not really Communism but an autocracy cloaking itself in proletariat trappings. These people are wrong, of course. Communism killed more people than National Socialism ever did. Even the chaos of democratic government cannot claim the body counts of Communism. In this book, Koestler tries to show how everything went wrong.
The book traces the arrest, interrogation and trial of Rubashov, a fictional composite of several real figures associated with Communist Russia. The one figure that leaps to mind immediately is Leon Trotsky. Every time Rubashov rubs his spectacles on his sleeve, I think of good old Trotsky (a murderous thug who got an axe in the head in Mexico, thanks to his old pal Uncle Joe Stalin). Regardless of who Rubashov is modeled on, comrade Rubashov is in trouble here. Rubashov is one of the founding fathers of the Communist revolution and Stalin (referred to as No.1) has decided to remove him from power, as well as life. Rubashov is arrested and jailed. His interrogator turns out to be an old friend, Ivanov. After Ivanov is himself arrested, Rubashov falls into the clutches of Gletkin, a sadistic thug who eventually gets Rubashov to confess to crimes against the Party. Needless to say, the end is not pretty. In fact, the whole book is glum and rather depressing.
Much of the book examines Rubashov's life in flashback. We see Rubashov dispatched to smooth over problems with local Commies, a meeting with a dissident Communist that ends badly for the dissident, and the sad relationship between Arlova and Rubashov. Arlova falls prey to execution because Rubashov sells her out to keep himself alive. Like I said, this is depressing stuff. There is also a fair amount of philosophical musings on Communism as well. Personally, I have little sympathy for a character like Rubashov. It was men such as him that killed hundreds of thousands when the Communist government came to power. Under Lenin, a terror unleashed on the upper class resulted in mass death, and confiscations of grain in the countryside caused even more mayhem. Stalinism, rearing its ugly head in the 1930's, was a logical progression of Leninism and its warped visions. Koestler shows us in sparse, unremittingly grim prose the end product of these horrors.
I read this book fairly quickly. It is only a little over 200 pages long and is good for killing some time. A superficial knowledge of Russian Communism is helpful in understanding some of Koestler's references, although even this is not necessary to experience the terror in this book. This book was even put on the list of the 100 all-time greats of the 20th century. I can see why. Read and understand.
on January 18, 2002
Darkness at Noon convinces me that developing a true political perspective is impossible. We see the protagonist, Rubashov, a key figurehead of a state's socialist revolution, who ends up executed by his party.
He sacrifices his entire life, individuality, and self-worth for party dogma and ideology. His former party, now in power, accuses him of being 'politically divergent,' of the party's interests; an accusation that is very far from the truth - the party's interests WAS Rubashov's interests, but not vice versa.
Thus, a major theme of the novel is the question of means and ends. It outright rejects the notion that 'all ends justify all means.' To Rubashov, he believed in this notion to such an extent that he stood passively when his lover, Arlova, was accused and thereby executed for treason - by actively defending her, he would obstruct his party's socialist mission.
However, Rubashov, like Trotsky, doctrinated humanitarian reason into party ideology (remember Khrushev's slogan?: Socialism with a human face!). On ideological grounds, he rightly denounced the party's program of 'vaccinating,' all peasants who decried the willful submission of giving up land. Rubashov knew that his party's ideology (socialism) could be rationalized and logically carried out by any reasoning, even when it meant genocide.
The truth, then, becomes a central issue that Rubashov painstainkingly deals with. Can truth be deducted by an all-encompassing and logically true ideology? Is it necessary to carry out all means to reach the end? Rubashov constantly shifts from the past and the present in order to tackle these questions. Finally, he realizes that he was all wrong. When the party tries him for treason, Rubashov is finally convinced that at the present, he is in fact treasonous, since he regrets his past fanatical loyalty to the party.
The reader is left with a painful thought, how do I develop a political perspective without sacrificing humanity and truth? In this age of partisan politics, hidden information, citizen impotency, and rapid development, we are left with very little practical and human perspective. Many turn to ideology for perspective, a good way to make sense of the modern world. In all respects, Darkness at Noon near convinces me that it is almost near impossible to see the 'light' even at noon time.
on February 20, 1999
I picked up this book because of the reference made to it by Sydney Blumenthal in his Senate deposition. Apparently, Clinton related to Blumenthal that he saw himself as the book's imprisoned protagonist who is endlessly interrogated by a communist automaton (i.e. Starr). However, in reading the book I connected Clinton more with the communist interrogator, than the interrogatee. Both Clinton and the Communist philospophy laid out by Koestler value the ends over the means. For the Soviets, one man is meaningless if he hinders the "good" of mankind. It makes no difference to them if innocent people are put to death, so long as it advances their cause. Likewise, for Clinton it makes no difference how heinously his lapdogs destroy the reputations of others, so long as he survives. Personally, I find the Soviets perspective a little more noble but read the book to make the judgement for yourself.
All in all, it's a great book and my reading of it was the one good thing to result from the impeachment trial.
on July 30, 2001
Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" is a magnificent book, no doubt about it. However, I believe that the current reviews are a bit mistaken in their depiction of Koestler's argument.
First, it is important to undrestand that "Darkness at Noon" is semi-biographical. The experiences involved seem to indicate tha the main character is in truth the Russian intellectual Bukharin, whom Lenin had wanted to succeed himself. Physically speaking, the main character resembles Trotsky. It's likely that these resemblances suggest that Russian socialism could perhaps have worked better under a leader other than Stalin.
The common perception that Koestler was demonstrating the "evils" of communism is naive and rather unperceptive. Koestler believed hat Russian communism ultimately failed as a system because it failed to address the spiritual side of man. The "new man" created by their social structure devoid of traditional bourgeoise moral value was abominable.
The movement inspires a complete commitment to it; so much, that one sacrifices oneself for the greater good. The individual is completely lost here. Koestler ultimately determines that this is unethical, that progressive "history" is unworthy of the sacrifice of millions of individual lives.
But are these flaws latent in communism within the specific context of the novel? Probably not. Koestler was a great critic of Stalin and Utopianism... but it's doubtful he would have considered communism "evil" or have attempted to expose it as such.
on December 22, 2002
This is, quite rightly, the classic novel about a power struggle within a monolithic political party.
To consolidate his power and to exert his own policies, a dictator uses the young guard to liquidate mercilessly his old fellow revolutionaries, who once were or still are critical of him.
Koestler relates hauntingly how his idealistic dreams are shattered and how the main aim of his whole life is destroyed:"But when he asked himself, for what actually are you dying? He found no answer." (p.206)
This is still a very modern work. It reminds us that a multi-party system and free elections are a must to eliminate all risks that a ruthless clique seizes power in a country.
This book is a masterpiece.
It contains a terrible quotation: "When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison, death." (Dietrich von Nieheim, Bishop of Verden)
on December 5, 1998
Nicolas Salmanovich Rubashov is a ex-commissar of the Soviet Republics, one of the founders of the Communist regime. He served his republic abroad, liquidated other secret agents when told and always served the party and its leader No.1 (represents Stalin). Now, Rubashov himself is arrested by his old friends and brought to a prison where he is put in cell 406. The Party wants to convict him as a counter-revolutionary who tried to sabotage the system and even tried to assassinate No.1. The pure nonsense of these accusations is evident, even his old friend Ivanov who conducted the first hearing, wants to save Rubashov. Rubashov never committed any of these crimes but in his mind he had started to doubt the central idea of consequent logic, the idea that the end justifies the mean. In the beginning of the story he is not afraid of death because history will rehabilitate him. But this is of no interest for the party. The ex-commissar of the people is part of Stalin's purge trials of the 1930's, which are also often called the Moscow Trials. In these trials high members of the party were convicted for things they have never committed, but because of No.1's will. All accused members knew how the system worked, knew No.1 and his logic to well and became so too dangerous to leave alive. After the first hearing with Ivanov, Rubashov's life begins to improve, he even has time to bring his thoughts to an end. He often thinks through other people's minds and he is even aware of the coming death, he seems calm, wise and sometimes even happy. The methods of the interrogators with Rubashov were not "hard", that means he wasn't subjected to physical torture. Instead, he was kept with inadequate sleep and insufficient food, the interrogations took place at night and it was part of the idea that the prisoner should lose his sense of day and night by being woken up at all times of the day. There were also continual repetitions of questions, a strong disturbing neon lamp and total lack of privacy. Rubashov had the painful feeling that the interrogator could go on indefinitely. The second hearing is between Ivanov and Rubashov and takes place in his own cell. Ivanov convinces him to capitulate and to write a public confession, even though he didn't commit these crimes. The third hearing takes place in another room with Gletkin as interrogator. Gletkin took Ivanov's place because there were doubts about him and his conversations with Rubashov. Rubashov fears Gletkin, because he is a product of his work. Gletkin has no own history and no doubts about No.1 or the party. Gletkin accuses Rubashov again of working on a plan to kill No. 1. Several names and actions are put in a order so that Rubashov cannot deny their existence and Gletkin can go on with his accusations. The examination of Rubashov takes more than a week. At the end he breaks down, loses his will, wants only to sleep and signs a confession. He will be taken to a public trial.
At the trial he repeats his confession, calls himself a traitor and says the opposition is eradicated. Rubashov is sentenced to be shot. His body got shot, but whether his will still persisted isn't said, but history did rehabilitate him.
Rubashov's unfinished work "The Maturity of the Masses"
"The amount of individual freedom which a people may conquer and keep, depends on the degree of its political maturity. The aforementioned pendulum motion seems to indicate that the political maturing of the masses does not follow a continuous rising curve, as does the growing up of an individual, but that it is governed by more complicated laws." (page 135) Before the third hearing begins, Rubashov is writing down his still unfinished thoughts about the Maturity of the Masses. Koestler presents an highly elaborated social theory in his novel which is the only optimistic and utopian part in the whole book of Darkness at Noon I think that this part of the book and especially the end of the novel are extremely autobiographical. It shows that Koestler was an ardent socialist, even he was a highly critical one.
The question whether Rubashov died fulfilled or the title of the book "Darkness at Noon"
According to Rubashov, fulfillment lies in the oceanic sense of life. Koestler took this term from Sigmund Freud (the famous psychologist we heard of in our German lessons)who used it for man's religious and mystical experience. This oceanic sense enables men to find the essential humanity in other living men. The party said that a man is the quotient of one million divided by one million, just the opposite. "Perhaps now would come the time of great darkness. Perhaps later, much later, the new movement would arise - with new flags, a new spirit knowing both: of economic fatality and the oceanic sense." (page 211) Personally, I think that the title "Darkness at Noon" means that the present and near future is dark, shaped by totalitarian regimes (who don't understand the oceanic sense) and a unfair capitalistic system (the economic fatality), but half of the way to the utopia lies already behind us and that a further step towards this goal depends on the Maturity of the Masses.
on February 24, 2002
The novel Darkness at Noon would be a very good book if the person who is reading it were very into politics and communism. In order to understand this book completely the reader needs to be very well informed of the past. In this way they need to be able to understand history and know a lot about it. They also need to be able to compare Koestlers story and actual history and put the two together. The reader also needs to be able to realize that the story is parallel to Machiavelli and Stalin. The main character Rubashov refers to Machiavelli and Stalin a great deal in the story even though it is never actually stated that he is talking about the two of them. It seems that the character Rubashov wants to be like them and that he has in the past tried to make what he was doing to be something that they would have done.
If a reader does not know a great deal about history they can begin to like the book if they pay attention to what is happening to Rubashov. Although there are not many things that go on outside of Rubashov trying to figure out what he is going to do about his trial. In order to read the book for this purpose a reader really needs to concentrate and understand that there are things going on in the background. The reader will also need to read between the lines and think more into the psychological meaning of the book. If a person is reading to book for this they will pay more attention to the conversations that Rubashov has with other cell mates and his love for Avolra. The reader would also want to pay attention to the conflict that Rubashov has with himself.
Darkness at Noon was written to give a person an image about what would happen if one was a communist and was trying to change the world. There is so many things that go on in the book that it is very hard for a reader to grasp one concept before Koestler is already going on and almost done with the next thing that the reader should grasp. If one was to read this book they should be older and be able to understand more of the themes in the story rather than to read it at a young age and not being able to understand what they are reading while they are reading the novel.
on January 29, 2001
Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" is a manifesto decrying the totalitarian tactics of the Soviet Union during the 1930's. A political prisoner himself, Koestler had a lot to say about the treatment of those who were considered threats to the Communist ideal. Although Koestler does not name the Party or the associated countries, the implications are obvious, including the identity of the Party's leader, who is known simply by the name "No. 1."
The novel concerns a fifty-ish man named Rubashov, a high-ranking Party official, who is imprisoned for suspected acts of dissension against the Party. Placed in a lonely cell, he communicates with the occupant of the neighboring cell by tapping on the interposing wall. He finds that his anonymous neighbor holds a grudge against him for reasons he refuses to reveal. The prison is filled with people considered "enemies" of the Party, victims of snitching and backstabbing from various levels of bureaucracy.
An old friend and battalion commander of Rubashov's, named Ivanov, turns out to be his primary inquisitor. Rubashov and Ivanov have long discussions about the ideals of the Party and how Rubashov is losing faith in a system he once fought so vehemently to establish. The Party's ideals were noble in the beginning, but it gradually became inefficient and underhanded. During his imprisonment, Rubashov recalls Arlova, a secretary with whom he had an affair, who was fired from her job and sentenced to death for suspected political dissension. Rubashov had the chance to save her by testifying in her defense, but doing so could have damaged his own career.
When Ivanov shows some sympathy for Rubashov, he is "removed" and replaced with a stricter interrogator named Gletkin, who uses draconian tactics to wear Rubashov down to the point of confession. Rubashov is accused of various attempted acts of governmental sabotage, including a planned assassination of No. 1. The reader sees that it is not relevant to his "trial" whether or not he actually committed these crimes; they are merely trying to get rid of those who threaten the stability of the Party.
Koestler demonstrates how the creation of the Soviet Union formed a nation of political prisoners. These are the problems of a government that is concerned more with theory than with practice; that is concerned more with ideals than with individuals.
on March 31, 2000
There is an ancient Hindu treatise that tells a Ruler how to gain absolute power. Build a castle, it says, of very tough, unbreachable stone. Make the castle impenetrable. The Ruler's room is in the very center, his apartments a raised tower, with bars and the windows so no assasins can get in. He can't really look out, unfortunately, due to the bars.
He must select two advisors, of slightly unequal power, with great care. Both of these advisers have troops at their commands. The lesser of the two commanders, The Second Advisor, desperately wants to gain favor in the eye of the Ruler, and become First Adivisor. Thus, Second plots against First, while being loyal to the Ruler. First wants to be Ruler, but is afraid that, if he fails, Second will become either First or Ruler, and he'll end up dead.
About the Ruler's chamber are concentric rings of guards. Those nearest the Ruler are the Second Advisor's guards; they are faithful to the Ruler because their commander wants to gain favor with the ruler. The next ring are controled by First, and they are trying to sneak past Second's troops, to get to the Ruler. However, they are held in check by yet another ring of Second's troops, who are inturn surrounded by yet another ring of First's troops... so on and so on, ad infinitum. The mutual distrust spreads throughout the kingdom. First against Second, with the Ruler safe in the web of mistrust he's spun.
The only problem is, he's a prisoner in his own castle. This, then, is machiavellian politics, the subject of Koestler's "Darkness at Noon".
Objectively, the story deals with Rubashov's imprisonment. On one hand, Rubashov is an inhuman, reasoning monster, killing Arlova, Little Loewy and Richard by ostricizing them from the monolithic "Party". On the other hand, he's a sort of noble figure, dying for his beleifs. Unlike a despot, trying to keep his power, he reasons that the Revolution must go on. It is larger than him. He must sacrifice himself, the good of the many outweighing the good of the one. Oddly heroic, he follows the logic of his life to its pitiful end, his death. "A shrug of eternity."
We Americans can easily see this as a send up of Soviet power, but Koestler's ends are, I believe, more ambitious than that. "Darkness at Noon" dissects all political power. Substitute "the church" or "liberty" or "America, right or wrong" for the words "The Party" and "The revolution", and you'll get my drift. Political power is, by it nature, but especially in the 20th and 21st ceneturies, monolithic. Democratic America is not immune to this. Remember McCarthy, the South before Civil Rights, and what good, God fearing Americans did to the Indians. Our hands are not clean. We are perpetrators, too. We are "The Party", as much as the Soviets. Koestler emphasises the universality of his argument by keeping the country's name and #1's name unspoken.
This is what makes the book, for me, so chilling.
The only way out, as Rubashov sees in the end, is to balance thought with feeling, science with art. To be complete, an individual must attain Freud's 'oceanic feeling' while his feet are firmly rooted. Castles in the air must have foundations on the ground. Only until man is sober enough, is mature enough can such a thing happen.
*As an aside, I never heard of this book until Modern Library included it among their "100 best novels of the 20th Century." Problem is, it was translated. Where is Mann, Hesse, Camus and Solzhenitsyn? Perhaps it was because he was a British citizen at the time, and it was originally published in English? I'd like to know. Minor critique of a good list.