Best selling historian Arthur Norman visited Hillsdale College this week. He spoke on “Lenin and the Russian revolution,” as part of the Soviet Communism Core Constructive Alternative. HIs ninth book, “1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder” is due out November 28.
Norman is also the author of the New York Times bestseller “Freedom’s Forge,” as well as Pulitzer Prize nominee “Ghandi & Churchill,” among other titles.
In an exclusive interview, Norman discussed his historical research and what he believes it tells us about our modern political issues.
Q: Why did you choose to be a historian?
A: I’ve always been interested in history. I’ve always saw it as a vehicle to not just understand the past but also understand the present. To understand where we are today you have to understand how we got here. That’s the historian’s job as far as I’m concerned. It’s not to justify, not to condemn, it’s to explain.
Q: Tell me about your newest book.
A: Well it’s a book about a year, 1917. The hundredth anniversary is this year. It’s the year in which the book argues we see the birth of world history. It sees it as two events . One is the American entry into World War I. The other one is the Russian revolution being transformed into a bolshevik revolution. There are two men behind both of those decisions, Woodrow Wilson on one hand and Vladimir Lenin on the other.
It’s a twin biography about their lives, it’s also about how they were not only different but very much alike in that they saw themselves as actors on the world stage, who could by making two great decisions, transform the world for the better. In other words, they saw an opportunity to set humanity on a new path to a new direction, to make humanity better than it was.
Q: What do you mean in your subtitle by “The Birth of a New World Disorder”?
A: I mean the conflict between these two great forces, the United States and Russia which lasts for the next one hundred years. It has been the source of this massive ongoing disorder. We’re still living through it, that’s why it’s called the birth of a new world disorder. It’s still evolving, but I think the forces that set it in motion are coming to an end.
Q: How so?
A: I think the motivation that drove both men, their utopian belief of the perfectibility of mankind, the idea that humanity can be made better, that we can arrive through politics to a heaven on earth, is no longer as prevalent in the modern day leaders of the two respective countries.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump — both of them are men who do not see the world in terms of a great ideological struggle: democracy against tyranny or communism against imperialism. They think about their country and how they can make them better.
Q: Are you concerned about the rise of multiculturalism on the left?
A: I think it springs out of the same idea, the notion of perfectibility of human beings. If you look beyond the ordinary cultural relativism, for instance when people say ‘the West has no business judging the rest’ or ‘all cultures are equal’, if you look beyond it there is this belief that somehow the world is moving in a place which all of our differences are going to disappear and become one.
I think what you’re seeing today in the world is the opposite. It is more and more the realization in the West that what makes us different is actually hugely important.
What makes us different and different from each other is also important for the idea of preserving freedom. That freedom, what Hillsdale calls liberty, doesn’t take place in a vacuum, it takes place in a community of values…
What you’re seeing is an enormous rediscovery of the importance of political community as the basis on which humans are able to enjoy freedom. That doesn’t mean you have to exclude people of other religion or race — far from it. Communities can be very diverse in its secondary attributes but in the primary attributes: Are you a frenchman? Are you an American? Are you a Spaniard? Are you a Catalon? These are proving more and more important questions.