Which of these two stories will our historian choose to tell? If he is like most historians that may well depend on which intellectual and political aspects of modern tyranny he feels deserve our attention. If he is trying to understand exclusively the brutality of Soviet "planning," the Nazis' chillingly efficient program to exterminate the Jews, the methodical self-destruction of Cambodia, the programs of ideological indoctrination, the paranoid webs of informers and secret police--if he wants to explain how these tyrannical practices were conceived and defended, he might be tempted to blame a heartless intellectual rationalism that crushed all in its path. If, on the other hand, he is struck by the role in modern tyranny played by the idolization of blood and soil, the hysterical obsession with racial categories, the glorification of reviolutionary violence as a purifying force, the cults of personality, and the orgiastic mass rallies, he will be tempted to say that reason collapsed before irrational passions that had migrated from religion to politics. And if our historian is more ambitious still, and wants to explain both classes of phenomena? At that point he will have to abandon the history of ideas.
Mark Lilla, "The Reckless Mind"blockquote>