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Dr. Larry Arnn Continues His Totalitarianism Series In Part 2 Of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon

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HH: This is the last radio hour of the week. That means it’s time for the Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. He is, of course, my weekly interlocutor most weeks. Sometimes one of his colleagues from Hillsdale joins me. Everything that we talk about, and have for many years now, available at Many of you in increasing numbers are binge listening, beginning with Homer up to the present. And I appreciate that. But there are also online courses at Hillsdale, including their courses on the Constitution and on many other subjects at, as well as the opportunity to sign up for your free copy, I emphasize free copy, of Imprimis, their monthly speech digest which goes off to, like, two million people. So go to Sign up for Imprimis and go to to listen to these Dialogues. We are in the middle of a series that tracks Dr. Arnn’s semester-long seminar with his undergraduate students on totalitarianism. And this week, we continue our conversation on Arthur Koestler’s book, Darkness At Noon, a book I told you last week I had not read before. And Dr. Arnn, I’m going to have to beg you for an extra week, because I am only three-quarters of the way through. I don’t want to know how this ends, though I kind of know how it ends. It is so good that I making too many notes and we’re going to need the time. I am curious at the beginning of the second installment, how did your students react to this, because like them, I have never read it before?

LA: Well, they’re in the same spot you are. Many of them are reading this for the first time, and we’ve had one class on it, and we’re having another one next Friday, the next class I’ve got. So you know, it’s not nearly as famous a book as 1984. And so they’re like you. They’re astonished when you get into it. Isn’t it awesome?

HH: It is. And in fact, although we’re not going to give away too much, we’re going to talk about some ideas. We talked about 1984 two weeks ago and about the memory hole. And so when I stumbled upon this paragraph. New books arrive, too, to the trade delegation of which the central character was, Rubashov was running the trade ministry at one point in his life for the Soviets. “New books arrived. Two of the classics of social science appeared with new footnotes and commentaries. The old histories were replaced by new histories. The old memoirs of dead revolutionary leaders were replaced by new memoirs of the same defunct. Rubashov remarked jokingly to Arlova that the only thing left to be done was to publish a new and revised edition of the back numbers of all newspapers.” And of course, if you’ve just read 1984, that’s what Winston does.

LA: Yeah, exactly. And you know, you’re going to, remember, if you get onto the line, here’s a theme people should keep in their minds while they read this book. If you get onto the idea that in the end, we have to remake everything according to our will, and that’s the only way everything can be right, and think of the rebellion that’s contained in that. Human life is circumscribed, right? We are born, we mature, we grow, and then we begin to decay. If there are going to be more of us to take care of us when we get old, this means in our own single lifetime, then we have to have children. And that’s a lot of work and decades of work, right? And so in other words, human life is dictated by necessity. If you want to get rid of that, you have to set out to remake everything. And that takes a lot of power. And you’ve got to be ruthless in the use of that power. And on the other hand, you’re liberated to be ruthless, because what check can there be if your own will is the only thing?

HH: Yeah.

LA: And so we see, just as you just point out, right, in 1984 and then Darkness At Noon, we see a fictional picture of societies that attempt even to alter the past, and that nothing can be allowed to stand in the way.

HH: It’s an amazing machinery that is set in motion to do that, and the consequences for orthodoxy are extraordinarily well-detailed here. I want to go back and set the stage as you did last week. There are some major characters. There is obviously Rubashov, who’s the prisoner. There are his two interrogators – Ivanov and Gletkin. There are the three witnesses to the memory of Rubashov. We talked about Richard last week, Little Loewy, who you mentioned to me I’ve now caught up with, and Arlova, that I now understand. You had not mentioned the monarchist in Cell 402, and you had not mentioned to me Bogrov, the battleship commander of Potemkin battleship who show up here. But I’d like you to go back over to get people prepared the differences between Ivanov and Gletkin, because it matters so much as they interrogate Rubashov.

LA: Well, so understand that the question, another question you should ask yourself when you read this book is they want Rubashov to confess to something. And why or why not does he do that? So to get this confession from him that they want, there are two interrogators, and the first one is Ivanov, and he’s an old friend of Rubashov. And it emerges that he, Rubashov saved his life one time. And then the second one, he replaces Ivanov, is Gletkin, and Gletkin is younger. So Gletkin is what the revolution has become. They, in a coffee shop, Ivanov and Gletkin, have a conversation. At the time, Ivanov is in charge, and Gletkin is his subordinate. And he says, Ivanov says, a man made of this material as tough as Rubashov cannot be made to confess by physical means. Only logic can make him do it. He is in the logical place where he has to do it. Now I’m going to say about that that logic is another word for reason. And remember that in 1984, they’re trying to make, and they do make, Winston Smith say that two and two makes four, and also two and two makes five. So logic is to be overcome. So Gletkin replies to that, no, that’s just talk. His specific phrase is that’s just talk, right, just reason, just logic…

HH: Yeah.

LA: Whereas what we know is nature has put a limit on the physical endurance of a person, and we all have it, and that’s why he will talk. We will put him past that limit. Ivanov replies to Gletkin, you yourself are famous for having withstood terrible physical harassment, torture, and didn’t succumb. And then Gletkin replies, that’s just talk. The truth is, I fainted.

HH: I passed out with a candle on my head, yes.

LS: If I’d have stayed awake…if I stayed awake, I would have talked. So one of them says reason, and the other says force. And a lot of the, a lot of the novel is a commentary on the relationship between those two things. And you will see several speeches, maybe we’ll read one of them next week, because it’s near the end, where the real point of Number One and the Party, and formerly of Rubashov, the protagonist, is that reason is force, that in the end, there isn’t any reason. There’s only force.

HH: Yeah, it’s being revealed. It’s amazing. I also noted both Gletkin and Ivanov are wounded people. They’re both broken. They both suffered. Gletkin has the scar, Ivanov has one leg, and they are nevertheless not deterred from their jobs at all. And Rubashov has suffered greatly. Everyone’s banged up, and nobody’s giving up on the cause. So tough opponents out of tough revolutionary governments is one of the things that…

LA: It’s like in, it’s like in we’re not going to get our hair mussed here.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) …about global nuclear war.

HH: Not 10, 20 million tops, depending on the wind. Yeah, that’s exactly right. So the other thing that comes up is this is a novel about interrogation. And surprising to me, right smack in the middle of it comes Crime and Punishment. Not the Grand Inquisitor of the Brothers Karamazov, but Crime and Punishment. And so Koestler, the writer of this thing, is obviously writing as a Russian, though he’s not a Russian, right? He lived in Russia a lot, but he’s not a Russian. He’s trying to work out the Russian problem.

LA: Yeah, and yeah, so Koestler was Hungarian, but he was a communist, and he served the Russians some. And you know, in both of these novels, 1984 and Darkness At Noon, it’s plain that the scene of this action is Soviet Union, right? That’s, and nothing had ever happened like that before. And it happened, I think I said this last time, according to a theory that said, you know, Marxist theory, that said that it wouldn’t happen in a place like Russia. It’s still a peasant society. The process of economic determinism that makes the pattern of history has not worked out far enough in the Soviet Union.

HH: But it happened there first. When we come back from break, we’ll talk about why that matters and how it’s explained by Arthur Koestler in Darkness At Noon. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue. This is the second of three parts on Darkness At Noon. Don’t go anywhere except get the book during the break.

— – — –

HH: I wonder if they will get, Dr. Arnn, if one note about students, when Rubashov is sent abroad, he’s a secret guy, and then they put him about public, and they put him in charge of a trade delegation. And as diplomats are want to do about political people all the world over in every single delegation, “They treated him with the exaggerated respect and indulgently superior tolerance. When the secretary of the delegation had to report to him about a document, he made an effort to express himself in the simple terms one would use to a savage or a child.”

LA: (laughing)

HH: It is the condescension of state departments everywhere, right?

LA: Yeah.

HH: So there’s humor in here.

LA: (laughing) Well, see, Arthur Koestler had been around, and it, the other tone, you see, because that’s not just the State Department, right? He understands the tone and the sound of bureaucratic rule.

HH: Yes.

LA: And what it is, is detached and superior. People, if they want to see another brilliant example of this, they should watch the hilarious and terrible movie, Brazil, because there’s lots of bureaucrats in there, and you’re always, you don’t have your form right, and nothing works. And a few of the senior bureaucrats are exasperated. They understand the system doesn’t work. But a lot of them just pretend complete superiority. And that makes them powerful, of course. So Koestler’s on about that, too, right? This is, you have to understand this is a new form of rule built on new principles. And it has characteristics, and one of them is the torture chamber. They both appear in both these novels. But another one is everything is watched, and there are always rules.

HH: Yes. The other one is that there must be confession. And so I went back in between Part 1 and Part 2 of the book, and I guess I’m about 30% left to go, and read up on the Moscow Show Trials, the three big ones of the 30s, the ones that preceded them, Bukharin, all of them, the Trotskyite Circle, the second Trotskyite…I mean, it’s just an amazing thing, that I just, you know, I had read Robert Conquest, but I hadn’t focused much on this. They, you know, they shot a bunch of people. That was my short version of it. But it was part of Stalin’s plan. It just, he had to not just liquidate, he had to rewrite everything and make everyone afraid of everything.

LA: That’s right, and he was an innovator. People need to understand this. We were talking about Russia before the break. First of all, Russia’s not the right place for the communist revolution, according to Marx and Engels. But it happens there. But then, of course, these people are all what Rubashov calls militant philosophers. They all know the doctrines, and so they know that what they’re supposed to do is take the revolution now to the industrialized countries. And so that’s what Trotsky wants to do, right? But Stalin, he is a thinker. And he sees the opportunity that’s here, right? He can run the whole world. And the party can entrench itself and become a great power, whereas if we dissipate our energy and go running all over the world, you know, the common turn, right? Stalin helped to found that. If we put our emphasis there, then we’re going to give up what we’ve got. And so there was ructions, right, and because just think what it’s like, right? It’s kind of like the apostles, you know, reading, first before they were even written, hearing the stories about Jesus and His commandments, and knowing the Jewish law, and everybody interprets that. This is the same thing, except for the Devil. And so…

HH: Except for Satan.

LA: Yeah, that’s right.

HH: Stalin and Satan share, yeah, they’ve got a lot in common. When we come back from break, we’ll talk about how that trickles down so that an argument even over the size and deployment of submarines leads to the execution of the man who wanted long range submarines as opposed to coastal submarines. To defend what they had, as Larry just mentioned, Dr. Arnn just mentioned, Stalin wanted to defend what he had. When we come back, the book is Darkness At Noon. Download it, catch up with us. It’s part two of three about it in the seminar about totalitarianism, all of them collected at

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HH: It is interesting, Stalin is Number One in this book, Dr. Arnn. I imagine that Stalin read it since he did not die for another decade plus. I imagine he read it. And I wonder if he chuckled at details like he kept Machiavelli at his bedside, he ate a cold lunch, he famously set up economists to understand the American Depression only to announce that it was over the day they put out their theory as to why the Depression was real. Is there any evidence that Stalin actually read this, because it would have been amusing to him.

LA: I know of none, and also, I think that there couldn’t be any. And what I mean by that is that was not the tone around there, right?

HH: To say the least.

LA: And to see the Boss, he was called the Boss, not Number One, to see the Boss with a proscribed book, right, and hear him share a joke about that? He was killing people for that all the time, right?

HH: Well then, let me ask you about the other great figure of the era, and I don’t mean FDR, I mean Churchill. Last week, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt driving across the country stopped at Westminster College and went to the, on the recommendation of a friend, the magnificent Churchill museum at Westminster College. Churchill saw all of this coming. He predicted it at Westminster, invited by Harry Truman and the president of the college. Any evidence that he read Darkness At Noon, you biographer of Churchill?

LA: No. I know he knew about 1984, and I don’t know about Darkness At Noon, but I will look that up and tell you next time.

HH: All right. So let’s return, then. By the way, have you been to that museum at Westminster?

LA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it is very good. It’s very good.

HH: That’s good. Let’s go back now. Next week, we’re going to talk Gletkin. I want to talk Ivanov now, because at one point, Gletkin screws up. He’s number two for a time. Ivanov is number one charged with breaking Rubashov. And he drags this poor navy guy by who’s an old friend, and he utters out Rubashov, Rubashov, and it haunts him. It screws up the whole deal that Ivanov’s got going to try and break Rubashov. And so Ivanov takes a bottle of brandy and some cigarettes and goes to talk. It’s a dialogue. And I thought to myself, my gosh, no one’s improved on Plato. And there’s an interior dialogue that Rubashov has with himself and in his diary, but there’s this dialogue in the cell which is an amazing piece of work.

LA: So what Ivanov wants, Ivanov announces in the first hearing, in the first time he talks to Rubashov, that he’s going to try to save his life. And the means he’s going to use is that they’ve got a lot of proof against Rubashov. And you need to understand, you’ll see this when you read the book, but you need to understand that Rubashov never plotted violence or active resistance against the party, or Number One. He just came no longer to believe in it, and that was death. And so what they found was he said things like that to people, that he didn’t believe in it anymore. He didn’t tell anybody to kill anybody, or he didn’t tell anybody to resist. He opined that, he opines, for example, that the leader is the perfect example, Number One is the perfect example of our revolution, because he has complete and utter conviction in himself. And that’s why he’s so ruthless and effective. And we cannot overturn him. That leaves, or the party will never overturn him. And that leaves the implication that somebody might go kill him. That’s what they’ve got on Rubashov, right? The second thing they’ve got is this. They arrest people, well, they, no I have to start over. They have four people, particular people. Two of them are people who were glorious representatives of the revolution, extremely effective in their countries, and Rubashov was the agent to cut them down, because the party had changed its mind about something. In the second case, Little Loewy, something in the interest of the Soviet Union, right? So the revolution says we can’t, the principles of it say we can’t let these ships through these communist-dominated ports, because they belong to fascism. But Stalin has made his deal with fascism, right? And so they go there, and they say let them through. That’s why Little Loewy is so discouraged by that. That’s why he kills himself. Rubashov is responsible for those two guys.

HH: Yup.

LA: In addition, Arlova, his lover and secretary, an innocent woman, she keeps being described as having cow-like eyes, a kind of innocence.

HH: And a quiet voice that never really murmurs. She is cow-like. That’s exactly right. Yeah, just no intelligence.

LA: That’s right. And they arrest her. And she’s really only arrested because she’s got enemies in their part of the bureaucracy, the two of them, Rubashov and Arlova. He’s got enemies. They want to take him down, and people know they’re sleeping together. So they arrest her, and she appeals to him for vindication. And what he knows is that it won’t help her if he does that. It’ll just convict him, and he’ll be shot.

HH: Yup.

LA: So he lets her die. So now, just think of the examples that are laid in his life. Little Loewy and Richard are revolutionaries out in satellite countries or other countries, and they’re doing great work, and the party changes, and he goes and he, Rubashov is the agent of their destruction. And then Arlova, he abandons. And then Bogrov, the commander of the Battleship Potemkin, he has known him. And he is a great hero. In 1925, Stalin made a movie that you can still watch about that, about the rebellion on that battleship. So he’s a hero, right? And Rubashov had not defended him. And so the point is Ivanov wants to use those facts to show that now, Rubashov’s got to confess. And they are the same facts, by the way, that Gletkin will later use, except with force – exhaustion, light in your eyes, constant hectoring for no sleep. So, but Ivanov just wants him to reason through that and say because Ivanov is, by the way, he is arrested and killed himself in this thing, because Gletkin gets the upper hand over him. But Ivanov is actually guilty of the same thing that Rubashov is guilty of, and that is he doesn’t believe in the revolution anymore, or he doesn’t believe in Number One.

HH: Now in this central dialogue, and I think it is almost in the middle of the book, as I can tell. I’m reading it on an iPad from iTunes, so I’m not sure if it’s in the center of the book as constructed. There is a conversation between Ivanov and Rubashov in his cell with the brandy, which is really about Christianity and its opposition to communism. And it’s, that’s why Crime and Punishment comes up. That’s why Raskolnikov’s moral argument with himself comes up. Indeed, it’s why Rubashov has a conscience developing. In what he calls the interior dialogue, the grammatical dialogue, it’s just his conscience is awakening. And I am curious if you are teaching it that way as an argument between Christianity and secular absolutism?

LA: Well, the way, first of all, of course you can’t leave out Christianity. It appears so dramatically here, right? It, Ivanov mocks him. Get thee behind me, Satan.

HH: Yes.

LA: You, and he’s accusing Rubashov of thinking of Ivanov as Satan. And you say that, because you’re afraid of me. And the reason you’re afraid of me is because you think like I do. Get thee behind me, Satan. Apage Satanas, right? That occurs several times.

HH: Many times.

LA: So now first of all, what does that mean? Remember, I’ve already said these guys in the Soviet Union, they’re like the disciples around Jesus in a way, and after Jesus goes. So Lenin is like Jesus in this example. And the reason it’s not blasphemous is that it’s the parallel that exists between Heaven and Hell, right? Everything that is in Heaven is also in Hell, except God, because there’s a bunch of angels.

HH: Yup.

LA: …down there, right? And they set up a polity that’s rather like the one in Heaven, now just an angel is in charge of it, right? And so these guys have got all these doctrines, universal doctrines, and they’re fighting about it constantly. And the presence of these doctrines gives everyone who’s read them some standing to debate, right? And that compromises, in principle, the power of Number One. But if Number One has the power to say it means this and that’s it forever, except until tomorrow…

HH: Yeah, he declares it, and it’s over.

LA: That’s right.

HH: Until he changes his mind.

LA: That’s the only way that a human being can have absolute power. And since human beings are changeable, whereas God is not, then they also have to have that absolute power to say finally and forever what everything is, but also we willing, be able to change it at will.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And then, once they’ve changed it, it must be finally and forever. And so…

HH: Yeah, I think the indictment of Christianity that Ivanov creates, I’ll quote him in his dialogue, “My point is this,” he says to Rubashov, our anti-hero hero. “One may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions. That is the first commandment for us – sympathy, conscience, disgust, despair, repentance, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery.” They’ve really got to remove the humanity from themselves. I remember you talking about Churchill and the white ants. This is that declaration. You can’t have anything that is natural to us.

LA: Yeah. And see, to make him believe, to make, for Ivanov to make his friend save his life and repay him for saving, Rubashov saving Ivanov’s life, to make him, to save him, he does have to convert him back to the revolution.

HH: We’ve got to go to a break. He does have to convert him back. We’ll be right back on that with Dr. Larry Arnn. Stay with us. We’ll be right back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

— – – – – –

HH: When we went to break, we were saying, Dr. Arnn, you were saying, that Ivanov has to reconvert him.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Has to…

LA: Ivanov wants to reconvert him and forgive him. And Gletkin wants to reconvert him and then kill him. So here’s the, what I think is the clinching argument, and I think this is what you’re probably talking about, Hugh. You, he’s mocking St. Rubashov, he says. After a life of sin, that is to say, in communism, he has turned to God, to a God with the double chin of industrial liberalism and the charity of the Salvation Army soups.

HH: (laughing) Yes.

LA: (laughing) Satan, and Satan is Number One, see? Satan, on the contrary, is thin, ascetic and a fanatical devotee of logic. He reads Machiavelli, Ignatius of Loyola, Marx and Hegel. He is cold and unmerciful to mankind out of kind of mathematical mercifulness. He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him, to become a slaughterer, right?

HH: And damned if it isn’t persuasive when he talks about the untold millions who die of starvation and famine. Why worry about a few people who are standing in the way of a real paradise?

LA: Yeah, and that’s right. That’s arithmetic.

HH: That’s fairly rendered.

LA: In other words, genocide is just murder, except multiplied, right? It’s a matter of arithmetic. And so…

HH: It’s chilling, because it can actually seduce you, in part.

LA: Well…

HH: Let me close by mentioned 402. Rubashov is in Cell 404. He’s surrounded by, in 406, a madman, sort of, and in 402, an aristocrat. And Matthew Dowd, I quoted last week, loves the line that honor is decency without vanity. What do you make of 402? Why is he there? He’s the old czarist aristocracy. What’s he supposed to be doing?

LA: Well, first of all, Rubashov, when he announces who he is, Rubashov is surprised and amused. There’s a little bit of that left, I see. There’s still some of those around, right? That means the revolution has completely succeeded, but it’s a reminder of what it replaced. And that way, you can see it gives, it’s not a big part of the novel, except at the end, by the way. He does find a unity with 402. And that could be an important point, so you may be on to something big there, Hugh. We have to think about that. But the first thing is it gives a backdrop, right, because it is to be known by people that this kind of rule, both in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union, conceives itself as an entirely new kind of thing, and a completely encompassing and utterly ruthless kind of thing.

HH: Yeah, and it is. It is so cold. It is absolutely so cold and so chilling. So here’s my last question for this week, and I don’t know, yet, and I don’t even want to know if Ivanov turns out to be insincere in his sincere attempt to reconvert, or just simply trying to get a conviction. I don’t know, yet. But your students arrive without the omnipresent awareness of Soviet Union and communism that you and I grew up with. And therefore, I wonder if they’re even prepared to understand that we lived with this for the first 40 years of our lives knowing that this is what was over there on the other side of the wall. Do they get that? This is a real thing in our lifetime? It isn’t like your great-grandfather’s war. This was, until 1989, the reality.

LA: Well, that’s such a good point. And the way I, at least, address it is to show them that that is a kind of potentiality that has arisen in our time. And the signs of it are still everywhere. And you know, what Churchill says, remember, Churchill’s point, Churchill was a very radical guy, in some ways, the most radical of these people we’re talking about, Huxley and Koestler and Orwell and Lewis. Churchill said that these, the massive administrative state that we have built is now becoming supernatural, in Europe and here, that that is going that same direction. And so you know, young people today, what is the world like that they live in? What they do see with their own eyes, and marvel, and fear about is everything is changing, right? They grew up in families, right? What does the family mean now? You know, in other words, they understand that everything, there’s an effort to reengineer everything. And that, by the way, is why I think it’s important to read these books.

HH: I also, I would add, today’s youth believe themselves, deeply and genuinely, to be free. And in some ways, they are. But they also believe themselves not to be threatened, which the peasant always understood he wasn’t free. And the aristocrat always understood he was always threatened. I don’t know that actually young people, 30 seconds, Dr. Arnn, do they ever feel threatened by this kind of a state?

LA: Oh, yeah. Well, they’re coming to now, right? At Hillsdale, they do, because we’re kind of a minority outfit. But just, you know, what’s it like to be on the campus of the University of Missouri? Most of the kids didn’t do that, right?

HH: Right.

LA: And many of the kids who didn’t do that reported themselves afraid.

HH: Unbelievable. Dr. Larry Arnn, we will conclude Darkness At Noon next week. I believe, then, we go to Huxley’s Brave New World. Am I right?

LA: That’s correct.

HH: Huxley is next after that, so get reading, America, and come back next week for the next Hillsdale Dialogue.

End of interview.


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