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let us now praise famous men
RIP Robert Conquest

One of the most influential Cold War historians and Sovietologists, Robert Conquest, has passed away.

An accomplished poet and a self-described man of the Left who nevertheless was a trusted advisor to Margaret Thatcher, Conquest was most famous for being the first historian to document the extent of the barbarity of Stalin’s regime. Ridiculed by academics for his estimates in The Great Terror (1968) that Stalin’s purges had killed as many as 20 million, his estimates have proven to be on the low end of the spectrum after historians gained fuller access to Soviet archives. He was also among the first to recognize the weakness of the Soviet regime after Stalin, telling a Senate committee in 1970 that the current leadership was “intellectually third-rate and likely to commit blunders.”

Stanford Professor Norman Naimark, quoted in the New York Times, best summarizes Conquest’s achievement:

“His historical intuition was astonishing,” said Norman M. Naimark, a professor of Eastern European history at Stanford University. “He saw things clearly without having access to archives or internal information from the Soviet government. We had a whole industry of Soviet historians who were exposed to a lot of the same material but did not come up with the same conclusions. This was groundbreaking, pioneering work.”

We should remember Robert Conquest for his brilliance, and for his unflinching pursuit of truth despite the opposition he encountered.

He was 98, and is survived by his fourth wife and two sons. Rest in peace.

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  • Kevin

    A great man and very courageous to go against the received opinion of the day.

    To me the bigger question is what can we learn from him: Why was he able to perceive the nature of the Soviet system and its trajectory when so many others failed? Was it just a unique intuition or blind luck, or can the rest of us learn how to emulate the success of his judgments?

    • f1b0nacc1

      I had the great good fortune to meet him many years ago, and asked pretty much the same question that you just asked. His response was ‘I wasn’t married to my beliefs’, and I think that pretty much sums it up.

  • CaliforniaStark

    A truly great man. Conquest, along with ex-communists such as Arthur Koestler and Richard Wright, played a critical role in alerting the world to the depravity of the Soviet regime. Believe it was Ignazio Silone who once stated “the final conflict will be between the communists and the ex-communists.” In this case, the right side prevailed.

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