One cannot help wondering whether Pope’s disease was not an aid to his genius, insofar as it precluded distraction from the exercise of his brilliant natural abilities. This is not to say that it was desirable, or in some sense “€œjustified”€ by his work; in fact, this ironist wrote one of the most piercing lines I know:

To help me through this long disease, my life…

A line that is not self-pitying, as it would most likely be if written by a modern poet, but a literal truth, for Pope was seldom without pain, and by the end of his life could not sit up in bed unaided or without some mechanical contrivance.

However, I had not intended to write of Pott’s disease, but rather of the last lines of the article on Gramsci:

He has probably remembers with emotion in his tomb the “€œvideo Letter”€ sent to him in 1997 by the Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm: “€œYou have been dead for sixty years, but you live in the heart of those who want a world in which the poor have the possibility of becoming true human beings.”

These words to me are chilling, all the more so when you realize that they were uttered by a man who, toward the end of his very long life, said that if the deaths of the 20 million people who died in the Soviet Union (it was probably many more) had brought about true socialism, then they would have been worth it.

I have spent much of my life among the poor or relatively poor. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me for a single moment that any one of them was not a true human being. Indeed, if they were not true human beings, their poverty would be nothing to worry about. I neither romanticized them as the fount of all goodness and wisdom nor saw them as mere objects.

Hobsbawm’s remark, supposedly so generous but in fact utterly heartless, was of a piece with Mao’s chilling remark about the Chinese people being a blank sheet of paper on which the most beautiful characters (ideographs) could be written. For people like Mao and Hobsbawm, it is for other people not to be truly human, never themselves.


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