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Fire and ice

The end of the Soviet Union has released a flood of new histories of Russia and communism. Edward Skidelsky recommends two-one describes the tragedy of an idea, the other of a people

By Edward Skidelsky   March 1998

Tragedy is a compound of two elements: engagement and distance. This explains why the tragedy of an individual’s life is revealed most powerfully at the moment of his death. The memory of the life is still sufficiently vivid to engage us. But already a certain distance is placed between us and him. We no longer feel stirred to censor or correct, to applaud or wag a finger. Detachment-the necessary condition of tragic or indeed any form of contemplation-is born.

What is true of individuals is also true of nations and ideas. Only now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union…

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