When I was growing up in Australia in the late 1950s and 1960s, the displaced European intellectual turned academic was a familiar figure on university campuses. Refugees from totalitarian and wartime Europe, conversant with Marx and Weber, polyglot and multilingual (but always with strongly accented English), veterans of complicated doctrinal wars in the sectarian world of European socialism, these rumpled figures, whom it was impossible to imagine had ever been young, provoked awed attention in some students and light-hearted mockery in others. For those who attended, there was an aura of mystery and suffering about these postwar refugees, who had lost country, family and possessions, and suffered multiple uprootings; they dwelt among the innocent - or at any rate ignorant - Australian young as exemplars of European experience and its burdens. Small groups of disciples clustered around them, absorbing political philosophy and an eye-witness view of the 20th-century history of Germany, Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. Charismatic and demanding to the initiated, uncomfortable with outsiders and ultra-sensitive to slights, these Europeans taught their disciples political tactics too, including Leninist conspiracy, though their politics were usually strongly anti-Communist.
LRB 1 September 2005 | PDF Download