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Is He Is or Is He Ain’t?

In response to:

Hitler & Company from the February 3, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

In a review of a book on the Action Française, Italian Fascism, National Socialism (February 3), Mr. George Lichtheim makes the following remarks:

Is Dr. Nkrumah a Fascist? He would be shocked if you suggested such a thing to him. I am going to suggest it, and I am also going to suggest that it is a great pity Mr. Conor Cruise O’Brien has not seen fit to state the fact.”

It is interesting how rapidly a suggestion of Mr. Lichtheim’s acquires, in his eyes, the status of a fact, and such a fact as must on pain of his displeasure be recognized by others. Whether Nkrumah is or is not a Fascist is a matter of opinion and interpretation, not of ascertained fact. Mr. Lichtheim himself admits that there is a “vast difference between African and European Fascism.” Holding this view, he should acknowledge that persons who refrain from tying the label “Fascism” to something “vastly different” from the European variety—which is the only one generally recognized—are not necessarily in error or in bad faith.

Nkrumah’s doctrines have nothing of significance in common with those of Maurras, nor does his practice seriously resemble that of Hitler. A comparison with Mussolini is somewhat more to the point, but not any more so than comparisons with Henry VIII or Daniel O’Connell would be. The degree to which European analogies are helpful in assessing African phenomena is limited. To suggest that one’s own pet analogy is so compelling that other people must adopt it betrays the arrogance of the pedant.

Conor Cruise O’Brien

New York City

George Lichtheim replies:

I had in fact supposed that the Fascist character of Dr. Nkrumah’s particular version of revolutionary populism (admittedly a widespread phenomenon) would have been apparent to the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana. However, since Dr. O’Brien dissents from my characterization of Dr. Nkrumah’s regime as Fascist, I am quite willing to amend the passage in question to read as follows:

…I am also going to suggest that it is a great pity Mr. Conor Cruise O’Brien has failed to perceive what should by now be obvious to the blindest eye.”

I trust this change will satisfy Dr. O’Brien. We all have our own form of pedantry. Mine relates to political noemnclature. I suppose there could be some argument about the precise degree of Fascism in Dr. Nkrumah’s ideological cauldron, but if Dr. O’Brien really believes that a comparison with Henry VIII would have been equally valid, it is clear that he and I don’t speak the same language.

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