Satirical Pastoral

The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy

by John Kenneth Galbraith
Houghton-Mifflin, 256 pp., $4.95

Judged as a light novel, The Triumph makes very pleasant and sometimes hilarious reading. It is rather closely related to Our Man in Havana and The Comedians; more distantly to Scoop and Harold Nicholson’s Public Faces. It is a good English tradition and The Triumph is in some ways a rather unAmerican work. The author seems, to a surprising degree, a stranger in the Washington world he describes; no doubt that world has always had its Anglophile tradition, but this is not the manner of an American Anglophile; this eye is not only ironic but perceptibly alien. Mr. Galbraith has been an Ambassador of the United States, but as a writer he is a Canadian of English nostalgia. As such he belongs spiritually more to the world over which America dominates than to the world of the dominators. The detachment, and a faint latent repugnance, which this position implies seem to enhance his sense of the ridiculous and give an edge to his prose, applied to some of the activities of some of our rulers.

As a political fable The Triumph is valuable above all for its picture, limned by one whose familiarity with the original cannot be gainsaid, of the terms in which official Washington assesses news of political change in the poor countries of its unacknowledged empire. Those on the Left and elsewhere who are apt to assume that anti-communism is simply a rhetoric issued to the vulgar by an elite whose actual calculations are carried out on quite other terms will find from The Triumph that theirs is not the world of Washington as an ex-Ambassador and senior adviser knows it. In The Triumph, anti-communism is not just a mode of presenting issues to the public; it is a mode of apprehending them.

The triumph of the administration in The Triumph is to install in office in Puerto Santos, through an excess of anti-communist wariness, a communist government. An official of the shortlived, would-be liberal, and would-be progressive government of Puerto Santos (with which the author’s sympathies clearly lie) aptly describes the near impossibility, for an independent politician in an underdeveloped country, of attaining justification in the sight of the jealous god of American anti-communism:

Some American, officials, we must face it, are not easy to reassure. If you are not a Communist, they suspect you of being a fellow-traveller. If you are not a fellow-traveller, they suspect you of being a stooge. If you are too smart to be a stooge, they suspect you of being a stalking horse. If assured on all these counts, they will still conclude that you are an opening to the left.”

But anti-communism is not only a mode of assessing situations directly: it is a mode of assessing other peoples’ assessment of the situations. A Washington official who is not in sympathy with the system—but with whom Mr. Galbraith is in sympathy—expounds the theory of “multiple interconnected blind spots”:

Miró is believed by Washington to have …

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