Two images have been with me throughout the writing of this essay. Between them they seem to show the alternative paths for the intellectual. The one is of J. M. Keynes, the other of Leon Trotsky. Both were obviously men of attractive personality and great natural gifts. The one the intellectual guardian of the established order, providing new policies and theories of manipulation to keep our society in what he took to be economic trim, and making a personal fortune in the process. The other, outcast as a revolutionary from Russia both under the Tsar and under Stalin, providing throughout his life a defense of human activity, of the powers of conscious and rational human effort. I think of them at the end, Keynes with his peerage, Trotsky with an icepick in his skull. They are the twin lives between which intellectual choice in our society lies.
—Alasdair MacIntyre, "Breaking the Chains of Reason," in Out of Apathy (1960)
Yet, precisely like a personage in classical tragedy, Trotsky did not act to arrest, to defeat, the dangers he foresaw. Clairvoyance and policy drew apart, as if doom, seen as a historical process, had its irresistible fascination. He stumbled on, majestic. One thinks of Eteocles going clear-sighted to the death gate in the Seven Against Thebes, refusing the plea of the chorus for evasion or liberty of action:
We are already past the care of gods.
For them our death is the
Why then delay, fawning upon
—George Steiner, "Trotsky and the Tragic Imagination" (1966)
Alasdair MacIntyre and George Steiner—the authors, respectively, of After Virtue and Antigones—have both evolved a good deal since they wrote those lines. But if either of them was again to need a figure to represent dissent and defiance, or the fusion of the man of ideas with the man of action, or the wandering internationalist, he might be drawn once more to the character of Trotsky. Of no other participant in the Bolshevik-Marxist battles of the twentieth century could this really be said to be the case. Lenin is stranded in time and place, as are Mao and Ho Chi Minh. Stalin is annexed to the general study of pathological dictatorship. Combative and brilliant intellectuals such as Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci, and Nikolai Bukharin are for specialists, and were localized before they were defeated. Fidel Castro has at least made it into the twenty-first century, but at the price of becoming a bloated and theatrical caricature. Only Che Guevara retains a hint of charisma, and he made no contribution whatsoever to the battle of theories and ideas.