All of Arthur Koestler’s works, both fiction and nonfiction, reveal a struggle to escape from the oppressiveness of nineteenth century positivism and its later offshoots. The Yogi and the Commissar, and Other Essays (1945) sums up the moral paradox of political action. The Yogi, at one extreme, represents a life lived by values that are grounded in idealism. The Yogi scorns utilitarian goals and yields to quietism; his refusal to intervene leads to passive toleration of social evil. The Commissar, committed to dialectical materialism, ignores the shallow ethical concerns of the historically benighted middle class and seeks to function as an instrument of historical progress. History replaces God, and human suffering is seen as an inevitable step toward the ultimate historical synthesis rather than as an element of God’s mysterious purpose. For the Commissar, the end justifies the means, and it is this ethical position that is debated most effectively in The Gladiators, Darkness at Noon, and Arrival and Departure.
In his postscript to the Danube edition of The Gladiators, Koestler points out that these novels form a trilogy “whose leitmotif is the central question of revolutionary ethics and of political ethics in general: the question whether, or to what extent, the end justifies the means.” The question “obsessed” him, he says, during the seven years in which he belonged to the Communist Party and...
(The entire section is 2974 words.)
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