A couple of points and with the first I'm grateful, as is so often the case, to Chris Dillow for cutting through the bullshit:
"But what exactly is wrong with Hobsbawm's reply [to Michael Ignatieff]? The obvious retort is the deontological one, that there are some things we simply shouldn't do to people, even if they are necessary to create a radiant tomorrow. But many of Hobsbawm's critics cannot use this reply, because they themselves are utilitarians. Those who defend the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that civilian deaths were a price worth paying for the removal of a dictator, or who defend the use of A-bombs against Japan because they shortened the war are using the same calculus as Hobsbawm - weighing some lives against others' future well-being. The difference between them and him is one of accounting, not politics or morality."While I was among those who supported the invasion of Iraq, I would go further: not a few of those who took the same position as I did on this issue made what I thought then and now a rather lazy comparison between the architects of Appeasement and those who disagreed with them on Iraq, and identifying - not always implicitly - with Winston Churchill.
To them I'd have to say - because they are over-represented among Hobsbawm's critics - that I'm sorry if this is too obvious an historical point to make but Churchill and FDR seemed to be able to distinguish between the threat posed by communism and that presented by the Nazis, which is why they were on the same side as the USSR during the unpleasantness between 1939 and 1945. What is it with young people today that they can't complete a similar intellectual exercise?
Here's another thing: from what one has read, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Hobsbawm was primarily a historian of the 20th century. This is not the case. His trilogy - the Age of... - which focused on the 'dual revolution' in industry and politics, taking place over what he described as the 'long 19th century', is what those of us who prefer reading history to moral posturing will remember him for. He had, until the 'Age of Extremes', avoided the 20th century for fear his own partisanship would have coloured his work, as he remarked to Antonio Polito. Would that his critics were even half as self-aware.