Bioethics Blogs

Left, Right, and Belief Formation.

A recent article by Jeff Sparrow on the Australian writer Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko has left me pondering the way that we form beliefs. Under the penname ‘Helen Demidenko’, Dale published a novel that told the story of a Ukrainian family, members of whom were perpetrators of crimes against Jews during the Holocaust. The novel was instantly successful, winning major awards, and equally controversial. It was described as anti-Semitic in its sympathetic depiction of ordinary Ukranians and its (alleged) caricatures of Jews. The book gained an aura of authenticity from the author’s claims that she based much of it on interviews with members of her own family, who had lived through the events depicted. Demidenko’s bubble burst when it was revealed she was born Helen Darville, and had no Ukrainian relatives to recount these tales.

What interests Sparrow is not whether the book is anti-Semitic or assessing Dale’s culpability for the deception. Rather, he is interested in the political reception of her book. As she now tells the story, she was the victim of a left-wing (and Jewish) witch-hunt. The left tried to associate her with the far right and to tear her down as she tried to speak an unpalatable truth. As Sparrow points out, however, the attack against her was led by right-wing culture war veterans like Gerald Henderson, while Demidenko was defended by left-wingers like David Marr. However, at some point the polarities shifted, and Demidenko came to be a right wing cause.

In the culture wars which have become increasingly important in Australian politics (following the US lead), people take sides on issues that are often seemingly far removed from those that animate the left/right divide.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.