"When I must define my own views," writes Milovan Djilas in his latest book, Of Prisons and Ideas, "I identify them as 'democratic socialist.'" For those who find this oxymoronic, Djilas' whole book may seem like an exercise in contortion.
True to his earlier autobiographical works, Djilas clings to the purity and the intensity of his motives as proofs of his virtue. Long pages on the "idea" (a concept possibly meaningful in dialectical materialism) are used to illustrate the proposition that there is no evil but that of self-doubt. If Djilas has ever experienced any, it is hard to detect it in his autobiographies, or even in his other books.
Aside from its literary shortcomings (repetition, inanity, and sloppiness). Of Prisons and Ideas is Djilas' weakest book, because it is a triumph of his desire to be remembered as a philosopher. Whatever else he may be, Djilas falls far short of qualifying as a serious thinker—a writer who perceives both Plato and Marx as "the most eminent representatives of the two tendencies" (i.e., "idealist" and "materialist" philosophies) commands little respect, despite all his sincerity and suffering.
That Djilas has suffered, much, cannot be questioned, though he would be the last to let anyone forget it. Throughout Of Prisons and Ideas he concretizes his experiences into...