Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Invitation to Re-Post Old Paper on Two Faces of Fidel: Captain Ahab and Don Quixote (1990)

[#8 in a chronological series meant to update this blog with write-ups I failed to post during 2021-2022.]


In February 2022, former RAND colleague John Warren, who directed RAND’s office of public relations years ago, contacted me out of the blue from his current position at The George Washington University (GWU), and informed me that he was building a new website about Don Quixote:


He asked to add a paper I wrote long ago that compared Cuba’s Fidel Castro with Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: i.e., Draft Chapters on Two Faces of Fidel: Don Quixote and Captain Ahab, RAND Corporation, P-7641, 1990, available at:


I wrote it as an aside to other work I was doing on Fidel Castro’s mindset.  I had learned about the mythological Greek concepts of hubris and nemesis, whereby humans afflicted with hubris (the vainglorious pretention to be god-like) were struck down by Nemesis (the goddess of divine vengeance).  My sense was that dictators like Castro embodied both dynamics: they have hubris, yet deign to play Nemesis against someone else they accuse of hubris — i.e., they have a “hubris-nemesis complex.”  This paper provided a comparative way to discuss the dynamic, for Captain Ahab embodies the hubris-nemesis complex more than any other literary archetype, whereas Don Quixote appealingly does not.


Unfortunately, Warren needed a computer file with “live” footnotes and endnotes, but the only file available was in a 30-years-old bygone format.  His recourse was to find a student who would take on the job of redoing the file. 


What has happened since then, I don’t know.  In any event, I am delighted this paper may yet have a second home. 


The final paragraphs of the Foreword I wrote — “Hoping The Don Quixotes Of The World Prevail Over The Captain Ahabs” (April 28, 2022) — fits with my blog’s purposes.  So I excerpt it below:


“Meanwhile, in real life these days, there appear to be as many if not more Captain Ahabs roiling our society than Don Quixotes, largely because the current era seems exceedingly vulnerable to the forces of hubris and nemesis.  Donald Trump is a striking example of a leader ruled by a hubris-nemesis complex; he may want his fans to think he is Quixote-like, but his real nature is deeply Ahabic.  Elon Musk may not have a full-blown hubris-nemesis complex, but he too appears to be a slick blend of quixotic and ahabic tendencies, often oscillating between the two.  The January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol in Washington provided a spectacular display of Quixote- and Ahab-like characters, including in the ways many insurrectionists dressed.  Meanwhile, Fox News Primetime’s hosts (currently, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham) often seem to cast their amped-up orations in quixotic and ahabic tones; indeed, news pundits on the Right generally seem to do so more than do pundits on the Left.  The pro-MAGA, pro-conspiracy movement known as QAnon provides yet another example of quixotic and ahabic forces gone wild in our country. 


“America has become so malignantly tribalized around political, cultural, and other issues that the fissures in our society serve as inviting openings for the rise of newly aspirant Don Quixotes and Captain Ahabs.  When I wrote about them in past decades, I was mostly concerned about exemplars I spotted abroad (e.g., Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Qaddafi, Ahmenijad, Chavez).  Today I see reasons to be more concerned about quixotic and ahabic forces swelling and mingling inside our own country. 


“I continue to hope that the Don Quixotes of the world will prevail over the Captain Ahabs.  Yet I’m no longer so certain that they can and will.  America may be the nation where this matters the most.  But right now there’s the war in Ukraine, where Russia’s Vladimir Putin exhibits something of a monstrous hubris-nemesis complex, while Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky fights back impressively and pragmatically, all the while displaying a Quixote-like spirit infused with a sense of Nemesis.  This war, whoever wins, may have profound effects on the balance of Quixotic and Ahabic forces around the world — which may matter more than we presently know.”


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