The Mind of the Ideologue

On February 16, 1979, a secular leftist professor of politics, Richard Falk, enjoying in the security of France a sabbatical for international meddling, wrote an editorial for The New York Times, entitled “Trusting Khomeini.” When the history of the collapse of western civilization is written, that editorial should merit more than a footnote. The pro-western Shah of Iran, no saint, but no ayatollah either, had been on the throne of Iran since he was a boy. He had guaranteed freedom of religion to Jews and Christians. He had bankrolled Great Britian only a few years before, when the English had nearly spent themselves to death. He was a buffer against radical Muslims in the Middle East. But he had a secret police, and they did the atrocious things that secret police do. And Iranians were growing impatient to see a broader distribution of the wealth from the oil fields. So the Shah had to go.

Professor Falk was no mere commentator on the coup d’etat. He was an important player in it, a fact that he does not reveal in his editorial. He writes to reassure everyone, though, that it was absurd to believe that Khomeini was a dangerous man. Khomeini was not, says Falk, a promoter of “theocratic fascism.” He was not motivated by “virulent anti-Semitism.” Khomeini has said that non-religious leftists would be welcome in Iran, so long as they do not “commit treason against the country,” a qualification which Falk brushes aside. He seems to have forgotten about all of the “traitors” murdered or sent to concentration camps in every ideologically defined state in the twentieth century.

“To suppose that Ayatollah Khomeini is dissembling,” he concludes, “seems almost beyond belief. His political style is to express his real views defiantly and without apology, regardless of consequences. He has little incentive suddenly to become devious for the sake of American public opinion. Thus, the depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary, and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false. What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisers is uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals.”

That was a few months before the Shah of Iran, dying of lymphoma, was finally admitted for medical care in the United States. Then the moderate, progressive individuals in charge of Iran smiled moderately and progressively, and political agitators, called “students” by the western press, seized the American embassy and held American citizens hostage.

 

Everybody makes mistakes. Tris Speaker predicted that the Yankees would regret turning Babe Ruth into an outfielder. But Falk’s colossal mistake, which has cost countless lives and which still bids fair to overwhelm the west in violence, seems to be more than a case of professorial naiveté. There is something mysterious going on here.
  Malcolm Muggeridge mused all his life long about the same sort of thing. What explains the phenomenon of the “fellow traveler,” the man who follows a movement that would destroy people like him first of all? What explains the bishop Talleyrand who associated himself with the haters of the clergy? “There have been Jewish anti-Semites, and male feminists,” says Muggeridge, “and brewers who were total abolitionists. The fact is that human behavior cannot be comprehended in the concept of enlightened self-interest.” Men are better and worse than that.

Muggeridge saw them in their various species, which are with us still: “These millionaires … who identified themselves with forces unmistakably destructive of their wealth; these pious clergymen who lent themselves to propaganda which made a mockery of the faith they professed; these admirable scholars who contentedly swallowed the most monstrous perversions of historical scholarship.” He recalled the mild-mannered socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who wrote their learned tome, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization, after Stalin had starved some millions of his citizens to death and turned the Ukraine into a weed-infested waste. The Webbs knew of this. Muggeridge himself had reported what Stalin was doing, while Walter Duranty of The New York Times, whom Muggeridge liked personally and called the most accomplished liar he had ever met, was writing puff-pieces on overflowing silos and Russian boys in love with their tractors. Muggeridge for his pains won the inveterate enmity of the left. Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize.

The Webbs also knew of the forced labor camps; what Solzhenitsyn would cause to live in infamy as the Gulag Archipelago. Yet they wrote that “the USSR is the most inclusive and equalized democracy in our world.” When the Nazi Ribbentrop received the Order of Lenin in Moscow, in 1941, where were the Webbs, or the leftist Dean of Canterbury, or the tenderhearted humanitarians of the west? Or, to advance the dreary reel, why did Jason Epstein, writing The Great Conspiracy Trial about the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, not notice the difference between the Sermon on the Mount and this wisdom delivered by Bobby Seale: “If a pig [a policeman] comes up to us unjustly, we should bring out our pieces and start barbecuing that pork, and if they get in our way, we should kill some of those pigs and put them on a morgue slab”?

Why did we shove to his eternal reward the cowed and cooperative Muammar Qaddafi, to usher in the supposedly democratic Muslim Brotherhood and their like? Why does Canadian television boast a self-soothing spree of multicultural comedy, called Little Mosque on the Prairie? Why are anti-Semitic rallies breaking out in Boston, without national scandal?

Why should people on the ideological left be fellow travelers with Islamists? What is the connection?

Here comes the inevitable protest. “You are the fellow travelers!” they cry out. “You social conservatives are no better than the Taliban!” That is because orthodox Catholics do not believe that a man can marry a man, that people should be permitted to snuff out the lives of the children they have made, that little children ought to be required to play Naming of Parts with some minor governmental functionary of little knowledge and less wisdom, that men and women are utterly interchangeable except when a man insists he really is a woman or vice versa, and so forth. By this definition, my parents and grandparents were members of the Taliban. So were all their neighbors. Fulton Sheen was a mullah, Franklin Roosevelt a caliph, Pope John XXIII an imam, and Washington the sultan of his country.

That accusation we can dismiss as ridiculous. Yet it’s telling, that anyone would make it. Such people do not say that the Ayatollah Khomeini was as wicked as Bishop Sheen. They do not hate the Ayatollah, but they do hate the bishop. They revile the shy, scholarly Pope Benedict, the dearest friend the Jewish people have had in Rome, because he dares to oppose them in matters sexual; but they do not revile the mullahs who demand that Israel be swept into the sea.

Perhaps Pope Benedict himself has solved the riddle: modern man and the Muslim are alike held bound by the same false idea. It is what Muggeridge called will.

Last night I saw a clip of a brutal execution. Four little boys, sitting at a bench, hands bound behind their backs, shot in the head one after another by a Muslim soldier. My only prayer then was to look at the Cross. No words sufficed.

There is the answer—to all our weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable pursuit of pleasure, power, prestige, and wealth. The Cross is Christ’s rebuke and welcome to us all. There is our God, uniting Himself with suffering, weakness, ignominy, and poverty. He is no hoary old god of politics: “My kingdom is not of this world.” We could kill Him, but we cannot catch Him. When we try to strip him down to an idea and put it in its cell, we find not Jesus but somebody else, coolly contemptuous of the bars. “Come in,” says the Prince, filing his fingernails. “I am the one you chose.”

Islam crams the world into its narrow pages. Allah is beyond love; beside love. Islam takes the single idea of the will of God and runs mad with it. Modern man exalts the will also. He takes one poor idea of freedom, understood as permission to do what you will, and rages against the world for being the world and not inert stuff for his will to work on. He rages against men for being men and women for being women. He despises what is normal both when it is sweet and when it is bitter. He denies all sin, and forgives none. He denies all sanctity, and forgives none.

Muggeridge says that the ideologue is possessed: “Argument does not impinge upon him, and the normal restraints of prudence are not operative. He is ready, even eager, to eat yesterday’s words, and to denounce yesterday’s hero.” He needs not persuasion, says Muggeridge, but exorcism.

Jesus Christ, God made man, suffering and dying for us upon the Cross—He is the answer. That is why He is hated so deeply. A whole civilization now seems ready to die rather than to bend the knee to Him.

Anthony Esolen

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Anthony Esolen is Professor and Writer in Residence at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan Books, 2016); Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017); and Nostalgia (Regnery, 2018).

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