OPIATE OF THE INTELLECTUALS
"The belief [hopefully] seems to be spreading
that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors, or worthier as exemplars,
than the witch doctors or priests of old. I share that skepticism.
A dozen people picked at random off the street are at least as
likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters
as a cross-section of the intelligentsia."
Having spent much of my life with intellectuals, I say this with
intellectuals are some of the stupidest people I have ever met.
Not all by any means, but many of them.
Or perhaps better said, intellectuals are smarter than other people
but no less wise when it comes to politics --
as evidenced by so many intellectuals who became communists.
"Marxist socialism appears to be dying,
except perhaps in that home of lost causes, the university campus."
Foreign Affairs magazine
As a college student at UCLA at the end of the Cold
War, I must have had some of the very last Marxists in the whole
world as my political science professors. What is this strange attraction
by intellectuals to Marxism when virtually everyone else has discounted
it as a poison to humanity?
"...if we look at the ravages which Communist politics...
inflicted on those areas where they were allowed full play - the sheer
destruction of resources... the obliteration of morality and truth-telling,
the contempt for life, the ubiquitous corruption, the long-term poverty
- we have to count as an immeasurable blessing that Marxism took over
only one-fifth of the world... Supposing it had triumphed and run the
entire planet by its catastrophic system of wealth-destruction. The
whole of humanity would have then entered a new dark age of savagery
The National Review
"This communism, so threatening to my peace of
mind, so opposed to my interests, casts a spell over me. I cannot struggle
against its logic... Let the old social order be destroyed... Let right
be done, though the world perish."
June 20, 1842
"The myth of the Revolution serves as a refuge for utopian intellectuals;
it becomes the mysterious, unpredictable intercessor between the real
and the ideal."
The Great Debate, The Opium of the Intellectuals
"Why I am Not a Communist"
by Betrand Russell
Pope and Fidel Castro: The End of an Era"
by Geroge Weigel
"They [the Western intellectuals] needed to believe; they wanted
to be duped..."
"It is capitalism which is destructive of all culture and Communism
which desires to save civilization and its cultural heritage from the
abyss to which the world crisis is driving it."
joint letter urging the election of American Communist presidential candidate
William Z. Foster in 1932 signed by American authors and intellectuals Theodore
Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos,
Lincoln Steffens, Malcolm Cowley, Sidney Hook, Clifton Fadiman, and Upton
Sinclair to their great disgrace.
Try saying that today with a straight face!
"I believed in anti-fascism and international solidarity and brotherhood
and the liberation of man, and the Soviet Union stood for all these."
screenwriter Walter Bernstein,
explaining why he joined the American Communist Party
"I have been over into the future - and it works!"
the excited Lincoln Steffens describes the wonder and goodness of the Bolshevik
future after visiting the Soviet Union in 1919.
"We cannot afford to give ourselves moral airs when our most enterprising
neighbour... humanely and judiciously liquidates a handful of exploiters
and speculators to make the world safe for honest men."
George Bernard Shaw
"Just as the Inquisition did not affect the fundamental dignity of
Christianity, so the Moscow trials have not diminished the fundamental
dignity of Communism."
It is interesting to reflect where exactly lies the line between
naïveté and criminal complicity when one thinks about the Western
defenders of the regime of Joseph Stalin.
"I care not only that a person have idealistic
motivations in their life and work but also that the results
of their work help rather than harm people."
"Communism in and of itself is valuable in providing
a counterpoint to our most cherished ideas."
"...Perhaps we have no choice."
from "Modern Times"
"In the outside world, the magnitude of the Stalin
tyranny - or indeed its very existence - was scarcely grasped at all.
Most of those who traveled to Russia were either businessmen, anxious
to trade and with no desire to probe or criticize what did not concern
them, or intellectuals who came to admire and, still more, to believe.
If the decline of Christianity created the modern political zealot -
and his crimes - so the evaporation of religious faith among the educated
left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by
secular superstition. There is no other explanation for the credulity
with which scientists, accustomed to evaluating evidence, and writers,
whose whole function was to study and criticize society, accepted the
crudest Stalinist propaganda at its face value. They needed to believe;
they wanted to be duped...
Self-delusion was obviously the biggest single factor in the presentation
of an unsuccessful despotism as a Utopia in the making. But there was
also conscious deception by men and women who thought of themselves
as idealists and who, at the time, honestly believed they were serving
a higher human purpose by systematic misrepresentation and lying. If
the Great War with its unprecedented violence brutalized the world,
the Great Depression corrupted it by appearing to limit the options
before humanity and presenting them in garishly contrasting terms.
Political activists felt they had to make terrible choices, and having
made them, stick to them with desperate resolution. The Thirties was
the age of the heroic lie. Saintly mendacity became its most prized
virtue. Stalin's tortured Russia was the prime beneficiary of this
The attempt by Western intellectuals to defend Stalinism involved
them in a process of self-corruption which transferred to them, and
so to their countries, which their writings helped to shape, some of
the moral decay inherent in totalitarianism itself, especially its
denial of individual responsibility for good or ill. Lionel Trilling
shrewdly observed of the Stalinists of the West that they repudiated
politics, or at least the politics of 'vigilance and effort':
In an imposed monolithic government they saw the promise
of rest form the particular acts of will which are needed to meet
the many, often clashing, requirements of democratic society... they
cherished the idea of revolution as the final, all-embracing act
of will which would forever end the exertions of our individual wills.
For America, the development was particularly serious
because the Stalinists then formed the salient part of the new radical
movement; and as Trilling also noted:
In any view of the American cultural situation, the
importance of the radical movement of the Thirties cannot be overestimated.
It may be said to have created the American intellectual class as
we now know it in its great size and influence. It fixed the character
of this class as being, through all mutations of opinion, predominantly
of the Left.
This was the class which shaped the thinking of the
liberal-Democratic political establishment, which was to hold power in
the most powerful nation on earth until virtually the end of the 1970s.