wherein love is lost and found.
(A potable portion from a chapter of A Republic of Books, the ‘novel in progress’ to be found elsewhere on this site.)
Has our Thirty Years’ War only just begun, or has it ended long since and the news simply not yet arrived via a slow internet connection? I have often felt that way about history—in my youth especially. In those days the various socialist religions had long been at odds, much as the Catholics and Protestants of the Reformation once were—Christian killing Christian, with one Wallenstein after another rising in the ranks: Lenin and Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler, Mao or Khrushchev, Fidel and Che. From 1918 to 1989, this bloodletting had been an endless seventy years, more than twice the length of the key Reformation conflict, but a hundred times more deadly if mere lives are counted. Mere human lives, you understand, unlived. But then again, there are those who believe the Reformation never ended. And I see all of that in the troubled eyes of some students today.
Why do I carry this book, or that one, they ask?
Their Marxist professor (this political identity is unstated, but it’s a given by the very nature of the challenge) has reliably informed them that this book is evil. Don’t I know that the author is a Nazi or a fascist? By which they mean, not that the offending author is a Hitlerian National Socialist (as opposed to a Leninist International Socialist), or merely an advocate of the sort authoritarian nationalism that is Fascism and a first cousin to that. No. Remember now, this is an Orwellian universe. The same professors have determined that anything not international socialist is right wing. Internationalist socialism is the ideal for all. And perhaps they are correct that the Nazis are to the right of them, but how can they tell? Other than their fear of nationalism and its unregulated passions, their priorities are exactly the same—total control of society—a rendering of the population down to a homogeneous equality and an elimination of misfits. However, the unfortunate author who has offended their sensibilities thinks everyone is different and believes anyone has a right to say whatever they please, within civil limits, no matter how unpleasant. There is no attempt to reconcile the objective with the motive. This evil writer they abhor, believes, at least to some degree, in an open society. And that cannot be permitted.
Few of these students know what a ‘Nazi’ actually was, though many of their fathers or grandfathers died to stop those creatures. Fewer still understand what a fascist is, because they seldom if ever look at themselves in the mirror (beyond the makeup) or take the responsibility for their own actions.
I ask them, “How many died in Stalin’s purges?”
The answer, “That doesn’t matter!”
“How many more died in Mao’s cultural revolution than in World War Two?”
“That’s not the point!”
They continue to find the good war of seventy years ago, rather than the real and present evil in their midst.
“Exactly what did Adolf Hitler think he was going to accomplish?” I ask, by way of pointing out the similarities with their own objectives.
“Don’t change the subject! You should not be selling that book!”
This was also the disdain for actual human life, rather than the theoretical, that you’d commonly find in the political tracts of my early age, with people classified as bourgeoisie, or proletariat, blue collar or intellectual, rich or poor, male or female, black or white. It didn’t matter. The theories were all the same in the end.
One of those thinkers I didn’t especially like early on was Elias Canetti, who wrote Crowds and Power. He was a prick, and a dilettante, and a prime example of mid-Twentieth Century European self-supposed intellectual smugness (having successfully destroyed several hundred million other lives in there pursuit of a pan-Europa, he and his superior insight had somehow survived) but then, I suppose, even Elias Canetti had a few good things to say. This is my favorite of those: “It is always the enemy who started it, even if he was not the first to speak out, he was certainly planning it; and if he was not actually planning it, he was thinking of it; and, if he was not thinking of it, he would have thought of it.” Unwittingly (as I am sure that bile, not wit, was one of Canetti’s main strengths) he has captured the Orwellian mindset of the modern progressive of the early Twenty-first Century, whether in Cambridge, England, or Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Their fear was, and is, nationalism, not government—the distinctive cultural differences that are at the heart of that much abused word ‘diversity’ which in and of itself multiplies the natural differences of individual human beings exponentially. A larger and more powerful government, they say, is the answer. They’d get it right this time! Nationalism is too divisive. Exclusive. It breeds discontent. Prejudice. One culture is no better than another. Everyone is the same, after all, so they deserve the same government, whether they like it or not. And exactly what government is that? One that insures equality, of course. One that can enforce equality!
The Marxist ideal of equality is an evil unrivaled in human history. Why it appeals to youth, overcoming the natural narcissism of adolescence, is a mystery to me. Is that answer to be found in some unconscious fear of being different? Certainly the teaching of history must be proscribed. All the lives that were ever lost throughout human history to tribal warfare, religious purges, and barbarian invasion do not equal the genocide of the Marxist era alone.
But it was that one bit of wisdom from Mr. Canetti that kept me from placing blame, you see. And this was infuriating to my inquisitors as well, especially to those who wanted another body to whip, because, “It is always the enemy who started it, even if he was not the first to speak out, he was certainly planning it; and if he was not actually planning it, he was thinking of it; and, if he was not thinking of it, he would have thought of it.”