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Rediscovering St. Mugg Print E-mail
By Daniel J. Mahoney   
Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The journalist, writer, and latter-day Christian apologist Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) was once well known by the cultivated public on both sides of the Atlantic. His television programs and BBC documentaries drew huge audiences (his 1971 documentary and accompanying book on Mother Teresa of Calcutta – Something Beautiful for God – first brought her to the attention of the larger world). Muggeridge wrote sparkling prose in works such as his autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time and in his beautiful meditation on the enduring human and theological significance of Christ in an age of skepticism and ideology, Jesus the Man Lives. The latter conveys far more spiritual insight than all of contemporary scripture scholarship, but is, alas, out of print.

Muggeridge’s life was dramatic without being self-dramatizing. Muggeridge was a faithful friend of people who mattered from Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell to William F. Buckley, Jr. (he was a particularly delightful guest on Buckley’s “Firing Line”). Muggeridge had been a reporter in Moscow for the left-leaning Guardian in the early 1930s and was among the first to tell the truth about Soviet Communism and all its works. He also served as a spy for MI-6 during the Second World War. Obviously, Muggeridge was no ordinary journalist. He was a man at the center of the intellectual and political life of the century who nonetheless knew that happiness could not be found solely through human efforts. An astute student of politics, he coolly assessed power and sharply chronicled dislocations and decadence (his work The Thirties is still very much worth reading).

A mordant wit and somewhat tortured seeker, his spiritual search carried him in the 1960s into a non-denominational Christianity of a decidedly Augustinian cast (see Jesus Rediscovered) and then in 1982 into the Roman Catholic Church. There he found his long-sought spiritual home. The luminous spiritual witness of Mother Teresa – whom Muggeridge never confused with a mere humanitarian – and the Catholic opposition to abortion led him to accept “the great boon and blessing” that is the Catholic Church.

Some secular critics derided him as “St. Mugg,” an aging man of the world who turned against worldly pleasures just as he was no longer able to enjoy them. For many years, Muggeridge did lead a tempestuous personal life. Even his supremely happy sixty-year marriage to Kitty Dobbs Muggeridge was marred in earlier years by infidelities on both sides and no small dose of tragedy. But as the essays edited by Nicholas Flynn in the recently published Time and Eternity: Uncollected Writings, 1933-1983 make clear, Muggeridge’s late embrace of Christianity was not a dramatic departure. His early turn away from socialism and secular radicalism stemmed from his first-hand observations of the Soviet Union and his growing awareness that “The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is all pretence, a denial of the very nature of life.” In 1938, he wrote that “if an epigraph were required for this sad and terrible time”— Communism and National Socialism were then in full bloom – “it might well be found in ‘The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.’”


     St. Mugg

As the nephew-in-law of the famous Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb and the son of a prominent Labour-Socialist activist H. T. Muggeridge, Malcolm went to Moscow expecting to find “the green stick," the fabled this-worldly source of human happiness. Instead he discovered unprecedented tyranny based upon a “General Idea” that had no place for human fallibility or the liberty and dignity of ordinary human beings.

Muggeridge describes in painful detail what was at stake in “class warfare” that showed no mercy for peasants trying to scratch out a meager existence as the regime “collectivized” them and confiscated their grain. Millions perished in a “terror-famine” in Ukraine and southern Russia, which was denied by George Bernard Shaw and Walter Duranty, the New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his mendacious reporting from Moscow. The “dictatorship of the proletariat,” Muggeridge tells us, hated traditional Russia – the peasantry, the church, the independent intelligentsia – and was bent on destroying it even if it meant ultimately destroying itself. Muggeridge lost his job at the Guardian but would later gain the respect of other honest men such as George Orwell and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for his courage and dedication to truth. Muggeridge wrote with particular lucidity and insight about Solzhenitsyn’s Christian-inspired opposition to the totalitarian degradation of man (satisfying a longtime wish, Muggeridge interviewed the Russian Nobel Laureate when Solzhenitsyn visited London to receive the Templeton Prize).  

The experience of utopia-in-power in the Soviet Union cured Muggeridge of ideological illusions and taught him that western civilization was eminently worthy of defense. No longer believing in the prospects for the self-deification of man, Muggeridge’s soul opened to belief in the one, true God. But even after becoming a Christian he refused the fashionable conflation of Christianity with secular humanitarianism, with what he mockingly called in a 1972 piece reproduced in Time and Eternity, “The Gospel of Jesus Égalité.” He did not become a Catholic near the end of his life, he wrote, because the Church offered a “panacea for contemporary ills, or the promise of future happiness.” That is to confuse Christian wisdom with utopian ideology, and to forget the true lesson to be drawn from the death and resurrection of Christ – the logos, the word made flesh – that “provides the bridge between mortality and immortality, between man and his creator and between time and eternity.”

There is a great deal to be learned from the life and witness of Malcolm Muggeridge, not least the fundamental and enduring distinction between Christianity and ideology. Let us hope that an American publisher has the good sense to make Time and Eternity, Nicholas Flynn’s remarkable collection of Muggeridge’s writings, available to the American public. Muggeridge should not become just another once-important but now forgotten figure. His voice and example still have much to say to us, who face many of the same threats under different guises.

 
Daniel J. Mahoney, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is Professor of Political Science at Assumption College and editor, with Edward E. Ericson, Jr. of The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New And Essential Writings,1947-2005. His latest book, The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order: Defending Democracy against Its Modern Enemies and Immoderate Friends, will appear in early 2011.
 
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Comments (8)Add Comment
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written by John McCarthy, October 13, 2010
Mr. Mahoney, This is a wonderful first essay. I hope you will become a "regular."

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written by Frank Egan, October 13, 2010

An eminent addition to your line-up
of essayists.
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written by Ray Hunkins, October 13, 2010
Thank you for this illuminating essay. I am old enough to remember Firing Line and have a vague recollection of Muggeridge's appearance. Which of his writings are still in print and available? Thank you
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written by Other Joe, October 13, 2010
Muggeridge's daughter-in-law Anne just died. She wrote "The Desolate City". It is worth reading alongside the works of her more famous relative. All utopian schemes fail to adequately account for the existence of evil and the necessity for free will. As long as individuals can choose, some will choose self at the expense of other. Sooner or later, (usually sooner) utopians resort to force to transform the human condition. Therein lies the tragedy of man-centered social organization and the power of the image of the cross. Excellent article.
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written by Daniel J. Mahoney, October 13, 2010
Dear Mr. Hunkins,
If you go to amazon you'll see that a fair amount of Muggeridge is still available in the U.S., including CHRONICLES OF WASTED TIME, A THIRD TESTAMENT, THE END OF CHRISTENDOM, and SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL FOR GOD(his book about Mother Teresa). Inexplicably, JESUS REDISCOVERED and JESUS THE MAN WHO LIVES have been out of print for some time now. TIME AND ETERNITY is the most comprehensive collection of Muggeridge's writings and illustrates the underlying continuity of his thought and spiritual odyssey. I strongly recommend ordering it from amazon.uk .
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written by Ray Hunkins, October 13, 2010
Thank you Mr. Mahoney. amazon.uk it is.
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written by Graham Combs, October 16, 2010
When I lived in New York in the early 90s, every Christmas, PBS would broadcast William F. Buckley's two-part interview with Malcolm Muggeridge at his English cottage. Toward the end, the conversation turned to man's artistic expressions in relation to God. Bach's work in particular. Mr. Muggeridge commented that to God, even Bach probably doesn't sound like much (or something to that effect). Mr. Buckley, amateur harpsichordist and lover of Bach gets a somewhat perplexed look on his face. Almost one of offense. Yet it seems Mr. Muggeridge possessed that hint of the Divine that both overwhelms us and gives a much needed perspective on this earthly life. I still love Bach of course. As athiest Stephen Jay Gould once responded to a question of what he would offer in a first contact with aliens, "Bach's Mass in B Minor. It is the best of who we are." I have no doubt God knows that and loves us for it.
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written by Al Fontaine (Brazil), October 17, 2010
Mr. Mahoney:

I thank you very much for this wonderful article. I was aware of the existence of Malcolm Muggeridge (and Gareth Jones) and what he (they) did to bring to light Stalin´s fabricated great famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s (the so called Holodomor).

But for Muggeridge´s unmasking of Walter Duranty and G. B. Shaw, I didn´t know anything else that goes in your splendid article, and wasn´t even aware of Malcolm Muggeridge´s extensive bibliography. So, heaping thanks!

BTW: I´ve just bought 2 titles by him on Amazon, and I am looking forward to buying your book, which is due next year.

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