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The great liberal death wish Print E-mail
By Malcolm Muggeridge   
Wednesday, 26 September 2012

How I first came to conceive the notion of the great liberal death wish was not at all in consequence of what was happening in the USSR, which, as I came to reflect after-ward, was simply the famous lines in the Magnificat working out, “He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek,” whereupon, of course, the humble and meek become mighty in their turn and have to be put down. That was just history, something that happens in the world; people achieve power, exercise power, abuse power, are booted out of power, and then it all begins again. The thing that impressed me, and the thing that touched off my awareness of the great liberal death wish, my sense that western man was, as it were, sleep-walking into his own ruin, was the extraordinary performance of the liberal intelligentsia, who, in those days, flocked to Moscow like pilgrims to Mecca. And they were one and all utterly delighted and excited by what they saw there. Clergymen walked serenely and happily through the anti-god museums, politicians claimed that no system of society could possibly be more equitable and just, lawyers admired Soviet justice, and economists praised the Soviet economy. They all wrote articles in this sense which we resident journalists knew were completely nonsensical. It’s impossible to exaggerate to you the impression that this made on me. Mrs. Webb had said to Kitty and me: “You’ll find that in the USSR Sydney and I are icons.” As a matter of fact they were, Marxist icons.
 
How could this be? How could this extraordinary credulity exist in the minds of people who were adulated by one and all as maestros of discernment and judgment? It was from that moment that I began to get the feeling that a liberal view of life was not what I'd supposed it to be – a creative movement which would shape the future – but rather a sort of death wish. How otherwise could you explain how people, in their own country ardent for equality, bitter opponents of capital punishment and all for more humane treatment of people in prison, supporters, in fact, of every good cause, should in the USSR prostrate themselves before a regime ruled over brutally and oppressively and arbitrarily by a privileged party oligarchy? I still ponder over the mystery of how men displaying critical intelligence in other fields could be so astonishingly deluded. I tell you, if ever you are looking for a good subject for a thesis, you could get a very fine one out of a study of the books that were written by people like the Dean of Canterbury, Julian Huxley, Harold Laski, Bernard Shaw, or the Webbs about the Soviet regime. In the process you would come upon a compendium of fatuity such as has seldom, if ever, existed on earth. And I would really recommend it; after all, the people who wrote these books were, and continue to be regarded as, pundits, whose words must be very, very seriously heeded and considered.

 

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