Today is the centennial anniversary of the start of the First World War. On 28 July, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian army fired the first shots, to crush rebellious Serbia. What happened then, and why, is traced in this video.
Blame is laid on the growth of nationalism, and even more on imperialism – the acquisition of colonies by the powers of Europe on other continents, in fierce competition with each other, Britain being far and away the winner. The fact that at least some empires, chiefly the British, brought incalculable benefits to the lands they conquered, colonized and ruled, is touched on briefly; in our view, too briefly.
We think it is an overview worth watching, though there are points where we would place a different emphasis.
We agree with the presenters that the day World War One broke out was the day Europe began its terminal decline.
Why did the West fail to claim an ideological or moral victory at the apparent end of the Cold War?
Did the West really even win the Cold War?
Diana West asks these questions. She goes on:
If we go back in time and listen, we hear no consensus click over signs that an unalloyed US-led triumph over communist ideology had taken place; nor do we find a sense of national thanksgiving for the forces of good – or, at least, for the forces of better – in their triumph over the forces of a non-abstract evil as manifested in Gulag or KGB or famine or purge history. “Mustn’t gloat” was about as joyous as the White House of Bush No. 41 ever got.
The inability to proclaim victory loud and clear derives from the Christian injunction to be humble.
Almost everything that handicaps our civilization comes from its Christian legacy; and everything that drives it forward to discover and innovate, to attain greater prosperity, longer life – whatever general conditions are needed for such happiness as we may individually be capable of – is the legacy of the Enlightenment, the awakening from the long dark nightmare of “God’s” reign, the rise of reason. It only happened to the West. Reason and its children Science, Freedom, and the United States of America, made the West great; not, as those lovers of the darkness, the god-worshipers, like to intone, the “Judeo-Christian” tradition.
All religions are the ideological enemies of the West. But yes, the Red ones, Communism and its conjoined twin Environmentalism, are the most dangerous at present. They suffuse and weaken our culture and our civilization.
They are the New Christianities.
Diana West is right to diagnose Communism as the transforming blight.
Was the official non-reaction due to that “crisis of confidence” we always hear about — specifically, that “politically correct” failure to believe in the worth of the West? I used to think exactly that and no more. The self-loathing West, failing to see anything of value in itself, was simply unable to take satisfaction, let alone pride, in the demise of its mass-murdering nemesis. “After all,” the PC catechism goes, “Who’s to say the Western system is ‘better’ than any other?”
But there is far more to it. At a certain point, it becomes clear that what we are looking at isn’t a West that fails to appreciate itself anymore, but rather a West that isn’t itself anymore.
Decades of subversion by communist infiltrators and American traitors, collaborators and “useful idiots” have helped make sure of that. So, even if the military enemy went away after the dissolution of the USSR on Christmas Day 1991, our ideological enemy never even had to break step.
Cold Warriors might have prevailed abroad, but America lost the ideological Cold War at home.
This helps explain why our college campuses are outposts of Marx, our centralizing government is increasingly invasive and dictatorial, and our culture is one of metastasizing decadence …
President Obama’s recent speech in Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, reveals the chasm between what we have become and what we are supposed to be. Wearing his “Leader of the Free World” hat, Obama made the case against Russia’s annexation of Crimea by conjuring a Manichaean split between free societies and dictatorships. But does it fit?
According to the president, there are free societies where “each of us has the right to live as we choose,” and there are dictatorships where the rule is “ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs.” Americans confronting government-mandated health insurance would do well to wonder exactly which society they live in.
Obama continued: “In many ways, the history of Europe in the 20th century represented the ongoing clash of these two sets of ideas.” That contest, he explained, swerving wildly away from historical fact, was won “not by tanks or missiles, but because our ideals stirred the hearts” of Eastern Bloc anti-communists.
Omitted was the fact that these revolts were mainly crushed without US aid. Omitted also was the decisive role that President Reagan’s “tanks and missiles” – and missile defense – played in the military contest.
In this post-World War II era, Obama declared, “America joined with Europe to reject the darker forces of the past and build a new architecture of peace.”
Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in sum, is an attack on that “architecture,” and, as such, is bad.
On closer examination, however, that same US-EU “architecture” doesn’t support the free-society paradigm so much as what the president calls the “more traditional view of power” – the one that sees “ordinary men and women (as) too small-minded to govern their own affairs.”
This latter view aptly describes the “soft” tyranny of the EU nanny state, whose early lights, after all, were Belgian Socialists and Nazi sympathizers with visions of a unified pan-European welfare state. In Brussels, their political progeny – unelected bureaucrats – increasingly dictate political and social norms across a “United States of Europe”.
In the US, the medical totalitarianism of Obamacare – not to mention Obama’s serial usurpations of power (not enforcing legislation he doesn’t like, making up and enforcing legislation he does like) – makes it all too clear that this president has a dictatorial temperament.
This is unsurprising when you consider that his political baby, his engine of transformative change – state-mandated health care – happens also to have been an early program of the Bolsheviks, and had as one of its earliest US boosters a noted Stalinist named Henry Sigerist. This seems like as good a moment as any to remind readers that the UN and the IMF, those leading institutions of globalist infrastructure, were fostered into post-World War II existence by a pair of notorious American Soviet agents – Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White.
Truly, it’s a Red, Red world.
To most people “Quaker terrorists” may seem a contradiction in terms. So we must explain.
To excuse or defend terrorism is to encourage it; to encourage it is to co-author it.
And what is terrorism? It is not an ideology. It is a method, a tactic. It is the systematic use of violence to create public fear. By the targeting of the innocent the fear is spread. Everyone in a certain place, or of a certain race or calling, or in a certain position, must be given reason by the terrorist to fear that he or she, or his or her spouse or child or parent, can be blown into pieces, or be knifed or beaten or shot to death, by complete strangers at any moment. Terrorism is morally indefensible. Arguably the most morally indefensible form of violence that can be imagined. Nothing can justify it. No cause. Nothing.
For centuries the Quakers were a widely respected sect. They were pacifists on moral grounds. Pacifism was one of their founding religious principles. Their name was synonymous with non-violence. In wars, they would serve their country as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, stretcher-bearers … They eschewed violence even in self-defense. As a sect, they lived up to their principles. That was what they were respected for.
(For the record – in our view a pacifist upholding his principle of non-violence when the aggressors are Nazis or Communists say, while others risk their lives to save him from them, is not admirable. But our task here is to explain the Quaker view, which many hold in high esteem: that it’s wrong to use violence at all. Ever.)
But now the Quakers are terrorists. They are terrorists in that they excuse, defend, and actively encourage terrorism.
Here is the story of how the change, the reversal of their values, came about. We have taken it from the The Tower, condensing the full account given by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe:
The Quakers — thus named because they tremble or “quake” before God — [is] a Protestant sect founded in England during the mid-17th century. … As part of their beliefs, Quakers oppose violence in all its forms and reject any compulsion in religion. …
The Quakers are also called The Friends. So unthreatening. So simple. So trustworthy. So good.
On April 30, 1917, the Quakers formed The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) “in response to America’s entrance into World War I”.
Challenged by public hostility and government disapproval due to their refusal to be drafted, the Quakers formed the AFSC in order to organize alternative forms of service for its members, such as providing medical aid and other non-violent participation in the war effort.
The AFSC slowly expanded over the years, and by the late 1940s it was an established Christian organization with global experience, recognized by national and international establishments as a major provider of international relief, charity, and aid. …
The dawn of the Cold War, however, proved a turning point in the history of the organization. In April 1947 …
Just thirty years after its founding …
… a faction within the AFSC’s leadership convened a meeting at which the head of the organization, Clarence Pickett, and others argued that tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union had become so intense, and the threat of atomic war so grave, that the AFSC should abandon its long-standing tradition of political neutrality.
The argument was absurd. How by taking one side against the other would they be lessening the tension and preventing atomic war?
It is true that one side of the Cold War was working through agents of influence to get the other side disarmed by public opinion. It paid its agents to organize “Peace” movements. Not because it was for peace, though it pretended to be. Far from being peaceful, it was arming, aiding and abetting proxy wars of “liberation” on five continents. That lying, hypocritical, relentlessly belligerent side was the Soviet Union. And that is the side the AFSC took.
Can there be much doubt that Clarence Pickett, whether personally paid or not, was one of its agents?
Such a stance [of neutrality], Pickett said, could no longer be an article of faith but a crime. The radical nature of this [new] stance was reflected in the words of another participant, who said, “Evolution is too slow. We need revolution in the Society of Friends.”
Hear in that the vocabulary, the phraseology of Marxism.
The organization, Pickett and his supporters felt, should actively spearhead a peace movement that would directly challenge America’s Cold War policies.
Not for a moment did they apparently consider that the American Cold War policies were a direct challenge to the Soviet Union’s hot war ambitions.
This began the AFSC’s transformation from a religious group to, as one Quaker scholar later put it, “just one more pressure group within the secular political community”.
Or in other words, it changed not only from a pacifist to a revolutionary movement, it also changed, effectively, from a Christian sect into a Communist sect.
The AFSC’s newly radical stance took aim at American policies throughout the 1950s and paid little or no heed to repression and terror in Communist countries. This hit its stride during the Vietnam War. The organization bitterly and actively opposed the war throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Its attacks on American policy in Vietnam were furious and wide-ranging, opposing everything from the escalation of military operations to all forms of aid to South Vietnam to the conduct of the war itself. In addition, the AFSC directly violated American embargoes and sent medical aid directly to North Vietnam. These actions proved to be extremely controversial. In one case, the AFSC was accused of revealing to the North Vietnamese that a prominent Buddhist activist was a CIA agent, prompting one prominent Quaker to hold a sit-in at AFSC headquarters in protest.
So some individual Quakers – many, according to the authors – were still true to their founding principles, or perhaps were American patriots.
The AFSC’s activism placed it unquestionably on the side of the American far-Left, where it remains to this day.
The Quakers’ [erstwhile] beliefs in nonviolence have not prevented them from supporting bloody despotic regimes. …
And the hypocrisy was – and remains – blatant:
While still voicing support for pacifism, the organization increasingly aligned itself with violent Left-wing governments and movements, some of which used terrorism to advance their goals.
Many rank-and-file Quakers were appalled at the AFSC’s overt support for such regimes and movements, as well as its double standards … But their protests proved fruitless. The AFSC rejected all criticism as fundamentally illegitimate “red-baiting and McCarthyism”.
“Red-baiting”. Again, the vocabulary of the Communists. Or rather of the Comintern – the Soviets’ ideological club for foreign fans of its appalling system.
… The AFSC’s policy towards Iran is [to demand] the removal of sanctions and [dismiss] concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons.
It is openly, shamelessly supportive of the most terrible regime on earth:
Today the group operates collective farms in North Korea …
And is intimately supportive of at least one of the most savage terrorist groups on earth – Hamas.
Romirowsky and Joffe trace the history of the Quakers relationship to the “Holy Land”, the Palestinians, and Zionism, giving them credit for aiding the refugees more rationally than most other organizations working among them. But …
… after the 1967 Six Day War, the AFSC began to take a more explicit and fervent pro-Palestinian stance, applying its growing radicalism and willingness to accommodate the use of violence to the Middle East conflict.
As the 1970s saw the rise of Palestinian terrorism as a major source of global violence, the AFSC began to take a disturbingly understanding approach to the issue. A 1972 AFSC pamphlet, Nonviolence: Not First For Export told its readers:
… before we deplore terrorism it is essential for us to recognize fully and clearly whose “terrorism” came first, so that we can assess what is cause and what is effect.
It was clear enough that, in regard to Israel the AFSC had no doubts about whose “terrorism” came first. The pamphlet expressed, for example, deep understanding toward the Palestinian Fedayeen — “those who sacrifice themselves” — terrorists whose main purpose was to infiltrate Israel and kill civilians. …
In 1973, the AFSC called for a U.S. embargo on arms and other aid to Israel, and in 1975 adopted “a formal decision to make the Middle East its major issue.” It quickly opened an office in Israel, installed specialized staff members at regional offices in the U.S., and began advocating for the Palestinians in Israeli and international courts. Israeli officials quickly discovered, however, that the new AFSC representative in Jerusalem was attempting to organize on behalf of the PLO. …
The AFSC has moved ever closer to the Palestinian cause since the 1970s. Today, this is expressed through fieldwork, lobbying, and activism, in particular through the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement [against Israel] …
In regard to Hamas’ indiscriminate use of rockets against Israeli civilians, the AFSC simply notes that “it is important to look at the firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups in context”, since this is “intertwined” with “ongoing Israeli military actions in Gaza”. …
Military actions which are rare, targeted, and defensive only. While the rockets are constant, indiscriminate, and aggressive.
The authors suggest that the Quaker movement now clings to its anti-Zionism as a cause to keep it alive.
It may be that a movement like the Quakers, which has seen its numbers dwindle along with other liberal Protestant denominations, sees anti-Zionism as a last resort; a movement with powerful emotional appeal on which it can draw in order to maximize its power. If so, then it has undone a great deal of the good it once did, and substituted hypocrisy and bad faith instead.
Once a byword for humanitarianism … it has now become, in effect, a brand — one on which the AFSC can trade as it exploits the putative neutrality and pacifism it stands for in order to advance hostility toward Israel and, with its promotion of the “right of return”, an end to Israel itself.
In the end, the AFSC’s story reflects the tensions between pacifism and politics, between aid work and political activism … It demonstrates that small religious movements are susceptible to hijacking by radicals, and suggests that pacifism may inevitably engender its opposite. The organization’s slide has been a long one, and at the moment it shows no sign of or interest in reversing it.
This information was given to us as a comment on our post Saved from Communism – and flourishing (September 15, 2013) by our reader – and citizen of Chile – Carlos. It confirms the two reports we quoted, which praise Chile for its spectacular economic achievements since 1973. But it is also a reality-check and corrective to their optimism, because it also tells the distressing story of how the Left is trying to sabotage the system that worked so well and return the country to failed collectivist policies:
The information you cite on this post is correct. The country I grew up in was entirely different from the one my parents knew. Latin American nations have always been poor in ways someone that hails from the Anglo-Saxon world can’t fathom, and it’s been like that since the Spaniards came hundreds of years ago.
My parents, the son and daughter of poor country workers (the kind that toiled the land without technology or electricity), are now medical professionals, wealthy, and have traveled to all continents. It’s the kind of story you hear in those once poor third world countries that lead free market reforms, or about first generation immigrants that arrive to the US as paupers and then, after some decades, amass the kind of wealth only a small percentage possess in their countries of origin.
Besides [and because of] having the highest per capita income of the region, the people of Chile surpass others in South America on eating and drinking alcohol, so much that, just like the US, obesity and diabetes are a major health concern of all ages.
With all this, you would think that the Chilean people would be happy and elated about their progress …
Yes, progress – because obesity and diabetes are bad effects of eating too much, not too little …
… but that could not be farther from the truth. The political consensus, accepted by pretty much everyone, is that the Chilean economic system is immoral and awful; a system built on “inequality and greed”.
Like in the US and Europe, the political Right has abandoned the Universities and intellectual spheres, leaving them to the Left to reign supreme. Socialism of all stripes is discussed on all political talk shows, while the greatest and most successful economic reforms in Chile’s history (the greatest reduction of poverty in recent years, for one) are scorned as “neoliberalism” and not egalitarian, and capitalists are despised with the same animus as your lefties [in the US] inveigh against the “one percenters”.
While the European welfare states are teetering, the people here hate the privately managed social security, accusing them of being thieves. The general belief here is that if something, whether minerals, forests, social security funds, etc., is owned by the State it is the property of everyone, which is good (no matter how much it costs or how much the national debt rises), but if it is private then someone somewhere is stealing from them (with commodities this is believed even if the prices are low).
This thinking is also applied to education.
Throughout 2011, huge protests broke out clamoring for free university education and the end of the voucher system for funding school education for poor families. The protesters were led by a member of the Communist Party, who was acclaimed and embraced by the fawning media. The protests ended up with more than a thousand policemen injured (beaten, burned by molotov bombs, etc.) and damages to schools on strike (by their own students, if not older members of left wing fanatic groups) that, according to the Minister of Education, amount to the cost of building 11 all-new schools.
Street violence is now a staple of the national life, with policemen attacked with a shower of rocks, molotov bombs, and acid (yes, ACID). Even the horses that policemen use have been the subject of horrible knife cuts. The last protest to commemorate the 40 years of the coup ended up with a policeman with his face (nose, teeth, cheek) destroyed by a rock blow, as several others had their hands burned with acid. (See videos of the riots here – where a fallen mounted policeman is stoned – and here and here.)
All of this without counting the crude and disgusting language the police are subject to by the crazed mass that revels in violence.
The two greatest universities of the country are hostile grounds for Presidents of all stripes. Years ago, Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist President, was verbally abused in the Law faculty of the University of Chile and paint was hurled at him for the crime of not been socialist enough. And just three or two years ago, the current President, Sebastián Piñera and other political colleagues where attacked in the Catholic University of Chile by a group of students that behaved like a group of crazed baboons hooting and jeering.
The “secular religion” of the Left, besides the sanctification of the “Dear Leader”, is the adoration of the martyrs of the Revolution.
At the tax payer expense, a Museum of the Memory was built to commemorate all the 3000+ victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, all under a language of Human Rights violations. Of course, there is no mention of Allende’s association with the Soviet Union, one of the greatest Human Rights violators ever, only surpassed by others that applied the system of Scientific Socialism, which Allende and the Left adhered to and admired. There is no mention, also, of the more than 400 police and military men that were murdered by the paramilitary groups; no mention of the human disaster that Allende government was (with a ridiculous high inflation, shortages of the basic victuals, rationing lines, out of control political violence, aggressive taking over of land and industries, the State controlling most of the economy); no mentioning of the language the Left used during Allende’s reign: the threat of violent Revolution, and, most disgusting of all, the claims that, after killing the men of the Bourgeoisie, they would take their women ‘to the bed’, a nice and blithe euphemism for rape.
Our Communist Party has expressed, openly, their grief for the passing of the lunatic dictator Kim Jong-il, and gave vocal support to the Assad regime on the glorious duty of massacring their own people (a very Communist endeavor, you know). These horrendous, ignominious, disgraceful acts in support of murder and evil that boggle the mind are met with total (yes, that is the word) indifference by the general populace, while Pinochet’s dictatorship is routinely condemned.
Michelle Bachelet, a member of the Socialist Party who governed Chile between 2006 – 2010, will return again as a candidate for the next election. While in her first mandate she tended to be Center-Left, supported by a somewhat moderate coalition, and applying as much fiscal sanity as a Socialist can have, this time she comes at the head of a new political group that includes the Communist Party and is bent on changing the “Neoliberal” system, increase taxes and all the litany of reforms that scares investors and ruins long term economic projects. She enjoys the support of nearly 40 – 45% of voters, mostly because of her motherly appearance and the fact that she is a woman.
The problem with Chile is that, as Ayn Rand would say, its very core, its spiritual, cultural and historic center, is complete and powerfully rotted with Altruism. It is embedded in the national soul. Its roots lie, I believe, with the Catholic creed, and is something that most Chileans embrace. This allows for any right, any value to be sacrificed on the altar of the Collective, Public, Tribal good.
This is the reason I am writing this to you, because I think that in some years, Chile will utterly fail in its quest for economic development, and it will be a disaster.
Economic liberalism, individualism, is the antithesis of Altruism.
The Left has learned NOTHING from the experience of Allende’s government: the living members of his administration have publicly refused to ask for forgiveness for ruining the economy and the coexistence of a nation that some three years before was peaceful and stable. The younger members of the Left believe that the CIA and the Right ruined the economy just to get rid of Allende. The lessons of History only apply to their enemies.
It is a very bleak picture that I have painted of the current situation of Chile, but it is one that any of us living here would profess, any of us that believe in freedom, private property and the secular Rule of Law focused on defending individual rights.
Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the second essay under the title The Darkness of This World. The first can be found here.
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
The Gnostic in ancient, medieval, and modern times, rejects “this world”.
To the Gnostic of the early centuries C.E., “this world” was the physical earth and everything on it, all created by an inferior god. He knew that somewhere, elsewhere, there was something immeasurably better, purely good, because he had a minute spark within him – gifted to him by a higher source of existence who was Goodness itself – which informed him through his intuition that it was so. This inner spark was his Gnosis (Knowledge). Having it, he was on to the scam that nature and the ignorant mass of mankind tried to put over on him. So he fought against the world, a saintly warrior for the Good. He fought against nature by defying it – refusing to beget children; and against civilization by reversing its values – declaring everything commonly believed good to be evil, and everything commonly believed evil to be good. His reward lay beyond and above this world. 
To the Gnostic of the Middle Ages, “this world” was not only this earth but also the Catholic (Universal) Church. Informed by that same Gnosis which guided the Gnostic of antiquity from within, he fought against Catholic doctrine and practice with the same refusals and reversals. To him everything the Church believed and did was evil; its priests were the servants of Hell. The Church would sniff him out, hunt him down, destroy his body with fire, but he would rise after death to the realm of the Good. 
To the Gnostic of our era, “this world” is the political-economic system of the Western nation-state. As a warrior for a never-yet-realized reign of the Good on this earth, he fights against the established order in theory and practice. He holds the values honored by custom and defended by law to be evil; the values they abhor to be good. He does not want to reform or improve the system; he wants it wholly overthrown. He is a revolutionary. He feels passionately that “this world” needs to be transformed.
Recently commentators have been writing about traditional Western values being inverted.
We live in a backwards world in which the decent are regarded as indecent, defenders of western institutions are considered as terrorists, correct naming is derogated and often prosecuted as slander and “hate speech”, violence is justified if committed by our enemies, unseasonable cold weather is interpreted as an infallible sign of global warming … It is a world in which Iran chairs the UN Conference on Disarmament; and Syria  was recently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. … We have, for the most part, colluded in an agreement that upside-down down is right-side-up, backwards is forwards, and madness is sanity … 
In the essay quoted, David Solway cites a book by Melanie Phillips (whom I much admire for her courageous and percipient defense of many a just cause). It is titled The World Turned Upside Down.  She believes that the topsy-turviness – which she deplores – results from a loss of faith in “God” and detachment from the West’s “Judeo-Christian roots”. I have no doubt that Europe is becoming less religious. But I do not think Christianity (which is what is generally meant by “Judeo-Christian roots”) was good for the West, or its values ideal. Nor are they the values that are being inverted. The values that the Gnostic revolutionary scorns are those of the Enlightenment.
Enlightenment thinking was rational, skeptical, and humane. Gnostic ideology is emotional, dogmatic, and cruel.
Daniel Greenfield – the editor and writer chiefly responsible for the sustained excellence of Front Page Magazine – comments on a Time Magazine article typical of topsy-turvy thinking among media pundits:
News coverage has nothing to do with reality. Instead it is a deliberate inversion of reality in which the murderers are the heroes and the greatest threat comes from their victims. The bad guys are the good guys. The good guys are the bad guys. The slavery of Islam is freedom. The freedom of America and Israel is slavery because it has to be defended against the slavery of Islam. 
Such defiance of civilized values arose as a significant historical factor with the Romantic movement around the middle of the 18th century. The Romantics hated the Industrial Revolution, its “dark satanic mills”, its noise and ugliness. They did not care if it made life better for most people – which it did, however ugly and squalid living conditions were at first for the workers in the industrial cities. The Romantic movement was a backlash against the Enlightenment, against scientific and technological advance, against capitalism, against reality. Romantics dreamt of utopias: beautiful societies consisting of ideal human beings who would live for the happiness of their fellow creatures and share all material goods. And all they had to do to win such a world was, they believed, to destroy the world they lived in. Merciless brutality to living people would be justified by the creation of a heaven on earth inhabited by imaginary angelic beings.
Socialism, Communism, Nazism, Alinskyism, Environmentalism … all revolutionary ideologies spawned by the Romantic rebellion against the Enlightenment.
How do the revolutionaries know that after vast destruction their beautiful new world will be born? They know it. They are the Gnostics of the modern age.
They made revolutions in the twentieth century, whether by constitutional process or by violence. They took the reins of power and set about creating their new worlds, which lasted for years here and decades there; and wherever their utopias were, and in the name of whichever ideology they were governed, they stand out as exceptionally marked by terror, pain, cruelty, despair and death.
But the idealists learnt no lesson from the failure of their terrible experiments. The dreamers did not lose their faith. Instead of fading away, withered by disgust and contempt, the faith spread, and is becoming so prevalent that some observers – I among them – see it now as characterizing the West.
The Gnostics who dream on of destroying our civilization should not be ignored. What have they said and done? What are they saying now? We must pay attention. They mean it.
Jillian Becker July 14, 2013
1.These are the essays on ancient Gnostic sects in the The Atheist Conservative: How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus and Menander); Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Valentinus, February 14, 2011; Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites); The sinning Jesus, the laughing Christ, and the Big Bang of Basilides, April 6, 2013. See also Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013.
2. These are the essays on Gnosticism in the Middle Ages: Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars). In the Bugomils’ case, their resistance was maintained against both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
3. Iran is working to become a nuclear-armed power, and has threatened Israel with total destruction.
4. The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, like his father before him, is notorious for the oppression, torture, and mass killing of tens of thousands of his own people.
5. David Solway, Living in a Backwards World, frontpagemag.com, July 2, 2013.
6. The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth and Power, by Melanie Phillips, Encounter Books, New York, 2010.
7. Daniel Greenfield, Time Mag: Muslim Terror No, Buddhist Terror Yes, in The Point, frontpagemag.com, July 11, 2013.
The Left, as a whole, in the Western World, has become far more extreme in this century than it was in the last. The Socialist and “Conservative” parties of Europe, the Democratic Party of America, the universities everywhere, the media and the film industries, book publishers, song writers, judiciaries, and a slightly varying half of the voters in almost all Western countries, are predominantly of one opinion, consciously or semi-consciously, articulately or silently, that Marx and Lenin, and even (though their names may be spoken a shade more sotto voce) Stalin and Mao, were right.
This is from Front Page, by Vladimir Tismaneanu:
It has become fashionable among leftist circles to invoke a return to Lenin, to radicalism, to utopia. Among those who advocate such imperatives to “retest the communist hypothesis” one can count French philosopher Alain Badiou, a former admirer of the Khmer Rouge, and Slovene thinker, Slavoj Zizek, the new idol of Western university campuses, subject of documentary hagiographic movies, and prophet of a new phantasmagoric world revolution.
To know more about Slavoj Zizek, see our post Red alert, January 21, 2009. And to get the flavor of the man, watch the video at the foot of this post.
Did the partisans of such positions ever stop to think how it would sound a call for “retesting the Nazi hypothesis”? One must be totally oblivious to history, an incurable cynic, in order to ignore the fact that Leninism, just like National-Socialism, means political terrorism, the apotheosis of fanatical partisanship, the boundless cult of violence and nihilism, etc. In short, Leninism presupposes … the destruction of the inner man. Leninism is theoretical and practical anti-humanism.
‘The inner man” in this context means the individual for himself alone, not as a unit of “society”.
There have been conferences and symposia where Lenin is presented, in an academic context and without any trace of compassion for the millions of victims of “the great experiment”, as the philosopher of the break with an order putatively condemned by history.
The “order putatively condemned by history” is of course capitalism, or the free market. Those who condemn it and praise “the great [Communist] experiment” have not noticed that the free market has brought widespread prosperity wherever it has been allowed to, or that Lenin’s experiment, the miserable Soviet Union, failed and fell and lost the Cold War.
All in all, it is unsurprising that the prophets of violence worship Lenin. What is surprising is that intellectuals, who should have learnt from the catastrophes of the 20th century, are engaged in an endeavor driven by programmatic irresponsibility. It is simply shocking that in countries where the Leninist model was implemented, one can still read and hear hymns honoring the architect of a criminal system.
Should we be amazed by all this? What could one expect from the epigones of Georg Lukacs, the Marxist philosopher who declared … that he preferred the worst form of socialism to the best incarnation of capitalism. …
Georg Lukacs was the Hungarian Commissar, and philosopher of drama and art, on whom Jillian Becker’s character L is based in her novel L: A Novel History.
Real history does not matter for such sectarians. What does matter is the dogma to which they are faithful in total disregard of reality. … It is quite telltale that one of Hugo Chavez’s intellectual heroes was Istvan Meszaros, one of Lukacs’s former students who … has remained a flaming Marxist, faithful to the dialectical sophistries of his mentor.
An excellent example of such world-view is a recent memoir by a Romanian Marxist intellectual, Ion Ianosi, who happened to be deeply involved for long stretches of time in the ideologization of the country’s culture during communism. The volume’s title is My International. Some critics glorify the book as testimony of heartfelt sincerity. What is missing in those more than 800 pages is an honest analysis of Bolshevism as justification of social genocide. Ion Ianosi seemingly excels on topics such as “Marx and Art”, “Lenin and Art”, pretty much the same fields for which his expertise was called upon during his activity within the Romanian communist party’s Agitprop. But Ianosi shies away from trying his expert pen on topics such as the crimes against humanity inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Even before the Bolsheviks’ coming into power, it was clear that Lenin was a fanatical propagandist, a utopian ideologue fixated on social purity and purification, an heir to Robespierre and St. Just, but no philosopher. Philosophy implies doubt and Lenin was the man without doubts. …
Lenin was the practitioner of a simplistic, partisan, and exclusivist philosophy. He rejected emphatically any possibility for a middle path, of a tertium datur between what he called “bourgeois ideology” and the “proletarian” one.
We at TAC are all for “bourgeois ideology”, if the bourgeoisie as such – the successful middle class – can be said to have such a dusty thing as an ideology. We value the middle class, anyway, above the others, because out of it has come almost every one of those men (and handful of women) who have advanced our civilization and augmented the glory of our culture in the last five hundred years. (Though also most of those who’ve done our civilization the worst harm, such as Marx, Lenin, Lukacs …)
Lenin’s Manichaeism [bourgeois bad, proletarian good] was inexorable. For Lenin and his followers, ideas were (are) always the manifestation of class interests. … This is the meaning of a notion essential for the Leninist conception about ideas, ideologies and philosophical consciousness: partiinost – partisanship, class position, militant commitment, total and abject subordination to the party line.
Leninism is a revolutionary doctrine that sanctifies political violence and condemns entire social categories to state-engineered extinction. It is … rooted in the visceral contempt for the rule of law, legality, and the universality of human rights. “Back to Lenin” means a return to barbarism, blindness, and murder.
We are not enamored of the phrase “human rights”. We prefer to speak of human freedom, which we suppose is what Professor Tismaneanu, who has lived under Communism in Romania, probably means.
Now here’s Slavoj Zizek. He starts at about the 2 minute mark. Don’t expect to be rewarded for over 15 minutes of paying attention with any impressive ideas. He says nothing much, but with strong emphasis, and what he does say is notably wrong. For instance, that Norway is intolerant of immigrants! (Go here to test this notion, and to any other of Bruce Bawer’s numerous articles on the same subject.) He thinks the major political groupings in Europe are now the “capitalist anti-immigrants” on one side and the [Islamic] immigrants on the other. (Would it were so! ) He calls himself a Leftist, though oddly declaring that in America there is “an excess of anti-capitalism”; calls Fox News “the enemy”; and implies that the worst problem facing mankind is … you guessed it … global-warming.
Obama did not hide his intention to transform America. He stated that he would. What he did not say is what he would transform it into. But even a superficial acquaintance with his upbringing among dedicated Communists, education by Marxist professors, chosen affiliations to revolutionary and even terrorist Leftists, and activity as a “community organizer” could have told anyone paying attention in what direction he would try to move the country if he was elected to the presidency. He clearly intended to transform, if he could, a free capitalist country into an unfree socialist country. (What could not have been foreseen, but has become starkly clear, is that he also favors the advance of Islam in the US and the world.)
How a radical Leftist activist, once in power, might set about transforming America into a socialist country was blueprinted by Saul Alinsky - initiator of “community organizing” – in his Rules for Radicals. And Saul Alinsky had a blueprint in the works of Antonio Gramsci.
There’s an excellent survey of the life and works of Antonio Gramsci at Discover the Networks. Here’s an extract:
Antonio Gramsci was born in Sardinia on January 22, 1891. After graduating from the Dettori Lyceum in Cagliari, he won a scholarship to the University of Turin in 1911; by this point in his life, he was ideologically a socialist.
Four years later he became an active member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and began a journalistic career that saw him develop into one of Italy’s most influential writers. In the Turin edition of Avanti! (PSI’s official organ), Gramsci wrote a regular column on various aspects of the city’s social and political life.
Also active in educating and organizing Turin’s workers, Gramsci in 1916 began speaking periodically at workers’ study-circles on such topics as the French and Italian revolutions and the writings of Karl Marx.
When Russia’s Bolshevik revolution broke out in 1917, Gramsci embraced the goal of spreading socialist transformation throughout the capitalist world.
In the spring of 1919, Gramsci co-founded L’Ordine Nuovo: Rassegna Settimanale di Cultura Socialista (The New Order: A Weekly Review of Socialist Culture), which became an influential periodical among Italy’s radical and revolutionary Left. Meanwhile he continued to devote much of his time and energy to the development of the factory council movement, which sought to advance the cause of a proletarian revolution in Italy.
In January 1921 Gramsci aligned himself with the Communist minority within PSI at the Party’s Livorno Congress, and soon thereafter he became a central committee member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).
From May 1922 to November 1923, Gramsci lived in Moscow as an Italian delegate to the Communist International. In 1924 he relocated to Rome and was named general secretary of PCI. He also began organizing the launch of PCI’s official newspaper, L’Unità (Unity).
In 1926, Italy’s Fascist government enacted a host of “Exceptional Laws for State Security,” designed to suppress political opposition. On November 8th of that year, Gramsci was arrested in Rome and was sentenced to 5 years in confinement on the island of Ustica. In June 1928, his prison sentence was increased to more than 20 years, including a stint in solitary confinement. …
He died, still under guard, in a Rome hospital in 1937.
During his years as a prisoner, Gramsci filled 32 notebooks (containing almost 3,000 pages) with his political and philosophical meditations on how Marxist theory could be applied practically to the conditions of advanced capitalism. …
Gramsci accepted Marx’s assertion that perpetual struggle between the ruling class and the subordinate working class was the driving mechanism that ultimately made social progress possible. But he rejected the notion that direct physical coercion by police and armies was the method of choice for achieving and maintaining victory in that struggle. Rather, Gramsci held that if a population at large could, for a period of time, be properly indoctrinated with a new “ideology”—specifically, a set of values, beliefs, and worldviews consistent with Marxist principles — a Marxist system could be sustained indefinitely and without coercion or force. In short, Gramsci held that Marxists needed to focus their efforts on gaining “hegemony” (i.e., control or dominion) over the core beliefs of non-Marxist societies; to change the population’s understanding of what constitutes basic “common sense.”
Such a development, said Gramsci, would never occur naturally as a result of some inexorable, unseen, “historical laws” that Marx had accepted as axiomatic. Rather, Gramsci asserted that Marxism’s potential for transforming society was wholly dependent upon the willful initiative of activists committed to using a “reversal strategy” designed to establish a “counter hegemony”—i.e., an alternative dominant worldview—in opposition to the existing capitalist framework.
Specifically, Gramsci called for Marxists to spread their ideology in a gradual, incremental, stealth manner, by infiltrating all existing societal institutions and embedding it, largely without being noticed, in the popular mind. This, he emphasized, was to be an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary, process that, over a period of decades, would cause an ever-increasing number of people to embrace Marxist thought, until at last it achieved hegemony. Gramsci described this approach as a “long march through the institutions”.
Among the key institutions that would need to be infiltrated were the cinema and theater, the schools and universities, the seminaries and churches, the media, the courts, the labor unions, and at least one major political party. According to Gramsci, these institutions constituted society’s “superstructure,” which, if captured and reshaped by Marxists, could lead the masses to abandon capitalism of their own volition, entirely without resistance or objection.
Gramsci’s formula was followed by Marxists throughout the Western world. “The long march through the institutions” was doggedly pursued. From the 1960s on, they began to achieve success, perhaps beyond their own optimistic expectations. And in 2008 their efforts were crowned by the election of Barack Obama to the most politically powerful position in the world.
Socialism (or “Communism” – even in the USSR the two words were used interchangeably) is an economic dream-system that cannot succeed. So it will not succeed. But it takes time for a socialist state to fail completely, and in the meantime it does ruinous and painful harm.
In Europe the failure of socialism is gathering pace as calamities crowd to a fall.
In America the harm is only just beginning.
In a discussion of a book titled Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West by William Kilpatrick, this passage occurs:
Some atheists have called for a humanitarian response to Islamic violence. For example, Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke against harsh Muslim practices that defy “universal rights” and called for “promotion of freedom, equal opportunity, and secular values for all.” However, Kilpatrick points out that secular values simply cannot stand up to a totalitarian Islam because the fruits of the Enlightenment (free speech, free press, democracy, reason) depend on the Christian roots. Atheists often claim religion causes the world’s problems and removing such “superstition” will increase respect of humans.
Kilpatrick’s own conclusion is that “ultimately only Christianity can stop Muslim growth”.
To prescribe one religion as a cure for another is like infecting a person with measles to cure his mumps.
But that is not the issue we are engaging now.
The notion that “the fruits of the Enlightenment (free speech, free press, democracy, reason) depend on the Christian roots” is what concerns us here. It has become a standard assertion of Christian apologists, needled by the secularist contention that the Enlightenment was the bright morning come at last after the centuries-long night Christianity had brought down on Europe.
To support the claim, its advocates insist that Christianity stands for and has always stood for individual freedom, hence for free speech and freedom of the press.
Its assertion that all persons are equal “before God” implies – the Christian argument goes – an endorsement of democracy.
As for reason, they claim that although their creed is to be accepted on faith and not subjected to rational analysis, to believe in Christian doctrine and to act according to Christian teaching is reasonable.
It is not hard to dispel these rosy fancies in the court of an impartial judge.
Individual freedom? The medieval Catholic Church was as totalitarian in its tyranny as it could possibly be in its long age of power; and the Calvinists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Puritans … the Protestant churches in general, crushed and punished the expression of free thought wherever their power was established, as zealously and cruelly as the Catholic Inquisitors. Calvin, for instance, declared: “When the papists are so harsh and violent in defense of their superstitions, are not Christ’s magistrates shamed to show themselves less ardent in defense of the sure truth?”*
Equality in Christendom? Not on the earth of Europe. It wasn’t even thought of.
In terms of power:
[T]he lawlessness and disorders of the Dark Ages led churchmen first to collaborate with secular rulers, and then to seek their subjugation. … [The] Vicars of Christ became indistinguishable from the nobility.**
In terms of wealth:
The everyday dinner of a man of rank ran from fifteen to twenty dishes. … [For the peasants] the years of hunger were terrible. [They] might be forced to sell all that they owned, including their pitifully inadequate clothing, and be reduced to nudity in all seasons. In the hardest times they devoured bark, roots, grass; even white clay. Cannibalism was not unknown. Strangers and travelers were waylaid and killed to be eaten, and there are tales of gallows being torn down … by men frantic to eat the warm flesh raw.***
Reason? As it is not rational to believe in a superhuman Lord of the Universe, it is not reasonable to trust the teaching of his priests.
Furthermore, for centuries -
The Church encouraged superstitions, recommended trust in faith healers, and spread tales of satyrs, incubi, sirens, cyclops, tritons, and giants, exlaining that they all were manifestations of Satan. The Prince of Darkness, it taught, was as real as the Holy Trinity.**** [With that last sentence we concur.]
The Enlightenment, far from being a product of Christianity, was its antidote. It was a revolt against the intellectual arrogance of the Christian ages.
It was a revolution: the quietest, the most important, and the most successful revolution that ever happened. It was a movement of intellectuals who dared to challenge orthodoxy by questioning the dogmatic “truths” of the Christian Churches. Its defiant values encouraged dissent – to the acute chagrin of the Christian powers. It revived classical doubt – the very essence of reason – in European man, and so began the revival of scientific enquiry and experiment. And it inspired the founding of a new nation in America where all citizens would be equal and free under laws they made themselves.
Only where there is doubt is there tolerance. And where there is doubt there is questioning of authority – of popes and cardinals and kings.
Christians argue that American law enshrines laws which occur in the “Christian bible” (by which they mean the Jewish bible, where the proscriptions against murder, theft, and perjury were listed, and which the Church adopted after some initial reluctance). Therefore, they say, this is a debt that the secular law owes to Christianity. But in fact such laws are much older even than the legendary Moses and his engraved tablets (circa 1250 BCE). They are assumed, for instance, by the Code of Hammurabi (circa 1770 BCE).
If the apologists want to sweep all that aside and base their claim on a pure Christianity that pre-dated the corrupt pontiffs, their case is still hard to defend. To quote from our own post, Tread on me: the making of Christian morality (all sources provided in the notes to the essay):
Briefly, but including all salient points, here is Paul’s moral teaching [and thus the first recorded moral teaching of his invention, Jesus Christ, later interpreted and elaborated by the gospel writers]:
We are the filth of the world, the scum, the muck that is scoured from things. The lowest of the low.
Let us abase ourselves; be fools; be humble, and associate with the lowly.
Do only the most menial work for a living.
Bear affliction with patience, even with joy.
You must consider all others to be greater than yourselves.
Love one another, love all. Then you will be harmless and blameless. That is what I ask you to do to make me proud of you.
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Bless those who persecute you. Let them do the most evil things to you, and return only good to them. We glory in our suffering. However hard your life is, rejoice and give thanks. Never seek revenge.
Obey the government. Pay your taxes.
Women, be silent in church.
Marry if you must, but I would rather you remained unmarried and chaste as I am.
Pray constantly. Never feast or carouse, and stay sober. Do not commit sexual immorality. Attend quietly to what you must do, and mind your own business. Be patient always, even when you need to admonish those among you who do not work hard enough.
Share all you have so that you’ll all be equal in worldly possessions.
Do all this for the sake of Christ. Because he died for you, because he suffered on the cross for you, you must bear all things for his sake. You belong to him because he bought you for a price.
This comment follows:
It is a morality that demands and glorifies self-abasement and self-abnegation, as a perpetual repayment of a debt imposed on all humanity by Jesus’s “self-sacrifice”.
It scorns talent, disregards personal ambition, forbids individual self-fulfillment.
So when conservative Christians claim – as they often do – that Christianity initiated and promotes individualism, they are plainly wrong. To the contrary: from its inception Christianity has been the enemy of individualism.
It planted the perverse value of subservience in Western culture; a value that was to re-emerge as an ideal in other collectivist ideologies. Paul’s idea that it was greatly good for the individual to subjugate himself to the community contributed even more profoundly to the ideology of Communism than did his doctrine of sharing and equality [in possessions, subjugation and abasement].
A morality that makes cruel and unnatural demands on human nature will nurture hypocrisy and breed despair: hypocrisy because sustained self-denial is impossible, so lip-service is substituted for obedience; and despair because to strive for the impossible is to ensure failure.
Of course there was a backlash against the Enlightenment. The ever present tendency in human nature to let emotion overrule reason asserted itself early in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, father of Romanticism, grandfather of Socialism, and great-grandfather of Environmentalism. It is through those channels that Christian values flowed into the age of reason, and survive, along with a decrepit Christianity itself, to trouble us now.
* Quoted in translation by William Manchester in his book A World Lit Only By Fire, Back Bay Books, Little Brown, 1993, p 190.
** Manchester pp 40-41
*** Manchester pp 52, 54
**** Manchester p 62
Jillian Becker January 22, 2013
“A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn is not so much a history, more a compendium of complaint. And (therefore) of every Leftist issue you could think of.
(We have written about Zinn before. See our post Zinn writes histories, December 11, 2009.)
The “People” in Zinn’s mind are a totally different species from the “fifty-five privileged white males whose class interest required a strong central government” and so wrote the Constitution and founded the Union. Those same fifty-five privileged white males of a species different from the People have continued to pursue their selfish material interests ever since at the expense of downtrodden masses. These masses, this vast victimized majority (he quotes Shelley at them: “Ye are many; they are few!”), consists of subordinated races, females, persons of minority sexual preferences (he doesn’t call them that), and people who would like to be rich but do not manage to become so (he doesn’t call them that).
Zinn milks pity from his readers (or tries to). He would have you feel bad if you are white, if you are male, if you are “privileged” (ie not poor), and if you are American; but implies over some 700 pages that you can redeem yourself from your badness if you will beat your breast frequently, cry ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!” every day of your life, and join with the complainers in bringing down those fifty-five imperial villains by becoming a violent radical socialist revolutionary or, more comfortably – well, he doesn’t say so in the book because it was published before the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged, but he would have said, by joining it.
Thomas Sowell writes at Townhall:
Schools were once thought of as places where a society’s knowledge and experience were passed on to the younger generation. But, about a hundred years ago, Professor John Dewey of Columbia University came up with a very different conception of education — one that has spread through American schools of education, and even influenced education in countries overseas.
John Dewey saw the role of the teacher, not as a transmitter of a society’s culture to the young, but as an agent of change — someone strategically placed, with an opportunity to condition students to want a different kind of society.
Or to put it another way: indoctrinate students to believe that a much better society – even a perfect one – could be planned and is only not being planned because “corporate interests” (a euphemism for the fifty-five immortals who founded the USA) will not allow it.
A century later, we are seeing schools across America indoctrinating students to believe in all sorts of politically correct notions. The history that is taught in too many of our schools is a history that emphasizes everything that has gone bad, or can be made to look bad, in America — and that gives little, if any, attention to the great achievements of this country.
If you think that is an exaggeration, get a copy of “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn and read it. As someone who used to read translations of official Communist newspapers in the days of the Soviet Union, I know that those papers’ attempts to degrade the United States did not sink quite as low as Howard Zinn’s book.
That book has sold millions of copies, poisoning the minds of millions of students in schools and colleges against their own country. But this book is one of many things that enable teachers to think of themselves as “agents of change,” without having the slightest accountability for whether that change turns out to be for the better or for the worse — or, indeed, utterly catastrophic.
This misuse of schools to undermine one’s own society is not something confined to the United States or even to our own time. It is common in Western countries for educators, the media and the intelligentsia in general, to single out Western civilization for special condemnation for sins that have been common to the human race, in all parts of the world, for thousands of years.
Meanwhile, all sorts of fictitious virtues are attributed to non-Western societies, and their worst crimes are often passed over in silence, or at least shrugged off by saying some such thing as “Who are we to judge?”
Even in the face of mortal dangers, political correctness forbids us to use words like “terrorist” when the approved euphemism is “militant.” Milder terms such as “illegal alien” likewise cannot pass the political correctness test, so it must be replaced by another euphemism, “undocumented worker.”
Some think that we must tiptoe around in our own country, lest some foreigners living here or visiting here be offended by the sight of an American flag or a Christmas tree in some institutions. …
American schools today are … undermining American society as one unworthy of defending, either domestically or internationally.
Which reminds us of what happened to Rome when it took on Christianity, the first Mea Culpa creed in history.
Here is an extract from Jillian Becker’s book L: A Novel History. (Find out more about it through the link in the margin. Click on the image of the book cover.)
On the 3rd June, 1979, at about 6 o’clock in the evening, members of the Theatre of Life, arriving for an audition, pushed open the doors of the dark auditorium and saw a hooded figure standing in a spotlight on the otherwise bare stage. He stood as still as a dummy. They thought at first it must be L, “because he was dressed in the sort of overalls that L usually wore in the theatre, a kind of tailored boilersuit made of blue suede.” The hood was of black cloth, like a hangman’s, with a pair of eyeholes. The would-be performers, some thirty of them, took their seats silently, and when they were all settled, the man spoke. It was not L’s voice.
In a loud, harsh, unvaried tone, he repeated what L had often said about life and art being indistinguishable. He said that violence was “the goal, the climax, of all action”, and that it was “right at this time for the compelling violence of the most significant action to spill over from the stage into the world.”
The light then spread over the whole stage. Another man was standing near the back, dressed in a policeman’s uniform. All round them, on the boards, armaments were laid out, in neat order: rifles, pistols, machine-guns, grenades, “looking very like the real things”. There was also a heap of wooden staves, iron bars, rocks, broken railings, pickaxes and spades. The hooded man took up an iron bar, lifted it with both hands above his head, whirled about and rushed towards the other man, swinging the bar down and forwards with the utmost speed and strength into his face. The watchers gasped, some screamed, some rose from their seats, as the man fell. But he fell straight backwards, with a soft plop, like a bundle of laundry being dropped. He was a dummy.
The hooded man took up a large cardboard box, came down from the stage and handed out knitted balaclava helmets. The lights came up over the auditorium and there was L, sitting on an aisle seat towards the back, “dressed in a dark suit, looking very Savile Row elegant, and watching without saying a word”.
“Put them on!” the hooded man commanded.
The knitted helmets were old, grubby and stained, and smelt of unwashed human bodies, underarms, feet and worse.
“Breathe in deeply,” they were ordered when they were all hooded, sitting in their rows (“like so many gagging turtles,” as one of them said).
They breathed in the stink of the dirty wool.
“That,” the hooded man said, loudly and harshly, “is the smell of the armed proletarian struggle. It is the smell of the future. It is the smell of your dedication to that future. You will learn to love it.”
Which of them, they were asked, had any experience of or training in wrestling, self-defence, armed combat, or marksmanship, and those who claimed to have either or both were asked to remain. The rest were told that classes were to be organized in “fighting techniques”, and they were advised to attend, as there was to be a season of plays in which they would need such arts. They would also learn “to understand the liberating emotions which accompany the response of violence against the oppression of air-conditioned boredom”. Upon which, “a sigh went through the group, like the sigh of release from tension when something promised and yet almost given up has at last been delivered,” as one of the would-be actresses there that day has recalled. “I felt as if I suddenly knew what I had been waiting for and expecting, why I had been coming here.”