Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Great Liberal Death Wish

Reposting for new Sky View readers:


Malcolm Muggeridge, renowned journalist from England, friend of Mother Theresa and convert to the Catholic Church, wrote an article entitled, “The Great Liberal Death Wish.” Originally published in Imprimis, the monthly journal at Hillsdale College in May of 1979, Muggeridge set out to tell his own story about how he came to discover that the worldview he held so dearly was nothing but a death wish. He, like so many other progressives in the early to mid-twentieth century, was of the belief that a perfect socialistic society could be created here on earth; that is, without God’s help. What escaped him at the time, and what he later came to realize was that “Unless the LORD build the house,they labor in vain who build.” (Psalm 1127:1)

Malcolm recalled his childhood years overhearing his father, who was a professed Christian, at his home in England talking to his political cronies about a kingdom of heaven on earth. Their discussions centered around how they could plan the perfect society. Of course, to carry this out, a powerful government is needed. This was his baptism, as he called it, into what he would later know as a great liberal death wish. With this worldview, he nothing but admiration for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and his League of Nations at the end of World War I. Indeed, many Westerners were brimming with optimism. To use Muggeridge’s own words, there was an “almost insane outburst of expectations.” Mankind had finally arrived and World War I was the war to end all wars. That was the prevailing thought anyway.

Malcolm Muggeridge eventually attended Cambridge University, and a Christian College in India. Upon earning his degrees, he returned home to England to teach elementary school. After acquiring some teaching experience at the elementary school level he headed off to teach at the University of Cairo in Egypt. It was at this point he said “it was there that the dreadful infection of journalism got into my system.” This is when he learned how to “group think.” He started writing articles about the Egyptian people and what they wanted (although he had never talked an Egyptian before) and how they were supposedly clamoring for democracy. It was then he was asked to join the editorial staff of the Guardian. Before he would write on any given subject, he would ask his managers and peers, “What is our line?” That is to say, what position was he expected to take. It was through that prism he would report the "news."

Eventually, he made his way back to England. The Great Depression had hit his country pretty hard. By then he was enamored with the great liberal death wish; that is, the notion that through Socialism (or Communism), paradise can be had on earth. With his progressive, unsuspecting eyes, he looked towards the Soviet Union for the answer. He was “fully prepared to see in the Soviet regime the answer to all our troubles.” To his great elation, the Guardian sent him to Moscow as a correspondent. Shortly after he arrived in Russia, the first wave of disillusionment hit him. What he found was an “appalling tyranny, in which the only thing that mattered, the only reality, was power.”

The curious thing was that Muggeridge had witnessed how so many journalists, lawyers and even clergymen from the liberal intelligentsia that were utterly na├»ve about the brutality and misery under the Soviet regime. He even asked himself “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?”

Not much as changed. The same strain of gullibility can be found in those Americans who subscribe to secular-liberalism in 2012. They simply cannot connect the dots between the moral values politicians hold and the oppressive policies that are sure to follow. But well-formed Christians can make this connection. They have not compartmentalized the world into tiny unrelated fragments. Morality and spirituality matters! And what is more, it has a profound effect in the political and economic world. Muggeridge was beginning to see this. He continues his thought:

“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 wasn’t until after World War II that Malcolm Muggeridge began to see the great liberal death wish for what it really was. Finally, he rid himself of every last vestige of Socialism, Communism and every kind of Godless ideology which clung to him. He no longer believed the myth that progress can be had without God. In the place of his old beliefs, his new life in Christ was to grow over the years. More and more he would learn to appreciate Divine Providence and the purpose it assigns to every single individual.

The Great Liberal Death Wish: The Conclusion

Here, I provide what remains in his Imprimis article. It is an inspiring and insightful account of how the City of God will ultimately prevail over the great liberal death wish:

[W]hen in 1945 I found myself a civilian again, I tried to sort out my thoughts about the great wave of optimism that followed the Second World War - for me, a repeat performance. It was then that I came to realize how, in the name of progress and compassion, the most terrible things were going to be done, preparing the way for the great humane holocaust, about which I have spoken. There was, it seemed to me, a built in propensity in this liberal world-view whereby the opposite of what was intended came to pass. Take the case of education. Education was the great mumbo--jumbo of progress, the assumption being that educating people would make them grow better and better, more and more objective and intelligent. Actually, as more and more money is spent on education, illiteracy is increasing.

Now I want to try to get to grips with this strange state of affairs. Let's look again at the humane holocaust. What happened in Germany was that long before the Nazis got into power, a great propaganda was undertaken to sterilize people who were considered to be useless or a liability to society, and after that to introduce what they called "mercy killing." This happened long before the Nazis set up their extermination camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere, and was based upon the highest humanitarian considerations. You see what I'm getting at? On a basis of liberal-humanism, there is no creature in the universe greater than man, and the future of the human race rests only with human beings themselves, which leads infallibly to some sort of suicidal situation. It's to me quite clear that that is so, the evidence is on every hand. The efforts that men make to bring about their own happiness, their own ease of life, their own self-indulgence, will in due course produce the opposite, leading me to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that human beings cannot live and operate in this world without some concept of a being greater than themselves, and of a purpose which transcends their own egotistic or greedy desires.

Once you eliminate the notion of a God, a creator, once you eliminate the notion that the creator has a purpose for us, and that life consists essentially in fulfilling that purpose, then you are bound, as Pascal points out, to induce the megalomania of which we've seen so many manifestations in our time - in the crazy dictators, as in the lunacies of people who are rich, or who consider themselves to be important or celebrated in the western world. Alternatively, human beings relapse into mere carnality, into being animals. I see this process going on irresistibly, of which the holocaust is only just one example.

If you envisage men as being only men, you are bound to see human society, not in Christian terms as a family, but as a factory--farm in which the only consideration that matters is the well--being of the livestock and the prosperity or productivity of the enterprise. That's where you land yourself. And it is in that situation that western man is increasingly finding himself.

First of all, the fact that we can't work out the liberal dream in practical terms is not bad news, but good news. Because if you could work it out, life would be too banal, too tenth-rate to be worth bothering about.

This is that the most perfect and beautiful expressions of man's spiritual aspirations come, not from the liberal dream in any of its manifestations, but from people in the forced labor camps of the USSR.

He cites case after case of people who, like Solzhenitsyn, say that enlightenment came to them in the forced labor camps. They understood what freedom was when they had lost their freedom, they understood what the purpose of life was when they seemed to have no future. They say, moreover, that when it's a question of choosing whether to save your soul or your body, the man who chooses to save his soul gathers strength thereby to go on living, whereas the man who chooses to save his body at the expense of his soul loses both body and soul. In other words, fulfilling exactly what our Lord said, that he who hates his life in this world shall keep his life for all eternity, as those who love their lives in this world will assuredly lose them. Now, that's where I see the light in our darkness.

In contradistinction, this is the liberal death wish, holding out the fallacious and ultimately destructive hope that we can construct a happy, fulfilled life in terms of our physical and material needs, and in the moral and intellectual dimensions of our mortality.

I feel so strongly at the end of my life that nothing can happen to us in any circumstances that is not part of God's purpose for us. Therefore, we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, except that we should rebel against His purpose, that we should fail to detect it and fail to establish some sort of relationship with Him and His divine will. On that basis, there can be no black despair, no throwing in of our hand. We can watch the institutions and social structures of our time collapse - and I think you who are young are fated to watch them collapse - and we can reckon with what seems like an irresistibly growing power of materialism and materialist societies. But, it will not happen that that is the end of the story. As St. Augustine said - and I love to think of it when he received the news in Carthage that Rome had been sacked: Well, if that's happened, it's a great catastrophe, but we must never forget that the earthly cities that men build they destroy, but there is also the City of God which men didn't build and can't destroy. And he devoted the next seventeen years of his life to working out the relationship between the earthly city and the City of God - the earthly city where we live for a short time, and the City of God whose citizens we are for all eternity.

You know, it's a funny thing, but when you're old, as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. One of them is, you realize that history is nonsense, but I won't go into that now. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, three a.m., and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. And it seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the City of God. In this limbo between life and death, you know beyond any shadow of doubt that, as an infinitesimal particle of God's creation, you are a participant in God's purpose for His creation, and that that purpose is loving and not hating, is creative and not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular. With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy.

Nothing that happens in this world need shake that feeling; all the happenings in this world, including the most terrible disasters and suffering, will be seen in eternity as in some mysterious way a blessing, as a part of God's love. We ourselves are part of that love, we belong to that scene, and only in so far as we belong to that scene does our existence here have any reality or any worth. All the rest is fantasy - -whether the fantasy of power which we see in the authoritarian states around us, or the fantasy of the great liberal death wish in terms of affluence and self-indulgence. The essential feature, and necessity of life is to know reality, which means knowing God. Otherwise our mortal existence is, as Saint Teresa of Avila said, no more than a night in a second--class hotel.