The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Words, Words, Words

“Words, words, words” – Hamlet (1)

Words are the building blocks of language which is one of the means by which we communicate with one another. To communicate is to share with other people what one thinks, knows, and feels. Language is not the only means of communication. Through the expressions on our faces, the way we move or stay still, and numerous other visual indicators, we often communicate our emotions, how we feel, without needing to put it into words. Conversely, communication is not the only end to which we can put the means of language. Language can be, and often is, used to obstruct communication in a sense, by concealing rather than revealing one’s thoughts, knowledge and feelings. Lying and deception are obvious examples of ways in which language can be used to conceal rather than communicate but they are not the only examples. Indeed, other examples can be given in which the use of language to conceal rather than to fully share our thoughts and feelings is morally praiseworthy rather than blameworthy as it is in the case of lying and deception.

Suppose, for example, that you run across a friend who is sporting a new outfit. The expression on her face speaks of pride in this new ensemble which you, however, feel must have been invented as an alternative to syrup of ipecac for the induction of regurgitation. You know that she is the type whose feelings are easily hurt and have no desire so to hurt her. You therefore try to conceal rather than convey your revulsion at her fashion failure with your words. This does not necessarily mean that you lie, but you choose your words very carefully so as to avoid causing unnecessary offense. This is called tact. It is both an art and a gift and like all blessings that have been bestowed upon the human race it has not been evenly distributed. It comes without effort to some people, others have to work hard at it, and there are yet others who seem to lack all capacity for it. Indeed, there are even those who reject tact as a euphemism for cant and claim to practice an undiluted candour, the absolute goodness of which they profess to believe in. This is, I think, mostly a North American phenomenon, perhaps a consequence of the early influence of Puritanism in the development of North American society. It is a foolish attitude for as long as imperfect men must live with one another in communities there will be a need to minimize social friction and hence a need for tact.

The minimization of social friction is something that is to our benefit both as individuals and collectively as communities and societies. To help us develop the skill of tactfulness and perhaps to compensate for some people’s lack of natural ability for tact societies have developed something called etiquette. This is a word we have borrowed from the French, in which language it originally referred to a card, (2) having evolved into its present meaning through the practice of printing the rules of courtly and military protocol on cards. It now refers to a rules of speech and behaviour, that are maintained through social pressure rather than the force of law for the purpose of minimizing social friction and preventing situations from escalating to the point where it becomes necessary to use the force of law to maintain the peace. We often use the word manners as a synonym for etiquette because the rules of etiquette pertain to the manner in which we act or speak. Someone who practices good etiquette is said to be polite or civil. These words are derived respectively from the Greek and Latin words for city-state which again points to the purpose of etiquette - to facilitate life in the community or society by minimizing social friction.

The rules of etiquette are not written in stone. They are a cultural tradition, produced and transmitted by the institutions of human societies, and like all such traditions evolve over time. They can, for the most part, however, like those ancient laws which were written in stone by the divine hand at Mt. Sinai, be summed up in the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Politeness could be defined as the habitual practice of good etiquette. Politeness and tact must be distinguished from and contrasted with a fairly new phenomenon that also involves the use of social pressure to compel people to speak in certain ways and not in others. That phenomenon is called political correctness.

Politeness and political correctness are similar in that that both seek to discourage language that offends other people. In this similarity, however, there is a crucial difference. The language that etiquette forbids and politeness tries to avoid is language that can be reasonably be expected to give offense to any random member of a society and to the majority of its members. There might be some people who are not made uncomfortable by explicit and detailed discussion of the body’s excretory and reproductive functions during conversation around the dinner table but most people are and we can reasonably expect that any given person will be and so etiquette dictates that such discussion occur at another time and place. The language that political correctness forbids, however, is language that is considered to be offensive to a specific, identifiable group. Ordinarily the specific group is a minority within the larger society, usually a religious, racial or other ethnic minority group, although political correctness also forbids language that feminists consider to be offensive to the female sex, which is approximately half of the population.

Note the irony in this. Political correctness was created to serve the purposes of an ideological agenda. According to the ideology that underlies political correctness, in a just society all members of the society, would have equal social status, equal political and civil rights, equal legal protection and equal economic opportunity, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex and religion. The same ideology indicts traditional Western societies for sinning against this concept of social justice by failing to treat race, ethnicity, sex, and religion as being matters of no public consequence. Yet, when we compare political correctness with the etiquette and politeness that were part of the traditional culture of Western societies, we find that the former attaches far more significance to such matters as race and sex than the latter. Political correctness tells us to avoid saying the sort of things that might offend X and traditional etiquette tells us to avoid saying the sort of things that might offend Y. X is X by virtue of membership in such-and-such a group, whereas Y could be any member of society.

While some of the rules of etiquette may have been formulated at certain times and in certain places by civil authorities, etiquette as a whole is a tradition that has evolved over a long period of time and rather than an ideological agenda serves the good of the whole society. Political correctness, on the other hand, seeks to subvert that good. Etiquette minimizes social friction by teaching us to speak and act in ways that avoid giving unnecessary offense to other members of our society. The forms of speech it tells us to avoid are those that are the most likely to give offense to the most members of our society. Political correctness does not minimize social friction but rather creates and enhances it. Rather than teaching people to identify their own good with that of the whole of the society to which they belong it teaches people to reject the whole of society and to identify instead with whatever smaller group to which they belong that can claim a grievance against the whole society.

The demands of political correctness are often very silly, petty, and ridiculous. Feminists who take the men out of women by using the spelling “womyn”. People who fail to see the absurdity of calling a black man who lives in France an “African American”. The endless list of long, sterile, compound labels for every sort of infirmity imaginable. The instinctual response of anyone who possesses a modicum of common sense to these sorts of things is one of laughter and dismissal. Appropriate as this response may be, we should not allow the silliness of political correctness to cause us to fail to take its subversive agenda seriously.

Like etiquette, political correctness relies upon social pressure to enforce its rules. Whereas etiquette generally relies upon soft social pressure, however, political correctness customarily uses hard social pressure. If you refuse to obey the dictates of political correctness it can negatively affect your grades in school or even lead to a suspension or expulsion and cost you your job or your career. While the use of law to punish breaches of etiquette is virtually unthinkable, laws have been enacted against certain forms of politically incorrect expression by the European Union and most European national governments, by the United Kingdom, by Australia and New Zealand and by Canada at the federal and provincial levels.

Political correctness has led to attempts to bowdlerize Mark Twain, (3) to pull books from libraries and bookstores, (4) and to ban Dante (5), Dickens (6) and Shakespeare (7). This aspect of political correctness is a chilling reminder that the expression originally referred to the official Communist “party line” in Stalin’s Russia, so effectively parodied in the “Newspeak” and “thoughtcrime” of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. While mercifully the current political correctness, rotten and horrible as it is, is not carried out on the extreme scale of the Soviet Union under Stalin or of the fictional society of Orwell’s book, what the two political correctnesses have in common points to another difference between political correctness and old-fashioned politeness or etiquette. Etiquette teaches us to avoid unnecessary offense by the way in which we speak – our manner of speaking. Political correctness tells us what thoughts we are allowed and not allowed to express with our words.

The thought control by means of language control depicted in Orwell’s book is a good illustration of the way political correctness works. It forced people to compartmentalize their thoughts, placing what they knew to be true into one compartment and what they were allowed to think and say in another, and to completely disconnect the two compartments. Political correctness does the same. A newspaper in Sweden, that most politically correct of European countries, recently attributed the difference in height between men and women to discrimination. (8) To come to this ridiculous conclusion they would have had to have placed all that they knew about heredity and biology into one mental compartment and kept that compartment locked and sealed so that there was no risk that anything might get out and conflict with the politically correct assertion that all differences between the sexes, and especially in which males are seen to have the advantage, are caused by discrimination. The result is politically correct but factually nonsensical. Somewhere deep in the bowels of hell Trofim Lysenko is smiling. (9)

Contemporary political correctness is a plant that sprang up from the same root as Communism, the ideology of the ruling party of the Soviet Union, namely the philosophy of nineteenth century philosopher, economist, and sociologist Karl Marx. Marx was a revolutionary who condemned existing societies, particularly the industrial Germany of his own day, as being intrinsically unjust and demanded that they be violently torn down and replaced by what he considered to be a just society. Leninist Communism was orthodox Marxism in that it was materialistic and economically deterministic, regarding culture and religion as merely masks hiding the economic causes that it believed to be the true motivation of all human action. Political correctness, however, developed in Western academia among Marxists who were willing to rethink this premise and attach greater weight to cultural matters. For these neo-Marxists, culture was the battlefield where the revolution would be won or lost.

Symbols are the building blocks of which culture is composed and the medium by which it is transmitted. The foremost set of such symbols are, of course, words and language. Algerian born French philosopher Jacques Derrida understood the significance of this for the revolutionary cause he had taken up in his youth. He accused language, especially Western language, of being structurally unjust. Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss father of the structuralist school of linguistics, had observed that binary opposition, in which white is set against black, left against right, up against down, etc., was fundamental to the structure of Western languages. This binary opposition, according to Derrida, is a form of injustice because the pairs so formed are hierarchical, with one term being “privileged” over and against the other. Light, for example, is privileged over and against dark. He condemned the “metaphysics of presence” and “logocentrism” as being even deeper ways in which the structure of Western thought and language unfairly privileged one thing over another. The former is the idea that a text’s meaning should be accessible to its readers which, in his opinion, unfairly privileged the “presence” of meaning over its “absence.” (10) The latter is the idea, present in Western thought since Plato, that the written word is a symbol twice removed from what it ultimately signifies because it is a symbol that stands for the spoken word, itself a symbol. This, idea, he complained, unjustly privileged the spoken over the written word. (11)

Now if you are like me, your gut reaction when confronted with this sort of thing is to say that’s nice, slice that up, put it between two buttered slices of bread with some cheese, tomato, cucumber and lettuce and you’ve got the makings of a great bologna sandwich. Some people, however, found in Derrida’s theories, just the tool they were looking for to create what we now call political correctness.

By the time Derrida’s most important writings were published and he began to achieve notoriety outside of France, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, various Marxist groups based in academia had long been working to undermine what Antonio Gramsci called “cultural hegemony.” It is a basic natural function of culture to promote and maintain loyalty to the community and society and to normal, balanced, people this is a good thing which serves the good of the whole society. Revolutionaries disagree because they hate society, consider it to be intolerably unjust, and wish to replace it with something else, with them in charge, and anything which promotes loyalty to the society must therefore produce resistance to their designs. Therefore, Gramsci described this natural function of culture in terms of “hegemony”, meaning that the ruling class used it to maintain their power and to oppress others.

Neo-Marxists employed various strategies and tools to undermine “cultural hegemony” in the post-World War II period. One strategy was that which Rudi Dutschke called the “long march through the institutions.” What this basically meant was that Marxists would infiltrate the institutions that generate and transmit culture and use them to promote revolutionary ends. When one considers the number of university professors and other classroom teachers who teach their students that Western civilization is the hateful source of oppression and injustice, the number of which films, television shows, and other expressions of popular culture that teach youth to disrespect and rebel against their parents, churches, and tradition, and the number of clergymen who preach “liberation theology”, “social justice”, and everything under the sun except the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the commandments of God, the Bible, and the orthodox teachings of the Creeds, one has to acknowledge that this strategy has been a smashing success.

During this period of the “long march” neo-Marxists borrowed the theories and technical jargon of the new psychological and behavioural sciences to diagnose Western societies and civilization as being afflicted with various pathological conditions. This was most notably the technique of the “Frankfurt School” in developing its “Critical Theory” of Western civilization and culture. In 1950, for example, Harper & Row of New York released a book, the first of a “Studies in Prejudice” series sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, that diagnosed the ordinary, Christian, middle class, father as having, and through his actions reproducing in his children, a fascist personality disorder. (12) The authors of this book were four researchers at the University of California in Berkeley, one of whom was Theodor W. Adorno of the Frankfurt School. Max Horkheimer, who had been director of the Institute for Social Research before, during, and after its relocation from Frankfurt to Columbia University, contributed the preface. (13) The book’s equation of the personality of the typical, traditional, father with that of the fascist dictator became a familiar meme in pop culture where it can still be found today.

The neo-Marxists’ psychoanalytical diagnosis of Western societies and civilization was facilitated by a set of words that came into general use during this period, some of which were newly coined for this very purpose, others of which had been around for a few centuries but to which new meanings had been attached. These were words like racism(t) and sexism(t). In the dictionary, these words refer to hostile attitudes and behaviour towards other people because of such factors as their race and sex. There are, of course, people whose behaviour matches the dictionary definitions of these words in ways that most people would find morally objectionable. The Left, however, used these terms to describe pathologies that they claimed were inherent in the structure of Western societies, culture, and civilization. These structural pathologies, they claimed, could be seen in the unfair, by which they meant unequal, distribution of social, economic, and political power between races, sexes, and other groups the list of which keeps expanding.

There is an obvious parallel here between this diagnosis of Western societies and Derrida’s theories about the injustice of the structure of Western languages. This parallel leads, as it was intended to lead, to the neo-Marxist technique of altering language to remove its supposed “bias” as a means of combating what the Left considers to be social injustice. The result of this technique is such things as “gender-inclusive” or “gender-neutral” language. The neo-Marxists were in the position to effect such changes due to their infiltration of the institutions of culture in the “long march” and they achieved their greatest success in the institution where their take-over was most complete, i.e., academia.

The new set of terms (racism, sexism, etc.) contributed to the development of political correctness in one other way. In addition to being used by neo-Marxists as psychoanalytical diagnoses of Western societies they are also used by progressives as terms of opprobrium against anyone who dissents from the Whig interpretation of history as applied to the social progress movements of the last two centuries and especially those of the post-World War II era. The “Whig interpretation of history” was a phrase coined by Cambridge University professor and historian, Sir Herbert Butterfield early in his career, to describe the tendency of historians to see events of the past as progress towards the present and to judge historical figures and movements positively if they worked to advance this progression and negatively if they worked to hinder or reverse it. (14) Butterfield, who disagreed with this way of interpreting history, had in mind the historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who saw liberal democracy as the inevitable outcome of historical progress. While most historians have formally repudiated acceptance of the Whig interpretation it survives in an updated form in the current progressive attitude towards the American Civil Rights movement, feminism, the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements, and the gay rights movement. The leading figures of such movements such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela are regarded almost as gods. To criticize them is to call down condemnation upon your own head as is to offer praise to anyone who was on the other side of history, as Trent Lott, then U. S. Senate Majority Leader, discovered when he offered congratulations to former Dixiecrat presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond, at the latter’s one-hundredth birthday celebration fourteen years ago.

Political correctness is ultimately a socially destructive force. It takes every category by which different groups within a society can be distinguished from each other, identifies one group within the category as being unfairly privileged and all other groups as being unfairly oppressed, and generates ill-feeling, ill-will, and resentment on the part of the “oppressed” groups towards the “privileged” and vice-versa and among all groups towards the larger society. This, of course, is exactly what the Marxists who invented it intended it to do. Liberals, who quite reasonably think that if racism and sexism are problems that the answer is to promote good relations and understanding between the sexes and between people of different races, naively assume that political correctness is an attempt to do this and this assumption on the part of the liberal West is one of the reasons political correctness has been able to wreak so much havoc.

Liberals of the older, eighteenth to early twentieth century, type of liberalism oppose political correctness because it infringes upon the freedom of thought and freedom of speech of the individual. At its best this libertarian position provides good arguments against the legal enforcement of political correctness in so-called “hate” legislation. At its worst it can lead to the promotion of behaviour and speech that is not merely politically incorrect but which is also downright rude and impolite. The liberal who takes his stand upon the autonomy of the individual will have a difficult time seeing the difference between politeness and political correctness. That is why the classical liberal position, valuable as its arguments are in the fight against legally enforced political correctness, is not the ground we need to stand upon in combating political correctness as a whole. That ground is to be found in the position of the conservative, the spokesman within liberal Western societies, for pre-liberal, pre-modern, traditions and institutions, including and especially, the classical and Christian concept of society as ordered for the good of the whole. For that, and not the autonomy of the individual, is the true target of the politically correct assault upon Western thought, tradition, and language.

(1) This is the Danish prince’s response to Polonius’ question “What do you read, my lord” in Act II, Scene 2.

(2) The word “ticket” comes from the same root.




(6) This link is to a news item from 1949. This predates the current use of the expression “political correctness” but the attempt by Joseph Goldstein to have Oliver Twist removed from the curriculum in New York schools because of its anti-Semitic content is clearly an early example of the phenomenon of political correctness.

(7) Various school divisions in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States have banned such plays as Othello, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and The Taming of the Shrew for politically correct reasons.

(8) h/t March Richardson of Oz Conservative,

(9) Trofim Lysenko was the Stalin era, Soviet biologist who developed a treatment that strengthened grain so that it could withstand the harsh Siberian winter but who maintained that the treatment would be passed on genetically to the crop produced. He used his influence in the Soviet government to have disagreement with his theories outlawed and to have anyone who dared to point out that Gregor Mendel had debunked the idea of the biological inheritability of acquired traits back in the nineteenth century sent to the Gulag camps.

(10) Imagine what a text written by someone who took that idea seriously and attempted to write in such a way that the presence of meaning was not privileged over its absence would look like. You now have an idea of what Derrida’s writings are like.

(11) This was the subject of his best known work, Of Grammatology, first published in 1967.

(12) Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, Nevitt Sanford, The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper & Row, 1950).

(13) Horkheimer also co-wrote a forward to the entire Studies in Prejudice series with Samuel H. Flowerman.

(14) Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1973, original edition by Bell Books, 1931).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Déjà vu

The 2014 Winter Olympics, currently underway in Sochi, Russia, have been the focus of political controversy for months. This is not the first time the Olympics have been politicized, nor will it be the last. Carl von Clausewitz said that war is “the continuation of politics by other means” and if the Olympic Games, in which nations compete against one another in the arena of sports rather than on the battlefield, is a substitute of sorts for war, it must by its very nature, be political and we can expect its political essence to manifest itself from time to time. This is one of those times and the issue, over which the controversy has been raging, is homosexuality, or, to be more precise, the legislation passed by Russia last year which prohibits promoting homosexuality to children.

It is not the issue of homosexuality and Russia’s laws pertaining to it that I wish to address, however. What interests me the most in all of this is the way in which this controversy has caused the powers of the world to align themselves in a pattern that was once very familiar but which has been forgotten in the last twenty years or so. In this pattern, the United States and her allies which include Britain, Canada, and other Western countries form one side while Russia, and the countries in her sphere of influence, form the other.

This was the alignment of the world powers when I was growing up, before the Gulf War of early 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union later that year seemingly brought about a realignment that pitted the United States and her allies against Arab dictatorships and Islamic terrorists. It is a pattern that had been established by the two World Wars in which the great European powers that had dominated nineteenth century geopolitics had sought to destroy each only to find themselves all eclipsed by the rise of two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

The First World War had seen the collapse of the Austria-Hungarian Empire and the fall of the Prussian House of Hohenzollern. More importantly the old Russia, the Russia of the Tsars and the Orthodox Church, the Russia whose successful resistance to the invasion of Napoleon’s armies was beautifully translated into music in the Festival Overture of the Year 1812 by her greatest composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, had been overthrown in a series of revolutions in 1917. While various revolutionary groups were involved in this, it was the Bolsheviks who ultimately seized power in Russia. The Bolsheviks were a gang of thugs, largely consisting of ethnic minorities, that was committed to the revolutionary ideology of nineteenth century German-Jewish philosopher Karl Marx. Their takeover of Russia received a great deal of outside financing, both from the German government which wanted one less enemy and one less front to fight on, and from German and American Jewish bankers who believed that they were alleviating the conditions of Jews suffering from persecution, a belief that might have been justified in the short term but proved to be mistaken in the long run. Securing their hold on power in the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, an officially atheistic police state, in which the Communist Party reigned supreme, in which despised classes like the kulak farmers were made into scapegoats and officially persecuted, in which despised ethnic groups like the Ukrainians were targeted with artificial famines, in which rivals of the Party leadership were given show trials and executed, while dissidents from all walks of life disappeared into the forced labour camps of the Gulag. It was an entirely repulsive regime ab initio and it proceeded to go downhill from there. The only people foolish enough to see anything redeeming in it were university professors, journalists, and other progressive intellectuals.

The Second World War began twenty one years after the first had ended when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Great Britain, embarrassed over the way Hitler had made a fool out of them at Munich two years previously, declared war on Germany. Although Britain nominally won the war, Poland did not thereby become free. Before invading Poland Hitler had signed a treaty with the Soviet Union, which included a secret codicil in which Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Poland between themselves. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union two years later, the Soviets and the British found themselves fighting the same enemy. Later that year the United States also joined the war, ostensibly because of the Japanese attack on their Hawaiian naval base, but in reality as the result of two years of negotiations between the British and American governments in which the former essentially agreed to cede her leadership of the Western world to the latter in return for American help in defeating the Axis Powers. To better defeat their enemies, the British, Americans, and Soviets co-ordinated their efforts.

For Sir Winston Churchill the alliance with Soviet Russia was born out of wartime necessity. He had more sense than to trust either the Soviet government or its megalomaniacal leader. He had warned against Bolshevism back when it reared its ugly head during the First World War and had entered into the alliance with Stalin with his eyes open and his nostrils pinched tight. These sentiments were shared by such American generals as Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton but not by the American president. These were the days before American presidents were limited to two terms and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been president since 1933. In his first year in office he had granted American recognition to the Bolshevik government. In 1936 he recalled his first ambassador to the USSR, William C. Bullitt, who had gone to Russia with a friendly attitude but had reported honestly about the horrors of the Soviet system. In his place FDR sent Joseph E. Davies, who accepted every Potemkin village the Soviets showed him at face value and sent back reports to Washington that whitewashed Stalin’s purges, show trials, and other atrocities. It was about this time that FDR abolished the U.S. State Department’s Department of Eastern European Affairs and ordered its extensive library pertaining to Russia dissolved. (1) Davies told of his experiences in his 1941 book Mission to Moscow which was turned into a film at the request of the Roosevelt administration. Both the book and the film were Soviet propaganda.

This same naïve attitude towards Stalin and his government showed itself in the way the war was handled. FDR, who had successfully conned the American Republic into voting him in as President four times and who had hornswoggled Winston Churchill out of Britain’s naval bases in return for an armada of decrepit, leaky ships, (2) believed that his powers of persuasion were infallible and that he would be able to “handle Stalin.” (3) An example of his method of “handling” Stalin was the November 1943, Tehran Conference, the first conference between the “Big Three”. Roosevelt accepted Stalin’s invitation to stay at the Soviet Embassy after the Soviets spread disinformation about a German assassination plot. Consequently, he was under Soviet surveillance for the whole meeting. At the Tripartite Dinner Meeting, Stalin insisted that at the end of the war at least 50, 000 German officers be summarily executed. This outraged Churchill but FDR proposed as a “compromise” that they only execute 49, 000. This led Churchill to walk out on the other two in disgust – Stalin coaxed him back to the meeting by assuring him that they had only been joking. (4)

It was Stalin, of course, who was actually the one doing the “handling.” He handled Roosevelt like a puppet master and, since the price of the American entry into the war had been Britain’s ceding her leadership of the Western free world to the United States, Stalin’s ability to manipulate FDR ultimately meant that Allied war policy was bent towards the attaining of the Soviet Union’s goals. Thus, when the war was finally over, the Soviets were able to keep not only all of Poland, the Nazi invasion of which they had been complicit in at the start of the war, but eastern Germany, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania as well. In other words the war ended with the enslavement of Eastern Europe and the Red Army breathing down the necks of the newly liberated Western Europe. As Sir Winston Churchill put it in a speech to Westminster College on March 5, 1946 “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” It was appropriate that Churchill, no longer Prime Minister of Great Britain having been defeated in the 1945 election, gave these words in Fulton, Missouri from a platform shared by the new American President Harry S. Truman. For the only thing keeping the Red Army on the other side of that Iron Curtain was the military might of the United States of America. The alliance between the USA and the USSR had died with Franklin D. Roosevelt (5) although it lingered on in a kind of zombified state until just after the Japanese surrender, and now the two countries whose influence had been greatly expanded by the war were locked in what James Burnham aptly called a “struggle for the world”. (6)

This “struggle for the world” would continue until 1991 when the Soviet Union officially broke up. It was dubbed “The Cold War” to contrast it with a traditional “hot war” in which the two sides send their armies to kill each other until one side emerges victorious over the other. The struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union could not be fought directly as a hot war, although the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Israeli-Arab conflict, and various revolutions and civil wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America saw the two superpowers duke it out by means of proxy. The reason the American-Soviet standoff could not be fought as a traditional war was that the advancement of the technology of war had made it impossible. As tanks and jeeps replaced horses, machine guns that could fire repeated rounds without having to be reloaded replaced traditional swords and rifles, and the newly invented airplanes were fitted with guns to fight each other and bombs to obliterate targets on the ground, warfare became less and less the trial of strength and courage that poets have sung about since the days of Homer and became more and more a matter of the killing of large numbers of people from safe distances. Then in 1945 the advancement of martial technology took a quantum leap forward with the development of the working atomic bomb. (7) The unconscionable dropping of this device on the civilian targets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (8) killing approximately a quarter of a million people, brought a quick end to the Second World War and sent the world the message that the United States was now the supreme power. By 1949, however, the Soviet Union which had been working on an atomic bomb of its own for almost as long as the Americans had, succeeded in becoming a nuclear power with the help of secrets stolen by such spies as Klaus Fuchs, Morris Cohen, and the Rosenbergs. The mutual possession of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union held each in check, preventing either from moving against the other in such a way as to initiate a hot war.

Neither side felt this stalemate to be tolerable and each worked to overcome it by developing its nuclear technology in the hope of attaining a first strike capability in which they could initiate an attack on the other side that would eliminate its ability to retaliate and thus get out from under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. As a result each side developed a stockpile of nuclear weapons with sufficient firepower to blow up the planet. With so much at stake it was inevitable that the question of what exactly all this was about would be asked.

On one level, it could be said that it was simply the old story of the two biggest dogs on the block fighting to see who will be top dog and dominate the other. Russia and the United States had both come out of World War II with their power and influence greatly enhanced in contrast to most other participants in that conflict and so it was natural they would see each other as their primary rivals. Some would insist that this was the whole story, all that there every really was to it. While this view of the matter masquerades as realism I would say that it both underestimates the influence of ideas upon the actions of men and nations and fails to understand the difference and distinction between the real motivations of the leaders in a conflict and the significance of the conflict. It might be true and accurate to say that the governments in a conflict were motivated by a selfish desire for power, territory, and resources rather than the lofty ideals they put forward as justification of their actions. It does not follow from this that the conflict was “really” only about power, territory, and resources. The significance of a war is larger than the motivations of the leaders involved.

Many thought of the larger significance of the Cold War in terms of American capitalism versus Soviet communism. This is not entirely inaccurate and the difference between the two economic systems became particularly important towards the end of the conflict. The Soviet command economy proved incapable of providing the USSR with the resources necessary to beat or even keep up with the USA in the arms race. Therefore, when American president Ronald Reagan stepped up the arms race and announced that the United States would seek to break the deadlock of MAD through further technological advancement, by inventing a shield to correspond to the nuclear sword, the Soviet government, unable to maintain even the pretence of keeping up, began to talk “glasnost” (“openness”) and “perestroika” (“restructuring”) and Reagan and Gorbachev were able to negotiate a treaty in which each side agreed to reduce its nuclear arms.

Capitalism and communism, however, were only the economic aspects of the ideological forces opposed to each other in the Cold War. It would be more accurate to speak of these forces as liberalism, represented by the United States, and the ideology of Marxist-Leninism, represented by the Soviet Union. Liberalism is the ideology the primary beliefs of which are the need for democratic elections of legislative officials, the civil protection of the rights and liberties of the individual, and the maximum social, economic, and political freedom consistent with the rule of law. Marxist-Leninism is the ideology that teaches that private ownership is the cause of social conflict and strife, by dividing people into classes of “haves” and “have nots”, that history moves forward by the “have nots” revolting against and overthrowing the “haves” becoming the new “haves” in the process, and that history is moving towards a future utopian state to be brought about when the Communist Party, representing the last class of “have nots”, i.e., the proleteriat of industrial workers overthrows the last class of “haves”, i.e., the bourgeoisie of capitalist industrial owners, and establishes a classless society, in which property is collectively owned, all members of society are compelled to work according to their ability, and goods are distributed to each according to his need. George Grant remarked that what these two have in common, i.e., that they are both forms of the modern belief in progress and technology, is perhaps more significant than the differences that divide them. Perhaps that is the best way of looking at the Cold War – as a conflict between two different visions of technological progress.

There was also a spiritual element to the conflict that should not be ignored. American writer Whittaker Chambers, himself an ex-communist and former Soviet spy who defected, showed understanding of this element when, in the “Letter to My Children” that he prefixed to his autobiography Witness, said of Communism that:

It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. (9)

Chambers was correct in his assessment of Communism, I believe. Marxist-Leninism presented to man an alternative diagnosis of his problem to the traditional Christian diagnosis of Original Sin. It told man that his problem was the social and economic inequality produced by private property and, having offered an alternative diagnosis of man’s problem, it offered an alternative salvation to that which Christianity proclaims to have been given to man in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the salvation of the workers’ paradise of communism future. This alternative, materialistic, salvation appealed to generation after generation of progressive intellectuals who were desperately looking for an alternative to the spiritual salvation offered in the traditional Christian religion.

This appeal only lasted until the reality of Marxist-Leninism broke through. Thus the history of progressive intellectual infatuation with Communism is also the history of disillusionment and disappointment, and of former true believers turning their backs on “The God that failed.” (10) Some, like Whittaker Chambers, found refuge from the destruction of their former materialistic faith, in traditional religions like Christianity. Others, became dedicated anti-communists, of both the Cold War liberal and the conservative variety. Some were lost in the darkness and despair of the nihilism that is the postmodern disillusionment with all metanarrative. There were always plenty, however, who were eager to close their eyes and their ears, and, when someone like Khrushchev assured them that Stalin’s atrocities were atypical of the Soviet regime and a result of the “personality cult”, to swallow these assurances whole and disassociate the horrors which were the reality of Communism in practice from the ideology of Marxist-Leninism, even as the evidence accumulated that Marxist-Leninism brought widespread physical and spiritual death, not just in the Soviet Union but wherever the Red flag was raised. (11)

A fuller assessment of the spiritual element of the Cold War, however, is that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn had been imprisoned at the end of the Second World War for derogatory remarks he had made about Stalin. Sentenced to a labour camp for eight years and to an internal lifetime exile after that, his writings such as the novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the three volume Gulag Archipelago brought an awareness of the reality of the Soviet prison camp system to light in the Western world. Having been deported to the West, Solzhenitsyn, who had become a devout and practicing Christian during his experiences spoke out not only against the evils of the Soviet system but against the liberalism of the Western world. Liberalism, the system which the Western world opposed to the Communism of the USSR, was itself spiritually bankrupt. This assessment, most famously offered by Solzhenitsyn in his 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, was a tough pill for progressive and liberal intellectuals to swallow and they resented it heavily, but it was the voice of the older, Orthodox, Russia speaking and more importantly it was the truth. While only a fool or a madman would have wished for the Cold War to end in the triumph of the Soviet Union rather than the United States, liberalism being preferable to Communism by any conceivable comparison, liberalism, to return to the observation of George Grant alluded to earlier, was also a version of the modern materialistic and technological faith in progress, and thus lacked the spiritual resources necessary for its stand against Marxist-Leninism.

Which brings us back to the present. When signs began to appear several years ago of a renewal of tension between Russia and the United States this did not come as much of a surprise. Having long ago read the writings of Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn (12) I had been half expecting a renewal of the conflict for over a decade, although perhaps not in so dramatic a fashion as was humorously depicted in one episode of The Simpsons. (13) There is a big difference, however, between the American/Russian conflict I remember from my youth and that of today. This time around, it is the United States that is promoting Marxism.

In the period between the World Wars, several Marxist intellectuals, brought to a crisis of faith by the failure of Marx’s prediction that when the general European war came the workers would unite across national boundaries against the bourgeoisie rather than fight one another, concluded that it was culture that prevented their revolution from materializing, that culture created the national loyalties that transcended those of class. These neo-Marxists decided upon a strategy in which they would infiltrate the institutions that generate culture – the schools and universities, the arts, the media, and churches. Having infiltrated these institutions, they would change the culture generated so that it no longer promoted traditional loyalties like loyalty to family, kin, and ancestors, to nation and to country, but instead promoted loyalty to groups defined by their victimization, real or supposed, by traditional society, while traditional loyalties were, through a blending of Marxism and psychology, pathologized, i.e., redefined as mental illnesses. This strategy proved very successful and Western institutions, weakened by liberalism as Solzhenitsyn described, proved unable to withstand it, the result being what is known as “political correctness” today. (14)

So now, when we see the United States, turning its vast political and private apparatus of propaganda against its old enemy Russia, in the name of one of the pet causes of political correctness, I am reminded of Tomislav Sunic’s fascinating remark that “Some European authors observed that communism died in the East because it had already been implemented in the West.” (15)

(1) John Lukacs, George Kennan: A Study of Character, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 39-40.

(2) Robert Shogun, Hard Bargain: How FDR Twisted Churchill's Arm, Evaded the Law, and Changed the Role of the American Presidency (New York: Scribner's. 1995)

(3) In a message sent to Winston Churchill on March 18, 1942 Roosevelt wrote: “I know you will not mind my being brutally frank when I tell you I think I can personally handle Stalin better than your Foreign Office or my State Department. Stalin hates the guts of all your top people. He thinks he likes me better, and I hope he will continue to do so.” The consequences of this hybris were explored by Robert A. Nisbet in Roosevelt and Stalin: The Failed Courtship (Washington, D. C.: Regnery Gateway, 1988)

(4) See Thomas Fleming, The New Dealers’ War: F.D.R. and the War Within World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2001), pp. 314-315. Fleming points out that Churchill was well aware that the man making this hideous proposal was more than capable of carrying it out, as he had proven in the Katyn Forest Massacre of 1940. When we consider what actually happened at the end of the war, do the words of Stalin and Roosevelt seem much of a joke? American Jewish journalist John Sack in his An Eye For an Eye: The Untold Story of Jewish Revenge Against the Germans in 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1993) tells of a thousand concentration camps set up in Poland in 1945, administered largely by Jews, in which hundreds of thousands of Germans were imprisoned and tortured, thousands of whom were killed. These camps were set up in Soviet controlled territory by the NKVD. In an earlier book, Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners at the Hands of the French and Americans after World War II (Toronto: Stoddart, 1989), Canadian writer James Bacque alleged that Eisenhower’s forces had starved about a million German POWs to death. As far back as 1948 Freda Utley had written about these atrocities and the ethnic cleansing of about twelve million Germans that had taken place in Soviet controlled Eastern Europe towards the end of and in the immediate aftermath of the war in The High Cost of Vengeance (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1948). The Nuremberg Trials, while not the summary executions that Stalin and Roosevelt had joked about, were not the justice they pretended to be either. They violated every principle of Anglo-American justice and resembled nothing so much as the Soviet show trials that Joseph Davies had praised and excused. About the only person willing to point this out at the time was US Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. You can read about his stand and his reasons for it in the ninth chapter of Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956) by John F. Kennedy and his speechwriter Ted Sorenson. All of this should be kept in mind when we are tempted to think of World War II as “The Good War.” The war may have been necessary but, as Simone Weil pointed out, it is dangerous to confuse the necessary with the good.

(5) Just before the alliance ended the American government followed through on one of Roosevelt’s most gruesome promises to Stalin. Under Eisenhower’s direction, the Allies turned Soviet POWs that had been captured by the Nazis and ended up in the hands of the British and Americans over to the Red Army. FDR’s promise was interpreted very broadly and those from Soviet-controlled territory that had fled Soviet tyranny only to end up in Hitler’s camps were forcibly turned over to the Soviets. See Julius Epstein, Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present(Old Greenwich: Devin-Adair, 1973).

(6) James Burnham, The Struggle for the World(New York: John Day Company, 1947). This was the first of what would become a trilogy of works with The Coming Defeat of Communism (1949) and Containment or Liberation? An Inquiry into the aims of United States Foreign Policy (1953). In his earlier The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World? (1941) Burnham had written that contrary to the predictions of Marxists and liberals alike, a social, political, and economic transformation was underway that would lead to neither capitalism or socialism, but to the rise of a new elite class of technocratic managers, that this was simultaneously occurring in the liberal West, the Axis powers, and the Soviet Union, and that on the geopolitical scale this would be reflected in the reorganization of the world into three large spheres of influence, in North America, Europe, and Asia. In this later trilogy Burnham revised that number down to two, the USA and USSR, argued that the struggle between them was a winner-take-all, zero sum game, and urged that the United States adapt a strategy of liberating Soviet-controlled territory.

(7) I use the language of progress, “advancement” and “forward” quite deliberately here. If the invention of the technology that would eventually be able to obliterate all life on earth – with the possible exception of the cockroach – can be described as an “advancement”, and in the language of technological progress that is exactly what it was, then there is something seriously wrong with the concept of technological progress. Moving forward is not a self-justifying action. Whether it is the right and proper thing to do or utter and absolute folly is determined by the answer to the question of what we are moving forward towards.

(8) It would have been unconscionable under any circumstances but it was also completely unnecessary. The usual justification, that had the bomb not been dropped there would have been more deaths because the Japanese would have fought it out to the bitter end, is false. Japan had in fact been suing for peace for at least a year prior to the bombings. Their peace overtures were ignored because FDR had committed the Allies to the pursuit of “unconditional surrender” at Casablanca in 1943. This was an irrational policy, which Churchill, who heard about it for the first time when Roosevelt announced it to the press, publicly signed on to while privately fuming over its unreasonableness and stupidity. Since the only condition the Japanese had included in their proposals was that they be allowed to keep their emperor – a condition that the Americans agreed to in the end anyway – the dropping of the a-bombs was that much more unconscionable of an act.

(9) Whittaker Chambers, Witness, (Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing Inc., 1952, 1980), p. 9.

(10) This was the title of a book, edited by British Labour MP Richard Crossman, containing anti-communist essays by several ex-communist intellectuals including Arthur Koestler and André Gide that was first published in 1949.

(11) A thorough collection of this evidence can be found in Le Livre noir du Communisme: Crimes, terreur, repression which was published in Paris by Editions Robert Laffont in 1997. Edited by Stéphane Courtois, it was translated into English by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer and published by Harvard University Press in 1999 as The Black Book of Communism. Its contributors documents the enslavement, state murder, and other horrors of Marxist-Leninism in the Soviet Union from its earliest days under Lenin, as well as in Poland and the rest of central/Eastern Europe, in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and in Latin America, Africa and Afghanistan.

(12) Anatoliy Golitsyn is a former KGB agent who defected from the Soviet Union in 1961. His second book, The Perestroika Deception The world’s slide towards The ‘Second October Revolution’ (London & New York: Edward Harle,1995) consists of memoranda he had sent to the CIA warning that the thaw in Soviet relations with the West was all part of a long-term strategy to deceive the West and bring about a second Bolshevik Revolution on a global scale. Published four years after the breakup of the USSR this would seem like paranoid drivel were it not for his first book, New Lies For Old (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984). According to this book, the Soviets had adopted a long-term disinformation strategy back in the 1950s, before he defected from the KGB, that had several phases which included the disputes and splits within the Communist bloc between the USSR on the one hand, and Yugoslavia, Albania and China on the other, the Romanian independence movement, and the various reforms and political schisms in the Communist countries that Western strategists would attach great importance to and hope to exploit in the Cold War. Golitsyn claimed that all of this was a show put on to deceive the West. What makes this interpretation so disturbing is Part Three of the book, where he describes “The Final Phase” of the strategy. It predicts the rise of a young new leader, the liberalization of the Soviet Union including the return of the exiles and amnesty for dissidents, a restructuring of the Soviet government, the dissolution of the USSR, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of a powerful, socialist, European Union, and well over a hundred other things that began to come true about a year after the book was published.

(13) The episode, entitled “Simpson Tide”, is the nineteenth episode of the ninth season of the long-running primetime cartoon. In this episode Homer, having joined the US navy, ends up through a series of mishaps, getting an American submarine into Russian territorial waters. This leads to a conversation at the UN in which the Russian ambassador says “The Soviet Union will be pleased to offer amnesty to your wayward vessel” to which the American ambassador responds with “The Soviet Union? I thought you guys broke up”. The Soviet ambassador, with a sinister smile, replies “Nyes, dats what we wanted you to think, bwah hah hah hah”.

(14) While this strategy is often associated with Italian Communist Party leader Antonio Gramsci it was most fully developed by the “Frankfurt School”, i.e., the thinkers associated with the Institute for Social Research, which was founded in the University of Frankfurt in the 1920s and temporarily relocated to Columbia University in the United States to escape the Third Reich. Among the intellectuals associated with this group were Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm who represented a wide range of disciplines, from philosophy, sociology and psychology, to literary and social criticm and even musicology (in Adorno’s case).

(15) Tomislav Sunic, Homo Americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age(Book Surge Publishing, 2007), p. 34.