Though neither a radical nor a Christian—nor, for that matter, even a romantic in the vein of Blake who feared the “dark Satanic mills” of Industrial England—Mark Twain identified the late-nineteenth century fear of the machine run amok perfectly in his last novel, the tragically whimsical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. One of the first to use time travel as a plot device, the story revolves around Hank Morgan, an engineer devoid of any poetry or sentiment. As his German last name indicates, he is the man of “tomorrow.” A practical man schooled in the servile rather than the liberal arts, Morgan can create almost any type of mechanism: “guns, revolvers, cannon, boilers, engines, all sorts of labor-saving machinery.” A materialist, he “could make anything a body wanted—anything in the world, it didn’t make a difference what; and if there wasn’t any quick new-fangled way to make a thing, [he] could invent one.” He was also, Hank assures the reader, “full of fight.” And, a conflict employing crowbars with one of his employees, a man named Hercules, results in severe blow to Morgan’s head, knocking him unconscious.
Though by no means as severe, Americans have, from time to time, also attempted to wield their own pseudo-ideology in the post-World War II era.
This ideology was best exemplified by then Vice President Richard Nixon in the spontaneous 1959 Kitchen Debates. Such an Americanism, according to Nixon, was industrial capitalism, and the best American was one who both produced and consumed. Rather than for the development of character or the pursuit of virtue, the freedom Americans experienced allowed for choice in consumer products. “We have many different manufacturers and many different kinds of washing machines so that the housewives have a choice,” Nixon told Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev.
Americans throughout much of the Cold War, it seems, had become nothing more than homo economicus. Not even homo faber, but homo economicus.
The war of ideologies throughout the 20th-century world resulted not only in mass death and in the mechanization of the human person.
The free world, far from immune, adopted many variations and forms of ideologies, all of which resulted in a confusion regarding right reason, first principles, virtue, and character.
Dear Lord, may we always remember that freedom and the blessings it gives are so much greater than choosing between Coke, Pepsi, and R.C. Or, even according to Nixon, better than choosing between General Electric and Amana.
In his twenty-nine books on politics, history, constitutional law, literature, social criticism, economics, and fiction, the shadow of the French Revolution and the loosening of the ideologues upon the world deeply haunted Russell Kirk.
Tellingly, his most important influence was Edmund Burke, the originator of conservatism in the post-medieval world and the most articulate spokesman against the French Revolution. Following the careful scholarship of Raymond Aron, Voegelin, Dawson, and Gerhart Niemeyer as well as the social criticism of Eliot, Kirk argued that one could define ideologies through three of its “vices.”
First, ideologies are political and secularized religions. They take with them the symbols and energy of religions, but they focus almost exclusively on the material and man rather than the spiritual and the Judeo-Christian God.
In some ideological regimes of the twentieth century, the killing was systematic. In others, it was merely random. Even a random thought, however, could lead to one’s death or the death of a loved one.
In Cambodia, to name one cruel example, the display of any emotions—all emotions being officially defined as “bourgeois”—resulted in immediate execution.
In the Soviet Union, to give another example, Lenin frequently sent messages to his secret police with such horrifying instructions as “To NKVD, Frunze. You are charged with the task of exterminating 10,000 enemies of the People. Report results by signal.” Usually, the secret police were given little time and no specific directions as to who the enemies of the people might be. They quickly rounded up 10,000 random persons so as to not violate their orders, and executed them. One infamous story reports that Stalin often had the first person in a crowd who stopped applauding for one of his speeches immediately shot.
This, this morning, from mighty Gerald Russello and the UNIVERSITY BOOKMAN:
Contributors in the News
The University Bookman congratulates Helen Andrews on her receipt of a prestigious Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. Over the past few years, Helen has become a rising conservative star. She has written provocative, powerful pieces for the Bookman on subjects from the anti-suffragette movement to a sharp takedown of the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, and has become one of our most widely read writers.
We extend our congratulations to Helen, and look forward to her future contributions to the Bookman and elsewhere (like her recent essay in American Affairs on J. S. Mill).
I’m not at all sure why so many of my social media friends are offended or upset about graduation protests this year. I did everything I could (including adding a line or two to the main protest speech) when Father Miscamble organized an alternative commencement when Barack Obama spoke at Notre Dame.
When I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with my B.A. in 1990, I was furious that Bill Cosby was our speaker. I wish I had had the guts then to walk out.
Regardless, here was my report from the 2009 protest. Enjoy.
“Arrest! Need it be said that it is a breaking point in your life, a bolt of lightning which has scored a direct hit on you? That is it an inassimilable spiritual earthquake not every person can cope with, as a result of which people often slip into insanity?,” Solzhenitsyn asks in volume one of the Gulag Archipelago. “The universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it. Each of us is a center of the Universe, and that Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: ‘You are under arrest.’” Arrest could many anything in the terror regimes of the twentieth century: interrogation, torture, loss of employment, deportation, forced labor, or execution. Worse, it could mean the death of a friend or family member, supposedly corrupted by the infection of the “thought crimes” of the one arrested. Arrest could mean anything.
The twentieth century witnessed the shattering of innumerable individual universes as the very real infection of the ideologues and their ideological regimes spread throughout the developed and developing world. It began in earnest and unabated with the assassination of a central European archduke and the consequent destruction of the Old World in 1914. But, in truth, the forces that would imprison much of the world’s population from 1917 to 1991 (but continues, to be sure, through the present), have their origins with the French disciples of Jean Jacques Rousseau and their assault on a Parisian prison in the summer of 1789. Dawson explained its significance:
The history of the nineteenth century developed under the shadow of the French Revolution and the national liberal revolutions that followed it. A century of political, economic and social revolution, a century of world discovery, world conquest and world exploitation, it was also the great age of capitalism; and yet saw too the rise of socialism and communism and their attack upon the foundation of capitalism society. . . . When the century began, Jefferson was president of the United States, and George III was still King of England. When it ended Lenin already was planning the Russian Revolution.
More than any other event in world history to that point, the leaders of the French Revolution murdered history, virtue, and tradition. Indeed, the Anglo-Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, called the introduction of the French revolutionary spirit the “most astonishing [thing] that has hitherto happened in the world.” Other scholars saw it as well. “A confederacy of evil, marshalling its hosts from all parts of the world, organizing itself, taking its measures, enclosing the Church of Christ as in a net, and preparing the way for a general Apostacy from it,” John Henry Newman feared in 1838.