The American conservatives who believe ‘Russia is on our side’

By | December 12, 2019

Anne Applebaum writes:

Sherwood Eddy was a prominent American missionary as well as that now rare thing, a Christian socialist. In the 1920s and ’30s, he made more than a dozen trips to the Soviet Union. He was not blind to the problems of the U.S.S.R., but he also found much to like. In place of squabbling, corrupt democratic politicians, he wrote in one of his books on the country, “Stalin rules … by his sagacity, his honesty, his rugged courage, his indomitable will and titanic energy.” Instead of the greed he found so pervasive in America, Russians seemed to him to be working for the joy of working.

Above all, though, he thought he had found in Russia something that his own individualistic society lacked: a “unified philosophy of life.” In Russia, he wrote, “all life is focused in a central purpose. It is directed to a single high end and energized by such powerful and glowing motivation that life seems to have supreme significance.”

Eddy was wrong about much of what he saw. Stalin was a liar and a mass murderer; Russians worked because they were hungry and afraid. The “unified philosophy of life” was a chimera, and the reality was a totalitarian state that used terror and propaganda to maintain that unity. But Eddy, like others in his era, was predisposed to admire the Soviet Union precisely because he was so critical of the economics and politics of his own country, Depression-era America. In this, he was not alone.

In his landmark 1981 book, Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, Paul Hollander wrote of the hospitality showered on sympathetic Western visitors to the Communist world, the banquets in Moscow thrown for George Bernard Shaw, the feasts laid out for Mary McCarthy and Susan Sontag in North Vietnam. But his conclusion was that these performances were not the key to explaining why some Western intellectuals became enamored of communism. Far more important was their estrangement and alienation from their own cultures: “Intellectuals critical of their own society proved highly susceptible to the claims put forward by the leaders and spokesmen of the societies they inspected in the course of these travels.”

Hollander was writing about left-wing intellectuals in the 20th century, and many such people are still around, paying court to left-wing dictators in Venezuela or Bolivia who dislike America. There are also, in our society as in most others, quite a few people who are paid to help America’s enemies, or to spread their propaganda. There always have been.

But in the 21st century, we must also contend with a new phenomenon: right-wing intellectuals, now deeply critical of their own societies, who have begun paying court to right-wing dictators who dislike America. And their motives are curiously familiar. All around them, they see degeneracy, racial mixing, demographic change, “political correctness,” same-sex marriage, religious decline. The America that they actually inhabit no longer matches the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant America that they remember, or think they remember. And so they have begun to look abroad, seeking to find the spiritually unified, ethnically pure nations that, they imagine, are morally stronger than their own. Nations, for example, like Russia. [Continue reading…]

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