by Editors

The First Freedom

Twenty years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is worth recalling the distinctly salvific promises of the inhuman ideologies of communism and fascism that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people during the 20th century. The utopian promises of murderous ideologues were accompanied by a vicious fury against those faiths that proclaimed freedom and human dignity. The despot persecutes the believer, who refuses to offer the totality of his life to the ruling power. For this reason, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution considered religious liberty the “first freedom,” the foundational freedom upon which others are built. A brief selection of readings follows. – Editors.

Communism and Christianity

Communism... wants above all to be a “world outlook”; it is totalitarian and on that account the religious question is very important for it. Russian communism (and, as a matter of fact, communism in general is a Russian creation) builds its whole program upon a definite “world outlook.”... It is required of members of the party that they break off every kind of relation with the Church. Lenin clearly established the principles by which the communist must be controlled in his relation to religion... Religion is certainly not a private affair within the communist state party. It is then the most public and most social of matters; then a merciless fight against religion becomes necessary. The communist, the real integral communist, cannot be a religious man, a believing man; he cannot be a Christian.

“The Origin of Russian Communism” by Nicolas Berdyaev (Geoffrey Bles, 1937)

Marxism becomes a universal religion

The appeal of Marxism was, and is two-fold. It exploited, and exploits, the prestige of science, claiming to be a scientific system for a scientific age. It offered, and offers, deliverance from present injustice and misery, promising to all believers a new world of equality and happiness. This gospel of deliverance comes directly to the poor and dispossessed; to the uneasy and idealistic children of privilege it brings vicarious absolution from guilt and participation in righteousness.

The miracle of Marxism is not Marx, and is not his system—which as a whole is a crazy quilt of clashing colors, a weak patchwork of ill-fitting pieces, a conglomeration of ideas hammered into the most tenuous unity and possessing only a plausible and thin intellectual respectability. The miracle of Marxism is its social and institutional embodiment and its transformation into an aggressive, universal religion of salvation.

... the faith of Marxism, born in Germany, developed in Great Britain, with a scattering of cosmopolitan converts throughout Europe, moved eastward, and in an ancient, backward nation of peasants fired a revolutionary flame, annexed and started in to transform a social system with the almost unlimited potential power of the Russian state, and has continued to expand and gain converts ever since. Today, it has secured China and threatens all Asia. In every Western nation it has adherents and some zealous missionaries; in some it is a leading political, social and intellectual factor.

“Communism and Christianity” by Charles Lowry (Collier Books, 1962)

Defining totalitarianism

“Totalitarianism,” in its adjectival form, “totalitarian,” originated in 1923 among opponents of Italian fascism, who used it as a term of abuse in describing the policies of the dictator Benito Mussolini. Quite quickly, however, the fascists embraced the word as a fitting description of the true goal and value of their regime. “Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state,” Mussolini proclaimed in a 1925 speech—and he might have added, “everything for the state.” Among other things, if nothing could stand outside the state, then there could be no free market or free corporations, no free families, no free churches, and of course, no free political parties. Totalitarianism therefore emerged as a term to describe a novel form of political regime in which a party or movement captured the apparatus of the state and—usually through means of terror—sought to mobilize every energy of society for the use of the party-state, leaving nothing alone. Insofar as liberal societies boast of providing a maximum of freedom to individuals and their associations, totalitarianism could be understood as existing at the opposite pole from liberalism. Throughout the Cold War period, American conservatives usually understood themselves to be engaged in an immense effort to save “the free society” from the unique threat of totalitarianism.

Following the Second World War, as political thinkers sought to understand the recent calamity, at least two broad narratives were available. Communists and their socialist and left-liberal fellow travelers interpreted the war as one which pitted “progressive” international forces against extremist “reactionary” regimes (which, for communists at least, were the necessary outcome of capitalism in its late imperialist phase). World War II had been an “anti-fascist” war, which was to say, a war against dictatorships of the nationalist Right. Such a leftist interpretation tended to group Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain—and later, many military regimes in Latin America— under the genus “fascism.” Such an interpretation also identified the Soviet Union and communist and socialist regimes more generally, as forces for “progress.” The other available narrative centered on totalitarianism as the ideological foe in the war. But if this were so, then America’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union—an evidently totalitarian regime—was merely a transient phenomenon, dependent upon the circumstances. Moreover, given an adequately rigorous understanding of totalitarianism, it might be possible to recognize Franco’s Spain, for example, as falling into a separate genus, that of more or less traditional authoritarianism.

Excerpt from “Totalitarianism” by Mark C. Henrie, First Principles Journal, ISI (http:// aspx?article=974&loc=fs)

Communists, Nazis and the Shoah

[There is a disagreement concerning] what most characterizes the twentieth century compared to all others: the extraordinary scale of the massacre of men by men, which was made possible only by the rise to power of Leninist communism and Hitlerian Nazism. These “heterozygous twins” (Pierre Chaunu), despite being enemies and emerging from dissimilar histories, share several common traits. Their goal was to achieve a perfect society by uprooting the evil that hindered its creation. They claimed to be philanthropic because they sought the good—one of all mankind and the other of the German people—and because of this ideal gave rise to enthusiastic devotion and heroic acts. But what they have most in common is that they arrogated themselves the right—and even the duty—to kill, and they both did so with similar methods, on a scale unknown in history.

Victims of Berlin Wall
Victims of the shoot to kill order at the Berlin Wall

Today, however, historical memory does not treat them equally. Although Nazism completely disappeared more than half a century ago, our abhorrence of it is not at all weakened by time, and rightly so. Our horrified reflection on Nazism seems to even gain in breadth and depth each year. Communism, on the other hand, although still fresh and just recently fallen, benefits from an amnesia and an amnesty that receive the almost unanimous consent, not only of its supporters—because they still exist—but of its most determined enemies, and even its victims. Neither side judges it fitting to bring it back from oblivion. Sometimes Dracula’s coffin opens halfway. This is what happened at the end of 1997, when a book (The Black Book of Communism) dared to tally the deaths that could be attributed to communism. The book suggested a range of 85 to 100 million. The scandal was short-lived and the coffin is already closing again—without, however, anyone seriously contesting these figures.

... Communism and Nazism can, indeed, be considered two species of the same genus, the ideological genus. Their appeal, the nature and mode of their power, and their type of crime stem from the mindset upon which they entirely depend: ideology. By this term I mean a doctrine that, in exchange for conversion, promises a temporal salvation that claims to conform to a cosmic order whose evolution has been scientifically deciphered and requires a political practice aimed at radically transforming society. One might push the comparison between communism and Nazism even further, noting their differences and similarities, without leaving the realm of historical and political analysis.

On the contrary, with the Shoah we immediately leave that realm. Even though politics, particularly in France, attempts to make the Shoah an issue, to force it into the endless struggle between the “right” and “left,” this catastrophe is on an entirely different level, like a very solemn and burning hearth that is self- sustaining, far from the struggles of the public square. Our consciousness of the Shoah does not fit within a purely political analysis; it is ill at ease with making the Shoah the object of comparative, neutral, “scientific” study. It maintains the ineffable sense of an event that is unique in this century and in all of time, requiring something other than objective study: a special reverence, a sacred silence. We are no longer in the history of ideology, but in the history of religion—even in religion itself, the Jewish religion initially, and as a result, the Christian religion.

“A Century of Horrors: Communism, Nazism, and the Uniqueness of the Shoah” by Alain Besancon (ISI Books, 2007)