“They have consciousness, empathy and understanding,” said Jef Dupain, an ape specialist for the African Wildlife Foundation. “One day we will wonder how did we ever come up with the idea to keep them in cages.”
Using a formula that would be imitated and repeated by demagogues around the world for decades to come — up to and including the demagogues of the present, about which more in a moment — he and the other Bolsheviks offered poor people simplistic answers to complex questions. They called for “peace, land and bread.” They sketched out beautiful pictures of an impossible future. They promised not only wealth but also happiness, a better life in a better nation.
The chaos was vast. But many in Russia came to embrace the destruction. They argued that the “system” was so corrupt, so immune to reform or repair, that it had to be smashed. Some welcomed the bonfire of civilization with something bordering on ecstasy.
As the philosopher Roger Scruton has observed, Bolshevism eventually became so cocooned in layers of dishonesty that it lost touch with reality: “Facts no longer made contact with the theory, which had risen above the facts on clouds of nonsense, rather like a theological system. The point was not to believe the theory, but to repeat it ritualistically and in such a way that both belief and doubt became irrelevant. . . . In this way the concept of truth disappeared from the intellectual landscape, and was replaced by that of power.” Once people were unable to distinguish truth from ideological fiction, however, they were also unable to solve or even describe the worsening social and economic problems of their society. Fear, hatred, cynicism and criminality were all around them, with no obvious solutions in sight.
It may not be an accident that neo-Bolshevik language has so far enjoyed unprecedented success in Britain and the United States, two countries that have never known the horror of occupation or of an undemocratic revolution that ended in dictatorship. They therefore lack the immunity of many Europeans. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxon world has its own advantages: the bonds of old and long-standing constitutionalism, the habits created by decades of rule of law and relatively high standards of living. It may be that as Americans and Brits slowly learn to recognize lies, they will become less susceptible to the fake nostalgia on offer from their leaders.