Imprisoned serial killers of women are often the object of marriage proposals from women who know nothing of them except their criminal record. This curious phenomenon indicates the depths to which self-deception can sink in determining human action. The women making such offers presumably believe that an essential core of goodness subsists in the killers and that they are uniquely the ones to bring it to the surface. They thereby also distinguish themselves from other women, whose attitude to serial killers is more conventional and unthinkingly condemnatory. They thus see further and deeper, and feel more strongly, than their conventional sisters. By contrast, they show no particular interest in petty, or pettier, criminals.
Something similar can be noted in the attitude of at least some intellectuals toward dictators, especially if those dictators claim to be in pursuit of a utopian vision.
An interesting argument.
Paul Hollander, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has long had an interest in political deception and self-deception—not surprising in someone with first-hand experience of both the Nazis and the Communists in his native Hungary. In 1981, he published his classic study of Western intellectuals who traveled, mainly on severely guided tours, to Communist countries, principally Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Castro’s Cuba, and returned with glowing accounts of the new (and better) worlds under construction there. The contrast between their accounts and reality would have been funny had reality itself not been so terrible.
Sounds like someone who returned from North Korea signing its praises.
First, there is the nature of the dictator to consider. Obviously not all dictators are equal, any more than are intellectuals. It was harder for non-German intellectuals to admire Hitler than Stalin because of the nature of Hitler’s ideas: claiming the inherent and ineradicable superiority of one’s own race and nation in everything from time immemorial is not the best way to attract foreign adherents. Nevertheless, many German intellectuals, notoriously Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, rallied to Hitler, and few actively opposed him. How far their support was motivated by fear or opportunism is impossible to say; but years of study and intellection did not protect them from gross misjudgement, and even before Hitler attained power, support for him was greater among university students and the professoriat than in the nation as a whole (here, quantitative information is important). In other words, the penetrating clear-sightedness and benevolence toward humanity that intellectuals often claim for themselves by comparison with the benightedness of the rest of the population is at least sometimes—and maybe often or always—self-serving and mythical.
I did not know that.
The fact that the most educated part of a modern society supports such-and-such a policy is no evidence that it is right. It would be a logical error, however, to conclude from this that the uneducated are always right. The contrary of error need not be truth: it is often merely a different error. Likewise, ad hoc dictators—those whose main purpose is to maintain themselves and their cronies in power, such as Basher al-Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq—may have their apologists, but seldom their enthusiasts. To excite intellectuals, dictators must embody, or claim to embody, some utopian ideal.
Claim to embody a socialist ideal and you’ll be forgiven any number of massacres.
The special ability to see beyond appearances that intellectuals like to congratulate themselves for possessing is, indeed, their raison d’être: for if they cannot perceive what others cannot perceive, what is their role? Whereas the simple-minded see in a massacre of priests only a massacre of priests, for example, intellectuals discern in it the operation of the dialectic of history, the imagined future denouement of which is more real to them than the actual deaths themselves, merely eggshells on the way to the omelette.
The Marxist omelette must be wonderful, considering how many eggshells have gone in to make it.
Though Hollander does not claim that there is a single explanation for intellectuals’ attraction to dictatorships such as those of Stalin, Mao, and Castro (or Khomeini, in the case of Foucault), let alone to have found it, he nevertheless believes, in my view plausibly, that the longing for quasi-religious belief in an age when actual religion has largely been rejected is a significant part of the explanation. …
Rather, those dictators were religious leaders who claimed the power to answer all human questions at once and to lead humanity into a land of perpetual milk, honey, and peace. They were omniscient, omnicompetent, loving, and kind, infinitely concerned for the welfare of their people; yet at the same time they were modest, humble, and supposedly embarrassed by the adulation they received. The intellectuals, then, sought in them not men but messiahs.
An astute analysis.