Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties

A devoted cleric, he [Lenin] argued, is far more influential than an egotistical and immoral one. [p. 51]

As Churchill correctly noted, the horrors he listed were perpetrated by the ‘mighty educated States’. Indeed, they were quite beyond the power of individuals, however evil. It is a commonplace that men are excessively ruthless and cruel not as a rule out of avowed malice but from outraged righteousness. How much more is this true of legally constituted states, invested with all the seeming moral authority of parliaments and congresses and courts of justice! The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands too, pari passu.

A Stalin functionary admitted, "Innocent people were arrested: naturally - otherwise no one would be frightened. If people, he said, were arrested only for specific misdemeanours, all the others would feel safe and so become ripe for treason.

At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism.

at Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 30 May 1921, fifty whites and two hundred blacks were murdered.

Bismarck had cunningly taught the parties not to aim at national appeal but to represent interests. They remained class or sectional pressure-groups under the Republic. This was fatal, for it made the party system, and with it democratic parliamentarianism, seem a divisive rather than a unifying factor. Worse: it meant the parties never produced a leader who appealed beyond the narrow limits of his own following.

But until the twentieth century there were few references of any kind to bushido. Some doubted its very existence. Professor Hall Chamberlain, in an essay The Invention of a New Religion, published in 1912, wrote: ‘Bushido, as an institution or a code of rules, has never existed. The accounts given of it have been fabricated out of whole cloth, chiefly for foreign consumption… Bushido was unknown until a decade or so ago.’12 It may have been a series of religious exercises, accessible to very few. At all events in the 1920s it was popularized as a code of military honour, identified with extreme nationalism and militarism, and became the justification for the most grotesque practices, first the murder of individuals, later mass-cruelty and slaughter. The ‘knights of bushido’ were the militant leadership of totalitarian Shintoism, the equivalent, in this oriental setting, of the ‘vanguard élites’ of Lenin and Mussolini, the blackshirts and brownshirts and Chekists of Europe.

Einstein himself summed it up thus: ‘The “Principle of Relativity” in its widest sense is contained in the Statement: The totality of physical phenomena is of such a character that it gives no basis for the introduction of the concept of “absolute motion”; or, shorter but less precise: There is no absolute motion.

His (Lenin's)humanitarianism was a very abstract passion. It embraced humanity in general but he seems to have had little love for, or even interest in, humanity in particular. He saw the people with whom he dealt, his comrades, not as individuals but as receptacles for his ideas. On that basis, and no other, they were judged. He judged man not by their moral qualities but by their views, or rather the degree to which they accepted his.

If the decline of Christianity created the modern political zealot - and his crimes - so the evaporation of religious faith among the educated left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by secular superstition. There is no other explanation for the credulity with which scientists, accustomed to evaluating evidence, and writers, whose whole function was to study and criticize society, accepted the crudest Stalinist propaganda at its face value. They needed to believe; they wanted to be duped.

In 1924 Mao took a Chinese friend, newly arrived from Europe, to see the notorious sign in the Shanghai park, 'Chinese and Dogs Not Allowed'.

In a real revolution, the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypocrites at first. Afterwards come the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane and devoted natures, the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement, but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims: the victims of disgust, disenchantment–often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured–that is the definition of revolutionary success.

It is one of the many ironies of this period that, at a time when the intelligentsia were excoriating Mellon for tax-evasion, and contrasting the smooth-running Soviet planned economy with the breakdown in America, he was secretly exploiting the frantic necessities of the Soviet leaders to form the basis of one of America's most splendid public collections

Men are excessively ruthless and cruel not as a rule out of malice but from outraged righteousness. How much more is this true of legally constituted states, invested with all this seeming moral authority of parliaments and congresses and courts of justice! The destructive capacity of an individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and the destructive capacity necessarily expands too. Collective righteousness is far more ungovernable than any individual pursuit of revenge. That was a point well understood by Woodrow Wilson, who warned: 'Once lead this people into war and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.

The 1918–19 influenza virus strain, a pandemic which killed forty million people in Europe, Asia and America, was not confined to the war areas, though it struck them hardest.

The cultural and political strands of change could not be separated, any more than during the turbulence of revolution and romanticism of 1790–1830. It has been noted that James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Lenin were all resident-exiles in Zurich in 1916, waiting for their time to come.

The French were not racist in the German sense, since a certain cosmopolitanism was a corollary of their proprietory rights over civilization. But they were extraordinarily susceptible to weird racial theories, which they produced in abundance. Thus in 1915 Dr Edgar Bérillon ‘discovered’ that Germans had intestines nine feet longer than other humans, which made them prone to ‘polychesia’ and bromidrosis (excessive defecation and body-smells).

The paragraph on terror must be formulated as widely as possible, since only revolutionary consciousness of justice and revolutionary conscience can determine the conditions of its application in practice.

With the onset of the war, each belligerent eagerly scanned its competitors and allies for aspects of state management and intervention in the war economy which could be imitated. The capitalist sectors, appeased by enormous profits and inspired no doubt also by patriotism, raised no objections. The result was a qualitative and quantitative expansion of the role of the state which has never been fully reversed–for though wartime arrangements were sometimes abandoned with peace, in virtually every case they were eventually adopted again, usually permanently.