Alain Besancon’s A Century Of Horrors is an essay on the physical, moral and intellectual destruction brought about by Nazism and Communism. He compares and contrasts the ideologies and ponders why Nazism is universally condemned while Communism is remembered as a flawed but noble experiment.
He defines the movements as ideologies: 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.
Ideology makes people stupid. Communism claimed to be a scientific system descended from the German Idealists; Nazism the heir to Greek tragedies, German Romantics, and Darwin. Despite these genealogical claims the systems were “extraordinarily impoverished”: It saw classes or races engaged in a dualistic struggle. The definition of these classes or races only makes sense within the system, with the result that any objectivity that could exist in the notion of races or classes vanishes. That is, that whatever reality might constitute a “race” or a “class” is impossible to discern underneath the ideology.
He continues: these notions gone awry explain the the nature of the struggle; they justify it and, in the minds of the ideologue, guide the actions of enemies and allies. While the ideologue can be cunning in reaching his objectives the logic of the system as a whole remains absurd, and its goal unattainable.
The mind of the ideologue is similar to that of a paranoid schizophrenic, except unlike the insane person the ideologue will stop acting insane as soon as he stops being an ideologue, as the German nation stopped acting insane once the war ended. The artists and thinkers who were seduced by these ideologies produced their worst work under the ideological influence. The role of ideology is to distort the vision of reality “reorganizing the central vision all the way to the periphery”. Language is charged with the magical role of forcing reality into conformity with the particular vision of the world. It is a liturgical language for which every utterance points to the speaker’s adherence to the system… Code words thus constitute threats and figures of power.
Towards the end he discusses the role of the Church during the Shoah. He largely justifies the actions of Pope Pius XII during the war: the Church was in a difficult position but by keeping open diplomatic channels he helped an estimated 800 thousand Jews escape Europe. Nevertheless he criticizes the Pope and the Church insofar as they took the worldview of Nazism seriously, assuming the existence of some sort of “Jewish Problem” or that there was a distinction between Aryan and non-Aryan.
When one is contending with an ideological regime the line that must be held absolutely and to the end is to reject, without discussion, the description of reality set forth by the regime. As soon as one puts one’s fingers in the gears and admits this description contains a partial truth… one is lost. The will now obeys a distorted intelligence.
If you accept their distorted premises, even ones that seem to contain a partial truth, you must, at least partially, accept their distorted conclusions. The apparent partial truth is embedded in a system of insane logic.
This abuse of logic and the assumption of shared partial truths is, according to Bensancon, the reason why Communism is still treated as a noble but failed experiment: while Nazis used language that was intentionally stripped of traditional morality, Communism used words like justice, equality, and peace, all words that sounded good to ears formed by Christianity and the Enlightenment, words that were accept as at least signaling a good will and partial truths, without realizing that the Communist gave these words different definitions than normal people. There was no good will in Communism, it was always evil.
Benascon’s essay helped clarify some things that I’ve been thinking about with the current political unrest in my home country (and no, I am not saying Critical Race Theorists are as just bad as Commies and Nazis): wide swaths of America are engaged in an ugly moral panic that leads to the destruction of urban communities, people losing their livelihoods, and all manner of ideological bullying. It is insane, yet many authorities do nothing to stop it, and sometimes even egg it on. On the one hand they may think they can ride this tiger to electoral success, on the other however they are probably beguiled by the language of Critical Race Theory which declares Racism is Bad and Equality is Good, not realizing the Race Theorists do not share the same definitions of these words that sane people have.
Most frustrating is when people who have nothing to gain and everything to lose from Critical Race Theory start accepting their diseased premises: “Well, racism is a problem…” Stop. No. Your definition of racism is sane, their definition of racism is insane. If you start dialoguing with them on their premises you will end up tearing down statues of Saints, firing people for innocent comments, and in the end confessing your own guilt before the mob, as National Review starts making the Conservative Case for Reeducation Camps.