Sacrifice, a word not often heard in the nation’s capital during the past dozen years, is being spoken by Washington politicians again. Since none of these gentlemen or ladies has been noticed even to observe Lent, much less to abstain from newly acquired powers, perquisites, and salaries, the rest of the country may be likened to 255 million turkeys nervously watching the Big House where smoke from ritual fires has already begun to ascend from the chimney and trying to recall, like the characters in the ethnic joke, whether Thanksgiving comes before Easter.

Malcolm Muggeridge (I think it was) once defined liberalism as Christianity without the Cross. This insight, though true, is incomplete, implying as it does that secular humanism is willing to deny the justification for suffering by the majority, excluding only the usual designated and preferred categories of victim groups. In fact, however, that is not the case: what is lacking in liberalism is not the Cross, it is the One who was placed on the Cross; not suffering itself but the identity of the Sufferer, the Priest as Victim, God made man in reparation for man’s sins. Of course, liberals have historically denied that personal suffering has any value, while their determination to be as gods themselves has led them to resist the actuality of the Son of God. Yet as Pascal said, nothing is more obvious than the fallenness of man’s nature—even to a liberal. And so liberalism, while rejecting the theological concept of sin, retains nevertheless a sense of human guilt requiring expiation—perhaps we should simply say punishment—through sacrifice. And having rejected out of hand the possibility of a Divine Victim, liberalism recognizes a single candidate worthy to serve for the oblation: We the People, of course.

This—the chosen suffering that ends in death, not life—is the meaning of what Muggeridge in a famous essay called “The Liberal Death Wish,” the explanation for the otherwise inexplicable and seemingly irrational impulse toward self-destruction of modern liberal societies, from their love affair with abortion to their commitment to immigration policies that are certain, if implemented for a sufficient period, to wreck the so-called host countries and the long-standing political institutions that govern them. Conscious of sin, but lacking a theological explanation for it, liberalism is a construction of self-hating people seeking to destroy themselves and the societies to which they belong as rapidly and effectively as they can manage, which turns out to be very rapidly and very effectively indeed.

As I write, three months into the Clinton administration, the alleged need for national “sacrifice” has claimed: the “moderate” positions adopted by the Democratic candidate in the months preceding the election last November; his promise of a tax break for the American middle class, as well as a number of other solemn pledges and assurances; the economic recovery begun during the Bush administration, which the Clinton administration would like to reverse by tax increases and spending bills aimed at rescuing and preserving the dream of socialism in America; millions of unborn children whose lives are to be offered up to the progressive shibboleths of feminism and no-fault promiscuity; and 60-odd nuts and eccentrics, plus 17 children, whose lives were made forfeit by Janet Reno and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to the majesty and prestige of the leviathan state. Not a bad record at all, when you consider that Easter was only ten days ago.