Robert Ruark has nothing on Otto Scott for ability to provide simultaneous political commentary and African travelogue. A careful historian and shrewd observer with the ability to set forth his observations with apt parsimony, Scott has written a book eclectic in sweep, including incisive commentary on the state of Western morality, media and culture, and pious chicanery. Scott is a master at describing the links between the events and the undergirding ideas of time past and time present. His account and contemporary vignettes of South Africa—pleasant train travel, music as if it were the 1950’s, radio reported as decidedly more literary than the U.S. counterpart, “women [who] seemed, with their soft voices and careful grooming, more feminine than ours,” lunch at the Blue Room in the Johannesburg railway station and the Lanzerac in Stellenbosch, landscapes that at times appeared to be in a time capsule of their own—prove as engaging as a work of imaginative fiction, yet are firmly rooted in a perilous reality.

Scott has the ability to rightly connect events and to delineate the phenomenology of common events which might appear disparate. He understands especially how a failure of American nerve since World War II and a naive willingness to help the Soviets dismantle colonialism have exposed millions to the tyranny of communist despots. The USSR is today embarked on a course of unmistakable imperialism, seeking to incorporate the critical geography and vital mineral resources of Africa into the Soviet Empire. The same patterns of thinking which made it palatable to join with the Soviet barbarians in reducing the global power of other Western nations make it easy to regard South Africa as the evil spot of the contemporary world. That South Africa has no Untouchables, is a land of remarkable economic progress for Blacks (where the traveler moves freely and the press is among the freest in the world and where Blacks are fleeing to for the advantages of comparative economic prosperity and political justice), is the most advanced region in Africa, and is the most tolerant in religion—all this is wholly irrelevant to those who cannot bear the thought of confronting Soviet might. Nor is it regarded as important that South Africa has no single Black majority, but contains 48 Black tribes and languages and respects their autonomy for racial separateness, traditions, and culture in an integrated society of their own.

Not long ago Rhodesia succumbed to the combined effect of Western pressure, Chinese bankrolling of Mugabe, and Soviet support for Nkomo. But as soon as Black rule was established, U.S. taxpayers were hit for $225 million to support the new state. Tribal massacres under Mugabe stir no more ripple in the American press than did the plight of the Vietnamese boat people. When the push for African independence reached the take-off point in 1960, Africa produced 95 percent of its own food. Today every African nation except the Republic of South Africa exists on the eleemosynary tolerance of the white-ruled world. The independent African nations “are today free mainly in the sense that their rulers can murder them without having to face European justice.” Modern Africa demonstrates that odious dictatorship and tribal turmoil and cruelty are the predictable consequences of Western support of leftist regimes.

The double standard that exonerates corruption and brutality among Blacks and leftists but condemns white South Africans for lesser offenses makes sense only when we understand the hubris of egalitarian ideologues and only when we acknowledge the decadence of the West.

Having emerged in the postwar world as global social worker, busybody, ineffectual policeman, and bag woman of the world, the United States has demonstrated so little respect for the differences among mankind that its leaders have assumed that the nouveau states would assume a “democratic” pattern. The American colonial separation from Britain was accomplished within the cultural context of a Reformation lineage which ensured freedom in the midst of order. The notion that decolonized areas with entirely different cultural histories would adopt the American pattern has proved to be an ideological illusion.

History shows us the unfolding, the working out, and the denouement of the beliefs by which men live. The Enlightenment philosophes dreamed of earthly utopia and opposed all colonization, but the bloody course of the French Revolution exposed the groundlessness of their basic assumptions. Today the continuing conflict between the Reformational and Enlightenment lineages continues in South Africa. South Africa is not perfect, and legalism has doubtless overstepped liberty. Scott reports that a majority of the Afrikaners themselves feel apartheid is too rigid and causes too many individual hardships. But for the Afrikaners, the essential features of their government and their way of life are justified by Calvinist doctrine.

By consistently refusing to distinguish between its friends and its enemies, the United States has dangerously isolated itself We send grain to the masters of the Gulag while we debate what penalties should be imposed on South Africa. The moral sclerosis is so advanced that several years ago the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, no less, drafted contingency plans for the destruction of the Republic of South Africa by military force.

South Africa does have its internal problems. The government has shortsightedly adopted many of the same sort of social programs which have been so disastrous in the United States. Theft by redistribution does not appear to work any better in South Africa. South Africa is also not without the influence of its own septicemic intelligentsia and free-thinking theologians, many of whom Scott has interviewed. How much internal change, if any, the Afrikaners should make in their country, and by what methods and for what purposes, is probably open for question. But it remains a fact of contemporary reality that South Africa and the United States are both afloat on the high seas of world history in the same lifeboat. That sea will not be calmed by pushing yet another sacrificial victim over the side.


[The Other End of the Lifeboat, by Otto Scott (Chicago: Regnery Books) $18.95]