The term counterrevolution was always used by Lenin and his associates in a pejorative sense. In the Marxist view, since “progress” is irreversible, any gains made by the left are to be considered permanent, while any gains made by the right are to be considered temporary setbacks. The contemporary treatment of revolution and counterrevolu tion in academic writing is a good indication of the degree to which Lenin has triumphed. In what is now called “comparative revolutions,” a leftist dominance reflects both the usurpation of literature by the academy and the usurpation of history by Marxist professors and their sympathizers. Crane Brinton, for instance, is an authority on what he calls “great” revolutions. These, he says, “start as internal crises in the old regime, proceeding to a government of moderate revolutionaries, then to a radical reign of terror, which leads to a Thermidor in which order is restored but some gains of the revolution are maintained.” This familiar analysis is based on the conviction that revolutions are the results of minority discontent. But suppose that is not the case. Suppose that it is the majority that is discontented—or, more accurately, suppose enough in the majority are discontented to tip the balance of the core population against the government. If even 30 percent of a group is discontented, they may very well allow a minority to overthrow the leadership of the whole. There fore, it might be more useful to look not at the minorities, which always harbor discontent, but at the majority. In a recent article, Ellen C. Myers emphasizes “the impact of the Old Believers on Russian society.” According to Mvers, Old Believers such as her family once numbered between 20 and 25 million persons—or about one-third of the Russians in the polyglot Czarist empire. Although the Czarist government relied upon the Russians and especially the Russian traditionalists to support the regime, they managed to alienate the core of the traditionalists by arbitrarily introducing innovations into the Russian Ortho dox Church. The Old Believers refused to accept the changes. As a result, they were persecuted enough to drive them underground. They stopped registering their births, marriages, or deaths with the authorities. They created a number of enterprises behind various disguises, which made them officially invisible while allowing them to become very prosperous, much like the Huguenots in France. Old Believers sympathized with the radical revolutionaries because they shared their antipathy toward the Czar. They provided money, false papers, safe houses, and other conveniences to the revolution. Without them the revolu tion could not have occurred, because they provided what Mao Tse-tung later called “the sea” in which swam the revolutionary fish. Myers’s analysis sheds new light on the Russian Revolution. What Crane Brinton calls the “internal crisis of the old regime” may be more important than minority discontent. The discontent of a significant portion of the majority constitutes the fulcrum on which revolutions turn.
That yardstick fit the Iranian revolution. It was not President Carter’s indecision which led the Shah to lose his throne, so much as the Shah’s error in listening to a series of American Administrations which tied him, in the view of his core population, too closely to the West in general and to the United States and Israel in particular. The more the Shah westernized, the more he lost the allegiance of Iranian traditionalists. In that light, we should pay some especial attention to those American journalists who chose to attack the strongest ally of Israel in the Middle East—and our strongest ally in the Middle East, militarily and financially speaking—for not being sufficiently “democrat ic.” It’s tempting to assume that such journalists are enemies of this nation and of Israel. But that temptation should be set aside.Ignorance is distinguished by its ability to injure any subject it discusses, and the ignorance of our press is beyond exaggeration. What is more to the point is that the Shah lost the allegiance of his people by his refusal to respect their beliefs. Instead, he concentrated on building up the Iranian economy. Kapuscinski recently described the Shah’s regime as unconsciously inciting rebellion: “Its style of life and its way of ruling finally becomes a provocation. This occurs when a feeling of impunity takes root among the elite: we are allowed anything, we can do anything. “We are reminded of our Federal courts.
Iran is only one example among many. Indonesia dropped out of the news after the Marxists under Sukarno were defeated. But Indonesia remains an interesting study. Sukrno, backed by the Kremlin, applauded by the press, received in the White House and in Whitehall, was thought to be in total control. He was not simply irreligious, but antireligious—that is, he denied to believers the right to their beliefs. Like the Shah, he thought religious groups were unimportant because the intellectuals said so. But in Indonesia the Marxist coup, which had Sukarno’s blessing, misfired. Religious millions armed with knives and guns slaughtered an estimated 350,000 Communists and liberals. With the backing of the army, they ended the Marxist day in Indonesia.
Significantly, there was little public analysis of that event. Conservatives—neither then nor later—did not proclaim this anti-Marxist triumph on every street corner. In fact, the conservative jubilation was quite short-lived. It resulted in no important books so far as I know, very few essays or articles, and no seminars. The Marxists, however, knew something significant had occurred. Turning toward Central and South America, they realized that a revolution could not achieve success in those regions unless it included religious elements. Consequently, their Hispanic campaign moved beyond the intellectuals and into traditional Roman Catholic circles. Liberation theology was their vehicle. In Nicaragua, Marxists managed to deceive theArchbishop of Managua, the Bishop of Zelaya, and to enlist the Cardenal brothers, both of whom were priests.
The same arguments moved smoothly into main-line religious circles in the United States. The National Council of Churches, Maryknoll, and many bishops both Catholic and non-Catholic now promote these strange attitudes. What has happened to their congregations, which outnum ber the millions who vote in national elections,has received far less attention than it deserves.
First, Vatican II introduced changes in Catholic circles from the top that were resisted by many within the American Catholic community. Ellen Myers sees a parallel between this group and the Old Believers. The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian, and other main-line denomina tions have introduced similar changes from the top, with out regard for the opinions, beliefs, and attitudes of the congregations.
On a national scale, the rise of the religious right provides proof that the top-mandated changes and the antitraditional attitudes of the American governing class have served to arouse a considerable portion of the American majority.!he appearance of such groups, however, has been greeted in some quarters within dignation, even among some conservatives.
That indignation illustrates the considerable distance between conservatism as a movement and the country’s traditional majority. Of course, there are notable exceptions to his generalization. Commentary has carried articles by Irvmg Knstol and Norman Podhoretz indicating an intelli gent sympathy for American traditionalists. National Re view recently carried an essay by Joe Sobran which called attention to the disdain of our governing class toward traditional citizens,shown not only by the official attitude toward Bernhard Goetz, the subway shooter, but also in the persistent, though tacit, assumption that discrimination and prejudice in the U.S. is limited to members of the tradition al white community. Sobran remarked that a stroll on any New York street shows this to be untrue. That article provoked mailbags full of praise from people who seldom hear a kind word about themselves.
What I describe, however, are not signs that a conserva tive movement is advancing, but signs that the revolution is advancing. The French Revolution, the prototype of all left-wing revolutions, prepared its attack in well-defined stages. The first was an assault against the traditional beliefs, culture, and leaders of the French majority. That assault has been underway here since 1900, when the Christian contributions to science, the arts, and Western civilization were stripped from our history books excepting in instances where they could be described as invidious. The press, literature, the stage, music, art, and cinema followed suit in an irregular but persistent manner.
The second stage of the French Revolution came when the campaign of vilification and denigration centered on the unifying symbols of the nation. In France, that meant the Crown and the persons of the King and Queen. In our case, it means the Presidency and the occupant of the Oval Office. In both instances, the effort was, and is, to strip the office and symbols, the personages and the post, of all extraordinary significance. In France Louis XVI was called a cuckold and Marie Antoinette a whore. Here the Presi dency is a target for abuse, and the President is treated with disdain by leading commentators. Within one of the country’s largest religious communities, a similar process puts the Pope in confrontation with nuns who stand with their hands on their hips and publicly denounce him.
In the French Revolution, the final preparatory stage was called reform. It was, in fact, for the reform of the taxes that the Estates General was convened for the first time in 150 years. The cry for tax reform has also arisen here.
In France the revolutionaries enlisted the courts and the judges in their efforts to reduce the power of the King. The Judges hoped to increase their own authority. They were cheered by the revolution at every step taken in defiance of the Crown. Again, the pattern is clear. Our courts have ruled against the Executive, have defied the intent of Congress, to enlarge their own power. But listening to the crowd has its risks. A ruling that displeases the revolution results in angry threats. In lands where the revolution was actually launched, traditional courts and judges found their dignity so reduced, their status so belittled, their authority so diminished that they were replaced by “People’s Courts.” We are not at that stage, but the scaffolding is visible.
Meanwhile, the conservative movement is so condi tioned that it regards economics and the electoral politics as all the world contains. Marxists started out with economic arguments against capitalists, and many conservatives still believe those arguments have to be answered. They cannot understand that the expansion of Marxism, despite its inability to feed the people it controls, means that Marxism is not an economic theory. It is a theory of governance.
James Anthony Froude best defined the realities of politics when he said:
“Always and everywhere, even among the bravest peoples, the majority are spiritual cowards…. Government by suffrage, however, is possible only when the convictions of men have ceased to be vital to them. As long as there is a minority which would rather die than continue in a lie, there is a further court from which there is no appeal. When ten men are so earnest on one side that they will sooner be killed than give way, and twenty are earnest enough on the other to cast their votes for it, but will not risk their skins, the ten will give the law to the twenty.”
Conservatives have failed to grasp that central lesson of history. They fail to grasp what Marxists well know: that nations are not moved by economics, but by beliefs, by faith, by visions. The fact that the commissars create poverty is beside the point. The point is that they propagate, a new faith, and that belief in omnipotent government has enabled the rise of a new class of overlords, in only two generations, over half the world.
Marxists have penetrated seminaries and pulpits through out the West, to teach a new faith. While that process was underway, conservatives concentrated on economic mat ters, on cutting social programs, and succeeded in earning reputations for heartlessness and greed. Conservatives have concentrated on grooming attractive candidates for elective office—and the results are the gutless wonders of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the revolution rolls on.
While the conservatives cannot agree on what they want to conserve, the left has achieved the power to block the President’s legislative agenda and to focus public outrage on South Africa—an ally from whom we obtain essential strategic minerals—for violating political rights. Mean while, the left muffles discussion of political oppression in the Soviet Union, China, and the rest of Black Africa.
The rise of the Moral Majority does not make the left-wing evangelicals, the sanctuary puppets, the peace marchers, the anti-weapons, anti-energy protesters vanish. On the contrary, the ranks of the left swell. What Rush doony has called the politics of guilt and pity are in the saddle. The politics of race and ethnicity dominate, and the power of our major religions to bring together people of all races and ethnicity is ignored—even denied. Teachers in our public (and private) schools promote a revolutionary paradigm. That it has failed to improve the situation of the people anywhere cannot be discussed.
Where is the conservative paradigm? What is it that conservatives want to conserve? Their money? Their security? Their standing in the community? Their hold on public office?
Granted, the revolution today has what it lacked in earlier centuries: an international organization, a center of inspiration, funding, and support; it is armed with the most modern weapons and keyed into terrorism in all its aspects. But the Reformation successfully fought against a great international power with far fewer tools. The Reformation had a faith. Its thinkers, writers, preachers, soldiers, fight ers, families dreamed of a better world. What do we want? To be safe? To live with half the arguments of the left? To talk about money, budgets, deficits, and taxes, a la Necker, the last finance minister of Louis XV? The revolution has its spokesmen and apologists throughout our churches, universities, political parties, theater, stage, screen, and society—and we are not even indignant that no one on the other side is given a hearing. I am reminded of what Macaulay said about Oliver Goldsmith. “He didn’t seem to resent insult,” he observed. “But a man who has no sense of justice about himself is not likely to have one for others.” The same can be said about nations.
Bookstores bulge with Marxist and liberal writings, while conservative writers struggle with low budgets, few outlets, scanty reviews. I am told that conservatives general ly do not read much; do not buy many books—and prefer those that are short, simple, and obvious. How, then, can we win an intellectual war? We comfort ourselves with the ideas of Edmund Burke but forget how much John Wesley and George Whitefield helped turn the English-speaking world against revolution. How can we win without analyzing revolutionary thought and without devising the means not only to retard the spread of such thought, but to stop it? To do this we must be more realistic, more honest, and much braver. Our leaders will have to elevate their sights and look to the traditionalists in our midst. For if a third of the Old Believers could create the opening through which the Bolsheviks flowed, a third of our Old Believers can create the dam by which our Bolsheviks can be bottled. cc
Image Credit: The Conservative Counterrevolution