But I think there is a sort of presumption in the idea that God is particularly interested in liberating people from Communism, let alone from the rule of Jimmy Carter or of the British Labor Party. His kingdom is not of this world, as Christ unambiguously said. Go to Poland now, and you will find that the church and the Christian faith are, if anything, weaker than they were under the heel of the Communists. I might add that Poland, though freed from the iron manacles of Moscow, is now instead wrapped up in the sticky marshmallow bonds of the European Union, a despotic, secretive, and lawless empire with the strong potential to get much worse than it already is. As for the U.S. and Britain, I will get round to that. I really wouldn’t like to speculate on what God might have wanted to happen, but if He was hoping for the current arrangements, I should be very much surprised. ~Peter Hitchens
There is some presumption in this, and it is the same kind of presumption that once guided confessional Protestant and then Anglo-American secular whiggish historiography, inspired whiggish “rights” theories and which even now creeps in with every claim that “freedom is God’s gift of humanity.” God offers a different and a better liberation than the one offered by free-market gurus and democracy promoters. He has loosed the bonds of death and sin–other forms of bondage here below, while they may be vicious, are not and never have been the priority for divine redemption. The theological assumptions of the Social Gospel do not make any more sense when they are uttered by anticommunists.
Hitchens has another great line later about Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI:
By contrast, the pope and his less-beloved but more dogged successor did hold fast against the satanic optimism of the free market and opposed both vainglorious Gulf Wars despite the unpopularity it caused them.
Of course, I tend to think that all optimism, rightly understood, is satanic after a fashion, but the one he mentions here is a particularly good example of it.
What Mr. Hitchens gets at here is an important lesson about the dangers of mythologising leaders of any kind, but especially political leaders. The Reagan-Thatcher worship in particular is the right’s answer to the virtual deification of FDR. Like the left, the Anglophone right wants to have its epochal, world-changing leaders, too, except that the mythology woven around FDR (“he got us out of the Depression,” “he won WWII,” etc.) is also to a very large degree bunk. Liberals knock Republicans and conservatives today for their hero-worshipping ways, which is fair, because there is far too much of it and far too little thought, but they have always been great ones for idolatry of political figures, whether it was the posthumous honours bestowed on FDR by generations of liberal historians or the beatifications of the martyrs, JFK, RFK and MLK. This tendency to revere and venerate political figures is a bad habit. There may be something in human nature that calls us to do this. As Dostoevsky said, man needs something to worship. Yet if we are devoting our attention to enthusing over secular figures, it seems likely that we will lose sight of those actual saints and the Lord Himself Who sanctifies.
The Psalmist says trust ye not in princes, and there is good reason for this. The victory over Soviet communism was primarily the victory of the subject peoples of the evil empire over that empire’s rulers. It was a moral and, in a way, a spiritual victory, and it was undoubtedly very good in itself. We tell the story about how “we” won the Cold War, but exulting in triumphing over the Soviet system is a bit like congratulating oneself for having outrun and outlasted a paraplegic who was suffering from cancer.
No stranger to Soviet affairs, George Kennan poured water on the myth of “Reagan won the Cold War” fifteen years ago:
The suggestion that any American administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous political upheaval, in another great country on another side of the globe is intrinsically silly and childish. (quoted in Lukacs’ George Kennan: A Study of Character, p.181)
Communism failed, would always fail, because it was moral and political abomination contrary to human nature and the law of God. There were wise and foolish policies that could have been pursued against the USSR, and by and large Reagan and Thatcher can be credited for pursuing wise ones. However, the final lesson to be learned here is that we should be honest and humble about what it is that we believe our government has been able to accomplish in the past so that we do not foolishly presume that we can work miracles in the future. Whether they are sincere or not, some Iraq war advocates claim that they took the end of communism in eastern Europe as an example of how they expected liberation in Iraq to proceed: through an outpouring of popular support and mostly peaceful political change. It is hard not see how the kind of mythologising of the end of the Cold War contributed directly to profound misconceptions about what would happen in post-invasion Iraq. For sizeable parts of the two generations either raised on or actively participating in this myth-making about the end of the USSR, the expectations of some miraculous democratic transformation were unreasonably high. These people had come to genuinely believe that all that was necessary for liberal democracy to flourish was for the oppressive regime to go away. Of course, this ignored vast differences of culture, history, religion, political traditions and all the rest of it that explained why events unfolded as they did in Europe and would not be the same in Iraq, but these errors of historical ignorance were compounded by more of the mad optimism that runs through the myths about 1989 that many on the right today hold dear. It is not simply too soon for such “confident eulogies”–these eulogies and the mentality that creates them can be positively dangerous.