Stalin, The Gulags and Christianity

Wakefield Tolbert, one of the great commentators on this blog, has pointed out here at that Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have blamed Stalin’s Eastern Orthodox upbringing for the atrocities committed by his regime. Now I’ve already blogged explaining how Hitler wasn’t a Christian, and the genocide of the Nazis was not based on Christianity. Now also I’ve heard from a number of other people who’ve come across the same assertion that Christianity is somehow responsible for Stalin’s atrocities. This is demonstrably untrue, and deserves rebuttal.

Religious Nature of Communism

It is true that many researchers and scholars of Communism have noted a strong religious quality within the movement itself and the devotion it aroused in its adherents. Of 221 former Communists studied by one sociologist, almost half came from homes where religious interests were important. 1 Marxism can be seen ‘as a modern prophetic movement, proclaiming the way to justice’. 2 The search for ‘an overwhelmingly strong power’  on which the individual can rely may lead people to God can also lead others to embrace the Communist party. In the West, many of the recruits to Communism in the 1930s were highly sensitive and bewildered by modern social confusion. These idealists sought a programme that would solve the problems of modern society they felt so keenly. ‘They found in the authoritative program of communism and in its seeming dedication to justice an ‘escape from freedom’ that gave them both a sense of belonging and a sense of power. They were no longer the alienated; they had a ‘home’ and a program’. 3 Thus some of the scholars studying former Communists, concluded that the rejection of their parents’ religion by those with a devout religious background was not an antireligious statement, ‘but a redirection of interest to a movement that was embraced with religious fervor.’ 4

Stalin himself added a religious element to Soviet Communism. His oration at Lenin’s funeral was modelled on the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, and included the response ‘We vow to be faithful to they precepts, O Lenin.’ Lenin’s held the orthodox Marxist view that the individual has no importance in history. This caused him to reject any cult of personality around himself through the belief that if he had hadn’t led the revolution, it would have occurred anyway under someone else. Stalin, in opposition to this, created a distinct cult around Lenin through the establishment of Marxism-Leninism as the official Soviet ideology, and Lenin’s mausoleum as a public monument and site of pilgrimage.

Inadequacy of Religion as Explanation for Stalinism

Despite this, I have to say I’m not impressed by the argument as it’s too close to some very similar assertions I’ve come across which are very clearly wrong. Jack Chick in one of his rabidly anti-Roman Catholic comics claimed that Stalin’s regime was all a Roman Catholic plot, because Stalin had been a Roman Catholic priest. Er, no. Stalin was Georgian Orthodox, and did intend study for the priesthood, but got kicked out of the seminary for reading Adam Smith and Charles Darwin. The fact that many Communists were idealists and came from a religious background does not necessarily mean that the atrocities committed by Stalin were due to his religious upbringing. Communism is a highly idealistic political system, even if this idealism expresses itself in a brutally utilitarian attitude to human life and political strategy. The membership of people from religious backgrounds in the Communist simply shows that the type of idealistic individuals who traditionally sought meaning in religion then sought it in Communism. The religious trappings around the cult of Lenin don’t demonstrate an innate religiosity in Stalin so much as a cynical appreciation of the way the collective, corporate aspects of religion by a traditionally religious people could be used to provide a sense of community and collective purpose amongst them. However, this is a tactical development, and does not demonstrate any deeper continuity in ideology or outlook between Communism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Communist Persecution of Orthodox Christians and Other People of Faith

 As a convinced Communist, he was certainly not a Christian. Furthermore, as Timothy Ware points out in his book on Orthodoxy under the Communists, the Soviet regime was militantly atheist, and had no compunction about killing and torturing Orthodox clergy long before Stalin came to power. In 1918 and 1919, the Communists killed 28 bishops. From 1923 to 1926 fifty more were martyred. By 1926, 2,700 priests, 2,000 monks and 3,400 nuns had been killed. It has been estimated that from 1917 to 1964 12,000 priests alone had been murdered by the regime, or died of illtreatment at their hands. And this is only Orthodox clergy.  5 It does not include the laymen and women.

Similar massacres of laypeople and clergy were also experienced by other faiths long before Stalin. Just before Christmas, for example, Channel 4 screened a fascinating programme of very early colour documentary film shot by a French traveller to China, India and Mongolia about the time of the First World War. It was excellent material documenting these nation’s way of life before the turmoil of the succeeding decades. What was particular poignant was the footage of Buddhist monks in a Mongolian lamasery. When the Communists took power, these were closed down and the monks martyred. About 15,000 were killed by the Communists. Now part of Mongolia was indeed annexed by the Soviet Union, but this also occurred in the independent part. So, Stalin was clearly not responsible, or not wholly responsible, for the atrocities committed there.

Middle Eastern Ethnic Violence and the Genocides of Stalin

In fact, some historians do consider that Stalin’s cultural background did play a role in the horror of the Gulags. The crucial factor here, however, is not his religious background, but the clan and tribal orientation of Georgian culture and society, and indeed through the peoples of the Caucasus. The Caucasus has been called ‘the mountain of tongues’ because of the wide variety of languages and dialects spoken there. There has been a history of fierce nationalist violence between the various peoples of the Caucasus. Stalin’s began his revolutionary career as a Georgian nationalist, taking the codename ‘Koba’ after the Georgian people’s great national hero, who fought for their country against the invading Turks. It’s been suggested that Stalin’s slaughter of whole families, and even whole nations, comes from this background in nationalist violence, in which clan feuding, and the slaughter of the relatives of one’s enemies as part of the feud, was practiced. Stalin applied this tactic of clan violence at the level of whole nations.

In fact state action against, including the exile and extermination of opposing subject nations, had been a policy of the Turkish and Persian Empires that dominated the area. The Turkish conquest of the Balkans in the Middle Ages included the mass deportation of the Turks subject peoples. This use of mass exile was a distinctive feature of the absolute nature of Turkish rule: ‘Equally characteristic of absolutist rule was the employment of mass deportation. Albanians, Serbs and Greeks were transferred in vast numbers to Anatolia and – after 1453 – to Constantinople, while Anatolians (often nomads) were transplanted to Thrace, Bulgaria and the border zones of the Balkans.’ 6 The great Persian historian, Muhammad-Kazim, in his Name-yi ‘Alamara-yi Nadiry, the Book of the World-Ruling Nadir, documents various pogroms against and the exile of various ethnic groups, such as the Tatars in Merv c. 1725-6. 7 This use of mass terror against subject nations continued into late 19th and early 20th century, when it culminated in the Armenian massacres of 1915, when 750,000 to 1.8 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. 8 The inaction of the European powers and their complete lack of interest in protecting the Armenians convinced the Nazi leadership that the great powers would also be completely indifferent over the fate of the Jews when they planned the Holocaust. Given Stalin’s own background in the Caucasus, it’s possible that the Armenian atrocities similarly convinced him of the effectiveness of genocide as an instrument of state policy.

Lenin as Founder of Communist Tyranny 

Hitchen’s and Harris’ assertion that Stalin’s atrocities came from his Eastern Orthodoxy is also similar to the Marxist and Trotskyite claim that the brutality and repression of institutional Soviet Communism was solely the result of Stalin’s psychology, rather than the product of Communism. According to this view, Lenin was the great hero who brought freedom and equality to the Soviet people, until his ideas and system was corrupted by Stalin. The socialist state created by Lenin was then twisted into a ‘state capitalist’ dictatorship.

The problem with this is that, while Lenin wasn’t the monster that Stalin was, he was certainly no democrat. Lenin established the policy of ‘democratic centralism’ which severely curtailed democratic discussion in the Communist Party, made the former Soviet Empire a one-party state, and began the creation of the labour camps that expanded so rapidly under Stalin. Contrary to the depiction of the Russian Revolution presented by the brilliant Russian cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein in his film October, the 1917 revolution wasn’t a mass uprising. It was a military coup against a democratically elected government, led by Kerensky. The biggest party in the duma – the Russian parliament – at the time were the Kadets, or Constitutional Democrats. They stood for the extension of the franchise to the ordinary people, and improving conditions for the workers and peasants, as well as welfare reforms. They were liberals, or left liberals, but not Marxists. During the coup, the Communist troops surrounded the duma and prevent the delegates from taking their seats, thus seizing power. The use of force to seize and legitimate power was thus a feature of the regime from its foundation.

Lenin also deliberately curtailed freedom of speech within the Communist through the institution of ‘democratic centralism’. This meant the process by which the free discussion of ideas on a particular topic was only possible when the leadership invited it, such as when a particular problem needed addressing, but no policy had yet been formulated to tackle it. Once the leadership made a decision, however, no further discussion was permissible. Lenin created this policy in order to centralise power in the Communist Party, and prevent the factionalism that had divided the Socialist Revolutionaries. These had been the main Russian revolutionary movement. They were agrarian socialists, rather like the Populist Party in America but without the racism. However, despite their use of violence and assassination, the Socialist Revolutionaries were deeply divided. Lenin felt this had hampered their effectiveness as a revolutionary organisation. To prevent the nascent Communist party suffering the same fate, Lenin established democratic centralism to ensure a rigid party discipline.

As for the labour camps, these too were a creation of Lenin. After the Revolution Soviet Russia experienced a famine. As an emergency measure, the government began requisitioning supplies of food. Hoarders were strictly punished. A group of 100 peasants were found guilty of hoarding food, and sentenced to imprisonment in a labour camp in the Russian north. This marked the beginning of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’.

Pre-Communist Origins of Soviet State Propaganda and Secret Police

Other authoritarian features of the regime were taken over from Kerensky’s government. Kerensky himself was well aware of the propaganda value of the cinema. Indeed, his government created a system of mobile cinemas that travelled the country showing propaganda movies for his regime. Lenin took this over, similar fashioning Soviet cinema as the instrument of state propaganda. Kerensky’s regime had also included a secret police, ultimately derived from the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, led by Felix Dzherzinsky, whose job was to guard the regime from counter-revolutionary activity. Lenin took this over too, and made Dzherzinsky the head of the new, Soviet secret police. Thus the instruments of repression Stalin used were inherited from previous regimes, including Lenin’s.

Constitutional Weakness of Pre-Fascist and Communist Nations 

Historians examining the rise of the Communist dictatorship in Russia have noticed parallels with other dictatorships, including the Fascist tyrannies of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. These common features are considered to be the crucial elements in the creation and perpetuation of these regimes. Common to both the Communist and Fascist dictatorships was the use of military force to seize power. Both Germany and Russia were constitutionally very weak, with very little democratic tradition, thus enabling the nascent democracies in those nations to be overthrown by its determined enemies. Stalin’s soviet dictatorship was thus the product the country’s general consititional weakness and the use of military force by secular regimes to enforce their power, rather than just the grotesque psychology of Stalin himself.

Authoritarianism and 19th Century German Constitutional Theory

One can also trace the authoritarianism of Soviet Communism back to Marx himself and the 19th century German political philosophy. Political philosophers have suggested that there is a difference between British and German philosophical views on constitutional theory. British political theory tended to view the state as a system of checks and balances to prevent one element in the state gaining too much power at the expense of the others, thus preserving their freedom. German political philosophy, on the other hand, is held to view the state as an administrative machine, and is less concerned with preserving the freedom of its citizens than with the efficient operation of that machine in governing society. This view is probably overstated, however. 19th century German constitutional theory certainly believed in the separation of power in the state, and the operation of checks and balances characteristic of British and American constitutional theory. This system was, however, limited by the power of the Wilhelminian monarchy, a fact brilliantly sent up by the German radical, Adolf Glasbrenner, in his satirical essay, Konschtitution. Deliberately written in the Berlin dialect as a father’s explanation of the German constitution to his son, the piece satirises the situation with the statement ‘Constitution, that is the separation of power. The king does what he wants, and the people, they do, what the king wants.’ 9 Nevertheless German 19th century political theory didn’t quite see the state as the monolithic governmental machine as some have considered it did.

There were also strongly authoritarian tendencies within the German Social Democrats in the 19th century. Historians of German socialism in this period have noted the strongly authoritarian nature of Ferdinand Lasalles leadership of the party. However, by the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th the German Social Democrats were far less rigid in their party discipline. Lenin, with his absolute insistence on the revolutionary struggle, could not understand how the notorious reformist, Eduard Bernstein, retained his party membership. When, during a visit to Germany, the German Social Democrat’s leading political theorist, Karl Kautsky, explained to him that they allowed dissent and discussion even of fundamental issues like that in the German party, Lenin went berserk, hurling a string of invective at him. Before then, Lenin had had great admiration for the German Social Democrats. Afterwards he had very little to say in their favour. Arguably, this shows the origin of the dictatorial nature of Russian communism as due less to the nature of German socialism, and more to the rigid and doctrinaire attitude of Lenin.

Revolutionary Leader as Strong Man 

In fact you can also see in Lenin as well as Stalin the insistence that the ruler should be personally a strong man of iron constitution. Stalin was an assumed name, meaning ‘man of steel’. Stalin’s real name was Iosip Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. He took the name ‘Stalin’ as a deliberate statement of his personal strength and to symbolise his strong leadership. Lenin similarly believed that the true revolutionary was a man of iron following the dictum of earlier Russian revolutionaries that the true revolutionaries should physically toughen himself, metaphorically recommending that he should sleep on a bed of nails.

Sense of Personal Inadequacy Cause of Stalin’s Brutality

In fact some psychiatrists and historians have also seen the origin of Stalin’s brutality in a sense of inferiority, supposedly shared by other dictators who were similarly less than physically imposing. Stalin, like Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon, was short, though he attempted to disguise this by wearing great coats too large for him, and selective camera work in photographs. Mussolini similarly tried to disguise his lack of height by a variety of tricks, and literally stood on soap boxes when haranguing the crowd during Fascist rallies. These were then airbrushed out in official photographs of the occasion. Stalin was also physically disabled – he had a withered arm. The German psychiatrist Adler considered that Stalin’s dominating urge to power came from a sense of ‘organ inferiority’ due to his disability and short stature. Stalin’s ruthless acquisition of power and massive destruction of human life was an attempt to compensate for this feeling of inferiority. The crucial factor in the creation of Stalin’s authoritarian and dominating personality was his sense of personal inadequacy, not his religious upbringing.

Genocide in Writings of Marx and Engels

However, one can go further and see the genocidal elements of Stalin’s regime in some of the very writings of Marx and Engels. Marx and Engels, as Hegelians, saw the dialectical process as leading society from lower levels of culture and civilisation to successively higher stages of development before culminating in socialism and finally world communism. Although bitterly critical of capitalism, they enthusiastically embraced as a liberating force from feudalism. They also took over Herder’s notion of ‘historic states’. True states were only those which had a history behind it. Thus, Marx and Engels were supportive of the desires of Polish revolutionaries to gain independence for their country, as Poland had had a history as an independent nation. Engels in his 1847 speech commemorating 17th anniversary of the Polish revolution of 1830 stated ‘German princes have profited from the partition of Poland and German solideries are still exercising oppression in Galicia and Posen. It must be the concern of us Germans, above all, of us German democrats, to remove this stain from our nation.’ 10

They were, however, bitterly opposed to the national aspirations of some of the other Slavonic peoples, whom they saw as not possessing a historic identity and thus excluded from the process of historic development towards higher stages of civilisation. These nations, like Scots Gaels and the Celtic Bretons in France, represented a lower stage of civilisation that should rightly become extinct as they were absorbed and assimilated into more advanced peoples. ‘There is no country in Europe that does not possess, in some remote corner, at least one remnant-people, left over from an earlier population, forced back and subjugated by the nation which later became the repository of historical development. These remnants of a nation, mercilessly crushed, as Hegel said, by the course of history, this national refuse, is always the fanatical representative of the counter-revolution and remains so until it is completely exterminated or de-nationalized, as its whole existence is itself a protest against a great historical revolution.

In Scotland, for example, the Gaels, supporters fot he Stuarts from 1640 to 1745.

In France the Bretons, supporters fo the Bourbons from 1792 to 1800.

In Spain the Basques, supporters of Don Carlos.

In Austria the pan-Slav South Slavs, who are nothing more than the national refuse of a thousand years of immensely confused development.’ 11 

Engels himself was vehemently opposed to the nationalist campaigns by these Slav peoples during the turmoil of 1848, the ‘year of revolutions’. He saw them as constituting a threat to true revolutionary socialism, because of what he viewed as these societies’ socially backward nature, and urged their suppression in chilling, even genocidal terms. He considered that the Slav nationalist campaigns in 1848 would lead to a global war which would exterminate the Slav nations utterly: ‘The general war which will then break out will scatter this Slav Sonderbund, and annihilate all these small  pig-headed nations even to their very names.

The next world war will not only cause reactionary classes and dynasties to disappear from the face of the earth, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that too is an advance.’ 12

‘We reply to the sentimental phrases about brotherhood which are offered to us here in the name of the most cuonter-revolutionary nations in Europe that hatred of the Russians was, and still is, the first revolutionary passion of the Germans; that since the revolution a hatred of the Czechs and the Croats has been added to this, and that, in common with the Poles and the Magyars, we can only secure the revolution against these Slav peoples by the most decisive acts of terrorism. We now know where the enemies of the revolution are concentrated: in Russia and in the Slav lands of Austria; and no phrases, no references to an indefinite democratic future of these lands will prevent us from treating our enemies as enemies … Then we shall fight ‘an implacable life-and-death-struggle’ with Slavdom, which has betrayed the revolution; a war of annihilation and ruthless terrorism, not in the interests of Germany but in the interests of the revolution!’ 13 Thus Engels himself advocated a policy of genocide in the interests of the revolution, a policy which Stalin ruthlessly implemented in his regime of terror.

Scientific Socialism and the Rejection of Moral Sentiment

One factor which may have facilitated the acceptance of this policy amongst Stalin’s colleagues in the Communist party was the ‘scientific’ nature of Marxism and its rejection of moral theory as the basis of revolutionary action and sentiment. Many of the non-Marxist European radicals and socialists had come to their views from a profound sense of moral outrage at the poverty, squalor and oppression experienced by the poor in the Europe of the time, rather than from any commitment to a philosophical or economic theory. The great British Socialist and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris, told an interviewer that he had absolutely no interest in Marx’s theory of surplus value. Russian Marxists, on the other hand, like Lenin, saw Marxism as superior to the other forms of socialism because it was based on what they saw as objective fact – economic laws and the dialectic of history – rather than moral sentiment, and sneered at those socialists who did base their socialism on a moral critique of society. This is not to say that they didn’t have a moral sense, but it was circumscribed by their sense of the impersonal movement of history, economics and society that legitimated the revolutionary struggle aside from or against moral concerns. This sense that they were acting from entirely objective, ‘scientific’ principles, principles which would inevitably lead to a better society, acted to suppress their moral instincts that revolted at the horrors they inflicted.


Thus, despite the superficial trappings of religious ritual around Lenin, the atrocities of the Stalin era had their basis in the authoritarian nature of the Russian Communist party created by Lenin; an apparatus of state repression and propaganda inherited from Tsarism and Kerensky; a history of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe and the Middle East; the establishment of the true revolutionary as a physically strong man, complemented by Stalin’s own ruthless urge to power through a sense of personal inadequacy; and an advocacy of genocide by one of the founders of Marxism, Friedrich Engels himself, coupled with a notion of scientific objectivity that rejected morality in favour of impersonal societal forces as the basis for political action and commitment. This was further exacerbated by a political ideology that saw individuals as unimportant and which viewed the collective group or interest – the working class and the nation as a whole – as the centre of moral concern to whose interests the individual could be ruthlessly sacrificed.

Rather than Stalin’s atrocities arising from Christianity, they came from the brutal tactics of secular rulers in the Middle East, and authoritarian, genocidal ideologies within Russian Communism itself, based on the ideas of that ideology’s founder, magnified to truly horrific levels by Stalin’s own personal paranoia and brutality. The irony here is that Marx declared himself to be a Humanist, and Soviet Communists viewed Marxism as the only true Humanism.  


1. J.M. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in Whitfield Foy, ed., The Religious Quest: A Reader (London, Routledge 1978), p. 548.

2. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives’, in Foy, Religious Quest, p. 547.

3. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives’, in Foy, Religious Quest, p. 547.

4. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives’ in Foy, Religious Quest, p. 548.

5. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London, Penguin Books 1964), p. 156.

6. Daniel Waley, Later Medieval Europe: From St. Louis to Luther (London, Longman 1985), p. 166.

7. N.D. Miklukho-Maklaya, ‘Introduction’, in Muhammad-Kazim, Name-yi ‘Alamara-yi Nadiry (Miroykrashayushaya Nadirova Kniga), volume 1, (Orientalist Institute of the Soviet Academy of Science, Moscow 1960), p. 6.

8. ‘Armenia’ in Andrew Wilson and Nina Bachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London, Andre Deutsch 1992), p. 17.

9. Adolf Glasbrenner, ‘ Konschtitution’ in Florian Vassen, ed., Die Deutsche Literature in Text und Darstellung: Vormarz (Stuttgart, Philipp Reklam 1979), p. 230. (My translation).

10. David Fernback, ed., Karl Marx: The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1973), p. 100.

11. Friedrich Engels, ‘The Magyar Struggle, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, p. 222.

12. Engels, ‘Magyar Struggle’, in Fernbach, Karl Marx, pp. 225-226.

13. Engels, ‘Democratic Pan-Slavism’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, p. 244.

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27 Responses to “Stalin, The Gulags and Christianity”

  1. Feyd Says:

    Splendid blog Beast and very fair to atheists in that you’ve not blamed their ideology for Stalin’s oppression.

    Some highly respected analysts have argued many of Stalins murders were indeed done in the name of atheism , for example see Prospect magazine:

    The figures in your blog about the number of women killed for being Christians partly refute the atheist counter that Stalin was only attacking Christianity as he saw it as a rival power.

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say atheism itself causes oppression. I don’t meet many atheists in real life but a while back I was on Richard Dawkins .net for several months and I have to say those guys compare very favourably with certain fundamentalist web sites. Anyway there’s no convincing real world evidence that atheists as individuals are likely to be significantly less moral, many of them are very ethical and caring.

    But an overwhelmingly strong case can be made that the lack of religion in society at large is likely to cause oppression and violence.

    Consider atheist national leaders. We all know there have been some cruel religious leaders but history shows they were exceptions not the norm. But when it comes to atheists its more common than not for them to turn into brutal tyrants once they ascend to national leadership.

    In addition to Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot there were Nicolae Ceauescu , Francisco Macías Nguema , Kim Jong-il & Hoxha – with the debatable exception of Hoxha they were all exceptionally oppressive leaders.

    I’ve only been able to find 5 atheist national leaders who could be classed as only moderately bad or better:
    Nehru, Gabriel Narutowicz , Aleksander Kwaśniewski , Alexander Lukashenko & Nursultan Nazarbayev

    I may have missed a few like some of the recent Chinease leaders where its not 100% clear whether or not they are truly atheist. However adding them to the ranks isn’t going to help atheists much, for example as a proportion of population Wikki tells us that modern china still executes 15 times as many people as were killed in Christendom during the witch burning craze.

    At least that is far better than Pol Pot – if anyone’s interested I can demonstrate how his atheist regime killed proportionately 500 times as many folk as were executed as witches.
    (even that ignores the fact that witch burning was largely a popular craze and in some cases religious figures were arguing for clemency against the secular authorities)

    Its strange how atheists bang on about religion being a source of suffering when the truth is so clearly the opposite.

    Granted some wars and killings were caused by religious differences – at the upper estimates as many as 7 million. But this was over a period of several thousand years. When atheists were allowed into power such as during the regimes of Mao and Stalin over 100 million deaths resulted – most of them during a 50 year period.

    Atheist apologists sometimes claim this industrial scale murder was more to do with modern technology. Not so – for example most of Pol Pot’s killings were done with weapons like matches and bamboo sticks due to a shortage of bullets.

    Granted some of the killings and brutality resulted from Marxism, but much did not – for example Nguema’s oppression or the anti clerical murders that followed the French revolution.

    The general cause is perhaps the evil that results from our fallen human nature when bereft of the gentle and benign influence of God’s love. There are examples to from ancient history – in the struggle against Carthage, led by the highly religious and brilliant Scipio , Rome ended the 2nd Punic war with a very fair & benevolent peace settlement, despite having the power to destroy her old rival totally. And this was after Carthage had came close to vanquishing Rome. But several generations later when faith in the Roman gods had declined and Rome had became much more secular, they kicked off the unnecessary 3rd Punic war against the then militarily week Carthage. That war ended with the murder or enslavement of over half a million Carthaginians and the total destruction of their city.

    By examining the facts rather than atheist propaganda, one could be forgiven for concluding that religion tends to make man less destructive by several orders of magnitude!

    Finally I want to touch on one of the strongest atheist arguments against the beneficial influence of religion – the cases of Sweden and Japan which are highly secular but also score well in some ethical indicators.

    Beast already comprehensively dealt with the Japan argument here:

    Sweden is in some ways a more persuasive case than Japan as she scores well on a much wider range of ethical indicators, not just the low crime rate.

    But rather than crediting Sweden’s favourable rankings on a lack of religiosity, they are better explained by a correlation between small size and high ethical / development scores. For example Luxemburg is more religious even than the US but outranks Sweden on several measures.

    While more secular than most states, Sweden is no where near as secular as Stalin’s Russia – about 75% of the population belong to the Church of Sweden and a similar percentage express a belief in God or some sort of spirit in response to pollsters.

    Additionally the Swedes could hardly be seen as moral until they accepted Christianity – not unless one has very odd view about Viking raiding and pillage.

    Poor old atheists… for many years main stream analysts have mostly stayed silent on atheist v religion, so as not to risk encouraging discrimination against athiests. But now militant atheists have been trying to roll back the role of religion in the state, its time for their transparent propaganda to be exposed for what it is!

  2. JOR Says:

    Terror and massacre have been accepted tools of statecraft since… always.

  3. mattghg Says:

    This post is tremendous boon to someone who has had difficulty in convincing committed Marxists that Lenin really wasn’t such a nice guy.

  4. Ilíon Says:

    It *should* be. However, such persons will resist knowing these things … just as they do now.

  5. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the brilliant comment, Feyd. I really don’t much about some of the atheist leaders you mentioned, so I found it very informative. As for the atheists on the Dawkins forum being ethical, caring people, I agree. The problem is that human nature is fallen, and as Dostoevsky himself observed, ‘without God, anything is permissible’. The hell of Pol Pot’s regime is an example of that. I can remember a review published in the British broadsheet newspaper, the Financial Times of a book on Pol Pot’s tyranny. From the review it does indeed seem that it was, from a Marxist perspective, ideologically confused. It also seems to have been partly about Pol Pot and his henchman grabbing power and luxury goods for themselves. The review mentioned that despite the hostility to the West, Pol Pot and the other butchers were very keen to get their hands on prestigious Western items like motorbikes. It seems to have been very much a case of a contradictory mixture of ideology and sheer, personal greed and lust for power. Humanity at its very worst.

    Hi JOR – I agree with you that terror and massacre have all too often been tools of states and their authorities, but the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century had a particularly strong, militant disregard for human life. I was at an academic seminar a couple of months ago on ‘Genocide in the 18th Century’. One of the interesting things said by the speaker was the difference in attitude towards it between the 18th and 20th century. The 18th century talked a lot about genocide, but didn’t actually do a lot of it. The totalitarian regimes of the 20th century didn’t discuss it at all, but committed it on an industrial scale. The Nazis called the deportation of the Jews ‘evacuation to the east’ and their murder ‘special executive measures’ as a way of hiding their crimes. One could argue from this that not only was the 20th century more brutal, but also more hypocritical in its attitude to mass death.

  6. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Mattghg – I’m glad I could help. I can understand why some committed Marxists continue to believe that Lenin was a great guy. Marxism draws its support from people’s idealism, the natural human need to look forward to and create a better society. And Lenin was much better than Stalin – no question. Initially he was prepared to tolerate rather more dissent than was permissible towards the end of his administration. After the assassination attempt that seems to have caused the recurrent fits that claimed his life, Lenin was much more intolerant. Rival political organisations were banned outright, except for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries who were amalgamated with the Communist party.

    Part of the myth of Lenin’s benevolence comes from his attitude to Stalin. Lenin initially liked Stalin, but shortly before his death wrote a note saying that he didn’t want him in power. This has been taken by Marxists as evidence that Lenin knew what a monster Stalin would be, and wished to preserve the revolution from his tyranny. The problem with this is that it’s not at all clear how well Lenin knew him. At the initial meeting with Stalin which so impressed Lenin, Lenin merely referred to him as ‘that wonderful Georgian’, which seems to indicate that Lenin didn’t know his name or who he was. As for the note recommending Stalin be barred from holding power, Lenin wrote it after Stalin insulted his wife. So, was Lenin being personally perceptive? Politically acute? Or was it simply to satisfy a personal insult?

    A lot of European socialists and Marxists didn’t like Lenin, and quickly became disillusioned with his regime. Karl Kautsky was a centrist in the German Social Democrat Party. He initially welcome the 1917 Revolution, but became very disillusioned with it, writing a denunciation of it in a Labour newspaper in 1918.

    You’re right about some people rejecting the truth about Lenin, Ilion. No-one likes finding out that their heroes have feet of clay, especially when that person is lauded as representing the highest ideals of humanity. Also, I got the distinct impression that part of the idealisation of Lenin and non-Western systems amongst European and American radicals is based on their bitter alienation from their own society. I once read a piece by a British socialist describing the difficulty he had trying to point out to American radicals that just because the US was less than perfect, it didn’t mean that the Soviet Union was.

  7. JOR Says:

    “Also, I got the distinct impression that part of the idealisation of Lenin and non-Western systems amongst European and American radicals is based on their bitter alienation from their own society.”

    There is probably a great deal of truth to this. I think it works in reverse, too – for instance, Ayn Rand’s idealization of America, after experiencing the dreary, horrifying reality of the Soviet system.

  8. Feyd Says:

    You’re welcome Beast, yep I completely agree about our fallen nature being responsible. Its not atheism directly that causes oppressive behaviour , but as atheists are less receptive to God’s love due to their unbelief they are less likely to be able to restrain their lower impulses, especially if they ascend to a position of power where the normal social constraints don’t suffice to hold them back.

    As you described with the Cambodia case, the empty but rational marxist ideology wasnt sufficient to restrain folk even from materialism when they were personally attracted to western luxury goods.

    Im glad you mentioned the genius Dostoevsky . You might remember we talked about a third issue of Christianity possibly arising from the East? – Spengler felt the spirit expressed in Dostoevsky’s novels are a presentiment of the new religious feeling that will arise soon and redeem the material world. Dostoevsky was so different from his contemporary Tolstoy who spoke of Jesus but really meant Marx. Tolstoy had the 2oth century, but its to Dostoevsky that the next one thousand years will belong! Well with any luck …

  9. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    JOR says:

    There is probably a great deal of truth to this. I think it works in reverse, too – for instance, Ayn Rand’s idealization of America, after experiencing the dreary, horrifying reality of the Soviet system.

    I have to agree with JOR in part. While I don’t think you can be completely PUSHED into some ideology beyond your senses unless you’re really a dullard (and Allisa Rosenbaum, A.K.A. Ayn Rand, was NOT), it is obvious that when someone sees no evil, hears no evil, and (well, you know the rest) about a system of choice over the system of birth, you know an agenda is on the cooker that might be a wee bit myopic. A politcal and religious “conservative” myself with many studies in foreign policy under my belt (my real background) and an appreciation of capitalism’s harnessing of selfish inputs notwithstanding, I do see the other side of the coin. As George Will has said, Capitalism delivers a rough justice, what is why it is hated. It deliers when you do. But the social welfare apparatus can take some of the roughness out of the justice. That might sound extraordinarily glib, I know.

    Having said that, I would also say that sometimes seeing things from the outside looking in one has a different and hopefully clearer view of things. American pols BASHED the system of capitalism as inherently EVIL beyond the pale and lionized issues and systems they were not even all that familiar with and took little note that things in some areas when from bad peasantry to industrial penury and darker than under the Czars.

    I’ll have to get back later. Thanks for the insights from Beast–I would only make a couple of follow ups, but toher than that his insight is excellent on the debunking in full of the Harris/Hitchens theorem of “residual theology” (whether against the Jews being the source of Hitlerist Angst heldover from Luthers railing against the Jews or Stalin’s “religious” upbringing, etc.

  10. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Feyd, JOR and Wakefield. I entirely agree with you, JOR, that the idealisation of America and capitalism did occur amongst people severely disillusioned and alienated from systems like Soviet totalitarianism. Ayn Rand is one example, but there were doubtless countless others amongst the refugees from eastern Europe after the Russian Revolution.

    Regarding Dostoevsky, I was always put off him because of what I understand to be the reactionary nature of his mature political views. In one of the books I read at College on the rise of revolutionary Russia, it was stated that Dostoevsky believed in a spiritually regenerate Russia of landlords and peasants. It seems a bit too close to the Tsarist absolutism to which he, as a young man, had been bitterly opposed. On the other hand, the picture he drew of the revolutionaries in The Devils was drawn from his own personal experiences as a committed revolutionary, so he definitely knew what he was talking about.

    I’ve some sympathy with Tolstoy as a utopian dreamer and someone who genuinely believed in nonviolence. However, he didn’t pick up this pacifism from Marx. He was strongly influenced by a particular form of Chechen Sufism that turned to non-violent protest after the failure of military resistance to the Tsars’ expansion into Chechnya in the 19th century. Tolstoy had served in the Caucasus as a soldier, and was really impressed by this attitude and the Sufi sheikh who advocated it. Clearly as a utopian socialist he was part of the general revolutionary movement amongst Russian intellectuals that paved the way for the Russian revolution, but as a pacifist with anarchist views he was the kind of person the Marxists disliked as a threat to true ‘scientific’ socialism.

  11. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding the mysticism of the eastern Orthodox churches – I really don’t know much about them, except that it’s very different from western Christianity. From what I understand, eastern Orthodoxy stresses mystery much more than Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, but it also has a joy that can be absent from some western approaches to worship. Rather than seeing the world as completely separated from God, it sees the majesty of God expressed in and shining through the material cosmos, and the services, according to what I’ve read, are supposed to bring heaven down to Earth, to give you the experience of the divine and transcendent in the present. Thus, the ambassadors St. Oleg sent to Constantinople to encourage the Byzantine emperor to send missionaries to convert Russia reported that during an Orthodox service they didn’t know whether they were in heaven or on Earth.

  12. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Oh BTW–

    Not to change the pace of the conservsation here, but… give everyone a chance to catch the breath…..

    …..and I swear I’m not obsessed with this issue! 🙂 Matter of chance. Honestly.

    But just for fun, I had run across some claims that against all common perceptions it seems regular plain folk people, particularly conservative Christian women in the United States, are actually more sexually satisfied than their “worldly” and sexually (allegedly) more sophisticated liberal and agnostic/secular friends. I have no idea. (WISH I DID…)

    Nor in polite society do I ask such questions of people. Most of the participants here are male so I’d throw in a nice diversion to canvass this crew on what they think. While looking into this I found a douzy I (while patrolling the Web for stories of various kinds and search and destroy missions about Christians). Seems in response to this claim which to my knowledge is not refuted there IS a comeback of sorts from the Secular Web/Rational Responder types. (though in this case the info was from a similar site only). I know some sites are not dependable but in this case they were referring to the Barna report: Apparently the claim here is that Christians are obnoxious do-gooders whose words don’t match their deeds compared to other groups:


    What does this have to do with the price of tea in China. Just one thing: Culturally Christians are hypocrits and might be hiding some hanky panky and extramarital things themselves (one of the main reasons, beyond problems with money and career and faith) and get little support from their own upon hitting the skids in marriage–and so by psychological projection mock others for certain kinds of moral failings. Other reasons for this are failure of the Church to provide marital and moral counseling when people have hard times (as I partially agree on this one, being a person whose had marital issues come up that were thorny, for full disclosure here) and the issue that theology provides no real insights anymore into marriage against a changing world, creates guilt, and thus cannot deal with sadness, loss, and other issues as effectively as the agonostic stand by of seeking professional counselors (long mocked by many people ) or medication or just bucking it up and getting over the tears, etc. I agree in part that the Church has not done a great job overall of prepping young people for marriage and home issues. Certain things are assumed after the alter ceremony and that’s the end of that, for the most part.

  13. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Thought you guys might enjoy this. More Dawkinsonian input. Sort of. I had little idea (though I’d heard) just how far Richard Dawkins had gone into the “all species great and small” camp as being on par with humans. I do now. So this time I took the time to actually blog it out while duking it out and shadow boxing with Richard Dawkins.

    I don’t write often much anymore but this was too delicious not to stay up with milk and cookies tonight. My front page has the latest for now but the link below is the permanent one for this little ditty.

  14. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for the comments about conservative Christian women being more sexually fulfilled than their agnostic or secular liberal counterparts. It raised my eyebrows, considering that there’s a tendency to present Christians with a conservative sexual morality as either hypocrites or sexually repressed. Or both. Now I’m not married, so I’m certainly not a guide here, but if it is true, I’d say it was because the relationship as a whole was healthy. In Christianity you’re supposed to be making a life commitment to companionship with the other person, in which sex is only a part. Now there’s a saying over this side of the Atlantic that ‘there’s more to marriage than four bare legs in a bed’. But if the relationship is healthy and secure, and the wife feels secure in her husband’s love, then the sex would probably naturally benefit. Moreover, there might not be a need to feel pressured into measuring up to some imaginary ideal of sexual fulfilment that exists only in fiction, so instead of trying and failing to find better sex and sex partners, they’re happy with their husbands.

    Interestingly, one of Sartre’s criticisms of Freud was that the sexual imagery Freudianism saw everywhere was a disguise for the ontological despair of Freudians in a Godless world.

    ‘If the Freudian sees sexual symbolism everywhere in Sartre’s ontology this is only because, Sartre suggests, the Freudian is trying to disguise his ontological loneliness – the loneliness of a self which exists only in its free acts, in an obscene,, contingent, godless world, with no values, except those which he himself creates. The Freudian seeks refuge in the comfortable doctrine that this lonelines is no more than a sexual need, not, then beyond human skill to satisfy.’

    – John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (Harmondsworth, Penguine 1996), p. 498.

    I’ve got the feeling that there’s a lot of truth in this beyond Freudianism, that the modern fixation with sex and sexual fulfilment, is born from existential despair, and an attempt to find temporary sensual substitutes for deeper, transcendent needs.

  15. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Thanks, BR. You’ll find your pal Dawkins’ insights into animal (or great apes, at least) rights even more interesting, I;m sure. Perhaps Dawkins’ brand of atheism is a form of PC mumbling about values. Which is funny coming from him thinking that morals is little more than gene replication in the 1st place.

    As to Freud, tunnels and trains, cigars and boxes, I agree. The modernist fixation with sex and erotica is akin to (per one writers) as the closest equivalent secularism has to a mystical enchantment with life.
    It is used to sell cars and kids breakfast cereals and political speeches.
    Yet funny enough mockery attends those who consider it important enough to reserve and keep for marriage.

    But remember the flip side of this coin and comeback from some quarters is:

    1) what was the methodology for asking such fresh questions?

    Also–thse housewives are allegedly not getting the “full complement” of expression in the sack.

    I won’t touch that one. If you’re happy, you;re happy.

    2) even if true, Christians are hypocrits when it comes to their divorce stats.

    But I guess to the last one an Orthodox priest I know said the Church is the “hospital for sinners, and not just the holding tank for the Saints” etc.

    Still, the “hospital”, the Church, could do a better job at prepping youngsters on what marriage really entails. Like you said, four naked legs or boots under the bed with your sweeties is not the full issue in marriage despite all the giggling among bridesmaids wondering how the new couple is doing on their honeymoon.

    BTW–this issue of marriage brings up my next blog I’ll work on later about young people, brain development, and how only OUR cultere (WEST) has these “unprepared for life” issues upon things like career and marriage. It is fascinating on a number of fronts at eats at the heart of “my brain’s evolution made me do it”

    Written by a secular scholar of brain develoment.

  16. Ilíon Says:

    WakefieldBut just for fun, I had run across some claims that against all common perceptions it seems regular plain folk people, particularly conservative Christian women in the United States, are actually more sexually satisfied than their “worldly” and sexually (allegedly) more sophisticated liberal and agnostic/secular friends.

    It’s not a “common perception” in the sense of anyone actually perceiving it — for, unless one is a pervert, how would one ever perceive one’s friends and neighbors enjoying or not enjoying sexual activity?

    Rather, it’s due to a common (and false) assertion that “religion” condemns sexuality that this “perception” abounds.

  17. Ilíon Says:

    WakefieldBut just for fun, I had run across some claims that against all common perceptions it seems regular plain folk people, particularly conservative Christian women in the United States, are actually more sexually satisfied than their “worldly” and sexually (allegedly) more sophisticated liberal and agnostic/secular friends.

    It’s not a “common perception” in the sense of anyone actually perceiving it — for, unless one is a pervert, how would one ever perceive one’s friends and neighbors enjoying or not enjoying sexual activity?

    Rather, it’s due to a common (and false) assertion that “religion” condemns sexuality that this “perception” abounds.

  18. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Ilion Says:

    It’s not a “common perception” in the sense of anyone actually perceiving it — for, unless one is a pervert, how would one ever perceive one’s friends and neighbors enjoying or not enjoying sexual activity?

    True enough. I don’t peep in on people, but the perception is there among some friends of mine. But we need to tell that to Miss Poppy Dixon and some others who run these “Christian Apostate” sites that slam Christianity at every chance and mangle the words of Paul in Romans with the idea that Christians are only to have sex to make babies and that if you can avoid marriage–do so. OR that Paul hated females, etc.

    On a site I used to visit over at SLATE magazine, known for Establishment, Manhatten leftist politics, writers are CONSTANTLY criticizing Christian “reliosithy” as we are “anti sex” and we need to “read up on the Song of Solomon more often”, etc. One writer asked “why do Christians hate sex so much—maybe cuz they’re no good at it.

    No comment. But that, there’s the perception. In addition to what you said, I think what MIGHT be closer to the truth is that we don’t promote PROMISCUITY among young people, are not thrilled with strangers in the public schools telling our kids that no context of sex is any more moral or better than any other, and that its OK to mess around in Dad’s car in the backseat so long as you use a pack of condoms and understand the basic plumbing. So the fact that many of the more conservative Chrisitans are not happy about what is ACTUALLY the more trivialized version of sex and sex ethics is what annoys the education establishment, which is primarily liberal and leftist and secularist in my country.

  19. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Back to Uncle Joe–Stalin, that is.

    RE: “Stalin, The Gulags and Christianity”

    I found BR’s follow up on this interesting. It seems the seeds of problems can trump any ideology, ill intentioned or good. Richard Pipes, in a wonderful book mostly on foreign policy with the old USSR, is a Harvard historian with a fix on old Russia and then the Soviet Union. Though the book was about US-USSR relation and now THAT issue is mostly extinct, I kept the book, Survival Is Not Enough, for reference. Also the author of “Russia Under the Old Regime“, Pipes pointed out something very much related to what BR did. Marx’s notions never fully took a true root in Western Europe, which ironically being highly iindustrialized HE felt was the prime picking for revolution. It didn’t happen that way, and old Russia under the Romanovs was the fertile ground. In Western Europe notion of social change were at the ballot box and tax recepit, not horror and blood. While neither Pipes nor I approve of socialism even in the milkwater version, we know of course two important things here. First, change of some kind was necessary in all of europe, and that while you might disagree with methodology (and still do), it happend for a reason. Things were unpleasant. The further east you went due to the history of middle ages holdover ethics, the worse things got, with the last vestiges of middle ages being the Russian Czar. Pipes points out that often the ground on which seeds might sprout is more important in many cases than an ideology itself. Thus in Russia, non-industrial and peasant worked and ruling class owned, horror was the result of middle ages ethics meeting industrial mindsets. As bad as Old Western Europe was, there was never the Eastern Ethics that said that serfs had absolutely NO rights whatsoever. Even Edward Longshanks had a sense of law and fair play compared to the Czars, who knew nothing of the “rights of man”, the courts, trial by your peers in the village if accused of capital crimes like stealing the kings fish (and not likely they’d convict you!), and punishment for even the nobles upon raping or killing peasants.

    Harris and Hitchens can say the church made this worse, but it seems that whatever the faults of the Eastern Church in Russia, it COULD be that they often stayed behind the scenes and their LACK of involvement in the affairs of government might have been the real issue.

    Having said all this, Dr. Pipes points out that while Alexander Solzhnitsen is a fine writer and chronicler of events surrounding the persecution of the church, killings of priests, the rise of Stalin, etc. he misses some finer details in all his paens to the “old ways.” Solzhnitsen correctly points out that we in the West certainly have our issues too–and there are many–and that we were horribly naive about old Russia and her ugly stepdaughter, the USSR. Now mercifully extinct due her internal contradiction. He correctly pointed out that the Western mind cannot often comprehend Eastern needs and concerns and goals. We are dogs. They are sly cats who hide emotions and have a more nuanced approach to materialist goals and power. Nevertheless Solzhinitsen came under fire from the more secular writers and dissidents and “refusnick” like Andrei Sakhorov and Vladimiar Bukovsky for his quaint ideas about old Russia. They ask, as does Pipes, if things were so great under the Church and peasantry in Old Russia, why the Revolution? Why the hunger (and not just the continued hunger under the “science” of Marxism”)? Why the Romanovs persistence in power eating sumptious, buttery, fine foods and living in opulence with pampered palaces being served by sword weilding Cosacks—-while the peasantry often ate cabbage, beets, weeds and village rats to stay alive in brutal conditions?

    Solzenitsen is a fine man. Or was. His Gulag Archeopelago is a masterpiece that should be required reading in High School onward. But this image of happy peasants trodding in snow smiling at the overflowing markets while listening warming to pealing church bells is just beyond the pale of logic.

  20. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Wakefield and Ilion. This is fascinating stuff, and I’ll look forward to your blog post about brain development, Wakefield.

    Actually, I think a course preparing couples for marriage does sound a very good idea. I didn’t know that the Roman Catholic Church actually ran such things, though it doesn’t surprise me. I did read a little while ago that amongst the Lutheran ethnic Germans in Romania – the Siebenburger – traditionally if you wanted a divorce, they locked you up in a tower for half a year with only one item from sets where you normally have two. Thus you’d have a knife, but no fork. After that they’d ask you if you still wanted a divorce. It sounds extreme to me, but I can see that cutting down the divorce rate.

    As for Christianity being anti-sex, certainly the early church placed great value on virginity and chastity, and some of the monastic writers of the Middle Ages had an appallingly low view of marriage. However, as you said St. Paul was certainly no misogynist and the sanctity of marriage as an institution is shown by the imagery of the church as the bride of Christ. A lot of cultures have regulations surrounding sex, because of the potential for social disruption from sexual relationships. Some of the supposedly scientific evidence used by the advocates of free love in the 1960s has definitely been shown to be wrong. You mention in your blog that Kinsey was profoundly wrong in his research, quite apart from large chunks of it being unethical and very nasty indeed.

    Polynesian society has since the 18th century been the model for natural sexual relationship, unconstrained by marriage. However, one of the main texts supposedly supporting this view, Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa , has been subject to severe criticism. Mead herself actually didn’t mean to write a book about Polynesian teenage sexuality. She was really interested in ethnobotany, but anthropology at that time really was obsessed with sex and kinship relationships. So her supervisor told her to research Samoan attitudes to sexuality. The two teenage girls who were her informants were, not unnaturally, perplexed and embarrassed at the prurient interest in sex, and so started making stuff up. The result is that Mead’s book is full of, well, rubbish.

    A lot of the arguments for free love were also taken from Marx and Engels. Engels, in his work on the origins of the family, drew on Backhofen’s Das Mutterrecht to argue that originally humanity lived in a state of primitive Communism and sexual promiscuity. Backhofen was an amateur anthropologist whose theories were attacked in his lifetime. Despite strongly influencing C.G. Jung and others in the 19th century volkisch movement, they’ve been thoroughly discredited. Similarly, in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels argued that marriage was giving way amongst the working class to genuine prostitution and free love. Historians of the British working class have found that there’s little evidence of this except in some, very specific localities. Marx and Engels seem to have looked at the rather lax attitudes to sexual morality amongst London costermongers, and turned it into a global statement about working class attitudes to sex, despite the fact that most members of the working class believed very much in marriage. In the 1920s the leader of the Surrealists, Andre Breton, got a very frosty reception when he gave a speech advocating promiscuity and free love at a meeting of the railwaymen’s union in Paris. Despite the fact that the union was Communist, the railwaymen themselves were happily married with very conservative, bourgeois notions about the bond between husband and wife. They definitely weren’t impressed with Breton’s views, and I got the distinct impression they very much let him know it.

  21. beastrabban Says:

    Interesting reading your remarks on Solzhenitsyn, Wakefield. There’s a lot there, but I suspect that one common element that made Russian society disposed towards Marxism was a utopian mindset that looked to global solutions, rather than the slow process of law and regulation. Sir Isaiah Berlin, in one of his books on Russian revolutionary intellectuals notes how exiles like Herzen didn’t like the legalism of western society, and instead looked for a utopian society where everything would be in harmony and the due process of the law, complete with lawyers, judges and courts, would be unnecessary. Well, the law and its due process can frequently be cumbersome and expensive, some laws unjust, and I suspect lawyers are pretty near the top of people’s least favourite professions, along with politicians and journalists. Nevertheless, despite all this the law does preserve liberty and justice, albeit imperfectly. The alternative is arbitrary and absolute government. Hence the insistence amongst contemporary Russian reformers on the necessity of a rule of law in Russia against continuing political corruption and the increasingly authoritarian nature of Kremlin rule.

  22. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    No I didn’t know that about Margaret Mead. But I’m not surprised. She has overall a fairly good reputation, but then today so does Margaret Sanger, a person for whom the word “agenda” is not seen today but certainly had one. Same accusation can be made (credibly, I think) by Judith Reisman against sex lord Alfred Kinsey. While some of his work on crunching numbers is both interesting and of course taken out of context (unfairly to him) by people of all interests, there is an element of nonsense that some have discovered about his methodology of having sameples taken from primarily prisoners and young people about sexual mores and habits.

    This reminds me of the so-called “Taseday people” of the Philipines. Once held to be a primitive, peace-loving tribe, non-material (in the consumer sense) expression of free love, free sex, non-“constrained youth” and other things most often associated with the hippies of Woodstock fame, it is now long known that this whole sordid affair was little more than a big El Fako. False. Completely fabricated by saavy villagers putting on a show for the West. Worse, the subject no doubt of many a doctoral dissertation into the human past of peace and communal co-operation nixed by the avarice, consumerism, and horrors of modern life. I have always figured that not only does nature abhor a vacuum, but nature abhors context-free statements and actions. THERE ARE good critiques of the West. This is not one of them. As it is phony and was used to make some ideological point.

    The one I DO have in mind is more closely corroberated by actual brain science and I’ll mention to everyone later after I verify some facts.

    In any case to this point, even among HONEST anthropologists there is this tendency they’ll tell you and warn you about in such studies to the effect of “going native.” You find out what you ultimate intentions and “findings” will be—then the natives figure out what you’re looking for and who you that side. Not being akin to easy study like bees and dogs, human beings always present a thorny problem where you have to find non-direct approaches to get honest responses to the kinds of queries you mention above with Mead.


  23. Ilíon Says:

    Human beings aren’t *merely* subjects-of-study (where “subject” actually means “object” or “subject-matter”), but are, indeed, subjects: selves.

  24. beastrabban Says:

    Yeah, Margaret Mead does seem to have fallen victim to common anthropological pitfall of the people being studied telling the anthropologist what they expect him to hear. Lucas Bridges describes the same thing happening on the Beagle with the Fuegians there telling stories about themselves being cannibals, because that’s what seemed to be expected of them.

    I’d heard about the Tasaday scam. They were supposed to be the world’s most primitive people, until the anthropologists came back a year or so later and found them driving around in cars, which just about shows the problems of anthropological research. 🙂

    And you’re right, Ilion – people are ‘selves’, and not just objects of study. And this is what makes the methodology of the social sciences very different from the rest of the sciences.

  25. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    We’ve all mentioned political and religious conflicts allegedly being responsible for massive scales of horror.

    This one linked below is not commonly known but horrible nontheless.

    The death scale is going to be larger than the blood soaked ground of WWII.
    This is primarily political, not a religious war. Lions downstream and crocodiles are learning to feast on meat from this war to the degree that they’ll suffer if and when it stops due to their natural prey being more difficult a meal once again. That’s the scale we’re talking.

    Reminds me of a scene from Michael Crichton’s Congo, which was about killer gorillas and while on a plane a woman asked him about the safety of having primates in cages on a plane with human passengers. To which the protagnoist of the story says……PEOPLE are dangerous. Not gorillas.

  26. JOR Says:

    Sometimes I wish I was a ‘primitive’, just so I could mess with anthropologists like that.

  27. Ilíon Says:

    I can see where that might be amusing.

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