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Although the origin of the term “useful idiots” cannot be located with precision, the first time it appears in print is in a 1948 Italian newspaper article. Evidently, a softer term, “useful innocents” was used by the economist Ludwig von Mises.
In any event, “useful idiots” has always referred to Western leftists who cling to idealistic views of totalitarianism, particularly during the height of the Cold War. The Soviets – it can be documented – cultivated contacts with such: intellectuals, political dupes and educators. It has been said that Lenin himself (and, probably, Lennon himself) used the term, and to great effect. The New York Times’ writer Walter Duranty waxed eloquent about the alleged Utopia that Uncle Joe Stalin was fashioning in the run-up to World War II.
Sadly and obviously, useful idiots like Duranty were long ago discredited.
It is a most instructive term, and its has been documented in fascinating detail by author Paul Kengor in his new book, “Dupes.”
“Dupes” is one of those books that looks thick and daunting, yet I wouldn’t part with my copy. So thorough and absorbing is the research into “How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century” (the book’s subtitle) that I’ve learned a great deal about why liberals think the way they do.
In particular, Kengor’s discussion of left-wing Christians from decades ago who pioneered the obsession with “social justice” issues – straight from the Soviet propaganda playbook – is highly instructive as one struggles to understand why today’s mainline in the American church is so completely enamored of dictators the world over.
Kengor, a professor of political science at Grove City College, has written about Ronald Reagan and the fall of communism, but I consider “Dupes” to be his master work. It is that good.
Kengor quotes Whittaker Chambers (who definitely knew what he was talking about): “While communists make full use of liberals and their solicitudes, and sometimes flatter them to their faces, in private they treat them with that sneering contempt that the strong and predatory almost invariably feel for victims who volunteer to help in their own victimization.”
Predatory. Remember that word as you read “Dupes.” It is a fitting label for the communists who infiltrated America decades ago, and don’t think communism is “dead.” Marx and Stalin and Mao are dead, but their ideology lives. Unfortunately.
Kengor’s fabulous work was on my mind only last night, as I attended a lecture by liberal Christian Brian McLaren at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock. It was fitting, since “Dupes” covers the rise of the social justice agenda, and it was spearheaded by the Methodists.
McLaren actually said that while capitalism (it’s bad, of course, even though he’s raking it in as a speaker/writer in the good old, bad USA) is good at “production,” it is bad at distribution. Marxism, he alleges, is the reverse (actually good at distribution).
Does he remember the 20th century? Tell the starvation victims of Stalin and Mao (and today’s North Koreans) that communism is good at distribution. Like the sky is blue, it is obvious that Marxism is horrible at both production and distribution. It is a state ideology of death and destruction.
America, it should be obvious, has always been good at both production and distribution.
But, as Kengor points out, McLaren’s view is classic and historical among the left.
Kengor’s chapter on Woodrow Wilson is aptly titled, “Utter Simpleton,” and the former president was certainly an idealist. World War I crushed both his worldview and his body, and he died just after a ghastly global conflict, and no doubt felt at the end that another one was coming.
Kengor pointed out several things about Wilson that I did not know and can be summed-up like this: Wilson would have fit in very well as a modern Democrat.
“He advanced a vigorous, activist federal government in both domestic and foreign policy,” Kengor writes, “creating a host of new regulatory agencies, implementing the income tax, establishing the Federal Reserve, and pioneering an interventionist foreign policy.”
Whew, who knew that Woodrow Wilson had been channeled by Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama?
Let me also put you on to the chapters entitled “Potemkin Progressives,” and “War Communism,” if you are confused by the vapidity of today’s American Christian liberals. More than worth the price of the book!
Later on, Kengor also outlines just how effective the dupes were in, for example, the nuclear freeze program (“which depended on dupes to a shocking extent”), and how the liberal media performed on cue.
Soon after Reagan took office and he called a spade a gulag spade, the New York Times declared that Reagan’s description of communism was “historically debatable.”
Only to the well-fed, political sycophants who wrote about Uncle Joe’s Utopia from the hell hole of America.
Paul Kengor’s “Dupes” is a brilliant work, and I am a huge advocate of people buying and reading all of it in order to better understand the motivations of many of our elected leaders (you must also read Appendix A: “Ted Kennedy’s Secret Overture to the Soviet Union.” There, you’ll find just how red Captain Chappaquiddick’s cape really was!).
The only negative I found with “Dupes” is that, at 500 pages of text, the print is small. However, in the scheme of things, that is an unimportant (even trivial) complaint. It only means that you might need a magnifying glass. But get one and read “Dupes” from cover to cover.
It’s that important.