Ideology And The Beau Gesten

Ideology And The Beau Gesten

I agree with much of what Dennis Wrong says in his “Reflections on the End of Ideology,” in the Summer 1960 issue of DISSENT. Mr. Wrong writes that the “end of ideology” is a fear of the “destructive mass emotions that ideology has proved capable of -unleashing. The cruelty and fanaticism of organized masses is seen as a possibility inherent in modern industrial society and all social movements are anxiously scrutinized for their vulnerability to the totalitarian spirit.”

This, I think, fairly summarizes the concerns of my book. The end of ideology is not a fashion, but an experience; and one need not recapitulate the grisly events of the last twenty-five years to underline that point.

I agree too—and this I take to be the burden of Mr. Wrong’s concerns— that the end of ideology must not be the end of utopia as well. If anything, one can begin anew the discussion of utopia only by being always aware of the trap of ideology. One passage in Mr. Wrong’s essay provides, I think, the necessary confrontation. Mr. Wrong cites me as saying that Marx, Lenin and their followers “sought to win millions of people for the idea of a new society without the slightest thought about the shape of that future society and its problems,” and then goes on to comment, “In other words, there is a sense in which the Marxists were not visionary enough…”

I would say just the opposite: they were not concrete enough. They did not spell out what they wanted; they did not think through the consequences of what “the Revolution” would mean. With their myopic rationalism, they assumed that “History” or “the Future” would settle all problems. One has only to read Lenin’s State and Revolution, or the more revealing essay, Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? written on the eve of October, to be astounded by the simplicities of thought and the ingenuousness of the promises.