“Days of Rage,” which has characterized the extended riots in Seattle and in other American cities, was borrowed from the riots of the late sixties conducted by the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and its faction, The Weathermen. Why the rage? Many of the radicals in both instances came from affluent families. And why is the rage expressed in violent terms? These are questions that many have pondered, though their pondering has produced few cogent answers.
Thomas Powers has given us a thorough inspection of the SDS movement in his book, Diana, The Making of a Terrorist. The author uses Diana Oughton, daughter of a well-to-do family in Dwight, Illinois, as the centerpiece for depicting other students on the periphery who came to believe that violence was “the only way.” Diana’s mother tried to talk her radicalized daughter into leaving the Weathermen. “But honey,” she warned, “you’re only going to make things worse. You’re only going to get yourself killed.” “It’s the only way, Mommy,” Diana firmly stated. “It’s the only way.”
Violence proved to fulfill her mother’s prophecy and to be Diana’s undoing. Shortly before noon on March 6, 1970, an explosion tore through the front wall of a century-old townhouse in New York City. Diana and three of her co-workers were its tragic victims. The Assistant Chief Inspector of the investigation offered the simplest and least emotional explanation of what had taken place: “The people in the house were obviously putting together the component parts of a bomb and they did something wrong.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
“He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” (Matthew 26:26–52). Diana and many of her colleagues had come to hate affluence. “Kill all the rich people,” ordered one of the SDS leaders. “Break up their cars and apartments.” But they also hated poverty. Whatever correctives of poverty might await on the distant horizon required a realistic plan, ingenuity, patience, and, above all, time. But the radicals could not wait. Their demands were “non-negotiable,” and they wanted immediate results. Like their predecessors of the French Revolution, they wanted to change everything in all spheres of life with a single blow.
Violence becomes the last resort when one has despaired of everything else. It rises from a despair of life as it is, given its imperfections and the difficulties inherent in improving its condition. Despair, however, is the inevitable path to death. The Weathermen emphasized “any kind of violence, directed at any target, under any circumstances.” One revolutionary called on his comrades to emulate Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and “bring down the white whale,” although Ahab was not a worthy role model since he was destroyed by the white whale. The Weathermen became targets of their own misguided ideology.
The president of Black Lives Matter Greater New York has warned that if the movement fails to achieve meaningful change during its nationwide protest, it will “burn down the system.” A co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, a Black Muslim named Yusra Khogali, has argued that white people are “recessive defects” and mused about how their race could be “wiped out.” She has called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “a white supremacist terrorist” and has urged crowds to “rise up and fight back.”
The SDS and BLM share a contempt for the traditional family. They do not believe that the family is the basic unit of society. But in their revolutionary aspirations, which begin and end with violence, they have no proposal for its replacement. They dismiss the concrete and place their idealism in the abstract. This is a Marxist philosophy that is totalitarian in its essence. Patrisse Cullors, one of Black Lives Matter’s co-founders, has been widely reported as saying: “We are trained Marxists.”
The implementation of Christianity begins with love for God, followed by love for one’s neighbor. This is the irreplaceable ground from which all good things arise. Charity begins not at home but even before the home is established. In fact, it is the form which gives the family its personal satisfactions and preparedness to contribute to society. If one begins his revolution in the world of abstractions, he leaves the home in ruins. And this is the legacy of the SDS.
Whittaker Chambers recounts in his book, Witness, an incident that took place while he and Harry Freeman, a dedicated Marxist/communist, were walking together through New York’s Bowery. A shivering derelict approached them and asked for a handout. Harry glanced past him, which was the proper communist attitude. To give alms, what Christians hold to be a corporal work of mercy, is, according to communist principles, to dull the revolutionary spirit of the masses. Chambers gave the wretched man what change he had in his pocket. Harry Freeman drew Chambers aside and said, “We can’t save them. They are lost. We can only save our generation, perhaps, and the children.” In that unheralded incident lies the unbridgeable gulf that separates Christianity from communism.
I recall listening to a call-in radio show on the theme of how one should live his life. The special guest that evening was a philosopher who was trying to reconcile his Catholicism with Marxism. A woman called in and talked about being attentive to the needs of her neighbors and how, on certain occasions, she would bring a casserole to someone who was sick. The philosopher was critical and reprimanded the woman for lacking “social consciousness.” He believed that the genesis of social reform lies in a revolutionary change in social structures. Love, as a revolutionary from the 60’s once stated, is “debilitating and counter-revolutionary.”
Christianity is eminently realistic because it is grounded in the love between one person and his neighbor. For the revolutionary, this is too slow, too tedious, and too uncertain. But the way of atheistic revolutions is doomed. It does not breed children, but fosters violence. We must continue to re-learn this simple and indisputable truth.
[Photo credit: Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images]