Press Watch — NCR: Play it as it Lies

Oscar Wilde is said to have remarked that a discussion of socialism would take too many evenings, and I feel the same way about the National Catholic Reporter: a careful examination of its politics would be an exhausting exercise, and one feels that there must be more fruitful ways of spending the day. In prayer, for example.

Moreover, such an exercise would be repetitive, and certainly distasteful to Oscar Wilde. The NCR’s politics are indeed socialist. Here is just one small editorial sample that we may look at without taking up the whole evening. After the Soviet Union shot down the Korean airliner in September, the Reporter published an editorial in which the editors went out of their way to put the best face on things from the Soviets’ point of view. “They did it,” the Reporter conceded. “What they may not have done is lied about the procedures they followed.”

This was an important distinction to make on behalf of the Soviets, the Reporter evidently felt, because if we automatically start calling them liars, to what avail will the hot-line be in the event of a nuclear “accident” or an “errant” Soviet missile? What hope is there for “conflict resolution” if the U.S. reaction is always to “discount” what the Soviets say? The problem here is that it is Soviet designs, not accidents, that we have to worry about.

In trying to maintain that the Soviet Union is a truth-telling nation, the Reporter is on decidedly shaky ground. Following the shooting down of the airliner, the Soviets told a mass of lies, only conceding that they had shot the plane down after it became incontrovertibly clear to them that we had tape-recorded evidence with which to embarrass them in international forums. The Soviets also told numerous different, conflicting stories of what had happened, the laws of logic alone dictating that some were lies. Even Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, whose position on international issues is normally very similar to that of the Reporter, mentioned after the KAL massacre that the ‘Russians “soil the air with lies and insults.”

The Soviet regime is built on lies. Lying was extolled as a tool of policy by Lenin, its founder, and every day the Soviet propaganda organs issue a steady stream of lies; they have been doing so since the inception of the Communist regime, and will continue to do so until it comes to an end.

The Reporter’s unacknowledged appeal seems to be that even if the Soviets do tell lies, it does not advance the cause of “peace” for us to draw attention to them. In fact, something very much like this attitude underlies a good deal of Western weakness toward the Soviets: they are perceived, perhaps unconsciously, as an armed, extremely dangerous enemy of civilization. But if we come right out and say this, then they might indeed destroy us straight away. Therefore, let us avoid telling the truth about them. The truth is intolerably risky and “provocative” — the Soviets’ word for such truth-telling. This is the position of appeasement, and it amounts to believing that our best hope is to lose slowly.

The NCR editorial, which shows the paper in one of its more conspicuous moments of empathy-for-the-Soviets, quoted the Bishops’ pastoral letter to the effect that the U.S. and the Soviets should “go beyond conflict resolution and compromise to a basic synthesis of beliefs and values.”

Do people who write, and endorse, such comments understand what they are saying, I often wonder? You cannot “synthesize” freedom and coercion, love and hate, good and evil. I have concluded, nonetheless, that the bureaucratic authors of the Bishops’ letter, and the people who put out the NCR, do on the whole know what they are doing. They are not guilty of stupidity. The positions that the NCR takes too consistently follow the contours of socialism for there to be any doubt in the matter. Mere ignorance would result in a random pattern of editorial responses. But they are not random. They are purposive. They amount, in total, to a strong endorsement of the socialist faith. Lenin also believed in socialism, but he also acted: he gave it state embodiment. So the Soviet Union cannot really be criticized, because its underlying system is correct. Oh, there have been excesses of course. The Gulag is really too bad. And indeed, in a sense the Soviet Union is really loathed by admirers of socialism, because Soviet practice has done so much to discredit socialist theory. Still, the fact remains that it is correct in principle. The U.S., on the other hand, is incorrect in principle.

And don’t forget this (the admirers of socialism will continue), the Soviets lost 20 million people in World War II. They are understandably fearful of war and “paranoid” about their neighbors. There is “tension inside the Soviet Union. What kind of tension? “Cold War tension,” say the Bishops, and this is caused by the United States and the Soviet Union. But obviously there would be no Cold War if we stopped fighting it. So why not stop?”

I tell you, that’s the way these people think. The underlying system that the original Communist revolutionaries had in mind was fine — noble in fact. But then later on, in practice, the Soviets had to make these destructive detours from the true path, and this was because the United States was unenlightened enough to stand in the way of this path. Still and all, for all its imperfections, the Soviet Union is there, in situ, the Vatican of the Socialist Church; it must be succored and its signals obeyed. (Not that one takes money from them, you understand. One is only too happy to work on a volunteer basis.)

Make no mistake about it; it is ideological sympathy with the Socialist ideal, or, if you will, Communist ideal, that explains what otherwise might seem puzzling in a good deal of what one reads in the National Catholic Reporter, and in other publications of renegade Catholicism, such as Maryknoll; and of course in numerous secular publications. The point is that this sympathy is never made explicit. It is always expressed in veiled, constantly shifting language.

My final point would also take too many evenings, so I will just touch upon it here. I am critical of a number of conservative and neo-conservative intellectuals and writers, including Irving Kristol, George Gilder, Robert Nisbet, Paul Johnson, and several others, because they have signally failed to understand what is going on here. All have said the same thing — that socialism has now lost its appeal as an idea. Unfortunately, this is very far from being the case. It continues to have a very strong appeal, and this appeal is, in particular, experienced by those who have lost some earlier faith — whether in God, country, flag or tradition. Socialism is a faith, not a system of economic growth. Socialism does not mean the “state ownership of the means of production.” It means the complete reorganization of life — what the Bishops in their pastoral call “a new vision of the world.” Socialism is the faith of apostates, the calling of those who have deserted the cloister. Its appeal has been continuous throughout history, under a variety of labels, but it is particularly strong in the West today, at a time of widespread apostasy within the Roman Catholic Church.


  • Tom Bethell

    Tom Bethell is a senior editor at the American Spectator. A graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, he is the author of several books including Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages (1998); The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (2005); and Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher (2012).

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