Part 1 of 2
WE have seen two creeds grow up rooted in these abstractions, and the error of both lies in the fact that they are utterly unhistorical, that they have been framed without any sense of the continuity of history.
In what we call Prussianism a citizen was regarded as a cog in a vast machine called the State, to which he surrendered his liberty of judgment and his standard of morals. He had no rights against it and no personality distinct from it. The machine admitted no ethical principles which might interfere with its success, and the citizen, whatever his private virtues, was compelled to conform to this inverted anarchy.*
The result was tyranny, a highly efficient tyranny, which nevertheless was bound to break its head upon the complexities of human nature. Such was Prussianism, against which we fought for four years, and which for the time is out of fashion.*
That is, an anarchy among the elite, who think they are wiser than the rest of us and have been given carte blanche to do whatever they say is for ‘the common good’. This view of Government was hardly a novelty, though: a hundred and fifty years before Buchan, Adam Smith had likened it to people playing with live pieces on a great chessboard.
Buchan’s essay was published in 1935, and with hindsight it is evident that Prussianism was already creeping back into fashion as Nazism. Buchan soon became a vocal critic of Adolf Hitler, which perhaps explains that cautious ‘for the time’. For an overview of his life and political beliefs, see John Buchan.
BOLSHEVISM, to use the convenient word,* started with exactly the same view. It believed that you could build a new world with human beings as if they were little square blocks in a child’s box of bricks. Karl Marx, from whom it derived much of its dogma, interpreted history as only the result of economic forces and desired to re-create society on a purely economic basis.
Bolshevism, though it wandered very far from Marx’s doctrine, had a similar point of view. It sought with one sweep of the sponge to blot out all past history, and imagined that it could build its castles of bricks without troubling about foundations. It also was a tyranny, the worse tyranny of the two, perhaps because it was the stupider.* It has had its triumphs and its failures, and would now appear to be declining; but it, or something of the sort, will come again, since it represents the eternal instinct of theorists who disregard history and who would mechanise and unduly simplify human life.*
That is, the politics of the Bolsheviks (большевики), the ‘majority’ faction in the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split from the Mensheviks (‘minority’ faction) in 1903. The Bolsheviks went on to dominate in the February and October revolutions of 1917, and to form the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Worse, that is, than the Prussianism of Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Buchan was writing in 1935, before the despotisms of Communism and Fascism had reached their peak. Knowing what we know now, trying to weigh up which of Fascism and Communism is worse or more stupid is depressing and risks diminishing the irremediable evil of both.