Decide, comrade

“What is to be done?” asked Lenin rhetorically, to himself before the crowds, in the grand tradition of Russian revolutionism. Those with some slight knowledge of history (a tiny diminishing minority today) will have from the history of the Soviet Union his approximate answer. It was revolutionary terror. Marx had said that communism was inevitable. A Fukuyama ahead of his time, he thought it was the End of History. But as the times continued too slow, Lenin thought to speed them up a bit. Even in this 21st century we continue trying to end it all. One is on the right side of history, or the wrong side, as the late Trotskyite, Christopher Hitchens, liked to declare. He thought George W. Bush was on the right side of it. I wonder what he thinks now.

The notion that we should “do something,” collectively, led by a vanguard of the self-advancing elite, is not confined to the Left. Reading Georges Bernanos, I was apprised of what Franco and company were doing in Majorca, during and then after the Spanish Civil War. The island was exceptionally apolitical, its inhabitants indifferent to who was winning the battles, either by blood or by toil. A droll population. There were not more than one hundred Communists and Anarchists in the Balearic archipelago, according to one unreliable estimate. (All estimates are unreliable.) The Falange had to create a few more, when they ran out of people to slaughter.

Generally, civil fanatics are created by their enemies. Of course, until they are created, they don’t know who their enemies are. But should they finally link their suffering, real or imagined, to those who are causing it (see Venezuela today), they want to do something about it. We have the pendulum swing of events, in which the glass is successively shattered on both sides of the street. This is almost a force of physics. Once the pendulum is in motion, holy friction — of the air, and of the chains rubbing — gradually slows it down. As an Indian girlfriend once explained: “Too much peace only leads to war. Too much war only leads to peace.” She had a better understanding of history than Lenin.

Bernanos I mentioned not as a civil, but as a religious fanatic. Most of his novels feature (apparently ineffectual) priests. They do nothing, or very little beyond what is their duty, day by day; then (for instance) die of stomach cancer, uttering: Tout est grâce.

“Grace is everywhere.” … Even in the prison camps of history, as we learn from the best literary sources; and on the scaffolds. Too, it is in less obvious places, such as our supermarkets. One must develop the ability to see it against the disgusting background that Bernanos also described — though with the subtlety of a great master. One is cured of this blindness also by grace, from the moment one decides to receive it.

Which leaves the question, What is to be done?

Decide, comrade.

Has gentle reader ever witnessed, by happenstance, an act of kindliness? By this I mean an authentic act, that seeks no reward; an act unintended as an example to others, as “a teachable moment,” or to win public praise? Perhaps even something the recipient will not recognize as kind, until his benefactor is well out of sight? Or done without his knowledge.

It is the most radical thing I can currently imagine.