Interview with Paul Kengor
Thinking in Public
(This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated)
Mohler: This is “Thinking in Public”, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about front line theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I’m Albert Mohler, your host, and President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Sometimes there are historical eras, entire historical movements and moments in history that are distant from us, from our knowledge and imagination. They do not reside in our thinking as we know that they should. Usually those periods of time reside somewhere far back in our history. Some far back in the history of the centuries before us. But in the case of the cold war, there is a very, very dangerous forgetfulness that has taken place about a period of life that is very, very near to us and with issues that are, if anything, not over.
Paul Kengor is professor of Political Science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He is Executive Director of the Center for Vision and Values there and also serves as a visiting fellow of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. He is one of America’s major public intellectuals, often quoted in America’s newspapers, published in academic journals. His latest book is entitled, Dupes: How America’s Adversaries have Manipulated Progressives for a Century. Professor Kengor, welcome to Thinking in Public.
Kengor: Dr. Mohler, it is an honor just to be on with you. Thank you.
Mohler: I read your latest book with a great deal of interest. I’ve followed your work prior to this, and you are a man who takes ideas seriously. Just so we begin this conversation, how did you enter in to a life committed to the world of ideas?
Kengor: It is interesting. When the Cold war was sort of raging and ending, and that would have been the period of about 1982-1983, which in some regard is the hottest year in the Cold War or at least since the last 1940’s. And 1989 when the Berlin Wall collapsed, I was a student during that period. I graduated high school in 1984, and I was in college undergrad through masters and a PhD program basically from the latter 1980’s, left a couple of times to work off and on through the early 1990’s. Really it was the formative period of my life, historically what was going on in the news was the collapse of Communism in the end of the Cold War. I was actually a pre-med major at the University of Pittsburg. I was working for, of all things, the organ transplant team there and took my first job there after graduation and thought I would be an MD, but I became so fascinated by these events. Here is something young people can’t quite appreciate today, but I still remembered duck and cover drills and drills during elementary school where we prepared for a nuclear attack. To try to understand how this all ended and ended so peacefully and ended as I can plainly see with the critical aid of people like Ronald Reagan in the United States while my professors and other people just got done spending a few years saying what an idiot Reagan was, he didn’t know anything. Now all the sudden everything Reagan said and predicted had just come through. I wanted to find out how this happened, so I started researching the end of the Cold War really in the 1990’s, spent all the 1990’s doing that, came out with a book in 2004 called, God and Ronald Reagan, which is really a Cold War-based book. And then another book on Reagan called The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. Other books as well, but it was really those two that sort of laid the foundation for my research into the Cold War and former Soviet Union and American Communist party.
Mohler: I’m fascinated by the fact you brought up the duck and cover drills. I am a bit older than you are, and I grew up in South Florida, very close to the action so to speak. The Cuban missile crisis happening in my infancy, but I grew up with B52 bombers having a constant flight pattern over south Florida all the time. I grew up between at one point, two air force bases, McDill and McCoy, and there was constant strategic air command air cover over Florida all the time. We were simply just so close to Cuba and submarines and all the rest. I can remember having two things happen simultaneously, professor. One of them was, I was in about the seventh grade when we had not only the duck and cover drills, but we also had a very clear presentation on what a nuclear attack would actually be like, and I was as a thirteen year old sitting there thinking, “You know, I don’t think crouching under a desk with a piece of aluminum foil over my head is going to do a whole lot of good.”
Kengor: We have recently here at Grove City, I took some college students around to semi-officially designate fallout shelters in town, and I was amazed that one of them was my old church, Tower Presbyterian Church, and when I saw what was considered the bomb shelter, it was basically a furnace room with a screen door on the back. I thought, there is just no way that we would have survived that. Young people today, they have no comprehension, no understanding, not even an inkling of just how serious this threat was and how we have averted calamity. When you and I were the age of college students and high school students today, we could not have imagined that the Cold War would end, the Soviet Union would disintegrate, the communist bloc in the Berlin Wall would crumble, all by 1989, and without a shot or missile fired and without nuclear Armageddon. The fact that it didn’t happen is something we ought to get on our knees and pray to give gratitude for every day, but we take it for granted.
Mohler: We take it for granted partly, our generation is far more guilty for that because we lived it, so we know just what a miracle that was, literally. We can forgive the younger generation for not knowing until we tell them, but that requires us to tell a story, and I am going to ask you to do that right now. I’d like for you to kind of tell us an encapsulated story of the history of the Cold War because I think just fixing this as one of the most significant historical periods of not only our lifetimes, but of our nation’s existence is actually essential to understanding where we are today.
Kengor: Sure, well the Cold War, most Google searches on it, you would probably find that it is defined as starting in the latter 1940’s after World War II, basically when the Soviet stayed in eastern Europe, when Stalin blockaded all of Berlin from 1948-49, when the Prague two happened in Czechoslovakia 1948. So usually it is pinpointed around that time, 1947, 48, 49. I think you could take it back to 1917 with the founding of the Bolshevik Revolution. Some scholars such as Richard Pipes, the great Harvard Sovietologist, who has been at Harvard since 1950. He is Professor Emeritus, and Pipes traces it back to 1919 with the founding of the Soviet common turn. The Communist international. Right there, Dr. Mohler, that is something that if we just taught young people what the common term was, which I didn’t learn about in the 1980’s. That right there would have established the thread in which this was all about. The Communist international term was founded in Moscow in March of 1919, and the goal of this group, it was headquartered in Moscow, and the goal was to establish a Communist party in every country of the world. And notice I said singular, Communist party. There couldn’t be Communist parties in each country. There can only be one in each country. And all of these would answer with absolute servile, unquestioned authority, they all answer to Moscow. The common turn would be the director of the global symphony. So that was established in Moscow in March of 1919. In America, in Chicago, in September of 1919, about six months after that, the American communist. Right from the outset, from the very beginning, in fact I literally have them right here on my desk, they are in the book too, the original dispatch is sent from Chicago to Moscow reporting, “Comrades, we did it. Long live the Great Soviet Republic. Long live the common turn.” They start talking about a Soviet American Republic living under the Soviet Constitution from the very beginning. So the American party, the daily workers house organ, they were all creatures of the Soviet Union, they answer to the Soviet Union. The people who ran the party ran the daily work, were hired, fired, and approved by the Soviet Union, and they even received subsides from the Soviet Union throughout the entirety of the Cold War all the way to the 1980’s. And so, this is why this is a threat. American Communists were not just another brand of lestives practicing another form of politics like a socialist or further down on the lesser part of the spectrum toward the middle like Democrats or Liberals. I mean, the American Communists considered them loyal Soviet patriots. Their country was the Soviet Union. That was their first priority, and they were all conflicted. Actually, some weren’t conflicted at all, as to who they would fight for in a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Our congress realized this, and even before republicans like Joe McCarthy, liberal democrats like Woodrow Wilson, his Attorney General, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Martin Dies, the Texas democrat, first set of the House Committee and then the American activities, they all began looking into this in the 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s, long before Joe McCarthy and folks came on.
Mohler: One of the things I want to get to here is why Communism reminds us that we are constantly in a war of ideas, but just to put this in historical context, there is new biography out about someone who is undoubtedly a minor figure on the international scene, and that is Prince Philip of Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth the II’s consort husband. He is still alive today and very much a part of the ceremonial life of Great Britain. You look at this man and most people looking at him think he is the queen’s husband, but actually he is both the German and the Greek prince, and his uncle was one of the Grand Dukes of Tsar Russia. You are looking at a man who as a boy, experienced the death of one of his uncles as a Grand Duke of Russia and the falling apart of an entire empire in which all of his sisters had married German nobles before the Second World War, and they all became Nazi’s. You are looking at this, and you realize this man is still alive. I was talking to one of my students the other day, I said, “Number one, you don’t necessarily need to read that biography, but just look at that man for a moment and realize that his uncle was executed by the Soviets. Recognize that his sisters were unable to come to his wedding because they had been Nazis.” You just realize that this is living history. You are looking at a man who is still alive because students today, and I understand this, we have the temporal kind of temptation that comes to us all the time to look at our own times and say, “This is simply the present, and the past is way back there in the past.” But, in terms of the Communist threat, you are right, you can take this all the way back of course to the Bolshevik Revolution, but we need to take it back further than that. In terms of the war of ideas, we need to go back to the 19th century and recognize that Communism was recognized long before the Bolshevik Revolution as a major ideological challenge to everything western civilization understood.
Kengor: Well Whittaker Chambers took it back further than that. Whittaker Chambers said that the mistake of the Communists goes back to the Garden of Eden. “Ye shall be as God.” That is essentially what they did. They rejected religion. They rejected Christianity, and they set up themselves as infallible authority. I mean, there has never been a more anti-religious revolution. Marx said, “Call religion the opiate of the masses.” People have heard that quote before, but Marx also said that “Communism begins where Atheism begins.” Lennon, who came in, and well after Marx, Marx published the comment from Manifesto in 1848. Lennon, the first head of the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1924, he said, “There is nothing more abominable than religion. All worship of any divinity is necrophilia.” That is how he referred to religion. Contrast this to the American founders. Take any of those quotes from early Communist, Marxist, Leninist, Soviets, and compare them to the words of Washington or John Adams. Truly, truly godly men who talked about the importance of faith and morality in public life. Washington in his farewell address talking about religion and morality are indispensable support for political success. The Bolsheviks thought their political success as dependent upon eliminating religion and redefining morality in their own image.
Mohler: Absolutely. And of course, you can draw direct lines of ideological progression, and you could connect all of the dots here because beginning with a fundamentally atheistic understanding of everything, including humanity. Then the soviets were able to create a very artificial understanding of an idealized humanity, but they were also able to deny basic human rights in light of their greater purpose, which was the Communist Revolution, the rise of the new Communist man and their own form of eschatology. And that gets to the point I want to raise here, and that is, I think again, and most Americans, regardless of age, just do not think through the fact that Communism offered an entirely contradictory worldview to that of western civilization. And of course Christianity being at the heart of western civilization. You can’t talk about Marxism without understanding it had its own doctrine of creation. It has its own doctrine of the fall. It has its own doctrine of redemption. It had its own doctrine of eschatology.
Kengor: Yes, it did. That is absolutely right. I am looking at right now the case of Harry Cancer, who was the chief of the Communist party USA in Boston, and he is actually rooted in the past of David Axelrod of all things. He refused to have a Rabbi at his wedding, and he said, “It’s not that I am non-religious. It is not that I am a non-religious Jew, it is that I am anti-religious.” That is where these Communists were, and American Communists were the same way. Unfortunately today, I think that our historians, the people who write our textbooks, who write a lot of our history books, they tend to be people from the left, especially from the academic left, and while they are adequately and rightly outraged by the Nazis and the Fascists, which they should be, and we all are, and we don’t forget that and we can’t ever forget that (what he Nazis and Fascists did), they just don’t have the same level of outrage for what the far left did.
Mohler: I think one of the things we need to posit here by the way, the fact that when Hitler came to power in Germany, one of the central energizing factors of his popularity, and again, Americans tend to forget the fact that he was elected to power. His power was elected to power in Germany. Certainly he used extra-constitutional means to consolidate that power, but it was not the same kind of revolution that took place in the Soviet Union, but my point here is that Hitler and the Nazis said it’s either the Nazi’s or it’s the Bolsheviks. In other words, Communism was held up as that thing worse than their own agenda. They were the saviors of Germany from Communism.
Kengor: That is right. That went to the Spanish Civil War, same kind of thing. This is why a lot of Christians at the time, we knew that Communism was worse. We knew that. We knew that it was a more vicious ideology. And I think one of the things, too, how is it worse, well Nazism when boiled down and everybody looked at it, it didn’t have any appeal. Outside of Germany, people all over the world looked at us and said, “This is just barbarism. There is no appeal here.” The dangerous thing about Communism was that it had appeal, and still does to this day, to many people on the left.
Mohler: The main point here to affirm that is the fact that you could actually talk about Communist or Marxist intellectuals. There is no list of Nazi intellectuals. It was not really a war of ideas. And one final thing on that, one of the things that should at least cause us to have a bit of thankfulness is that there is universal, moral, outrage to say the very least at the Nazi regime, at Hitler, and at his deeds. But what should frighten us I think is the fact that as Zbig Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter of all people said, “It is absolute insanity to condemn the Nazis without recognizing that the Soviets and the Chinese Communists killed tens of millions more indeed, potentially as many as two hundred and fifty million people in the twentieth century.”
Kengor: Well, that’s right. Hitler killed anywhere from six to ten million. About six million Jews, add in other people that he classified as misfits, socially undesirables, and it goes up to about ten million, but that Communists killed at a minimum a hundred million. It is definitely in the hundred to one hundred forty million range, closer to their. So it dwarfs it by comparison. And what happens is, the Communists still to this day, and there is not as many now as there once were, but they are still out there, they will push certain hot buttons that appeal to the progressive socialist left, and I am sad to report that they do this as well with religious left, social justice Christians, and in fact that is a big focus of mine is the incredible success that they have had. They will go to them and talk about wealthy distribution, helping the poor, how Jesus wanted to help the poor. Imagine Communists talking about how Jesus wanted to help the poor. They don’t care about Jesus. They don’t believe in Jesus, but they will use this to appeal to the religious left, and just in the last few weeks, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, sort of the high priest of the modern religious left, and I have met him, he is a nice guy, he is a decent guy, but he wrote a piece on how churches in the New York area during Thanksgiving should take in the occupy Wall Street folks, bring them in. And his purpose here wasn’t to reach out to these people and help them because they are needy, they are like the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, although I am certain he wanted to minister to some of them and try to share the gospel with them, but Wallis’ point was, “Look, we have a lot of commonality here. We both realize the rich are bad, that there are these great economic injustices in our society. Still to this day you have the farthest extremes on the left appealing to the religious left and doing so with unfortunately great success.”
Mohler: Well, I’ll tell you one thing, I am very glad that we are able to have this conversation looking at the past when we talk about the Cold War rather than the present. I’m thankful that in terms of the active danger of the Cold War, all that came to an end with the breakup of the Soviet Union and with the fall of the Russian Challenge in terms of world Communism. But when you come to the issues that were of crucial interest, and of conflict during the Cold War, if anything they continue and that is why the conversation needs also to continue.
I think one of the big issues, Professor Kengor, in thinking about the Cold War, is the fact that many people who certainly would identify themselves as Christians in America, who listened to the message of world Communism and thought, “Well there is something there perhaps we ought to hear. There is an attractiveness to some.” I think many people today would be shocked to know that a good many people in the main line protestant churches actually more or less became fellow travelers with the Communists in the Revolution.
Kengor: Yeah, they did. And again, it was a certain sympathy that they shared. Workers rights, civil rights, wealth redistribution and the Communists exploited that trust. When I first started researching how American Communists duped American Liberals and Progressives. I saw this because I was reading through the Soviet Commonturn Archives from the Communist Party U.S.A., which had been declassified. We now have those, and I was reading through them and wondering, “What do I do with this material? How does this relate to research I am doing on this book and that book?” Pretty soon, I realize just how cynical and how strategic the whole duping process was, and I said I’m going to have to do an entire separate study just on this. I talked to Herb Romerstein, who is still alive, he is America’s foremost living expert on Communism. He himself has been a Communist at one point. He is the Venona Papers guy, who scripted a lot of the Venona Papers, and I started researching this whole Dupes Theory, and I said, “Herb, was there one group in particular that the Communist had their most success duping in America?” And he didn’t hesitate, Dr. Mohler, he said, “Yes, religious lefts, the religious lefts.” I’ll never forget, he said, “They were the biggest suckers of them all.” That is a term that was used often times “suckers” in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He said the religious left was the biggest suckers of them all, and I found that narrowing that considerably was the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Those were really the three where they had their greatest success. In other words, among liberal Christians.
Mohler: Let’s talk about why that might be so. You certainly made reference to this already, but let’s imagine that there has already been a transformation in liberal Protestantism in America, because there had been. And certainly by the time you come from the late 19th through the early 20th century, you have amongst mainline Protestants, a loss of conviction in Biblical Christianity, a loss of conviction in the supernatural, a loss of conviction which led them to largely repudiate Christian orthodoxy, and then the question was, well if that no longer is understood to be true, and if that no longer works, then how in the world are we going to achieve any kind of change. And that became their great concern. Liberal Protestantism became the big platform for social activism, and all that came with that in political organizing, and people often think, well that is a post-World War II development. No, it began very early, and certainly during the Great Depression certainly gained a great deal of acceleration. So, when you look at this, wouldn’t you say in one sense, Communism came at a very opportune moment for liberal Protestantism in the United States.
Kengor: Yes, it did. In fact the timing between the progressive rise in the United States in the 1910’s and 1920’s and early 1930’s in the Bolshevik Revolution was just horrible and it’s one of the reasons why I as a Christian, I can’t prove this as a scholar, but as a Christian, why I sense spiritual warfare and a spiritual battle underlying all of this as if Satan seizes opportunity and knows where to go. And you have this progressive movement in the 1910’s and 1920’s in the United States where, they don’t want to ban all private property like Marx write about in the Communist Manifesto. In fact, the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes, the entire communist program may be summed up in a single sentence, abolition of private property. Now the Progressives don’t want to abolish all private property, but they’ll abolish some of it. The Progressives don’t want to abolish all rights of inheritance, but they’ll have an inheritance tax of thirty, forty, fifty percent if they need to, to redistribute it. Marx’ system wanted to abolish all inheritance. You know, Marx also talked in his Ten Points Plan about implementing a graduated or progressive income tax. Well, that’s exactly what we got through Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives in 1913 when our Constitution had to be amended to allow for a graduated, progressive income tax. So they are looking at these American Progressives and social justice Christians, they are looking at what is happening in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s, 1910’s, early 1930’s and they are thinking, you know, maybe this is it, maybe this is the brave new world. And there were folks like Harry Ward, a Methodist minister in the 1920’s who founded the ACLU with Roger Baldwin who gets sabbatical from Union Theological Seminary in New York in the 1930’s to go spend a year in the Soviet Union studying. And believe me, it’s not just studying, he is in awe while he is over there and he came back and wrote a book based on that sabbatical money including the 1934 book called the Soviet Spirit which I’ve got the page in the Daily Worker. The Daily Worker gave an entire page Q & A with Harry Ward just glowing about this wonderful book that Dr. Ward had written on the Soviet Union. Masses in Mainstream, New Masses, these publications, New Masses was edited by Whittaker Chambers while he was a Soviet spy in the United States; New Masses was giving away a copy of Harry Ward’s The Soviet Spirit along with the Communist Manifesto in exchange for purchasing a one year subscription to New Masses. So you had social justice progressive pastors like Harry Ward just to use one example who believed they sort of fellow travelers going along a similar path and, by golly, yeah, the soviets, they might be a little atheistic, they might have this whole anti-God thing, they may be blowing up a church here and there, but you know, like Trotsky said, we’re not going to enter into the kingdom of socialism on a polished floor with white gloves. But you know, in the end here, they may have the right idea and maybe this is where we need to go.
Mohler: I think one of the figures most formative in terms of American modernity is often neglected and certainly by those who are trying to think about our times and to our peril, and that is John Dewey. And in terms of John Dewey’s multiple lines of influence, but in particular, for instance, his understanding of the common school, certainly the singular most important thinker in terms of the history of the public school in the twentieth century in the United States. But he is a major figure of your concern as well. And I think one of the most interesting and perhaps informative kinds of profiles that you deal with in your book. Tell us the story of John Dewey.
Kengor: Well, I was horrified, and I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was to find that the Soviets absolutely adored John Dewey. And they saw his book, especially Democracy in Education which you can find in any education department in any school in America, at least most typical secular schools which is most American colleges. The Soviets were rapidly translating Dewey’s work into Russian. They were getting them out there as quickly as they could. And I went through, Dr. Mohler, and I started just counting the number of Dewey works that the Soviets were translating and 1918 and 1921 the Bolsheviks are in a fight for their lives, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, I mean seven million people, men, women and children were killed in Russia during that period. I mean, they don’t have time to be translating books into Russian. But they considered John Dewey’s ideas which are at the core of American public education, our public education system, they considered John Dewey’s words and work so fundamental to what the Soviet Communist totalitarian state wanted to do that they translated his works as quickly as possible. This was considered one of their highest priorities. And Dewey, I first learned that, Dr. Mohler, and then I thought, well I’ll be Dewey is probably running from this like the plague. Well Dewey when he finds out about this is flattered, this is wonderful, I’m humbled by them. So the Soviets, toward the end of the 1920’s did to Dewey what they did to most other Progressives in America, they invited them over. They invited them over, got on a boat, went over there, they gave them the full Potemkin village treatment, took them to all the phony factories and phony kindergartens and phony plants and showed them what the brave new world looked like. And Dewey came back to the United States and wrote a six part series for The New Republic at the end of that year just glowing about the brave new experiment that he had found in the Soviet Union, especially with public education. He eventually turned it into a book, published it as a book as well. So they had a mutual admiration society, John Dewey and the Bolsheviks.
Mohler: Well, how did that end in terms of Dewey’s very long life? Did Dewey look back over his life and recognize that he had played this role, that he had indeed been complicit in so much of this?
Kengor: Well, I don’t think he ever regretted that, but he was by the end of his life very anti-Stalin and that happened in the 1930’s. And here too Dewey’s manipulated somewhat. He is meeting with Trotsky in the United States, with Socialists, Progressives, closet communists, open Communists who had become disenchanted with Stalin. Not all of them, I mean, CPUSA, Communist Party USA in the Daily Workers, if you were loyal to the Soviet Union, you were loyal to Stalin, period. But a lot of the American Communists, especially Jewish American communists, split with Stalin. They split with him over Stalin’s split with Trotsky and also after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939, although that will come a little bit later. But Dewey ended up heading the so-called Dewey commission that looked into the persecution of Trotsky by Stalin and the Kremlin in 1936 and 1937 and through that Dewey came to be anti-Stalin and actually did some very good work opposing Stalin through the Dewey Commission. And the Soviets ended up blasting Dewey for that, so Dewey ended up becoming a persona non grata in the Soviet Union because of that. But for a period from, you know, the early 1920’s to about the mid 1930’s Dewey was way out there, and I quote him in the book. You could have probably called him a lower cased communist, lower cased “c” as in a communist who believe in the communist ideology even though he was never an actual Communist Party member. By the end of his life I think he was more of a socialist-progressive generally, but the Dewey of the 1920’s and early 1930’s, it’s pretty ugly and that is precisely the time that he was at Colombia doing all this education work that today is foundational to the American public educational system, and that is no exaggeration.
Moher: Well, absolutely not, and it is no exaggeration to say that he is the singular most influential figure in the shape of public education today.
Kengor: You won’t learn any of this, any of this in education departments or education programs.
Mohler: Let me connect a couple of dots here in a way that I think many people don’t understand. Again, the generation that didn’t have to confront the Cold War and certainly has come to adulthood after the Cold War doesn’t understand that Communist held itself to be an ideology superior to that of the family such that it would willingly turn children against their parents. You had the Communist Youth League lionizing, presenting medals in the names of boys who had turned in their fathers to be executed as enemies of the regime and things like this. And yet then you look at John Dewey and Americans don’t recognize that John Dewey held that the central importance of the public school was to separate children from the prejudices of their parents.
Kengor: Yes, yes. That is exactly right and here too, in fact, in many of these cases you’ll have, I’ve been through it a million times, liberals and progressives in the United States say, well that was the Stalinization of the Soviet system. No, no, no, not only did Stalin do it, everybody before and after did it, Lenin did it, and if you want to take it right back to Marx himself, it drives me nuts, Dr. Mohler, when I hear people say, look you just read the Communist Manifesto, it’s a pretty good book. No it isn’t and I know that when somebody says that they haven’t actually read it. And write here in page seventy-one of the Communist Manifesto, this is a Penguin Signet Classic edition, paragraph two, page seventy-one “abolition of the family” exclamation mark. You know paragraph three, “the bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course,” paragraph five, “but you will say we destroy the most palliative relations when we replace home education by social,” and point ten of Marx’ ten point plan and it actually say this, free education for all children in public school. Now Marx was writing that in 1848 and what is even more disturbing about it is that anyone listening to our conversation right now who is from the left would just shake their heads at us and say, boy what are you two, Joe McCarthy, has the ghost of Joe McCarthy just flown into your body right now? They are appalled by our anti-Communism. The Left has never been good on all of this. They have been wrong about Communism from the very beginning. At the least, they didn’t understand the seriousness of the threat and they are still to this day, liberals and progressives, generally, they are far more alarmed by anti-Communists, I would say, than they are by pro-Communists.
Mohler: Well, that is where I want to end the conversation. And I want to go back to 1952. In 1952 Whittaker Chambers published his memoir entitled Witness. And in it is a letter that he wrote in which he mentions to his children, I believe that he had said to his wife when he left the Communist Party and renounced Communism and then testified against the Communists in terms of very well documented American Judicial proceedings. When he joined the other side he very famously said, “I know that we are leaving the winning side to join the losing side.” That did not look like insanity in 1952. But what explains, then, that you come to 1989, and, by the way, on Christmas Day of 2011, that’s going to be the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union. How did it happen?
Kengor: Well, it happened because Ronald Reagan, whose favorite book was Whittaker Chambers’ Witness and could verbatim come off the top of his head, I have heard this from eyewitnesses many times, while standing in an elevator, turn to you and quote passages from Witness, the only thing that Ronald Reagan disagreed with Whittaker on was on that particular point. Reagan said, no, no, no we are on the winning side and we are going to win this thing. For Reagan that was part of a faith-based optimism that he got from his faith in God, that his mother, Nell Reagan had taught him since he was a tiny little boy. That in the end all things work together for their best according to God’s plan, and you know, you need to be optimistic Ronald, you need to go out and try to change the world. Reagan was the guy who did that along with, I think, Mikhail Gorbachev was critically important, there are people in America in the academy that get Gorbachev wrong, they don’t quite understand what it was that he did. But Reagan did it with Gorbachev, with Margaret Thatcher, with John Paul II, but Reagan was critically important. And yes, how poetically ironic that the Soviet Union really ended not when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, but December 25, 1991 on Christmas Day, a day that the Communists tried to ban. And I find that more than coincidental. And here again, I believe that that truly has a spiritual dimension and spiritual roots.
Mohler: Well, we hardly scratched the surface of being able to talk about the crucial issues that are raised for us by the Cold War, but at least we have begun a conversation, a conversation about an issue of history, a period of time that is so close to us and yet growing more distant in our memory. One of our intellectual responsibilities is not to allow this to happen, but to continue to look at our history and understand what it means, especially these recent periods which were literally world-changing and transforming in their importance. You can just imagine in a very short period of intellectual energy how things would have been very different had the Cold War ended in a different way.
My conversation with Professor Kengor ended where it began, with the battle of ideas. And if anything what we have learned in looking at the Cold War is the reminder that human history is indeed the legacy and the time table of great ideological conflicts. Now that is not all there is to it, you can certainly talk about history in terms of the rising and falling of nations and empires, you can talk about conflict in terms of the conflict between armies and nations, between technologies and all the other movements and developments that shape our history, but at the very core of the Cold War is the essential conflict of ideas and ideology.
Now it is a complex worldview conflict. For instance, you have the level of economics in talking about Communism, you almost have to start there. And so you have the conflict between Communism and Capitalism in economic terms. But when you are talking about economics, just remember you are never actually just talking about economics. Christians of all people are those who recognize that to talk about human beings as economic actors is to define what it means to be human necessarily to have a vision of the human good, to be able to define justice and to be able to understand what kind of society an economic system is to both serve and to produce. The ideological conflict at the level of economics including Capitalism and Communism was never just about two systems of economics, it was about two very different understandings of humanity, two different understandings of society, two different understandings of what makes for the good life, two different understandings of labor and work and of course of property. But the worldview conflict of the Cold War was never merely about economics, it is about an entire range of issues. There was a theological dimension to the conflict of the Cold War and that is one thing that many contemporary Christians simply do not understand nor take into account. There were two very different understandings of humanity, two very different understandings of the problem, of the solution of the end of all things. Let’s put it in theological language. For most of the twentieth century it was well understood by Christian intellectuals, missiologists and by that matter for most pastors and for most lay persons that the great intellectual competitor to Christianity in the twentieth century was that of world Communism. Now that is to understand that Christianity has at its very core a narrative, a narrative that is indeed the gospel of Jesus Christ, a narrative that is found in Scripture that defines, first of all, how the world came into being and why it matters, what happened that made the world as it is today with all its problems. We call that the doctrine of the Fall following the doctrine of creation, and then Christianity essentially points to a doctrine of redemption which was the atonement accomplished by the Father through the Son for the salvation of sinners and then we have an eschatology. There is a direction that history is going under the direction of a sovereign God to which it is pointing and it is an eschatology the New Heaven and the New Earth and all that goes with that. Well, the competitor worldview to Christianity in the twentieth century, Communism, also had its own narrative. And, by the way, it has an answer to all those same problems, to all those same intellectual questions. How did things come? Well you cannot talk about Communism without the affirmation of an atheistic beginning, that is why what we used intellectual shorthand to refer to as evolution was so important to the rise of Communist theory because it gave them a theory of origins. In the same way that Richard Dawkins will later say that the theory of evolution made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, well the doctrine of evolution allowed Communists to redefine humanity in very, very materialistic terms for a system of thought that is often reduced to dialectical materialism and to a worldview that is inherently materialist. Now what is the Communist version of the Fall? It is class oppression, the oppression of the poor on the part of the mighty, the oppression of the proletariat on the part, of course, of the elites, but also of the bourgeois, the middle class that sided with the elites rather than the proletariat. And Communism also has a doctrine of redemption. The doctrine of redemption, and redemption is revolution and the revolution of the proletariat. And it also has an eschatology, and eschatology of what is held for as the pure Communism of a pure Communist society in the emergence of what was called the New Communist Man. So you have a new humanity in both Christianity and Communism, but they are diametrically opposed. And as a matter of fact, the worldviews are absolutely opposed and in conflict at every significant point. Ideas matter and that is of course true in terms of the conflicts of this day, of our own generation, of our own time. To look across the international view and you can see immediately intellectual, ideological conflict. Conflicts over ideas continue to divide the world and indeed to produce most of the most hot conflicts around the world today. Then looking back on the Cold War we need to recognize that here we have a classic example; a classic example that we need to look at very honestly and to which we need to return rather regularly. That’s why the conversation with Professor Kengor, I think, was so invaluable and why looking at his books and his writing and those of others who deal with this issue, I think, especially with all of the data that is now coming to us. That is something that not a lot of people recognize, the fall of the Soviet Union has eventually lead to the opening of the Soviet archives including the archives of the KGB. And over time, as it said, the truth with out and the truth is coming out and it is undeniable in terms of the Communist world conspiracy, in terms, as Professor Kengor talked about, of the common turn, in terms of the influence of their agents and fellow travelers as they were called, and progressive intellectuals in the United States and other Western Nations during that time.
I want to end in a different way, a way that is distinctively Christian. In terms of affirming what the Cold War tells us in retrospect about the necessity on the part of Christians of having a providential understanding of history. Henry Ford once infamously said that history is just the record of one thing after another. In other words, there is no great meaning there, there is no great significance there. Christians know that is not true. As we are instructed by Scripture in terms of its clear teachings and also in terms of its context and narrative, the historical narratives that it displays, with Christianity comes a distinctive understanding of history as well and the meaningfulness of history in terms of the responsibility of human agents as actors on the world’s stage and the importance of human endeavor and indeed the moral judgment of God on nations and upon empires. The fall of the Soviet Union, we need to say, with a completely straight face and with a bold moral assertion was one of the happiest things that could have happened in the twentieth century. The murderous nature, the calamitous nature, the absolutely violent nature of the Communist regime of the Soviet Union is almost beyond human understanding. The Cold War, well, we need to be thankful that it remained cold. Had it gone hot, which is to say with a full blown nuclear exchange, well human history would have been sadder, more tragic, and for that matter, radically different. The end of the Cold War was a great gift. And we can either look at that and think that it was just one thing happening after another, but we can look back at it as Christians must and say here is an empire that fell and the seeds of its destruction were in the very ideas that brought the empire to power. That is a judgment not only upon the Soviet Union, but upon any entity, any state, any organization or any individual who would set himself or itself over against the ultimate purposes of God. Let’s remember, the end of the story, whether you are a Communist or a Christian is eschatology.
Before signing off I want to invite you to start making your plans to be here at Southern Seminary for our annual Give Me an Answer Conference for college students. It is going to be on the campus from February 17-18, 2012. The theme of the conference this year is Radical. Join David Platt, Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore and me as we consider how the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ lays claim on the entirety of our lives. For more information visit sbts.edu. Thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public. Until next time, keep thinking. I’m Albert Mohler.