Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why totalitarianism is the focus of evil in the modern world

On March 8, 1983 Ronald Reagan addressed the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida and gave a speech that became known as the "Evil Empire" speech due to the following passage:
Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness -- pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable "Screwtape Letters," wrote: "The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."
Upon closer examination the above statement is a remarkable condemnation of totalitarianism and Communism but it offers a clear separation between the "sin" and the "sinner" and a call to prayer for those advocating Communism to be saved from the totalitarian darkness while at the same time recognizing the evil system they were trying to impose on the entire world. Mohandas Gandhi described this approach when he said that “real non-cooperation is non-cooperation with evil and not with the evil doer.”

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of the archives there and elsewhere it was revealed that the crimes of communism had caused the deaths of 100 million human beings and counting where it is still being applied around the world. One cannot forget that beyond the body count there was also spiritual wreckage generated from regimes that required friends and family members to spy on each other and betray each other for the sake of the totalitarian state.

As the years pass and memories grow hazy the siren call of appeasement rears its head. There are voices that speak of "constructive engagement" with totalitarian regimes. Nobel Laureate in Literature Mario Vargas Llosa in his December 7, 2010 Nobel Lecture spoke of the evil of dictatorship and the failings of democracies in confronting this evil:

[A] dictatorship represents absolute evil for a country, a source of brutality and corruption and profound wounds that take a long time to close, poison the nation’s future, and create pernicious habits and practices that endure for generations and delay democratic reconstruction. This is why dictatorships must be fought without hesitation, with all the means at our disposal, including economic sanctions. It is regrettable that democratic governments, instead of setting an example by making common cause with those, like the Damas de Blanco in Cuba, the Venezuelan opposition, or Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, who courageously confront the dictatorships they endure, often show themselves complaisant not with them but with their tormenters. Those valiant people, struggling for their freedom, are also struggling for ours.
Resistance to evil, although it may appear as an act of rebellion when dealing with an unjust ruler, it is in reality engaging in one’s duty. In the same manner that battling your own vices and appetites may appear to be self-denial but in reality is an act of self-liberation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a guideline that can help us on our path toward justice and truth but it is not the road itself.

Vaclav Havel, who knows one or two things about living in a totalitarian regime and confronting it using nonviolent means on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall in his address to the European Parliament offered concrete advice as to what free countries should do:
Above all, clear and unequivocal solidarity with all those confronted by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world. And economic or other particular interests should not hinder such solidarity. Even a minor, discreet and well-intentioned compromise can have fatal consequences– even if only in the long term, or indirectly. One must not retreat in the face of evil, because it is in the nature of evil to take advantage of every concession. Besides, Europe has already had its own unfortunate experience of appeasement policies. Our support can help open-minded people or outspoken witnesses to the situation in North Korea, Burma, Iran, Tibet, Belarus, Cuba or anywhere else, much more than we think.

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