An Escape from Personal Responsibility

In this excerpt from Scoundrel Time ©1976 by Lillian Hellman, the author discusses the difference between a “radical” and an “ideologue”:

The popular image of the radical is of the wild and irresponsible “bomb thrower.”  But most radicals I have met were extraordinarily civil.  They oppose the general degradation, not with a programmatic “solution,” but with a personal code that makes pride possible in a shameful social order.  They do not wish to be implicated in responsibility for society’s crimes, which means that they must take a special responsibility for their own acts.

Ideology is, by contrast, an escape from personal responsibility.  Someone like Whittaker Chambers wanted to be told what to do, wanted to be History’s slave.  Ideologues want to be certified by others as respectable– if not by the Committee or the Party, then by the ADA.  They want their hates to be dictated by the national program.  The radical thinks of virtuous people, while the ideologue thinks of orthodoxy.  The radical hates vicious and harmful people, while the ideologue hates heretical ideas, no matter how “nice” the possessors of those ideas may be.  The radical tries to uphold a private kind of honor in a rotten world– like (Dashiell)Hammett’s “private eyes,” serving society without respecting it, seeing men and not just abstract Crime in the victims of their hunt.

 Her book is about the McCarthy era, but (sadly) there are many parallels to our own.


1 Comment

  1. markonit

    …I would say that the similarity between this and any other era in US governing policy would bear a similar resonance to this statement…

    Liked by 1 person

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