The Last Puritan

Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge

selected and edited by John Bright-Holmes
William Morrow, 560 pp., $18.00

Malcolm Muggeridge
Malcolm Muggeridge; drawing by David Levine

It is rare to find these days a supralapsarian walking the streets where the intelligentsia live. There are always a few sublapsarians about who accept the mealy-mouthed doctrine put forward in 1618 at the Synod of Dort that man was created naturally good until Adam and Eve disobeyed God; ever since their descendants have been conceived in original sin and the world has been a wicked place. The supralapsarian holds a more heroic and a more logical view of the matter. Being omniscient and omnipotent God must have determined before the Fall of Man which few of his created creatures he would elect to salvation and exactly how great the large majority of the damned would be. Man could never at any moment have been other than evil and degraded.

Malcolm Muggeridge cannot envisage a world in which anything is left to chance. Nearly all of us are irretrievably damned and serve out our days either drunk with power, or drugged by the pursuit of sensual pleasure, or dazed by the delusion that something is of value in politics, in our job, or in our loving. His universe is strictly determinist. Virtually nothing is of value, and nobody stands a chance, except a few humble saints and desperate Bunyan-like pilgrims, such as himself, who have experienced conversion. In this shambles of a world everything is a sham. It needed no temptation in the Garden of Eden to persuade God to punish man. As a great Whig lady told her small grandchild, “Tories were born bad and grow worse.”

Muggeridge was brought up to believe exactly the opposite (except possibly about Tories). His father was a primitive socialist. Man, being naturally good, needed only to change his social and economic relationships to create a better world. Secure in this faith, Malcolm married a niece of Beatrice Webb, got a job on the Manchester Guardian, the epitome of all that was high-minded, progressive, and radical, and went in 1932 as its correspondent to Russia. Within two months the scales fell from his eyes. When he found that not only the Russian censors but his own editor and in general the intelligentsia suppressed and evaded the truth of his reports of conditions in the Soviet Union, he wrote a novel to expose the hypocrisy of his newspaper’s liberal tradition and its so-called fearless exposure of tyranny and oppression. The Guardian then sued him. As usual penniless, he had to settle out of court and found himself a pariah in the best intellectual circles. So he left to work in India on the Statesman and there had an intimation that the collapse of religion was the prefigurement of the collapse of the world.

At this point one can only suppose that he decided to follow Luther’s advice, “Be a sinner and sin strongly,” since on his return to England he agreed to write a gossip…

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