April 29, 2009


REVIEW: of Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography By Gregory Wolfe (Peter-Christian Aigner, Townhall)

Personalities, or stories about great personalities, rise and fall in the popular imagination, according to the intellectual temperament or cultural taste of the time. Malcolm Muggeridge would have turned 100 in 2004. Only a few people made note of this occasion, but the measure of a man is not in fame alone. “St. Mugg,” as he was nicknamed, lived a full and honorable life, surrounded by giant personalities and engaged in the biggest debates of modern times. Though his grave might go neglected for a time, it is hard to imagine that he will forever remain a forgotten figure.

For one thing, as Gregory Wolfe reminds us in this newly reissued biography, Muggeridge was a dissident ahead of his time. His experiences in the Soviet Union as a diehard young socialist, married to the daughter of England’s leading Fabians, the Webbs, pushed him to become one of the first major anti-Communists—at a time when most left-wing intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic worshiped at the altar of Stalin. Muggeridge, a reporter at the Manchester Guardian, put his career on the line, fearlessly exposing in moving prose the truth about the Great Famine in the Ukraine and the “useful idiots” that covered it up. His punishment for speaking out against this manmade catastrophe, responsible for seven million deaths, was ostracism. Yet Muggeridge refused to yield an inch. It would become a recurrent theme throughout his life.

Muggeridge’s “single-minded pursuit of truth” was surely his “greatest virtue,” as Wolfe concludes, but insofar as the truth can be ugly, hard to swallow, and isolating, it was also the lifelong cross Muggeridge had to bear. He had been drawn to the Soviet Union because he could no longer stomach the hypocrisy of England’s bourgeois, aristocratic, radical, socialist elite. But the move broke his father’s heart and left him many enemies where his friends had once stood. Wolfe convincingly argues that it was Muggeridge’s pessimistic view of human nature that enabled him to avoid his father’s blind, optimistic, utopian faith. The central reward of Wolfe’s pointed, insightful, well-researched, absorbing, high-minded biography, which Publisher’s Weekly hailed as “definitive,” is that it brings out a consistent moral-philosophical worldview, one which most others have failed to find in Muggeridge’s life and work.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2009 8:20 AM
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