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You Cannot Reform a Totalitarian (You've Got to Defeat Him)

Back when I was even younger, and living in Rome, the main topic of conversation was of course Communism.  Italy had the largest Communist Party outside the Soviet Union, and it was forever on the cusp of becoming the biggest party in Italy, thus forming the government, thus taking over.  (Marginal comment for those who aren't up on 20th century Italian political history:  it never happened.)

Although the deep thinkers at the European and American universities were eager for the West to lose its "inordinate fear of Communism" (a phrase conceived by then-National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and pronounced by Jimmy Carter in an unfortunate speech at Notre Dame early in his first and last term), most of the Italians I knew were very much concerned (they would have to endure it, while the American intellectuals could stay safely in the States and comment on it), and while many intellectuals dreamed of a reformed "Communism with a human face," everyone in Italy knew that the model for a Communist Italy was the USSR itself.

Back then -- we're talking mid-to-late seventies -- the hot topic was "Eurocommunism."  An amazing number of highbrows were convinced that Western Communists, such as the Italians, were capable of being democratic, pro-NATO, and even anti-Soviet.  The unfortunate Zbig was one of them, as were almost all the "scholars" at Harvard gathered around Stanley Hoffmann.  Those of us who knew the Italian Communists first hand (local party HQ were a few doors down from us, and we knew them well) were harder to enchant, and when Washington Post owner and one of her star journalists, James Hoagland, came to Rome to praise Italian Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer, we were appalled.

A good friend, the brilliant philosopher (and ex-Communist) Lucio Colletti, used to put the essence of the matter very well:  "Communism can't be reformed.  Either you've got it or you don't.  If the Soviet Union actually reforms, then I will confess to failure to understand the whole phenomenon."

I agreed, we made some bets with those who thought Communism could be democratized, and that there could be a reliable NATO government in the clutches of the Italian Communist Party. Years later,  I got plenty of free food when the Soviet Empire collapsed, and the Italian Communist Party crawled onto history's dust heap.

Lucio, who had spent many years inside the Party, understood that a totalitarian system cannot be changed.  Either you've got it, or you don't; you can't humanize it, because its very essence is the elimination of freedom and the total domination of all those who come under its sway.  And so it was.  Communism was defeated, not reformed.

Which brings us to today's sermon, containing three main themes:

First, those who believe that today's most virulent totalitarian movement -- radical Islam -- can be reformed and democratized understand neither the Reformation nor Islamism.

Second, totalitarianism is what binds together the radical Muslims and the radical Leftists.  Those who purport to be surprised at the marriage of the two groups need a refresher course in twentieth-century mass movements.

Third, the fight for freedom is both domestic and global, and we're going to have to defeat our totalitarian enemies from Islamist Iran to radical Leftist Nicaragua, and our own would-be oppressors of free Americans.  It's a single, global, war.

The Illusion of Reforming Radical Islam

The whole point of radical Islam is the domination or destruction of all those who don't accept the Islamists' dictates.  It's not, as some suggest, a demand that non-Muslims bow to Islamic supremacy;  it's also directed against those Muslims who believe in a different version of the holy writ (indeed, apostates are generally hated far more intensely than non-believers).  There are variations in "sharia" and the radical Islamists won't tolerate any departure from their version, any more than Stalin tolerated Trotsky or Bukharin or Lovestone, or French Catholics tolerated the Huguenots, or the Lutherans put up with Anabaptists, or Hitler made room for the SA.