People who put their Trust in Human Power Delude Themselves
Sometimes, when I wake in the middle of the night, I hear the endless tramp, tramp, tramp of humanity crossing the arches of the years, each rank enjoying the spotlight of prominence, then passing into oblivion. How pathetically incapable we are of keeping our brief candle alight one second beyond its term! How fragile is the grip on authority even the most ruthlessly successful contrive to assert, after so much striving!
I often think of Bonaparte, in the summer of 1812, at the head of a million men, kings and princes at his feet, poised to conquer Russia; then the miserable fugitive, three years later, climbing stiffly up the side of HMS Bellerophon, and writing his futile letter to the Prince Regent, soliciting in vain an honourable asylum.
Or there is the image of Adolf Hitler, first in 1940, triumphant on every side, adored by the entire German nation, the fearsome master of continental Europe, planning his postwar garden cities. And then, five years later, shaking and prematurely aged, sitting bitterly in his dusty bunker, already entombed, and complaining: ‘Only Eva Braun and my dog have remained faithful to me.’
Did Stalin, more cautious, less adventurous, fare much better? We have a picture of him in death, stretched on the sofa where he had taken to sleeping, his right fist raised, in admonition, apprehension or despair – who can say? As with our Henry VIII, the ‘English Stalin’, underlings crept in and out, not sure he was extinct, fearful he might revive, spot them rejoicing and have them murdered.
There is a memorable description of Mao Tse-Tung’s death bed in Jung Chang’s marvellous book about him – gushing copious tears of self-pity (his predominant emotion towards the end), which poured down his face ‘like a fountain’, according to one eyewitness. He evidently thought hard about other once-omnipotent men whose authority had slipped from their grasp. But there was no trace of remorse about the 70 million of his countrymen for whose deaths he was responsible. His last words: ‘Send for the doctor!’ He wanted, evidently, to prolong his by now miserable existence by a few more days, hours, even seconds. Would we had a video of his end, to show to the strutting petty dictators scattered through the world, still vigorously alive and killing, torturing and incarcerating, especially those, like the evil Fidel Castro, who have been many decades in power but are now nearing the inexorable end.
From an article in The Spectator, 1 December, 2007.
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