Malcolm Muggeridge

English journalist, author, media personality, and satirist (1903-1990)

Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (24 March 190314 November 1990) was a British journalist, author, satirist, media personality, soldier, spy and Christian scholar.

Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.



Articles on famine in the Soviet Union (1933)

  • There were soldiers everywhere... They were well fed and the civilian population was obviously starving. I mean starving in its absolute sense; not undernourished as, for instance, most Oriental peasants are undernourished and some unemployed workers in Europe, but having had for weeks next to nothing to eat. Later I found out that there had been no bread at all in the place for three months, and such for as there was I saw for myself in the market. The only edible thing on the lowest European standards was chicken -- about five chickens, fifteen roubles each. No one was buying. Where would a peasant get fiften roubles? For the most part – the few that remain – are sold at the railway stations to passengers on their way to the mountains in the south for a holiday or for a rest cure in a sanatorium. The rest of the food offered for sale was revolting and would be thought unfit, in the ordinary way to be offered to animals. (...) "How are things with you?" I asked one man. He looked around anxiously to see no soldiers were about. "We have nothing, absolutely nothing. They have taken everything away," he said and hurried on. This is what I heard again and again and again. (...) It was true. They had nothing. It was also true that everything had been taken away. The famine is an organised one.
    • "The Soviet and the Peasantry: An Observer's Notes. I. Famine in the North Caucusus, in: The Manchester Guardian, 25 March 1933, pp. 13-14. By-line: "From a Correspondent in Russia" (i.e. Malcolm Muggeridge)
  • On the platform a group of peasants were standing in military formation five soldiers armed with rifles guarding them. There were men and women, each carrying a bundle. Somehow, lining them up in military formation made the thing grotesque—wretched looking peasants, half-starved, tattered clothes, frightened faces, standing to attention. These may be kulaks, I thought, but if so they have made a mighty poor thing of exploiting their fellows. I hung about looking on curiously, wanting to ask where they were to be sent—to the north to cut timber, somewhere else to dig canals—until one of the guards told me sharply to take myself off.
    • "The Soviet and the Peasantry: An Observer's Notes. II. Hunger in the Ukraine, in: The Manchester Guardian, 27 March 1933, p. 9. By-line: "From a Correspondent in Russia" (i.e. Malcolm Muggeridge)
  • All the evidence goes to show that the conditions in the Upper, Middle, and Lower Volga districts are as bad as in the North Caucasus and the Ukraine; in Western Siberia they are little, if at all, better. No one knows what supplies of grain the Government has at its disposal, but, as I have already pointed out, the food situation cannot improve before the summer and is likely to deteriorate. The spring sowing will be a critical time; all resources of the Government and of the Communist Party are to be used to make it a success. Already intensive propaganda is being carried on; and "political departments," manned chiefly by the military and members of the G.P.U., have been brought into existence in all parts of the country. These will be responsible for executing the Government's policy and, of course, vigorously carrying on the class war. Even so will it suffice? (...) In any case, it is certainly true that, unless the decay of agriculture that began when this collectivisation policy was first started and that has gone on at an increasing rate ever since is stopped, unless, that is to say, the Government is able to produce a better crop this year than last, there will be famine not merely in certain districts but throughout the country.
    • "The Soviet and the Peasantry: An Observer's Notes. III. Poor Harvest in Prospect", in: The Manchester Guardian, 28 March 1933, pp. 9-10. By-line: "From a Correspondent in Russia" (i.e. Malcolm Muggeridge)

Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (1972)

  • A scene that has often come into my mind, both sleeping and waking — I am standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go onstage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to quite a different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what should I do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way onto the stage, and then look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas he only signals helplessly to me and I realise of course that his script is different from mine. I begin to speak my lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent to the audience, who begin to hiss and shout: “Get off the stage!”, “Let the play go on!”, “You’re interrupting!”. I am paralysed and can think of nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that don’t fit. The only lines I know.
    • Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (1972)
  • Animistic savages prostrating themselves before a painted stone have always seemed to me to be nearer the truth than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell.
    • Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (1972)

Interview with Rynn Berry (1979)

in The Vegetarians (Brookline, MA: Autumn Press, 1979), pp. 91-100. ISBN 0-394-73633-8
  • I initially became a vegetarian for this reason: I have a great hatred for the treatment of animals in what we call factory farms. That, I felt, was one of the most horrible and bestial things, and I was constantly protesting about it. Then, when I protested, somebody would say to me, "Do you eat meat?" And if I said, "yes," then they would say, "Well, how do you know that that isn't made in this way?" And I realized that if I were to remain a meat-eater that I couldn't go on protesting. So that was the actual impulse. But since then I've come to feel that it does purify one, and I would find it very abhorrent to go back to eating meat. I've found that it has got a spiritual significance, but my initial motive was that—to be able to give a valid answer to that.
  • [Have you ever visited the factory farms?] Well, I have seen them. I've seen the chicken ones, which are quite horrifying. And I have put my head in others. But the whole thing nauseates me more than I can tell you. To see meat produced in that way made it impossible for me to eat meat.
  • I think that if men treat animals badly, they will almost certainly treat human beings badly in due course.
  • I think that on the whole man would be living a more natural life if he were a vegetarian.

Like It Was: The Diaries (1981)

  • At the 20th Congress of British Communist Party, Harry Pollitt, made [a] long report... Usual slogans spread about the building - 'Marxism is the science of working-class power'. Those present mostly lower middle class, few working class. On platform sat the Executive Committee, really deplorable faces. Unpleasant thought that in many parts of Europe, such people already in absolute power.
    • Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (1981), p. 247
  • Greene, we agreed, is a Jekyll and Hyde character, who has not succeeded in fusing the two sides of himself into any kind of harmony. There is conflict within him, and therefore he is liable to pursue conflict without.
    • Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (1981), p. 249
  • I doubt whether the Revolution has, in essentials, changed Russia at all. Reading Gogol, or Dostoevsky for that matter, one realizes how completely the Soviet regime has fallen back on to, and perhaps invigorated, the old Russia. Certainly there is much more of Gogol and Dostoievsky in the regime than there is of Marx.
    • Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (1981), p. 252
  • Late news was suicide of Jan Masaryk... In my view, Jan Masaryk was thoroughly corrupt, who bumped himself off because he saw at last where his moral cowardice and ideological 'Playboyery' had led him. I vividly remember visiting him in Washington, fat, slightly tight, coming into the room looking like a broken-down butler with his master, the little Communist, Clementis, who never left his side when he was abroad, with him and and saying in a loud voice and looking sideways at Clementis - 'Has anyone seen an Iron Curtain? I haven't.' Well, he has now.
    • Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (1981), p. 255

Other books, programmes, sermons, interviews

Freedom is a mystical truth — It's expressed best in The Brothers Karamazov, the chapter when the Grand Inquisitor confronted the returned Christ. The freedom that Christ gave the world was the freedom of being an individual, in a collectivity, of basing one's life on love, as distinct from power, of seeking the good of others rather than nourishing one's own ego. That was liberation. And the Chief Inquisitor, who speaks for every dictator, every millionaire, every ideologue that's ever been, says we can't have it. Go away. Stay away.
One of the great weaknesses of the progressive, as distinct from the religious, mind, is that it has no awareness of truth as such; only of truth in terms of enlightened expediency. The contrast is well exemplified in two exact contemporaries — Simone Weil and Simone de Beauvoir; both highly intelligent and earnestly disposed. In all the fearful moral dilemmas of our time, Simone Weil never once went astray, whereas Simone de Beauvoir, with I am sure the best of intentions, has found herself aligned with apologists for some of the most monstrous barbarities and falsehoods of history.
  • When a man is actually with God, and then sees what he has tried to do and in our terms done so marvellously. it amounts to something which is utterly inadequate. That's what I'm saying: that the steeple reaching up so far, far away, that Salisbury Cathedral has a beautiful steeple, but what is it compared with the sky into which it is reaching? It is in this comparison that one is aware of on the one hand the absurdity of our efforts, and on the other the inadequacy of them
    • Interview with Bill Buckley
  • If I get to Heaven, which I very much doubt, I will ask of God just one thing, and that is to send Shakespeare back down to earth, and make him sit a University of Madras examination in Shakespeare, just for the pleasure of watching him failing the exam.
    • Ancient and Modern: A Journey through the Twentieth Century, 1935-45 BBCTV
  • The first thing I remember about the world — and I pray that it may be the last — is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling, which everyone has in some degree, and which is, at once, the glory and desolation of homo sapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life.
    • Apologia pro vita sua (1968)
  • I can say with truth that I have never, even in times of greatest preoccupation with carnal, worldly and egotistic pursuits, seriously doubted that our existence here is related in some mysterious way to a more comprehensive and lasting existence elsewhere; that somehow or other we belong to a larger scene than our earthly life provides, and to a wider reach of time than our earthly allotment of three score years and ten…It has never been possible for me to persuade myself that the universe could have been created, and we, homo sapiens, so-called, have, generation after generation, somehow made our appearance to sojourn briefly on our tiny earth, solely in order to mount the interminable soap opera, with the same characters and situations endlessly recurring, that we call history. It would be like building a great stadium for a display of tiddly-winks, or a vast opera house for a mouth-organ recital. There must, in other words, be another reason for our existence and that of the universe than just getting through the days of our life as best we may; some other destiny than merely using up such physical, intellectual and spiritual creativity as has been vouchsafed us. This, anyway, has been the strongly held conviction of the greatest artists, saints, philosophers and, until quite recent times, scientists, through the Christian centuries, who have all assumed that the New Testament promise of eternal life is valid, and that the great drama of the Incarnation which embodies it, is indeed the master drama of our existence. To suppose that these distinguished believers were all credulous fools whose folly and credulity in holding such beliefs has now been finally exposed, would seem to me to be untenable; and anyway I'd rather be wrong with Dante and Shakespeare and Milton, with Augustine of Hippo and Francis of Assisi, with Dr. Johnson, Blake and Dostoevsky, than right with Voltaire, Rousseau, Darwin, the Huxleys, Herbert Spencer, H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw.
    • Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim (1988)
  • The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realise, is to feel ourselves to be at home here on earth.
    • Chapter 1, Jesus Rediscovered (1969)
  • I wonder whether, in the history of all the civilisations that have ever been, a more insanely optimistic notion has ever been entertained than that you and I, mortal, puny creatures, may yet aspire, with God’s grace and Christ’s help, to be reborn into what St Paul calls the glorious liberty of the children of God. Or if there was ever a more abysmally pessimistic one than that we, who reach out with our minds and our aspirations to the stars and beyond, should be able so to arrange our lives, so to eat and drink and fornicate and learn and frolic, that our brief span in this world fulfils all our hopes and desires.
    • Originally in a sermon delivered at Queen's Cross church Aberdeen, Scotland (26 May 1968), later included in Jesus Rediscovered (1969)
  • If you say to me that men are so made that the strongest kicks the weakest in the teeth and then the strongest survive, and go on to argue that if you apply this to economics you will get a happy society, you have done an irreparable wrong as we know, as we have seen.
    • On the morality of applying eugenic Darwinism to the social order. Jesus Rediscovered (1969, 1979), ch. XVII. A Dialogue with Roy Trevivian, Doubleday, New York, ISBN 038514654X ISBN 9780385146548 p. 203.[1][2] Richard Dawkins expressed a similar opinion of social Darwinism: "I see absolutely no reason why, understanding the way the world is, you therefore have to work to promote it. The Darwinian world is a very nasty place: the weakest go to the wall. There's no pity, no compassion. All those things I abhor, and I will work in my own life in the interests of thoroughly un-Darwinian things like compassion." The Simple Way: Nick Pollard Talks to Dr. Richard Dawkins, Third Way (magazine), April 1995, Vol. 18, No. 3, p. 19. This interview was conducted in Richard Dawkins's rooms near New College on February 28th, 1995. [3][4]
  • It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits — like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding — inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.
    • Muggeridge Through the Microphone (1969)
  • One of the great weaknesses of the progressive, as distinct from the religious, mind, is that it has no awareness of truth as such; only of truth in terms of enlightened expediency. The contrast is well exemplified in two exact contemporaries — Simone Weil and Simone de Beauvoir; both highly intelligent and earnestly disposed. In all the fearful moral dilemmas of our time, Simone Weil never once went astray, whereas Simone de Beauvoir, with I am sure the best of intentions, has found herself aligned with apologists for some of the most monstrous barbarities and falsehoods of history.
    • "A Knight of the Woeful Countenance" in The World of George Orwell (1972) edited by Miriam Gross, p. 167
  • We foreign journalists in Moscow used to amuse ourselves, as a matter of fact, by competing with one another as to who could wish upon one of these intelligentsia visitors to the USSR the most outrageous fantasy…One story I floated myself, for which I received considerable acclaim, was that the huge queues outside food shops came about because the Soviet workers were so ardent in building Socialism that they just wouldn't rest, and the only way the government could get them to rest for even two or three hours was organizing a queue for them to stand in. I laugh at it all now, but at the time you can imagine what a shock it was to someone like myself, who had been brought up to regard liberal intellectuals as the samurai, the absolute elite, of the human race, to find that they could be taken in by deceptions which a half-witted boy would see through in an instant…I could never henceforth regard the intelligentsia as other than credulous fools who nonetheless became the media's prophetic voices, their heirs and successors remaining so still.
    • The Great Liberal Death Wish, lecture at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan, USA, March 1979. Transcript in Imprimis, May 1979.
  • Against the new leviathan, whether in the guise of universal suffrage, democracy, or of an equally fraudulent triumphant proletariat, [Kierkegaard] pitted the individual human soul made in the image of a God who was concerned about the fate of every living creature. In contrast with the notion of salvation through power, he held out the hope of salvation through suffering. The Cross against the ballot box or the clenched fist; the solitary pilgrim against the slogan-shouting mob; the crucified Christ against the demagogue-dictators promising a kingdom of heaven on earth, whether achieved through endlessly expanding wealth and material well-being, or through the ever greater concentration of power and its ever more ruthless exercise.
  • There is something ridiculous and even quite indecent in an individual claiming to be happy. Still more a people or a nation making such a claim. The pursuit of happiness… is without any question the most fatuous which could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase ‘’the pursuit of happiness'’ is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world.
  • You see, when I was young, people used to say the poor had too many children. Or, at the time of the famine in Ireland, they would say that the Irish had too many children. We were taking the food from Ireland, and the Irish were starving, and we said they were starving because they had too many children. Now we who are sated, who have to adopt the most extravagant and ridiculous devices to consume what we produce, while watching whole vast populations getting hungrier and hungrier, overcome our feelings of guilt by persuading ourselves that these others are too numerous, have too many children. (...) They ask for bread and we give them contraceptives! (...) In future history books it will be said, and it will be a very ignoble entry, that just at the moment in our history when we, through our scientific and technical ingenuity, could produce virtually as much food as we wanted to, just when we were opening up and exploring the universe, we set up a great whimpering and wailing, and said there were too many people in the world. It's pitiful.

Quotes about Muggeridge

  • Malcolm, what does worry me about you is that you are a born defector. I won’t say that you mess on your own doorstep, at least not until you have moved. And then when you have moved you go back round and set fire to the basement. You worked for the Manchester Guardian and have never ceased to abuse it. You went to the Soviet Union expecting a socialist paradise but never found it, but you have no sympathy for anyone else who was similarly misled. One of your best friends was Kingsley Martin and you wrote some of the best things you’ve done in his magazine the New Statesman, and yet in some of your most brutal anecdotes he is the butt of them, you never stop saying how gullible the New Statesmen are on the left, you were an outstanding editor of Punch and you have hated it ever since. You made an outstanding international reputation on television and now you tell us it is an idiot’s lantern. You have had as I understand it a very active and varied sex life but now you tell us that the very act itself is appalling and degrading and ludicrous. What I would like to see at the age of 71 you should join the Roman Catholic church, they could hardly make you less than a Cardinal. And in not more than ten years say at the age of 80 I prophesy that you would leave it in a spectacular blaze of publicity denouncing it as a laughable, and farcical, and a dangerous institution.
  • You are one of those obsessed demoniacal creatures who ought to be avoided at all costs; they bring misfortune into the lives of others; they ruin the lives of others. The real good people are humble and silent (like your Kitty is). But beware, God sees all vanity and pride and you cannot fool him.
  • The whole atmosphere [of a party hosting a pro-democracy, anti-communist Albanian National Committee] was spoilt... by Malcolm Muggeridge, who declared in a loud voice that Albania was a ridiculous country anyway that ought to be partitioned as soon as possible between Greece and Yugoslavia.
    • Nicholas Bethell (1984), The great betrayal: the untold story of Kim Philby's biggest coup (published as Betrayed in the UK)
  • It is a frightening thought that a man as prejudiced as Muggeridge was allowed such power in an organisation such as the BBC, and in other equally powerful organs of the media. Here was a man who was known to be deeply anti-Semitic ... , whose entire life and actions were determined by prejudices, and who was openly carrying on with extramarital sexual liaisons despite pronouncing pious values. He also tried to use his position to stop other people from using contraception. He was a supporter of the war in Vietnam, and of other American war exercises. He cast doubt on the suffering in Hiroshima; he participated in CIA funded clandestine activities... He had absolutely no room in his psyche for relativism in religion, for tolerance and understanding, and he fervently believed that Christianity should go out with the sword as well as the Gospel to conquer inferior cultures. He would have no hesitation in twisting and bending facts in order to promote Christianity — in this he had an ally in Teresa.
    • Aroup Chatterjee (1998), Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict
  • The Webbs ridiculed another visitor to the USSR who saw things differently. This was Malcolm Muggeridge, the Moscow correspondent of the Manchester Guardian newspaper. Muggeridge journeyed by train through the famine-stricken Ukraine, witnessing the consequences of official measures. Desperate peasants crowded railway-station platforms as he travelled south. The bloated bodies of starving children orphaned by the deaths of executed or malnourished parents horrified him. The dismissiveness of local party and government functionaries when he questioned what was going on failed to fool him. He refused to be lathered with communist soft soap. Unfortunately his editor in Manchester usually preferred a lighter treatment of the Soviet Union. Muggeridge resigned but not before he got at least some of his dispatches printed. Indeed the Manchester Guardian also accepted an account by Gareth Jones, the Russian-speaking former secretary of David Lloyd George. Jones was horrified by what he witnessed in Ukrainian villages, and gave vivid speeches on the subject after returning to Britain. Muggeridge wrote up a searing account of his own experiences in his book Winter in Moscow.
  • To carry personal responsibility for keeping God alive in the modern world would be a grievous burden for anyone, even Muggeridge, whose search for the Kingdom has been fascinating to observe but who, since he found it, has been sadly in danger of becoming Christianity's most bizarre exhibitionist. Face contorted, hands clawing in the air to pantomime his inner anguish, world weary and longing for an apocalyptic end to a Naughty Age, Malcolm reviles the medium which feeds him and begs reassurance that he is still loved from the assorted personalities who gather about him like Plato's disciples. 'Why?' his strangulated cry goes up - tempting a heavenly retort 'Why indeed?'
    • Colin Morris "Save us from religious TV" The Observer magazine (5 March 1972)
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