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Human Intolerance is Never Far Beneath the Surface

The following few paragraphs are from pages 142-143 of Amor Towles’s marvelous 2016 novel, A Gentleman in Moscow; the setting is one of Moscow’s finest hotels in 1924 (ellipses original):

Having followed Andrey across the dining room, through the kitchen, and down a long, winding stair, the Count found himself in a place that even Nina had never been: the wine cellar of the Metropol.With its archways of brick and its cool, dark climate, the Metropol’s wine cellar recalled the somber beauty of a catacomb. Only, instead of sarcophagi bearing the likeness of saints, receding into the far reaches of the chamber were rows of racks laden with bottles of wine. Here was assembled a staggering collection of Cabernets and Chardonnays, Rieslings and Syrahs, ports and Madeira – a century of vintages from across the continent of Europe.

All told, there were almost ten thousand cases. More than a hundred thousand bottles. And every one of them without a label.

“What has happened!” gasped the Count.

Andrey nodded in grim acknowledgement.

“A complaint was filed with comrade Todorov, the Commissar of Food, claiming the existence of our wine list runs counter to the ideals of the Revolution. That it is a monument to the privilege of the nobility, the effeteness of the intelligentsia, and the predatory pricing of speculators.”

“But that’s preposterous.”

For the second time in an hour, the unshrugging Andrey shrugged.

“A meeting was held, a vote was taken, an order was handed down…. Henceforth, the Boyarsky shall sell only red and white wine with every bottle at a single price.”

With a hand that was never meant to serve such a purpose, Andrey gestured to the corner, where beside five barrels of water a confusion of labels lay on the floor. “It took men ten days to complete the task,” he said sadly.

DBx: Although fictional, this account of Bolshevik ignorance, prejudice, arrogance, and thuggery rings true. This account captures an ugly inclination of human nature that arises whenever we are insufficiently civilized by liberal sentiments. Illiberal people mistake their own prejudices for reality and their own beliefs for truth. Illiberal people are thus intolerant of anyone who disagrees, and are prone to condone violence on those who dare to dissent.

Illiberal people also excel at slathering the worst interpretations on the actions and words of anyone suspected of not towing the party line. Not only ignorant of history, but disdainful of it, illiberal people destroy mindlessly. Today chanting diversity, equity, and inclusion, illiberal people are utterly intolerant of anyone who does not willingly chant in their choir. They demonize all who through merit differentiate themselves from the crowd, and insist that anyone who dissents from their party line be outcast. Illiberal people are as allergic to subtlety and trade-offs as they are to humor and fellow-feeling.

Today’s woke legions are people who are as illiberal as people become. They are – let’s not mince words – both stupid and uninformed. And they are motivated overwhelmingly by hatred – hatred of what they do not understand and of the monsters that exist only in their juvenile imaginations. They are comatose to reality.

Today’s woke legions might not have much against labels on bottles of fine wine. But the woke’s self-righteous eagerness to re-write history, to destroy so much of what has come down to us from the past, and to restructure civilization with brute force make the woke very much akin to the Bolsheviks and to so many of the other barbarians throughout history who mistake their fevered passions as being commands from God.

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