Bruce Momjian

The Roots of Fanaticism

Age of Delirium, by David Satter

pages 334-335

Bedridden old woman:

"You cannot understand what we understand in Russia. You can know that 5 or 10 million people died in collectivization, that yet another 20 million died in the war and that yet another 20 million were people we killed ourselves, but understand me correctly, you can only look on in amazement, you cannot understand what this means because the West does not have the spirituality to understand what happened here."

"You in the West devote yourselves so completely to material enrichment that you only guarantee your spiritual impoverishment. People here have suffered and we have very little, but in our suffering has come understanding, and this is something that you Western people will never understand because you haven't lived as we've had to live.


The desire to live for an ideal was not just a matter of isolated individuals in the Soviet Union. The hunger for higher meaning characterized people from all walks of life. It was this which made Soviet citizens credulous and self-sacrificing and cut them off psychologically from the pragmatism of the commercial West.

During my first years in the Soviet Union, I often wondered why atheistic communism triumphed in Russia, which was once regarded as perhaps the most religious country in Europe. But the longer I lived there, the more I became convinced that it was not an irony but a historical inevitability that a people who had long ceased to value the moral judgement of the individual, would one day throw off its mental bondage to a messianic religion in favor of a messianic ideology.

Russian life, with its intensity of likes and dislikes, its lack of a sense of individual responsibility, but also the capacity for commitment and self-sacrifice, is set at a higher pitch of emotional intensity than life in the West, where respect for freedom, based on a traditional appreciation of ethical transcendence, is able to bring a moderating influence to bear on worldly conflicts.

Soviet citizens were involved in a constant search for spirituality with which to endow their brief and often miserable lives. But this search had nothing to do with transcendence. They looked instead for a single source of absolute truth and expected it to be clear, inarguable, and revealed to them here on earth.