“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.” – George Orwell
There is a two-part brilliant series from the BBC World Service, presented by journalist John Sweeney, currently available in the archive, about the so-called “useful idiots”, otherwise intelligent people who become apologists for abhorrent regimes, which they think they understand, but do not.
The term “useful idiot” was coined by the Libertarian thinker and economist Ludwig von Mises as a way of describing communist sympathisers in the west who could be fooled into propagandising on behalf of the Soviet Union. Even during the brutal and bloody years of Stalin, there were highly intelligent people like the Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing who were taken in by Soviet propaganda. She is interviewed in this BBC series and expresses real regret at how she allowed herself to be so easily bamboozled.
We still see this phenomenon today with people on the extreme right-wing of politics and their misguided worship of Putin as a strongman and upholder of western civilisation, and there remain anti-westerners on the far left who will sympathise with Putin simply because he has an adversarial relationship with western countries.
The lesson is to always be aware of how easily your beliefs and passions can be used to manipulate your perception of reality. Question everything, including yourself.
The programme can be listened to on the BBC website here:
Or on Youtube: