One of the characteristics of our age seems to be the rise of the useful idiot. It has become a career choice for those with plenty of ambition but little talent, or plenty of talent but little sense. Elites have always been aware of the value of useful idiots, marking them out for senior or influential positions, but not too senior and not too influential.
In 1952 Doris Lessing, a British writer who has since won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was part of a delegation visiting the Soviet Union. Her memories of the trip are clear and unforgiving:
“I was taken around and shown things as a ‘useful idiot’... that’s what my role was. I can’t understand why I was so gullible.”
She was not the only one.
The term was originally used to describe Soviet sympathizers in Western countries. The implication was that although the people in question naïvely thought of themselves as an ally of the Soviet Union, they were actually held in contempt and were being cynically used. The use of the term in political discourse has since been extended to other propagandists, especially those who are seen to unwittingly support a malignant cause which they naively believe to be a force for good.
In my view, it isn’t necessary to assume that useful idiots do not know they have been manipulated in the role. Most quite obviously chose it. Being a useful idiot and knowing you are a useful idiot has lots of advantages for those who don’t aspire to the top table. The real dupes seem to be intellectuals.
Modern states are largely built on useful idiots and couldn’t possibly function without them. PR smoothies, brown-tongued journalists, flexible scientists, bankers, business leaders, charity executives, celebrities, senior police officers, senior clerics, compliant intellectuals - there are whole armies of useful idiots more or less aware that this is their chosen role in life.
It’s a secure and lucrative role too, an upper middle class role which seems to be one of its main attractions.
So although anyone can easily point out what is wrong with political life, in general the key people aren’t listening. The elite listen to their useful idiots, the useful idiots chatter among themselves and nobody listens to us. Why would they?
In fact they would prefer us not to speak out at all – and that’s being dealt with.