There is insanity in absolute badness, something motiveless, or something that reaches out, with a longing arrogance, beyond the motive: Iago lusted after Desdemona a little and hated Othello a great deal, but beyond those tiny passions was a lust to possess the evil deed as a thing worth having in itself, a flower, a jewel of the mind, a trophy of the intellect.
Hugh Walpole - The Cathedral (1922)
As we approach the season of goodwill, suppose we compare Lenin and Jeremy Corbyn. On the face of it the two men are not obviously similar. Lenin was intelligent, capable and charismatic. Corbyn isn’t. Yet if we use Walpole's trophy of the intellect analogy there is more similarity between Lenin and Corbyn than we might initially assume. For example, what was Lenin’s ultimate aim in driving through the Bolshevik revolution? Political altruism? Hardly.
Supposedly Lenin’s ultimate aim was a dictatorship of the proletariat but every move he made tells us that his real aim was a dictatorship of the Bolshevik party. However one looks at Lenin’s political career, it is not obvious that he had a clear and unambiguous altruistic goal in mind, one which would ultimately benefit the proletariat.
There is no great reason to suppose that Lenin cared anything about the proletariat anyway. Certainly there is nothing to suggest that he thought the Russian proletariat capable of forming a dictatorship, whatever that might mean and whatever Marxist theory might require.
In which case we might use Walpole’s trophy of the intellect analogy. As an analogy it suggests that Lenin merely saw the Bolshevik revolution as a jewel of the mind , a trophy of the intellect. Like an Olympic gold medal it was a trophy to aspire to with fanatical dedication but that is all. A political victory as opposed to an Olympic victory - I knew I could do it and I did it.
The analogy works well if we compare Lenin to Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn’s totalitarian political ethos seems to have no genuine altruism embedded in it, nothing which could usher in a better world for ordinary people. Just the opposite if historical experience is any guide and all that historical experience has been readily available to Mr Corbyn for the whole of his adult life.
Yet as with Lenin, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have no interest in the political, social and economic damage his political goals are likely to cause. As far as we can tell, and the clues are abundant, the trophy of the intellect is everything to him. We are nothing.
The trophy of the intellect is merely an analogy of course, but fascinating and surprisingly apt. It has wide application too. Many people with radical ideas do not come across as selflessly altruistic. It is not at all obvious that they are striving for a real improvement in the human condition. It is more competitive than that. More murky. More sinister.
Instead they come across as people pursuing a trophy of the intellect and like an Olympic medal the trophy is an end in itself. Job done. Goal achieved. Altruism doesn’t come into it.