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Moral Imbeciles: The Cannon Fodder of the American Left

“A large part of the world had gone mad, and that involved the growth of inexplicable and unpredictable crime. All the old sanctities had become weakened, and men had grown too well accustomed to death and pain. This meant that the criminal had far greater resources at his command, and, if he were an able man, could mobilise a vast amount of utter recklessness and depraved ingenuity. The moral imbecile, he said, had been more or less a sport before the War; now he was a terribly common product, and throve in batches and battalions. Cruel, humourless, hard, utterly wanting in sense of proportion, but often full of a perverted poetry and drunk with rhetoric–a hideous, untamable breed had been engendered. You found it among the young Bolsheviks, among the young gentry of the wilder Communist sects, and very notably among the sullen murderous hobbledehoys in Ireland.

“Poor devils,” Macgillivray repeated. “It is for their Maker to judge them, but we who are trying to patch up civilisation have to see that they are cleared out of the world. Don’t imagine that they are devotees of any movement, good or bad. They are what I have called them, moral imbeciles, who can be swept into any movement by those who understand them. They are the neophytes and hierophants of crime, and it is as criminals that I have to do with them. Well, all this desperate degenerate stuff is being used by a few clever men who are not degenerates or anything of the sort, but only evil. There has never been such a chance for a rogue since the world began.”
“Their motive, as I have said, was gain but that was not the motive of the people they worked through. Their cleverness lay in the fact that they used the fanatics, the moral imbeciles as Macgillivray called them, whose key was a wild hatred of something or other, or a reasoned belief in anarchy. Behind the smug exploiters lay the whole dreary wastes of half-baked craziness. Macgillivray gave me examples of how they used these tools, the fellows who had no thought of profit, and were ready to sacrifice everything, including their lives, for a mad ideal. It was a masterpiece of cold-blooded, devilish ingenuity. Hideous, and yet comic too; for the spectacle of these feverish cranks toiling to create a new heaven and a new earth and thinking themselves the leaders of mankind, when they were dancing like puppets at the will of a few scoundrels engaged in the most ancient of pursuits, was an irony to make the gods laugh.”

From    The Three Hostages (1924) by John Buchan

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Flyover April 6, 2018, 5:41 AM

    What is it with all the photographs of grown people with their mouths wide open? This “trend” should have run its course long ago.

    Oh, wait: moral imbeciles.

  • Ann K April 6, 2018, 7:11 AM

    Flyover, I came here to ask the same thing!

  • Vanderleun April 6, 2018, 9:29 AM

    It seems to be a behavioral twitch that has caught on among the crazed Millens. Search under soyboy and images for more of this than you ever want to see.

  • james wilson April 6, 2018, 11:55 AM

    It’s an alternative fake look to the fake smile. Fake smiling is hard and hurts the face.

  • ambiguousfrog April 6, 2018, 6:45 PM

    Not sure where Ann B. got it from but she said the eyes are the windows to the soul, the mouth is to the gut. They’re all loathsome creatures.

  • ghostsniper April 7, 2018, 4:20 AM

    The eyes are black and lifeless, vacant, pacific, absent.
    Serving of no purpose, useless and burdening.
    2 pissholes in the snow

  • Uncle Mikey April 7, 2018, 3:20 PM

    A perfect summation of half the people I work with and most of the people I encounter online

  • Howard Nelson April 7, 2018, 4:20 PM

    Captions for those in the photo above as looking into a mirror, counterclockwise starting from the Upper Left:
    UL– Wait’ll they notice I just silently passed wind.
    LL– Oh, wow, I do look as dumb as I am
    LR– Uh-oh, I swallowed my teeth
    MR– I’m here to show all jerx are not only men
    UR– Huh? Wha? I hope my dentist is pleased
    Top — I hope my cup is big enough to hold all my vomit. What’s that awful odor?!

  • Snakepit Kansas April 8, 2018, 5:14 AM

    I hope those are not real M-65s being vandalized. Hopefully just some cheap chicom copies.

  • John Venlet April 10, 2018, 6:30 AM

    Gerard, intrigued by the quote you posted, as it seems almost appropriate to today, I delved into the entire book linked to and have just finished reading. Though I am not normally given to reading mystery/adventure stories, this was a fine tale, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, so thank you.

    I am wondering how you came to know of the author and the book? I see, also, that Sir Richard is featured in a few other of Buchan’s works. I may search them out.

  • vanderleun April 10, 2018, 8:30 AM

    Thanks, Venlet. Buchan’s most famous work is the grandfather of the spy genre, The Thirty Nine Steps.

    I read it quite a few years ago and it is, in the tradition of those times, a “ripping yarn.”

    The Kindle version is free on Amazon and can be had at


  • John Venlet April 10, 2018, 9:09 AM

    Thanks, Gerard, and thanks for the link, though I think I’ll go visit my old book seller, Clarence. I read “The Three Hostages” via my computer, and did not find intensive long term reading via a screen that enjoyable.