Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990)
Pundit to Pilgrim
Today’s generation, I suppose, has largely forgotten Malcolm Muggeridge (although it should be said that there is a journal, The Gargoyle, dedicated to him, that a Muggeridge Society exists and that his religious writings flourish , especially in the United States). I remember him vividly as a TV pundit of the 1970s and 80s. His TV presence was compelling. He was pungent, scathing, mordant, sarcastic, sceptical, iconoclastic, curmudgeonly, but also capable of being totally charming, witty and cuttingly intelligent. His gnomic appearance – great domed head, bulbous nose, wide mouth – had a slightly clownish aspect. His voice was unmistakeable but how to describe it? Resonating, close to gravelly, absolutely clear enunciation, the voice of an orator or debater, and he endlessly orated and debated, as well as producing, in his own words, a torrent of words for publication. As obituarists remarked, he had an unerring capacity to puncture pomposity; and he spent his life ridiculing authority. He was a rabid critic of modern western civilization, of capitalism, materialism and moral vacuity, as also of all totalitarian regimes and ideologies, Fascist, Marxist, whatever. He is sometimes cited as a pungent social critic, but there is something missing. It is thoroughgoing social analysis. His judgments are often absurdly sweeping, often paradoxical and inconsistent. Take his book The Thirties, finished, appropriately enough, in an army training camp as the world readied for World War 2. It is a fascinating, readable and amusing book, with wonderful pen portraits of the politicians and public figures of the age. But almost everything and everyone is reduced finally to the absurd. As history (for which he professed contempt ) it is highly problematical, to say the least.