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The following is an excerpt from the book Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets
by William Bonner and Lila Rajiva
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; August 2007;$27.95US/$33.99CAN; 978-0-470-11232-8
Copyright © 2007 William Bonner and Lila Rajiva

Chapter 1
Gone Bad

All reformers are bachelors.
--George Moore

It is a shame that the world improvers don't set off some signal before they go bad, like a fire alarm that is running out of juice. Maybe some adjustment could be made. Instead, the most successful of them -- such as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler -- actually gain market share as they get worse. Their delusions are self-reinforcing, like the delusions of a stock market bubble; the higher prices go, the more people come to believe they make sense.

The do-gooders who never catch on, of course, are hopeless from the get-go. Take poor Armin Meiwes. The man thought he had a solution to the problems of poverty and over population. He was, no doubt, discussing his program with Bernard Brandes just before the two cut off Brandes' most private part and ate it. Then, wouldn't you know it, Brandes died, either as a result of blood loss from the butchering or as a consequence of Meiwes slitting his throat. And then the press made a big stink about it, branding Meiwes the "Cannibal of Rotenburg." But Meiwes was not merely a pervert; he was an activist.

"We could solve the problem of over population and famine at a stroke," said he, according to testimony in the Times of London. "The third world is really ripe for eating." But wait, a fellow omnivore thought he saw a flaw in Meiwes' utopia: "If we make cannibalism into the norm, then everyone will start eating each other and there will be nobody left." "That's why I'm not keen on eating women," replied Meiwes.

It seems never to have occurred to either of them that just perhaps not everyone would want to be eaten. Or that maybe people would find being eaten even less desirable than having to stand in line or drive around looking for a parking space or the other symptoms of what they took to be planetary overcrowding. Still, anthropophagy might have solved the problems of over population and under nourishment in a single slice. And if his recipe for planetary improvement had not been interrupted by the polizei, who knows what might have happened?

But now the poor fellow is in the hoosegow making do with hamburger. The same thing happened to another of the world's do-gooders gone bad, Saddam Hussein. We don't know much about the Butcher of Baghdad, but his defense was little different from that of all ex-dictators -- he thought he was building a better world. Iraq is, after all, a wild and wacky place, with different tribes and religious groups ready to cut each other's throats. At least that was Saddam's story. Without his firm leadership, he claimed, the country would have been a mess. We think of another great world improver, Il Duce, a clown who thrashed around in typical do-gooder claptrap, looking for a theme that would bring him to power. When he finally got into office, he found a new program better suited to his ambitions: Put on silly uniforms. Strut around telling the masses that you're recreating the glory of ancient Rome. Spend a lot of money. So many people came to admire the man that he began to think himself admirable and to believe that his program might actually work as advertised. Then, he invaded Abyssinia . . . and the bull market in Benito Mussolini was over.

Blue Bloods in Black Shirts

But while Mussolini's star was on the rise, it claimed some strange followers. One of the strangest was carried away, with thousands of other old people, in the unusually long, hot summer of 2003 -- Diana Mitford. She was the woman who married Oswald Mosley, and at their wedding in 1936 were some of the most important people of the age, notably Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.

Of all the stupidities into which a man can fall, the stupidity that Oswald Mosley launched headlong into was one that was especially vile. With money supplied by Mussolini, he organized Britain's "Blackshirts," an organization much like the Nazis in Germany. National Socialism was supposed to be the wave of the future, but Mosley's group couldn't seem to come up with anything more original than going into London’s East End and beating up Jews. Most Englishmen were appalled. When World War II broke out, the Mosleys were interned as security risks. Though they were set free after the war was over, they were told to get out of town. They then joined their best friends, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, in France, where they lived out their remaining days. Diana herself lasted into her 90s.

Diana was not only smart; she was among the world's great beauties. She was said to be the prettiest of the Mitford sisters, which was tough competition, and even in her 90s, she posed for Vogue magazine and she still looked good. She was "the most divine adolescent I have ever beheld: a goddess, more immaculate, more perfect, more celestial than Botticelli’s sea-borne Venus," wrote a friend.

Really, it is almost too bad she wasn't dumb. She might have glided through life and been a joy to all who saw her. Instead, she married badly . . . which is to say, she fell in love with Mosley, who was an idiot, and threw her lot in with him. Later, British counterespionage agents came to see her as the greater threat. "The real public danger is her," said a report. "She is much more intelligent and more dangerous than her husband."

Of course, she was not the only one of the Mitford sisters to go bad. They were almost all too smart for their own good. Their synapses fired right, left, and overtime . . . and took them in strange directions. Sister Unity, like Diana, took up with the Nazis. Sister Jessica took an equally radical course, but in a different direction; she became a Marxist. It seems as though a smart person will go along with almost anything, no matter how preposterous. "I don't understand," said Lord Redesdale, father of the Mitford girls. "I am normal, my wife is normal, but my daughters are each more foolish than the other."

While Hitler was praising Diana and Unity as "perfect specimens of Aryan womanhood," the other sister, Jessica, known in the family as Decca, was plotting to buy a handgun with which to kill the Führer. But it was Unity who actually used a pistol -- on herself. She shot herself in the head and died in 1948. What had become of the sweet little girls raised in Swinbrook? How could normal people produce such extraordinary characters? How could such divine little angels turn mad?

We have no ready answer. But a friend tells us of a book by Riccardo Orizio, an Italian journalist, who hunted down and interviewed former dictators. Dead ones, of course, did no talking, but a surprising number seem to remain among the quick. His book, Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators, includes conversations with Idi Amin; Jean Bedel Bokassa; Wojciech Jaruzelski; Nexhmije Hoxha (who, with her husband Enver, ruled Albania for nearly 50 years until his death); Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier; and Mengitsu Haile Mariam, the Marxist-Leninist dictator of Ethiopia.

What is clear from the conversations is that they are all as mad as Diana and Oswald Mosley. Yet they all insist that whatever evil they may have done -- mass murder, starvation, grand larceny -- they were only making the world a better place. And none of them regretted or repented anything, except for the tactical "mistakes" that got them booted out of their countries eventually.

At least Diana Mitford Mosley had no blood on her hands. And, after four decades of peer pressure, she did finally admit that her wedding guests were not the nicest folks you could have to a party. "We all know he was a monster, that he was very cruel and did terrible things," she said of Hitler in 1994. "But that doesn't alter the fact that he was obviously an interesting figure. No torture on Earth would get me to say anything different."

Diana Mitford Mosley -- may she Rest In Peace . . .

Copyright © 2007 William Bonner and Lila Rajiva