Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,
was the José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia de nos jours. Yet Francia had one great merit by comparison with Castro and his admirers: he made no pretence that the régime represented democracy of a higher or better kind than the parliamentary variety. Francia did not pretend that it was a democracy of any kind, and came right out with it: his self-chosen title was Dictator.
Castro was the darling of the intellectuals
partly because, like them, he was so slovenly in appearance, partly because he represented their wish fulfilment (inside every rebel there’s a dictator trying to get out). To rant for hours in front of a captive audience unable to answer or object: what greater bliss for an intellectual?
Admiration for Castro in the West was, of course, from afar. Dalrymple points out that Castro’s admirers
would not have found the régime they affected to admire supportable for a single day.
The admiration in the West
for Castro and his appalling sidekick and potential rival, Ernesto Guevara, was essentially frivolous, more a question of style than of substance. It was the promise of eternal adolescence that the two revolutionary egotists held out that rendered them so attractive at a time when adolescence was regarded as the finest of the seven ages of man.
Dalrymple notes that
if the photographer Alberto Korda had not snapped Guevara in an uncharacteristically romantic pose (usually he looked dishevelled and unwashed), the cult would not have existed. This was the face that launched a thousand T-shirts, not to say berets, badges, posters, coffee mugs, car stickers, and other items of kitsch.
Dictador Dalrymple would force
anyone guilty of wearing a Guevara T-shirt to read 20 pages of his writings, which make those of Leonid Brezhnev seem like P.G. Wodehouse.
When Dalrymple contemplates
the printed acreage of praise of Castro by Western intellectuals, I recall the words of Thomas Carlyle with regard to what he calls the gauchos of Paraguay:
These men are fit to be drilled into something! Their lives stand there like empty capacious bottles, calling to the heavens and the earth. ‘Is there nothing to put into us, then?’
Yes, there is: fantasies of omnipotence, fantasies of making the world anew, with us in charge.