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Is Obama Really a "Historical Materialist"?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

As Josef Stalin prepared to incorporate Poland into his empire at the end of World War II, someone at the summit conference noted that the Pope would never agree to an atheist communist regime in that historically Catholic land.


“How many divisions has the Pope?” asked the ever-cynical Communist dictator Josef Stalin. Half a century later, Stalin’s communist successor, Mikhail Gorbachev, found out that a Polish Pope had a lot of divisions in his homeland. Stalin was, of course, a historical materialist.

Napoleon Bonaparte, who staged a military coup that put an end to a decade of anarchy in the French Revolution, said “God is on the side with the bigger artillery.” Napoleon, a brilliant young artillery officer, was a historical materialist.

“Nothing on earth can resist cotton. Cotton is king!” That proponent of King Cotton was a U.S. Senator, a “fire-eater” who strongly advocated secession of his state from the Union. That fire-eater apparently did not know that the value of the hay grown in New York State exceeded the value of all the cotton grown in the South. Tragically for the whole country, that fire-eater found plenty of fire to eat. That senator was a historical materialist.

What are we to make of a column in the Washington Post when a defender of the President describes him thus? “But he is what you might call a historical materialist, in that he clearly thinks economic trends are the main determinants of political thought and behavior.”


Charles Lane is a liberal who was actually criticizing President Obama’s reaction to the Restore Honor rally hosted on the National Mall by Glenn Beck. He wanted President Obama to show more understanding of the motives of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who attended the August 28 mass meeting.

Lane understands that college graduation rates, credit card overcharges, mortgages “under water” were not what motivated thousands to rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

He thinks the President is doing a poor job of understanding those who attended – even though he recognizes that few of the attendees voted for Obama last time or are likely to back him next time.

Charles Lane says that what really bothers Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and millions of others in this country is not the lack of progress – as he and Obama would define progress – but progress itself.

To liberals, nationalized health care that does not exempt coverage for abortions is progress. To liberals, generally, overturning marriage through the courts is progress.

What’s fascinating here is that Lane describes President Obama as a “historical materialist” as if it is a good and natural thing, as if it’s the way all people who are rational and pragmatic think and ought to think.


Ronald Reagan went to Moscow State University in 1988. There, under a huge, glowering statue of Vladimir Lenin, Reagan proceeded, most politely, to say that historical materialism is a crock. One might have expected that old historical materialist Lenin himself to pitch face-forward from his pedestal. Soon, very soon, Lenin statues were being dragged down all over the Evil Empire he had created.

Reagan’s point was that in the beginning was the Word. He said that the material basis of industrial society was being supplanted by the computer revolution. The material basis of the computer chip was a substance as plentiful as – sand! It’s why they call it Silicon Valley. But computer chips were not enough for this revolution to succeed. With all this technology, we must have human freedom.

We know that the old USSR could not keep up with the freedom revolution Reagan unleashed in the West. It’s hard to compete when you have to station a KGB officer – a kahgaybeest – next to every computer screen.

While Reagan was making revolution in the heart of the Soviet Union, Barack Obama was sitting in Ivy League classrooms listening to historical materialism as preached by his professors. Too bad. He missed a great show.


Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II changed the world. They were not historical materialists. They understood that human motivation is complex. Yes, people want a better life materially. Yes, they seek to improve the lot of their children.

But why do they want children in the first place? It is the longing to touch eternity. It is the hunger of the soul. It is, as Reagan explained at the Berlin Wall, the higher power of love.

That is something the great leaders understand. If President Obama doesn’t understand it yet, he’d better learn fast. Or he’ll never understand the people he leads.

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