The Latin is “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum,” and the English is (roughly) “Of the dead, nothing but good is to be said.” This rule is our custom, yet it’s primarily cited for its exceptions; H.L. Mencken obliterating William Jennings Bryan upon the old mountebank’s death or Christopher Hitchens’ savage obituary of Ronald Reagan.
You don’t have to be a sardonic polemicist, however, to know when the dead must be spoken ill of. No one in his right mind would lionize Hitler if he died today and neither should anyone mourn the demise of his hirsute banana republic imitator, Fidel Castro, who passed away last Friday at the regrettably advanced age of 90.
That hasn’t stopped many from trying to do so. Foremost among them was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “the cute one” in the North American leaders boy band (“the deep one” is about to retire), who gushed over Castro’s “tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.” This love apparently necessitated throwing gays, the disabled, and the religious into concentration camps; executing tens of thousands via firing squads and in prisons; trampling on civil rights; calling on the Soviet Union to nuke the United States, which would have resulted in the retaliatory vaporization of his country; fueling a pointless and bloody civil war in Angola that killed half a million civilians; and transforming Cuba from a regional economic leader to an impoverished backwater.
This is the charnel house that Fidel built, yet it still managed to hook in American progressives, from Jesse Jackson to Sean Penn to Michael Moore. The mirage of Cuba as tropical egalitarian paradise is perhaps the last surviving remnant of the idealistic 1960s left, which openly revolted against its own country and sought out third-world socialist experiments as alternatives. The great lie that Cuba commands a more effective and equitable healthcare system than our own still gets parroted not because leftists necessarily believe it but because they want to believe it, because there’s still a glamor to the idea that something really can work better than capitalism. Progressives today have become incremental, focusing on more modest goals like overhauling health insurance and funding green energy, but on occasion nostalgia still throbs for the days when they believed it could all be done at once in a spasm of revolution.
It can’t be done, of course, and never could have been. The radical communist left of 50 years ago posited that some people would have to die to create a better society for millions more (“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” as Walter Duranty loathsomely justified Stalin’s atrocities); Castro’s accomplishment was to hike the killings while only ever making his society worse. As the curtain begins to descend on Latin American socialism, as Castro’s casket is closed and Chavismo teeters in Venezuela, the final vestiges of communism, mankind’s most brutal and costly mistake, are at last dissipating. Glasses should be raised; Castro’s ridiculous hipster-in-fatigues visage should be spat upon.
Seriously, don’t deny yourself a glass of champagne, if only because Castro himself never did. The revolutionary who pledged to fight for the poor was in actuality a decadent adulterous lush with more estates than John McCain. As Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, Castro’s former bodyguard, has revealed, the Cuban president had more than 20 ornate houses, a dophinarium, a turtle lagoon, yachts, and several mistresses, all of which he afforded by turning himself into a drug kingpin, shuttling cocaine through Cuba and into the United States.
And that’s the real takeaway from Castro’s contemptible existence. We shouldn’t constrain his infractions to the realm of economics—he chose socialism over capitalism; what an idiot—because the evil of his legacy is so much more instructive and universal than that. Castro’s Cuba is a reminder that government, given expansive power, will inevitably enrich itself and abuse others, regardless of whether it claims to be acting in the name of tradition, nationalism, the poor, science, whatever. This truth applies however incremental the state’s interventions might be, whether in Havana or at the VA. And just as Castro ascended in a relatively advanced Latin-American nation, so, too, could it happen here, if we allow government to seize more than it should.
That may be the only good to come from Castro. He died less than a month after Election Day and bequeathed to us a timely lesson.