This is an updated 2002 book with a new chapter, "Epilogue: Rising from the Ashes." The latter recounts the current state of things—Venezuela, the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, the rise of far left congresswomen and the shifting ideological identifications of democrat voters.
The author is a sometime socialist who learned from Clemenceau's observation that a 20 year-old who is not a socialist has no heart and a 40 year-old who remains a socialist has no brain. Sometimes attributed to Churchill, the comment indicates the sine-wave nature of the phenomenon, one that inverts the young Hegelian/Marxist take on the sweep of history. Where Marx saw communism as inevitable, critics see socialism and communism's ultimate failure as inevitable, given the fact that they are not aligned with human nature and, hence, require coercion for their functioning. In lieu of heaven on earth they offer us a staggering death toll. Left-leaning intellectuals often respond that there is no such thing as human nature, but the fact that there is is one of the principal lessons learned when socialist experiments are attempted. The principal example here of that phenomenon is the experience of those on Israeli kibbutzim. The bottom line is that agriculture (necessary for survival) is not a lucrative enterprise. At the same time, those often drawn to utopian schemes are gifted intellectuals. They want more than subsistence wages and, as humans, they bristle at the behavior of freeriders. Hence, accommodations are made—subsidiary enterprises, wage differentials, and so on. Ultimately a sojourn on a kibbutz is more like a spiritual retreat than an ultimate way of life.
This corresponds with another key conclusion. Sane and honest observers come to the conclusion that the private sector is a far greater generator of wealth than the state. Hence, those who desire a large number of "socialist" services, entitlements, and so on, must have the private sector to generate the resources to support those activities. Hence, we have hybrid economies in which the electorate receives some of the 'free' goods that they desire but their liberty is not taken from them and they are not taxed into the ground to receive them.
The argument is historical/biographical. The author charts three courses of socialism: its beginnings, its triumphs and its collapse. Key individuals are selected to exemplify both the notion's ideas, variants on those ideas and its supporters, from Babeuf in the French Revolution, Robert Owen in the 19th century, to Mussollini, Clement Attlee, Julius Nyerere, Samuel Gompers, Deng Xiaoping and Tony Blair.
The biographical analysis is fascinating. Attlee's socialism, e.g., was made palatable by the fact that he was conservative in every other aspect of his thought and experience. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of labor leaders like Gompers and George Meany (and in England Ernest Bevin). These men had great street smarts and were systematically suspicious of larger enterprises such as the state abusing the laboring men and women who were likely to prosper under a system of collective bargaining and the opportunity to strike rather than under some abstract utopian scheme. Gompers famously labeled the socialists "the men of isms and schisms" (p. 247), a group who saw the actual working people as a "tail to their political party kite" (p. 247). The Owen section is interesting because Marx famously claimed that his thought was "scientific"; hence, Owen's "experiments" could be seen as following an actual scientific process. The problem is that the experiments failed and Owen had to keep bailing them out with his own money.
Bottom line: a fascinating, detailed and interesting read, a book that all should read as we find ourselves among neosocialists who are often unaware of the history behind the movement that they believe might save use.
- Paperback: 453 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books; Reprint edition (2 April 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594039631
- ISBN-13: 978-1594039638
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 635 g
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