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Why Isn't Socialism Dead
TCS Daily ^ | 5 May 2006 | Lee Harris

Posted on 05/05/2006 5:59:43 AM PDT by RKV

The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, celebrated May Day by ordering soldiers to occupy his country's natural gas fields. The purpose of this exercise was not military, but economic: Morales has demanded that all foreign companies currently operating these fields must sign a contract with Bolivia that would allow them to retain only 18% of the production, while the remainder would go to Bolivia's state-owned oil company. The 18% concession to the foreign companies was not an act of generosity on the part of Morales, but simply of expediency: Bolivia needs these companies to tap its natural gas resources, because it is unable, at least at present, to operate the natural gas fields on its own.

Morales, a fiery populist who was elected in a landslide, is clearly seen as following in the footsteps of Venezuela's own firebrand populist President Hugo Chavez. Furthermore, only last week, Morales and Chavez met with Fidel Castro, enacting a kind of socialist love-fest that issued in a partnership agreement aimed at creating a web of economic alliances in South America that would resist the insidious lure of American-style free trade -- its ultimate aim would be economic autarky for the region, free from foreign control.

In addition to sending in the troops, Morales is also sending forth a good bit of inflammatory rhetoric. He refers to the foreign companies operating Bolivia's natural resources as having "looted" them, and his decision to send in troops on the traditional socialist holiday, May the First, was clearly not a coincidence. In a similar vein, Morales' mentor, Hugo Chavez, has also been preaching that to be rich is to be wicked, while to be poor is to be virtuous -- and though he may be quoting scripture to support his arguments, there can be no serious question that Chavez-style populism is simply socialism with a South American accent.

And this leads to the question I want to address, namely, Why isn't socialism dead?

The Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has argued in his book, The Mystery of Capital, that the failure of the various socialist experiments of the twentieth century has left mankind with only one rational choice about which economic system to go with, namely, capitalism. Socialism, he maintained, has been so discredited that any further attempt to revive it would be sheer irrationality. But if this is the case, which I personally think it is, then why are we witnessing what certainly appears to be a revival of socialist rhetoric and even socialist pseudo-solutions, such as the nationalization of foreign companies?

It should be stressed that de Soto is not arguing that, after the many socialist failures of the twentieth century, capitalism has became historically inevitable and that its expansion would occur according to some imaginary iron clad laws without any need for active intervention. On the contrary, de Soto is fully aware of the enormous obstacles to the expansion of capitalism, especially in regions like South America, and his book is full of dismal statistics that demonstrate the uphill battle against bureaucratic red-tape that is involved in getting a business license or even buying a house in many third world countries. But, here again, the question arises, If capitalism is mankind's only rational alternative, why do so many of the governments of third world nations make it so extraordinarily difficult for ordinary people to take the first small steps on the path of free enterprise?

For de Soto, the solution lies in democratizing capital. Minimize state interference. Cut the red-tape. Make it simple to start up a business. Devise ways for the poor to capitalize on their modest assets. If a person in the USA can get a loan based on the value of his $200,000 home, why shouldn't a much poorer fellow get a loan based on the value of his $2,000 shack?

These are all sensible ideas; they are all based on de Soto's belief that the only way to help the poor in the third world is to get the bloated bureaucratic state off their backs, and permit them to use their own creative initiative to do what so many poor immigrants to the USA were able to do in our past -- to start out as micro-entrepreneurs, and to work their way up to wealth and often fabulous riches. But again, we come back to the same question, only in a different form, Why are the people in Bolivia and Venezuela responding so enthusiastically to the socialist siren-song of Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, instead of heeding the eminently rational counsel of Hernando de Soto? Why are they clamoring to give even more power and control to the state, instead of seeking to free themselves from the very obstacle that stands in the way of any genuine economic progress?

When Hernando de Soto asserts that capitalism is the only rational alternative left to mankind, he is maintaining that capitalism is the alternative that human beings ought to take because it is the rational thing to do. But what human beings ought to do and what they actually do are often two quite different things. For human beings frequently act quite irrationally, and without the least consideration of what economist called their "enlightened self-interest." And it is in this light that we must approach the problem, Why isn't socialism dead?

The Role of Myth

To try to answer this question, I want to return again to Georges Sorel.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg, in his response to my earlier piece on Sorel, made the excellent point that I had left out of my discussion what is unquestionably the heart of Sorel's thinking, namely, his concept of myth, and, in particular, his notion of the revolutionary myth. Furthermore, Jonah pointed out that Sorel's myth was a repudiation of what Marx has called "scientific socialism."

For Marx, scientific socialism had nothing to do with what Marx called utopian socialism; indeed, it was Marx's boast that he was the first socialist thinker to escape from the lure of fantasy thinking that had previously passed for socialist thought. Utopian socialists love to dream up ideal schemes for organizing human life; they engage in wishful politics, and design all sorts of utterly impractical but theoretically perfect social systems, none of which has the slightest chance of ever being actualized in concrete reality. For Marx, on the other hand, socialism had to be taken down from the clouds, and set firmly on the ground. Thus Marx, instead of spending his time writing about imaginary utopias, dedicated his life in trying to prove -- scientifically no less -- that socialism was not merely desirable, but historically inevitable. Capitalism, he argued, had been a good thing; a necessary step that mankind had to take to advance forward; but, according to Marx, capitalism would eventually suffer from an internal breakdown. It would simply stop producing the goods. Like feudalism before it, capitalism was inevitably bound to pass away as a viable system of social organization, and then, and only then, would socialism triumph.

But in this case, what was the role of the revolutionary? For Marx, it made no sense for revolutionaries to overthrow capitalism before it had fulfilled its historical destiny; on the contrary, to overthrow capitalism before it collapsed internally would be counter-productive: the precondition of viable socialism was, after all, a fully matured capitalist system that had already revolutionized the world through its amazing ability to organize labor, to make the best use of natural resources, to internationalize commerce and industry, and to create enormous wealth. Therefore, for Marx, there was no point in revolution for the sake of revolution. Instead, the would-be revolutionary had to learn to be patient; he had to wait until the capitalist system had failed on its own account, and only then would he be able to play out his historical role.

Yet even here the role of the revolutionary would be severely limited; there would only be a need for revolutionary violence if the dwindling class of capitalists were themselves prepared to use violence to defend their own political supremacy. This explains why Marx, toward the end of his life, argued that in the United States, which he regarded as the most progressive nation in the world, the transition from capitalism to socialism could in fact take place without any need for violent revolution at all -- the whole process, he said, could be brought about democratically and without bloodshed.

The school of Marxism represented by Emil Bernstein adapted this approach in regard to all the advanced capitalist nations of Europe, especially Germany. Known as "revisionism," this form of Marxism came to dominate the socialist parties of Europe before the First World War, and, in particular, the German Social Democrats who demonstrated their repudiation of revolutionary violence by taking part in the German Parliament, of which they made up an enormous bloc. For them, there was a peaceful and democratic path to socialism. Not only would socialism itself be rational; it would also emerge rationally, and without any need for anyone to man the barricades or to seize by violence the state apparatus.

It was this approach that Sorel entirely rejected. As Jonah Goldberg writes: "Sorel had contempt for socialists who wanted to make their case with facts and reason. Sorel called the prominent Italian socialist Enrico Ferri, one of those 'retarded people who believe in the sovereign power of science' and who believed that socialism could be demonstrated 'as one demonstrates the laws of the equilibrium of fluids.' True revolutionaries needed to abandon 'rationalistic prejudices' in favor of the power of Myth."

But why did Sorel, trained as an engineer and knowledgeable about science, reject scientific socialism? The answer, I think, is that Sorel suspected that socialism, in practice, simply might not ever really work. Jonah Goldberg points out Sorel "remained at best agnostic" about whether the General Strike would usher in socialism; but I would go further: Sorel himself was skeptical not only about the efficacy of the General Strike, but about the possibility of socialism as a viable economic system.

For example, in the introduction to Reflections on Violence, Sorel says that the French thinker Renan "was very surprised to discover that Socialists are beyond discouragement." He then quotes Renan's comment about the indefatigable perseverance of socialists: "After each abortive experiment they recommence their work: the solution is not yet found, but it will be. The idea that no solution exists never occurs to them, and in this lies their strength." (Italics mine.)

Sorel's response to Renan's comment is not to say, "Renan is wrong; there is a socialist solution, and one day we will find it." Instead, he focuses on the fact that socialists gain their strength precisely from their refusal to recognize that no socialist solution exists. "No failure proves anything against Socialism since the latter has become a work of preparation (for revolution); if they are checked, it merely proves that their apprenticeship has been insufficient; they must set to work again with more courage, persistence, and confidence than before...." But what is the point for Sorel of this refusal to accept the repeated historical failure of socialism? Here again, Sorel refuses to embrace the orthodox position of socialist optimism; he does not say, "Try, try, try again, for one day socialism will succeed." Instead, he argues that it is only by refusing to accept the failure of socialism that one can become a "true revolutionary." Indeed, for Sorel, the whole point of the myth of the socialist revolution is not that the human societies will be transformed in the distant future, but that the individuals who dedicate their lives to this myth will be transformed into comrades and revolutionaries in the present. In short, revolution is not a means to achieve socialism; rather, the myth of socialism is a useful illusion that turns ordinary men into comrades and revolutionaries united in a common struggle -- a band of brothers, so to speak.

Sorel, for whom religion was important, drew a comparison between the Christian and the socialist revolutionary. The Christian's life is transformed because he accepts the myth that Christ will one day return and usher in the end of time; the revolutionary socialist's life is transformed because he accepts the myth that one day socialism will triumph, and justice for all will prevail. What mattered for Sorel, in both cases, is not the scientific truth or falsity of the myth believed in, but what believing in the myth does to the lives of those who have accepted it, and who refuse to be daunted by the repeated failure of their apocalyptic expectations. How many times have Christians in the last two thousand years been convinced that the Second Coming was at hand, only to be bitterly disappointed -- yet none of these disappointments was ever enough to keep them from holding on to their great myth. So, too, Sorel argued, the myth of socialism will continue to have power, despite the various failures of socialist experiments, so long as there are revolutionaries who are unwilling to relinquish their great myth. That is why he rejected scientific socialism -- if it was merely science, it lacked the power of a religion to change individual's lives. Thus for Sorel there was "an...analogy between religion and the revolutionary Socialism which aims at the apprenticeship, preparation, and even the reconstruction of the individual -- a gigantic task."

It should be emphasized here that when Renan spoke about the repeated failure of socialist experiments, he was referring to the rather modest and small-scaled experiments undertaken by various utopian socialists of the nineteenth century. In 1906, neither he nor Sorel knew that in the dawning century there would be socialist experiments far beyond the scope and scale of Brook Farm or the Owenite communes. They could hardly envision entire nations falling into the hands of men who thought of themselves as dedicated revolutionaries -- avowed communists like Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, and Ho Chi Min, but also avowed fascists, like Mussolini and Hitler. The Nazis regarded themselves as genuine revolutionaries, and they call themselves revolutionaries, just as they always referred to their take-over of the German state as their revolution: for the Nazi, their revolution, and not the Bolshevik revolution, represented true socialism -- national socialism.

Can Socialism Die?

In light of the horrors brought about in the twentieth century by the revolutionary myth of socialism, it is easy to sympathize with those who believe mankind could not possibly be tempted to try the socialist experiment again. If the liberal rationalist Renan was surprised that "Socialists were beyond discouragement" at the beginning of the twentieth century, how much more surprised must his contemporary counterparts be to discover that socialism is also beyond discouragement at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Yet this is a lesson that Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, under the guidance of their mentor, Fidel Castro, seem determined to impress upon us.

It may well be that socialism isn't dead because socialism cannot die. As Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in "the profounder regions of our mental life," in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn't want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?

Here we have the problem facing those who, like Hernando de Soto, believe that capitalism is the only rational alternative left after the disastrous collapse of so many socialist experiments. Yes, capitalism is the only rational method of proceeding; but is the mere appeal to reason sufficient to make the mass of men and women, especially among the poor and the rejected, shut their ears to those who promise them the socialist apocalypse, especially when the men who are making these promises possess charisma and glamour, and are willing to stand up, in revolutionary defiance, to their oppressors?

The shrewd and realistic Florentine statesman and thinker, Guicciardini, once advised: "Never fight against religion...this concept has too much empire over the minds of men." And to the extent that socialism is a religion, then those who wish to fight it with mere reason and argument may well be in for a losing battle. Furthermore, as populism spreads, it is inevitable that the myth of socialism will gain in strength among the people who have the least cause to be happy with their place in the capitalist world-order, and who will naturally be overjoyed to put their faith in those who promise them a quick fix to their poverty and an end to their suffering.

Thus, in the coming century, those who are advocates of capitalism may well find themselves confronted with "a myth gap." Those who, like Chavez, Morales, and Castro, are preaching the old time religion of socialism may well be able to tap into something deeper and more primordial than mere reason and argument, while those who advocate the more rational path of capitalism may find that they have few listeners among those they most need to reach -- namely, the People. Worse, in a populist democracy, the People have historically demonstrated a knack of picking as their leaders those know the best and most efficient way to by-pass their reason -- demagogues who can reach deep down to their primordial and, alas, often utterly irrational instincts. This, after all, has been the genius of every great populist leader of the past, as it is proving to be the genius of those populist leaders who are now springing up around the world, from Bolivia to Iran.

This is why socialism isn't dead, and why in our own century it may well spring back into life with a force and vigor shocking to those who have, with good reason, declared socialism to be no longer viable. It is also why Georges Sorel is perhaps even more relevant today than he was a hundred years ago. He knew that it was hopeless to guide men by reason and argument alone. Men need myths -- and until capitalism can come up with a transformative myth of its own, it may well be that many men will prefer to find their myths in the same place they found them in the first part of the twentieth century -- the myth of revolutionary socialism.

This is the challenge that capitalism faces in the world today -- whether it will rise to the challenge is perhaps the most urgent question of our time, and those who refuse to confront this challenge are doing no service to reason or to human dignity and freedom. Bad myths can only be driven out by better myths, and unless capitalism can provide a better myth than socialism, the latter will again prevail.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: bolivia; capitalism; dummiesloveit; hugochavez; latinamerica; leeharris; leftists; marxism; myth; socialism
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To: CarrotAndStick
Socialism will be alive as long as stupidity is popular.

Well said!

41 posted on 05/05/2006 7:09:31 AM PDT by Thermalseeker
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To: FormerLib

Whereas stupidity knows no bounds! LOL.

42 posted on 05/05/2006 7:14:06 AM PDT by RKV ( He who has the guns, makes the rules.)
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To: Clemenza

I would say that a big part of the problem, in places like Venezuela, is that income distribution doesn't look anything like a bell curve. I'd guess that it probably has a very big bulge down near the bottom, a fairly low level through the middle incomes, and then a smaller bulge up at the higher end - i.e. big mass of desperate poverty, a small to moderately-size middle class, and a few ultra-rich. That's what makes so many people willing to embrace radical revolutionary thinking in a place like Venezuela.

OTOH, the income distribution in the US, for example, probably is more like a bell curve, and socialism does appeal to those on the left side of the curve, but not strongly enough to enough people to engender support of a Marxist revolutionary.

43 posted on 05/05/2006 7:17:44 AM PDT by -YYZ-
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To: keats5
The Antichrist is the ultimate socialist dictator.
44 posted on 05/05/2006 7:24:49 AM PDT by marbren
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To: William Terrell

Someone has said, "Socialism works - for those in charge."

45 posted on 05/05/2006 7:25:29 AM PDT by Noumenon (Yesterday's Communist sympathizers are today's terrorist sympathizers)
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But if this is the case, which I personally think it is, then why are we witnessing what certainly appears to be a revival of socialist rhetoric and even socialist pseudo-solutions, such as the nationalization of foreign companies?

Because of "free trade".
46 posted on 05/05/2006 7:27:12 AM PDT by hedgetrimmer ("I'm a millionaire thanks to the WTO and "free trade" system--Hu Jintao top 10 worst dictators)
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This is why socialism isn't dead, and why in our own century it may well spring back into life with a force and vigor shocking to those who have, with good reason, declared socialism to be no longer viable.

Socialism is alive and well in Europe and there is creeping socialism in the US. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are increasing in scope and cost.

48 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, including 33 million retirees, 7 million survivors, and 8 million disabled workers. There are 50 million Medicaid recipients.

Nearly 80% of Americans pay more in Social Security taxes than they do in federal income tax.

By 2030, there will be 70 million Americans of retirement age--twice as many as today.

Social Security pays more than $450 billion in benefits each year. If nothing is done, by 2060, the combination of Social Security and Medicare will account for more than 71 percent of the federal budget.

47 posted on 05/05/2006 7:30:51 AM PDT by kabar
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A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

~Professor Alexander Tytler

48 posted on 05/05/2006 7:32:28 AM PDT by Mase
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To: Mase
Why Isn't Socialism Dead

OOPS sorry. I thought this was a thread about Hillary.

49 posted on 05/05/2006 7:35:29 AM PDT by phil1750 (Love like you've never been hurt;Dance like nobody's watching;PRAY like it's your last prayer)
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Bolivia needs these companies to tap its natural gas resources, because it is unable, at least at present, to operate the natural gas fields on its own.

This is the socialist model. Marx as much as admitted that socialism can't get the job done; it doesn't come into its own until the capitalists have done the heavy lifting. Then economic systems "evolve" into the communist model, often by way of socialism.

For what it's worth, the nationalized Saudi oil oligopoly is just about the same model. American know-how found the oil and brought it out, then the production was turned over to the bedouins. And now we're paying to buy the oil that we found in the first place.

50 posted on 05/05/2006 7:38:44 AM PDT by IronJack
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To: William Terrell

Exactly, Socialism is about social and economic engineering. It takes government power to centralize government power, confiscate property, redistribute wealth and destroy free enterprise.

The way congress continues to spend is a good example. Even GOP leaders that gain power find out that pork barrel spending and funding programs that gain them votes or campaign contribution helps them maintain power.

51 posted on 05/05/2006 7:39:51 AM PDT by GeorgefromGeorgia
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To: kabar

SS Benefits will have to be cut by reducing the percentage of annual increases and raising the retirement age. Medicare will have to change to some kind of catastrophic coverage with rationing. Get ready to pay for much of your health care in old age.

52 posted on 05/05/2006 7:43:10 AM PDT by GeorgefromGeorgia
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Why would the rich care if someone else also gets rich? It's not a zero sum game! (although that IS what socialists think).

Are you saying the rich are all socialists? Seems counter-intuitive.

53 posted on 05/05/2006 7:47:11 AM PDT by safeasthebanks ("The most rewarding part, was when he gave me my money!" - Dr. Nick)
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Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism

Joshua  Muravchik


From the Epilogue


    France was the capital of the Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century intellectual movement spearheaded by writers who called themselves philosphes. They had waged a campaign of relentless criticism of the church and revealed religion, which their leader Voltaire called "The infamous thing." The crusade was so effective that by 1778, when an eighty-three year old Voltaire returned to Paris after decades away, he was received like a "victorious general," as Peter Gray describes it.  The Jesuit order had been suppressed, and various indicators showed a decline in devotion among the public. The effects were most profound in the ranks of the articulate  and the highborn. "Frank atheism was still comparatively rare, but among the enlightened scholars, writers, and gentlemen who set the intellectual fashions of the later eighteenth century, frank Christianity even rarer," writes historian E. J. Hobsbawm.


    The decline of faith was fueled by a rise of science, but not all who lost faith became scientific. "Fashionable women kept books on science on their dressing tables, and, like Mme. de Pompadour, had their portraits painted with squares and telescopes at their feet," say the Durants. Nonetheless, "a thousand superstitions survived side by side with the rising Enlightenment." The same Mme. de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, frequented a fortune-teller who read the future in coffee grounds. Other leading figures of the court did the same.


    Like Voltaire, those who were neither Christians nor atheists usually were deists. Deism affirmed the existence of God, or better, of some "supreme being," or "eternal cause," but denied the legitimacy of the church and and the authority of Scripture. What separated deists from atheists was a need to explain creation or a fear of the moral consequences of a godless world.


    Deism enjoyed its apotheosis in the French Revolution with the replacement of the Christian calendar with one in which the days, months and seasons were renamed for plants and animals and types of weather. But this transformation like other innovations such as changing the name of the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the Temple of Reason, did not last long; for it served only to illustrate the depth of the human impulse to religion. Diderot, whose Encyclopedie was the flagship of the Enlightenment, confessed that he could not watch religious processions "without tears coming to my eyes."


    Most anthropologists agree that religion is a universal; they have yet to discover a civilization of logical positivists. As the eminent scholar Edward O. Wilson said in his acceptance speech upon receiving the 1999 Humanist of he Year award:

There is no doubt that spirituality and religious behavior of some kind are extremely powerful and, it appears, necessary parts of the human condition... the inability of secular humanist thinker s to satisfy this instinct, even when evidence and reason are on their side, is surely part of the reason that there are only 5300 members of the American Humanist Association and sixteen million members of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Accordingly, the Enlightenment's discrediting of Christianity left Europe in the early nineteenth century hungering for a new faith. Robert Owen's movement with its church-like "halls of science" aimed to fill the need, but he was unable to fashion a coherent doctrine. Had socialism remained eh work of such fanciful souls as he, it would have been as marginal as humanism, pacifism, ethical culturalism, vegetarianism and so many other goodhearted but feckless theories.


    Engels and Marx, however, succeeded in recasting socialism into a compelling religious faith, and their socialism absorbed or eclipsed all others. Attlee, for example, claimed in The Labour Party in Perspective that his thinking was rooted in Owen and Christianity rather than in Marx, but like Moliere's bourgeois gentilhomme who had been "speaking prose without knowing it," Attlee's idiom reverberated with Marxist concepts. He spoke of class struggle, historical materialism, the supersession of socioeconomic systems in response to technological change and the like. Nothing akin can be found in Owen or the Gospels.


    Marxism made socialism a religion by reducing all history and all problems to a single main drama. "Communism is the riddle of history solved," said Marx. Solving the riddle meant not only comprehending the past but foreseeing the future. It "transferred the centre of gravity of the argument for socialism from its rationality or desirability to its historic inevitability," said Hobsbawm, giving it "its most formidable intellectual weapon." In truth, the claim of inevitability was not an intellectual weapon but a religious one. It had no logical weight but great psychological power, paralleling Engels' boyhood faith of Pietism, which embodied a doctrine of predestination.


    Nor was this the only way that socialism echoed revelation. It linked mankind's salvation to a downtrodden class, combining the Old Testament's notion of a chosen people with the New Testament's prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth.  Like the Bible, it's historical narrative was a tale of redemption that divided time into three epochs: a distant past of primitive content, a present of suffering and struggle, and a future of harmony and bliss. By investing history with a purpose, socialism evoked passions that other political philosophies could not stir. As the American socialist intellectual Irving Howe put it,

Not many people became socialists because they were persuaded of the correctness of Marxist economics or supposed the movement served their "class interests." They became socialists because they were moved to fervor by the call to brotherhood and sisterhood; because the world seemed aglow with the vision of a time in which humanity might live in justice and peace.

    Most socialists would deny that their creed is religious in character. Did not Marx say that religion is an opiate? But many have given evidence of the religious quality of their belief. Michael Harrington, a fallen-away product of Jesuit education who became the preeminent American socialist of his generation, once wrote: "I consider myself to be - in Max Weber's phrase - 'religiously musical' even though I do not believe in God... I am... a 'religious nature without religion.' a pious man of deep faith, but not in the supernatural."  A Harrington disciple, sociologist Norman Birnbaum, has been more blunt. "Socialism in all its forms," he writes, "was itself a religion of redemption."


    Harrington may not have made as clean a break with the supernatural as he liked to believe. To be sure, Marxism contained no gods or angels, yet it had its own mystical elements. It claimed that human behavior was determined by abstract, exterior forces: people do what they do not for the reasons they think, but because of the mode and the means of production and the class structure. To compound the mystery, Marx and Engels did not believe that the forces they described governed their own actions, but they did not explain why they were exempt.


    Nonetheless, Marxism's departure from empiricism was less glaring that that of revealed religions and did not prove fatal to its claim of being scientific. Marx and Engels were pioneers in applying the terminology of science to human behavior. The term "science" had only come fully into vogue in the early nineteenth century, replacing the older "natural philosophy," and it carried a powerful cachet. Every day science was finding explanations for things that had long seemed inexplicable, so Marxism's claim to have broken the code of history did not seem implausible.


    Before Marx, Robert Owen always characterized his activities as scientific (as did Saint Simon, Fourier and the other utopian socialists), and the claim was valid. Owen hit upon the idea of socialism and then set about to test it by creating experimental communities. Such experimentation is the very essence of the scientific method. Owen strayed from science only at he point that he chose to ignore his results rather than reconsider his hypothesis. Engels and Marx replaced experimental socialism with prophetic socialism, and claimed thereby to have progressed from utopia to science.


    Thus, part of the power of Marxism was its ability to feed religious hunger while flattering the sense of being wiser than those who gave themselves over to unearthly faiths. In addition, the structure of of rewards proffered by socialism was so much more appealing than in the biblical religions. Foe one thing, you did not have to die to enjoy them. Ernest Belford Bax, the most voluble of the founders of British Marxism, wrote a book titled The Religion of Socialism that that reprised the young Hesse:

Socialism... brings back religion from heaven to earth... It looks beyond the present moment... not... to another world, but to another and a higher social life in this world. It is in... this higher social life... whose ultimate possibilities are beyond the power of language to express or thought to conceive, that the socialist finds his ideal, his religion.

    The same ecstatic tone reverberated in Trotsky's forecast that under socialism the average person would exhibit the talents of a Beethoven or a Goethe, and in Harrington's vision of "an utterly new society in which some of the most fundamental limitations of human existence have been transcended... [W]ork will no longer be necessary... The sentence decreed in the Garden of Eden will have been served."


    The biblical account of Adam and Eve's fall explained the hardships of life. It also portrayed mankind's capacity for evil as well as good, suggesting that we might ameliorate the hardship by cultivating our better natures. As Harrington's bold promise suggests, socialism made things easier. Not only did it vow to deliver the goods in this world rather than the next, but it asked little in return. At the most, you had to support the revolution. At the least, you had to do nothing, since the ineluctable historical forces would bring about socialism anyway. In either case you did not have to worship or obey. You did not have to make sacrifices or give charity. You did not have to confess or repent or encounter that tragic sense of life that is the lot of those who embrace a nonsecular religion. No doubt, many or most of those drawn to socialism felt some sense of humane idealism, but its demands were deflected onto society as a whole.


    If this is what made the religion of socialism so attractive, it also explains what made it so destructive .Religion is ubiquitous, reaching far back into the human dawn: prehistoric cave drawings depict what appear to be mythical figures. But early ideas about the cosmos reflected little that we would recognize as moral content, as the bawdy shenanigans of the Greek deities illustrate. The Bible changed this. And the advent of the Bible was only a part of a global transformation that historian Herbert J. Muller places around the sixth century B.C., with the rise of Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, as well as the culmination of he prophetic movement in Judaism. These faiths, he says,

...all moved away from the immemorial tribal gods and nature gods, toward more universal, spiritual conceptions of deity or the cosmic order. Their primary concern was no longer the material success of the nation or the assurance of good crops, but he spiritual welfare of man. They offered visions of some Good beyond earthly life, rescuing man from his long obsession with food and phallus. They proposed different ways of treating the powers above, but ways alike more amenable to his ideal purposes. Their service of deity was far from mere servility.

    From then on, the world's major faiths connected some theory of the nature of the world with a moral code. Two and a half millennia later, the religion of socialism sundered that connection. What was different about it was not the absence of God, since Buddhism and Confucianism also have no God, but rather the absence of good and evil and right and wrong. This opened the doors to the terrible deeds that were done in the name of socialism.


    To be sure, terrible deeds have also been done in the name of the traditional religions. One can cite the Crusades, the Inquisition, the World Trade Center and more. The idea of ultimate salvation - religious or secular - can be used to justify many things. Religious zealots have rationalized their depredations by selective interpretations of holy texts, finding authority for attacks against outsiders or coreligionists whom they deem wayward. But in doing so they also ignore or suppress core elements of their creeds that address moral commands to the believer himself, constraining his actions. Socialism, in contrast, lacks any internal code of conduct to limit what its believers might do. The socialist narrative turned history into a morality play without the morality. No wonder, then, that its balance sheet looks so much worse. In about three centuries the Crusades claimed two million lives; Pol Pot snuffed out roughly the same number in a mere three years. Regimes calling themselves socialist have murdered more than one hundred million people since 1917. The toll of the crimes by observant Christians, Moslems, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus pales in comparison.


    By no means all socialists were killers or amoral. Many were sincere humanitarians; mostly these were the adherents of democratic socialism. But democratic socialism turned out to be a contradiction in terms, for where socialists proceeded democratically, the found themselves on a trajectory that took them further and further from socialism. Long before Lenin, socialist thinkers had anticipated the problem. The imaginary utopias of Plato, Moore, Campanella and Edward Bellamy, whose 1887 novel, Looking Backward, was the most popular socialist book in American history, all relied on coercion, as did the plans of The Conspiracy of Equals. Only once did democratic socialists manage to create socialism. That was the kibbutz. And after they had experienced it, they chose democratically to abolish it.

54 posted on 05/05/2006 7:54:12 AM PDT by Noumenon (Yesterday's Communist sympathizers are today's terrorist sympathizers)
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Because third world countries, Tyrants, and Dictators are the envy of Liberal academia.
55 posted on 05/05/2006 7:55:55 AM PDT by TheForceOfOne (Free Republic - The pulse of conservative politics, without lame stream media filtration.)
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To: IronJack

The past 15 year history of Zimbabwe should be a sufficient example of the failure of totalitarianism. So...
our DBM totally ignores any reporting of what has happened there.

56 posted on 05/05/2006 8:12:30 AM PDT by ColdSpringGirl
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To: GeorgefromGeorgia
SS Benefits will have to be cut by reducing the percentage of annual increases and raising the retirement age. Medicare will have to change to some kind of catastrophic coverage with rationing. Get ready to pay for much of your health care in old age.

Congress will do the same thing they did in 1983. In addition to raising the retirement age and taxing benefits more, they will raise the FICA tax and change the COLA and benefit formulae (making it more means tested.) In sum, they will kick the can down the road rather than solve the problem.

Medicare taxes will be raised and there will be a call for national health insurance, which is portable and not related to employment. We have already nationalized health care for those above 65 and added greatly to those numbers with Medicaid recipents, many of whom are children. The States will be picking up a greater and greater share of the costs. Medicare B and D costs will be raised and Medigap will be asked to cover more of the costs, which will be borne by the recipients.

Socialism is alive and well in America as the people become more dependent upon the government. It is inevitable, especially since about 50% of the people pay little or no income taxes. They have the political power to put the burden on the "rich" to pay for these services.

57 posted on 05/05/2006 8:14:32 AM PDT by kabar
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To: Clemenza

"The damn rice have everything I tell ya! Especially the white rice!"

Rise up rice of color! Socialism will conquer all!

58 posted on 05/05/2006 8:15:44 AM PDT by FastCoyote
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To: kabar

You are correct, socialism is alive and well. Raising taxes will harm the economy, but socialists think that they know better how to spend our money than we do.

59 posted on 05/05/2006 8:17:58 AM PDT by GeorgefromGeorgia
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Socialism caters to the "poor". It promises that money and property will be taken from the rich (who got that way thru hard work) and be given to the lazy.
The promise of something for nothing is tempting, and lures a lot of people. The USA is drifting into socialism for the same reason.
Unfortunately for the poor, they will still be poor when socialism gets into full power. The only rich people will be the socialist elite, just like the Soviet Union's Intelligentsia. The rest of the riches will have been wasted and lost, and the hard-working enterpreneurs will be out of the country or working in the black market.

60 posted on 05/05/2006 8:28:13 AM PDT by (what have you done today to fight terrorism/leftism (same thing!))
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