The question underlying this book is a compound one: why doesn't socialism work? and, given that it rather obviously doesn't, why are believers willing to set aside normal moral and ethical considerations in pursuit of the hope that some current movement leader will miraculously produce a thousand year success?
The immediate impetus for the book came, however, from reading a thousand page hymn to fascism called The Western Heritage by Professors Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank Turner, of, respectively, Yale, Harvard, and Yale.
The third edition as published by Macmillan in 1987 is very much the signature Ivy League summation of our western cultural history - one in which we learn that the American revolution happened because a bunch of early model bitter clingers couldn't keep up with social and intellectual progress in England:
The American colonists looked to the English revolution of 1688 as having established many of their own fundamental political liberties as well as those of the English. The colonists claimed that through the measures imposed from 1763 to 1776, George III and the British parliament had attacked those liberties and dissolved the bonds of moral and political allegiance that had formerly united the two peoples. Consequently the colonists employed a theory that had developed to justify an aristocratic rebellion in order to support their own popular revolution.
These Whig political ideas were only a part of the English ideological heritage that affected the Americans. Throughout the eighteenth century they had become familiar with a series of British political writers called the Commonwealthmen. They held republican political ideas and had their intellectual roots in the most radical thought of the Puritan revolution. During the early eighteen century these writers had relentlessly criticized the government patronage and parliamentary management of Robert Walpole and his successors. They argued that such government was corrupt and that it undermined liberty. They regarded much parliamentary taxation as simply a means of financing political corruption. They also attacked standing armies, which they considered instruments of tyranny. In Great Britain this political tradition had only a marginal impact. The writers were largely ignored because most British subjects regarded themselves as the freest people in the world. However, over three thousand miles away in the colonies, those radical books and pamphlets were read widely and were often accepted at face value.
The book is a magnificent tour the de force of misapprehended knowledge - their collective ability to select and organize facts reeks academic expertise, but the assumptions and cultural beliefs present throughout the work are both deeply conflicted and utterly inimical to the American idea. We are left to believe, for example, that Greek democracy died because it didn't allow for the appointment of strong dictators, that Elizabeth I didn't kill enough Catholics, and that Louis XIV was the greatest of kings because he centralized power and hired bureaucrats to wield it.
The authors collective effort to guide the student to their preferred political views is most obvious in what they omit. A thousand page scholarly review of history entitled "The Western Heritage" should reasonably have significant overlap with some imaginary, but equally long and scholarly, analysis of the Judeo-Christian Heritage - but this one has some major gaps. For example, the western world's first recorded republican revolution against the enslavement of the individual in the service of the aristocracy - an event giving rise to the words inscribed on America's liberty bell: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof", and celebrated nearly worldwide during Passover- is unmentioned in a three paragraph period summary in which history skips blithely from Pharaohs to Kings.
More subtly, the semantic shift version of the equivocation fallacy appears throughout -so the NAZI sympathizers in the French third republic who later led the Vichy Government are referred to as Republicans while the communists who called themselves Republicans during the Spanish civil war go largely unnamed. The strangest twist to this, however, occurs in a discussion of Trotsky's role after the Russian civil war:
A right wing faction opposed Trotsky. It's chief ideological voice was that of Nikolai Bukharin (1888 - 1938), the editor of Pravda, the official party paper. Stalin was the major political manipulator. In the mid-1920s this group pressed for the continuation of Lenin's NEP and a policy of relatively slow industrialization. Stalin emerged as the victor in these intra-party rivalries.
Although much of what was once the political right is now the left and vice versa, the authors's apparent collective willingness to engage in subliminal messaging exemplifies their deep commitment to a world view in which democracy always fails; despotic kings were great rulers; 20th century European socialism's worst mass murderers are right wing republicans; the atrocities committed by national socialists in China, Japan, Korea, and the inland kingdoms hardly even happened; and, people like Reagan and Thatcher were nothing more than Luddite aberrations put briefly into power by coalitions of the backwards.
Thus, despite devoting entire sections to the German philosophers, to Karl Marx, and to the rise of world socialism the authors create a kind of virgin birth legend for Axis fascism by treating "NAZI" (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) mainly as a word instead of an abbreviation; by largely omitting Mussolini's early devotion to Marx and the Italian communist movement; by defining fascism (Page 925) only in terms of its etymology and without reference to menshevism or the Russian and Spanish civil wars; and, generally by writing as if the viciousness of the conflicts between fascists and communists reflected real differences over goals and values rather than merely internecine differences over methods, messaging, and leadership.
It would be easier to understand their praise for despots; their suppression of any hint that real personal liberty and equality in the world today is almost entirely a Judeo-Christian, Anglo-American, phenomenon; and their willingness to construct a cloak of invisibility around socialism's role in 20th century mass murder, if the book had been written in the 1930s. When the Walters Lippmann and Duranty led the western media in its collective commitment to the Comintern by praising Stalin's many democratic successes, Hitler's progressive reforms, and the Emperor's leadership in Japan's metamorphosis from feudal state to model democracy, they may simply not have known what was really going on - but Messrs Kagan, Ozment, and Turner can not so easily pretend to ignorance. Their work was done from privileged academic positions, with the full benefit of hindsight, and in the glare of socialism's greatest 20th century triumphs: institutionalized racial slavery and dispossession in Europe, Russia, and south-east Asia; Hitler's final solutions; Stalin's collectivisation; Yasuhiko's Nanking; Mao's great leap forward; Pol Pot's political eugenics; and, the millions of other lives destroyed by socialist led wars and insurrections in south east Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
This particular book is credited to Messrs Kagan, Ozment, and Turner but the problem pervades leftist literature and thinking. Thus Marx dreams of peace, prosperity, and human equality in a world free from hunger, violence, and coercion - but spends most of his time raging about the need to tear down the social fabric through rebellion and violence. From Engels to Ayers, socialist writers and their apologists do the same: key socialist ideals and values - equality, peace, freedom, independence - are implied, loved, lavishly praised, and painted as the contrasting background to an undesirable reality, but the practical focus is always on who has to be killed or cowed to create or maintain this utopia - never on how every attempt to evict both God and Adam Smith from human affairs has led to social destruction and mass murder.
The professional socialist, whether menshevik (aiming to achieve power without violent revolution) or bolshevik (seeking power through any means including violent revolution and invasion) seems immune to normal considerations of morality - the iconic image for the modern liberal progressive is that of Ernst Hemingway making casual small talk and sipping Daiquiris on a sunny balcony, while Che Gueverra's firing squads dispose of the people's enemies on the killing grounds below.
The general hypocrisy of the people making up the progressive movement is beyond the empathic reach of the rational mind: the same people who become genuinely emotional about the inhumanity, unfairness, and primitive evils of capital punishment inflicted on a few murderous thugs get at least equally hysterical in defense of the moral rightness of killing millions of unborn children - and emblazon their bedroom posters of mass murderers like Castro and Ho Chi Minh with the symbols for peace and love.
So how can this be? How can senior American scholars like Kagan et al so despise the only culture that actually implements traditional liberal ideas about individual freedom and value that they're willing to utterly compromise our knowledge of human history in support of an ideology that not only consistently enslaves the individual, but is both deeply anti-semitic and publicly dedicated to exterminating the only major religion based on the humanist liberal values they claim to hold so dear?