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Socialism’s Free Pass: Roger Kimball Responds



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Hey, this is nifty. Though I would like to be clear that I have nothing but abiding admiration for Roger so if he took umbrage at my posting of that email, my apologies. As for the substance of the matter, Roger speaks well for himself here:

Dear Jonah,

One of your readers refers to my essay “The Death of Socialism” (The New Criterion, April 2002),which was occasioned by Joshua Muravchik’s Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. In the course of his remarks, your interlocutor accuse me of “legitimizing socialism” (tut-tutting that I “should know better”) because I allow that many socialists are “decent and humane people” (your reader misquoted me as saying “decent and honorable,” but let that pass). I hesitate to respond to this if only because the accusation that I am somehow soft on socialism is such a delicious novelty—who knows when the experience will come again? Still, I should hate to have some innocent reader of NRO labor under that misapprehension, so I wonder if I might set the record straight by putting that comment about “decent and humane” socialists in context?

Here’s what I wrote:  

Muravchik provides a devastating anatomy of the socialist dream–a dream that with clocklike regularity becomes a nightmare. If, as Muravchik suggests, “socialism was . . . the most popular political idea ever invented,” it is also undoubtedly the bloodiest. Of course, many who profess socialism are decent and humane people. And it is worth noting that socialism comes in mild as well as tyrannical versions. Muravchik, who was once a socialist himself, pays frequent homage to the generous impulses that lie behind some allotropes of the socialist enterprise. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that “regimes calling themselves socialist have murdered more than one hundred million people since 1917.” Why? . . .

A large part of the answer lies in the intellectual dynamics of utopianism. “Utopia” is Greek for “nowhere”: a made-up word for a make-believe place. The search for nowhere inevitably deprecates any and every “somewhere”. Socialism, which is based on incorrigible optimism about human nature, is a species of utopianism. It experiences the friction of reality as an intolerable brake on its expectations. “Utopians,” the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski observed in “The Death of Utopia Reconsidered,” “once they attempt to convert their visions into practical proposals, come up with the most malignant project ever devised: they want to institutionalize fraternity, which is the surest way to totalitarian despotism.”

If that counts as “legitimizing socialism” then I, as Dorothy Parker said in a different context, am Marie of Roumania.


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