We are in the midst of our National Review Fall 2018 Webathon, which I hope you will support. Let me explain why I think that is important.
I used to teach a persuasive-writing course at The King’s College, and one of the first exercises I would have my students do was to revisit the debate over the Corn Laws, one of the first and most important controversies over free trade. The students would almost always come to the nearly unanimous conclusion that the free-traders had the better side of the debate — which, of course, they did. And then I would put the following question to my students: “If the debate for free trade was won by the free traders in the 19th century, why are we still having the debate today?”
Bad ideas never die: In the past few months, I’ve been obliged to write about price controls, racial discrimination, spectral evidence, expropriation, mercantilism, and, of course, socialism, which is inexplicably resurgent: From aspiring democratic socialists who don’t really understand what’s going on in Scandinavia to dotty “ecosocialists,” the unluckiest political philosophy in history is, at the moment, strangely fashionable among people too young to remember the horrifying suffering it inflicted on the world in the 20th century.
The argument against socialism was won at least 35 years before National Review published its first issue: Ludwig von Mises’s 1920 meditation on “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth” was a crushing intellectual blow to socialism and its “scientific” pretenses. Between then and now, we’ve seen the failure of socialism in its most complete forms, and we still have bits of the Berlin Wall to remind us of that. We’ve seen the failure of so-called democratic socialism in the Nordic countries, which undertook critical market-oriented reforms (the Heritage Foundation today ranks Sweden and Denmark ahead of the United States in economic freedom) to prevent economic and social disaster. We’ve seen the destruction of Venezuela by socialist central planning.
So, why are we still having the debate about socialism today?
The sociologist Talcott Parsons observed that every civilization is regularly invaded by barbarians — in the form of its children. (The proverb sometimes is attributed to Hannah Arendt.) Ours is no exception. Civilizing those little barbarians is a game of inches, and it begins with helping them to understand what is great and admirable and worthy about their patrimony — and what isn’t. And it means developing within the citizens of this republic — and not only the children — the knowledge and capacity to understand why things have turned out so tragically for so many places and for so many good people who wanted and deserved better.
The debate is never won, because it must always be made anew. As T. S. Eliot observed, there are no lost causes, because there are no gained causes. We could win every debate and every election, insert Milton Friedman and Russell Kirk into every curriculum, make Thomas Sowell’s birthday a national holiday, and turn Harvard into Hillsdale — and that work would not be complete. There isn’t any stopping point, because human nature never stops being human nature. The work goes on.
And that work is what we do here at National Review. It is necessary work, and joyful, and it is a blessing for me to be able to dedicate my working hours to it, one for which I owe a debt of gratitude to you, our readers and subscribers, and all those who support the work we do here and who have supported it in the past.
National Review has always been a collaborative effort: I first encountered the magazine because a reader took it upon himself to make sure that my library had a subscription to it. It is easier to find now, because National Review is more than a print magazine: It’s a website, and podcasts, and much more. But it always has been more than a magazine — Bill Buckley did not begin this undertaking because he had an insatiable desire to pay printers’ bills and sell advertisements. He had an idea for a place in which the arguments that have to be made could be made, and he knew that he would require your help in that. We don’t have a billionaire sugar daddy behind us or a corporate overlord underwriting the operation, and we’ve never needed or wanted one. What we have is you, our friends and allies, and I thank you sincerely for your continuing support, which you can give by clicking here.
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