To Be Continued
Half a century ago, as a leader of the Young People’s Socialist League, I debated leaders of Young Americans for Freedom. Had you told me that someday I would be chided in National Review, of all places, for being too anti-socialist, I would have thought you were nuts.
That, however, was the thrust of Paul Hollander’s treatment (May 6) of my book, Heaven on Earth: The Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism. Sadly, since writing that, Hollander has died. As passionate anti-Communists, we were comrades-in-arms in Cold War debates. I mourn him. I trust it is speaking no ill to say his criticisms were misplaced.
He included positive words (“an informative introduction”) but taxed me for not stressing “the fundamental differences between authoritarian (or totalitarian) state socialism . . . and social-democratic societies, [which] are politically liberal . . . and seek to reduce economic inequalities through high taxes and . . . social services.”
He objected, too, to including fascism and “African socialism” in my book. Apparently, he did not want the reputation of social democracy tarnished by less savory socialisms. I doubt any reader will come away imagining I view them all alike. But I wanted to trace how this single idea of unparalleled seductive power, “socialism,” weaved its way through history and across the world, shaping the 20th century. It was a phantom, pursued in myriad ways without ever becoming flesh.
True, social democrats did the best with it. Setting out after full-on socialism, they settled instead for welfare states while preserving capitalism, the goose whose eggs paid the bill. While other socialisms exacted appalling human costs, theirs did not.
To Hollander, it seems, that last point is paramount. But Heaven on Earth focuses on the larger story: How did an idea so seemingly humane cause so much suffering?
Mr. Ponnuru may have missed the mark in “The Post-Mueller Presidency” (April 22). He says, “It is [Trump’s] character, and not Russia or health care or immigration or the economy, that has been and remains the top political issue in America.”
It would not matter what Trump’s perceived character flaws were. The Democrats have always slung mud at their opponents. Trump has flaws. We accept that. But he’s the man protecting our nation and what it stands for.
Ramesh Ponnuru responds: How much of the population gets swept up in the debate over a politician’s character, and how much other topics of political conversation get swept aside, varies with the times. During the reelection campaign of George W. Bush the top issue was war and peace. Over the last few years, it has been President Trump’s character. That issue divides Americans into three groups. In descending order of size: those who oppose Trump and cite his character as a principal objection to him; those who support him and emphasize the positive aspects they see in his character; and those who generally disapprove of his character but generally support his policies. Mr. Linstrom has ably stated a position in the debate over the top issue of the moment.