Muravchik in Democratiya: The Neoconservative Persuasion and Foreign Policy

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[I posted about the new edition of Democratiya a few days ago. I’d like to direct your attention to Alan Johnson’s interview with Joshua Muravchik. The interviews in Democratiya are always excellent but this one was of particular interest to me given Mr. Muravchik’s political development. The entire interview is worth reading but this bit stood out for me.]

Part 1: The Fall of Socialism

Johnson: Let’s talk about your book on socialism, which was made into a TV series by PBS. You are not ashamed of your socialist past. You point out that the Socialist Party ‘had no blood on our hands’ and ‘fought communists tooth and nail, often when few others would.’ But you admit to a feeling of embarrassment at having been ‘enthralled by a seductive but false idea that has done a lot of harm to the world.’ [3] The totalitarian impulse, you argue, was ‘there from the beginning’ in ‘socialism’s role as a redemptive creed, a substitute religion.’ Marx’s idea of a leap from a realm of necessity to a realm of freedom, for example, was ‘utterly messianic’, and ‘set the stage for the twentieth century’s great experiments in mass murder by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler.’ This is your argument:

Monotheism had linked cosmology – the understanding of which is a universal human craving – to an ethical system. The establishment of that linkage constituted the single most important step in the progress of mankind. Socialism severed that link. Socialism denied that the path to the kingdom of heaven lay in individual righteousness. Rather it was to be found in political outcomes. The individual could reach it not by striving for moral goodness but by planting himself on the right side of history or of the barricades. [4]

Muravchik: I kept wrestling with the central mystery of socialism. How could something that desired to make things better have instead made things so much worse? Was it that socialists were bad people? From my own experience I am still convinced that most people who embraced the idea of socialism did so from a humane feeling – they wanted the world to be kinder and gentler. Yet socialism’s most important results were quite the opposite. Of course, social democrats did things to humanise society when they were in government, but the overall record of socialism, when you add up both sides of the ledger, is quite appalling.

I concluded that the central problem is asking politics to do something it can’t do – to provide the ‘leap’ that Marx wrote about. This ambition departs entirely from the realities of human existence, which is imperfect and tragic. Life may not be nasty and brutish but it is short and it will always have its share of sadness and disappointment.

[read the interview]

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2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Muravchik in Democratiya: The Neoconservative Persuasion and …

  2. Muravchik’s book “Heaven on Earth” is a must read for anyone who has even a passing interest in Socialism. As this interview demonstrates, Joshua understands the philosophy and why it was so persuasive and evocative this last century.

    The book also happens to be very easy to read, so its size should not scare off any potential readers!

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