Sunday, March 10, 2019

Communism, socialism, altruism

In November 1987 I delivered a lecture in Paris, France, entitled “Moral Disarmament: Why the West Can’t Fight Communism.” My subject was communism, my theme was that socialists could not effectively fight that evil ideology because at root communists and socialists subscribed to the same basic -ism: altruism. 

Among the audience were prominent European politicians, intellectuals, legislators and judges. In the front row sat Milovan Djilas, described by Wikipedia as a “Yugoslav communist politician, theorist and author. *** A self-identified democratic socialist.” 

Throughout my lecture Djilas looked increasingly uncomfortable and when I concluded, he abruptly left abruptly. He had a lot of company, and rightly so.

Recently I was culling old files and came upon the text of my1987 lecture (sans a record of the Q&A). It is quite a propos to today’s political and cultural movement which seeks to subvert our mostly-capitalism system.

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Remarks of


“Beyond Frontiers” Conference

Paris, France

November 20, 1987

Everyone in this room understands that communism is an evil ideology. All of us know, some only too well, about the seven decades of world-wide communist atrocities, from the frozen gulag to the jungles of Southeast Asia. We recognize that not only has the West failed to oppose communist expansion, but it has done virtually all it could to facilitate the empire’s growth.
Indeed, many eminent persons, some of them among us today, have eloquently proved that communism has long threatened the world's freedom and that, rather than opposing that menace at every turn, the West has more often than not simply capitulated.
This subject has been addressed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Vladimir Bukovsky, JeanFrancois Revel. Indeed, Monsieur Revel has devoted an entire book to a brilliantly incisive exposition of “how democracies perish.”

I do not deny the importance of understanding the long saga of Western weakness in the face of communism, including: giving economic assistance to those who would destroy us; fighting two no-win wars in Asia; abandoning the people of Eastern Europe, Cuba, Nicaragua and Afghanistan; failing adequately to aid African freedom fighters; standing still for construction of the obscene Berlin Wall; ignoring the subversion of democratic nations; legitimizing at Helsinki Soviet World War Il military and political gains; hailing each party-ordained successor to Lenin and Stalin as a new hope for the  “liberalization” of totalitarianism; facilitating the demise of authoritarian allies; and much, much more.
However, as crucial as this understanding is, I am here to say that it is not enough to know merely that the West is losing to communism and how day-by-day, issue-by-issue that loss is caused by what the West does wrong and doesn’t do right. Knowing that and how we're losing does not answer the more fundamental, ultimately decisive question of why.
Some commentators have addressed this question. For example, my friend Vladimir Bukovsky has said quite a lot about the subject in his fine book To Choose Freedom. He posits as reasons for why the West is losing to communism, its own increasingly socialist political-economic systems; its acceptance of the false “war or accommodation,” “peace at any price” alternatives; its fear and evasion of the very real moral danger posed by Soviet imperialism; its failure to understand communist ideology, means and ends; its naive concern that in adopting the necessary policies and in taking the requisite steps to oppose communism, we “became like them”; its ethical relativism, subjectivism and pragmatism; its venal desire to make money, whatever the cost and however many the corpses.

All true.

Bukovsky's point that socialism in the West is a cause of the West's failure to strenuously oppose the advance of communism has been elaborated by Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick in the title essay of her 1982 book Dictatorships and Double Standards:

Because socialism of the Soviet/Chinese/Cuban variety is an ideology rooted in a version of the same values that sparked the enlightenment and the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century; because it is modern and not traditional; because it postulates goals that appeal to Christians as well as to secular values (brotherhood of man, elimination of power as a mode of human relations) , it is highly congenial to many Americans at the symbolic
level. Marxist revolutionaries speak the language of a hopeful future, while traditional autocrats speak the language of an unattractive past. Because left-wing revolutionaries invoke the symbols and values of democracy emphasizing egalitarianism  rather than hierarchy arid privilege, liberty rather than order, activity rather than passivity—they are again accepted as partisans in the cause of freedom and democracy.

But there more to be said, because the socialism of which Mr. Bukovsky and Ambassador Kirkpatrick speak rests on an underlying ethical principle—one which goes a long way toward explaining why democracies perish: the morality of altruisn.

American author Ayn Rand defined altruisn as holding “that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.” She went on to note that “the social system based on and consonant with the altruist morality—with the code of self—sacrifice is socialism, in any or all of its variants; fascism, Nazism, communism. All of them treat man as a sacrificial animal to be immolated for the benefit of the group, the tribe, the society, the state.”
Soviet Russia is the ultimate result, the final product, the full, consistent embodiment of the altruist morality in practice; it represents the only way that that morality can ever be practiced.”
In sum, to the extent that Americans and other Westerners hold the altruist morality, even implicitly, to the extent that they believe, even subconsciously, that individual rights are not absolute and inalienable but rather conditional and subject to disposition by the collective, then they are morally disarmed and thus utterly incapable of consistently and effectively opposing communism at its root. They do not know how to condemn, on moral grounds, communism’s sacrificial principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
In her 1958 forward to her 1937 anti-communist novel We the Living, Ayn Rand wrote about sacrifice and altruism:
When, at the age twelve, at the time of the Russian Revolution, I first heard the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of State, I perceived that this was the central issue, that this principle was evil, and that it could lead to nothing but evil, regardless of any methods, details, decrees, policies, promises and pious platitudes. This was the reason for opposition to Communism then—and it is my reason now. I am still a little astonished, at times, that too many adult Americans do not understand the nature of the fight against Communism as clearly as I understood it at the age of twelve: they continue to believe that only Communist methods are evil, while Communist ideals are noble. All the victories of Communism since the year 1917 are due to that   particular belief among the men who are still free.”

Rand’ s words were written thirty years ago [1957], but they are no less true today: “All the victories of Communism since the year 1917 are due to that particular belief [altruisn] among the men who are still free. "

Ladies and gentlemen, communism is advancing and democracy retreating because, to a considerable extent, the former's foes and the latter's friends—that is, many America and other Western anti-communists, especially writers and other intellectuals—are, at root, not merely socialists, but altruists. They do not eschew the altruist morality, they do not repudiate government control of economic affairs, they not reject wealth redistribution schemes, they do not decry official interference with personal autonomy, they do not accept the principle of absolute, inalienable individual rights.
And so, because socialists are at root altruists, just like communists, socialists are morally disarmed in opposing communism.
And that, friends, is at least one fundamental reason why democracies perish.
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Hence, when today one hears insufferable fools waxing eloquent about the virtues of socialism they should not be opposed with obviously pragmatic reasons--"socialism doesn't work," "it costs too much," "every country that's tried it has failed," "it leads to, or is no different from, communism," etc.
Today's socialists, whether zealots or merely fellow-travelers, must be confronted with their naked principle: that the essence of socialism, of what they believe and want to impose on America, is the sacrifice of some individuals to the actual or perceived needs of others--a primitive, tribal belief that all exist for the benefit of all, that no one owns his or her life. They must be told unflinchingly that socialism is, pure and simple, evil. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Strangely close to reality, exposing feel-good and egocentric Dem/Socialists for the hypochricy of collectivism which is hidden in compassion and concern for the fellow man over self.