Can There Be an “After Socialism”?


By Alan Charles Kors

© 2003 Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation.

There is no “after socialism.” There will not be in our or in our children’s
lifetimes an “after socialism.” In the wake of the Holocaust and the ruins
of Nazism, anti-Semitism lay low a bit, embarrassed by its worst mani-
festation, its actual exercise of state dominion. In the wake of the collapse
of Communism, socialism’s only real and full experience of power, social-
ism too lays low for just a moment. Socialism’s causes in the West,
however, remain ever with us, the product of the convergence of two extra-
ordinary achievements: liberal free enterprise and political democracy. The
former creates wealth that has transformed all human possibility, but it also
gives rise to particularly deep envy. The latter allows ambition a route to
power by an appeal to the democratic state to seize and redistribute wealth
in the name of social equality. As Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises
understood perfectly, the bounty of free enterprise leads the unproductive
to believe that such wealth is a fact of nature, there for the taking.

Socialism means the abolition of private property, profit, and voluntary
exchange. It means the organization of the production and distribution of
goods and services —that is, of the fruits of human invention, innovation,
thought, risk, talent, and labor —by political planners who allegedly know
both what people need and how to satisfy that need. It means the expro-
priation and allotment of wealth according to those planners’ sense of
value. Socialism may be understood by any child. It is taking other peo-
ple’s stuff. It is also the rash and ignorant slaughter of the goose that lays
the golden eggs. That story is folkloric and enduring, however, precisely
because it reflects something deep in human nature. Thus, one only could
speak realistically of an “after socialism” if one eliminated envy, resent-
ment, force, irrationalism, and political ambition from our affairs. That,
however, would be in another world.

It will not be difficult —it already is not difficult —for socialism to change
its now quaint name a bit, where necessary, while still forging resentment,
ambition, fantasy, and the mania for planning other people’s lives into a
powerful political, economic, and ultimately cultural agenda. The full
dream and millennial religion of nineteenth-century socialism perhaps no
longer moves either masses, masters, or martyrs, but its underlying im-
pulses and values remain potent and active. Politicians and demagogues,
“after socialism,” do and will appeal successfully against property, profit,
economic liberty, and “the market.” It was “after socialism” that Lionel
Jospin and his Socialist Party swept to power in France on the platform of creating jobs by reducing the allowable work week at the same rate of
pay. It is “after socialism” that “the Third Way” has achieved such prom-
inence, one of the abandoned “ways” being reliance upon the economic
liberty of voluntary exchange. It is “after socialism” that we see the most
classically liberal society in the world drawn toward the central planning
of health care and pharmaceutical distribution. It is “after socialism” that
we see more and more control of economic life given to international
boards of alleged experts. This occurs in the midst of the supposed tri-
umph of free enterprise occasioned by the catastrophe of centralized
economic regimes. To believe that the future will be less susceptible than
the present to demagoguery, envy, and the myth of planning would be a
foolish act of faith. It is by no means clear to whom the future belongs.

One should heed Mises’s preface to the second English edition (1951) of
his magisterial work on socialism, Die Gemeinwirtschaft: Untersuchungen
über den Sozialismus (1922). Mises warned us not to confuse “mutual
rivalries among the various totalitarian movements” —the struggle be-
tween statist anti-Communists (e.g., New Dealers and Western European
socialists) and Communists —with the deeper “great ideological conflict
of our age” —the struggle between supporters of “a market economy”
and supporters of “totalitarian government control.” 1 Mises was wrong,
in historical context, to minimize in any way the conflict between New
Dealers and Western European socialists, on the one hand, and Bolshe-
viks, on the other, because the very possibility of human liberty depended
upon the defeat of Communism. He was also wrong to argue, in the face
of a Communism for which living human beings were nothing but a
means toward an end, that it did not matter very much which set of social
and economic engineers controlled the apparatus of the planning state.
Mises never seemed fully to understand —if to understand at all —the
indivisibility of self-ownership in all spheres and of economic liberty. In
the long run, however, he was right that freedom still depended ulti-
mately on the outcome of the struggle between private property, private
enterprise, voluntary production, and voluntary exchange, on the one
hand, and central planning, on the other.

Hayek and Mises were at one in believing that central planning had an
economic, social, ideological, cultural, historical, and, ultimately, totaliz-
ing logic. In terms of fundamental economic theory, they both understood
the obviousness of what appeared inane to most contemporary Western
intellectuals: that the more complex a society and economy, the more
impossible and incoherent the task of central planning becomes. Without
the price mechanism to reflect the choices of individuals, there is no
efficacious way to discover and allocate economic knowledge or to har-
monize the activities of disparate actors toward human satisfaction. More deeply, in terms of the most profound consequences for human life and society, both Hayek and Mises understood that central planning placed us, in Hayek’s phrase, on “the road to serfdom.”

In the late 1920s, Communists began to distinguish analytically be-
tween “socialism” and “communism.” Departing from Marx, who cer-
tainly appeared to use the terms interchangeably, the Communist Party of
the USSR —and, hence, the world Communist movement —argued that
“socialism” was a transitional stage between capitalism and a final “com-
munism.” In some sense, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) —though
much, much more than this —was a sustained argument that independent
of intention, “democratic socialism” also could only be transitional to-
ward something else.2 It would not be toward utopia, however, but in-
eluctably toward something akin to Soviet Communism, the totalitarianism
that was the final stage of the abolition of economic and social liberty.

At the heart of this argument lay Hayek’s chilling, inductively correct,
and, in its predictive reach, prescient chapter, “Why the Worst Get on
Top.” Hayek argued that it was no accident of time or place, specific to
Nazism or Bolshevism, that the concentration of power over all life in a
centrally planned society attracted and rewarded the morally worst. Per-
sons of what views, personalities, and behaviors would succeed politi-
cally in a collectivist system? In Hayek’s view, they would be the strong
and aggressive. They would be the least scrupulous about the choice of
means. They would be men who attracted and coalesced around them the
simultaneously submissive and ruthless. They would be demagogues
who could rally the docile, gullible, and passive. They would be lead-
ers who skillfully divided society into a “we” and a dangerous “they”
and who succeeded, also, in linking socialism to a virulent and popular
nationalism and anticosmopolitanism. Above all, they would be those
who took power not as a necessary evil, but as the very goal itself.3

In a competitive society, Hayek reasoned, economic and political power
were split, and no one could have more than a fraction of the breathtaking
dominion available to those who planned the economic, social, educa-
tional, and cultural lives of a society in its totality. Economic power over
the whole life of another person, however, centralized as political power,
created a society of virtual slaves. It is slavemasters who seek to rule
slaves, in a society in which the ruler’s decisions about “the good of the
whole” override all the prescriptions and prohibitions of individualist
ethics and law. In such a society, those with concrete ideals of right and
wrong will flee the immediate service of a ruler. Those “literally capable
of everything,” in Hayek’s words, will rise to positions just below a ruler
whose primary passion in life is the love of being obeyed. It is not just that
the indulgent, principled, and restrained will not find power in a collectivist society, but that the very worst alone will succeed. Whatever the
ideals, whatever the initial intentions, whatever the source of early so-
cialist conviction, there are systemic institutional and psychological rea-
sons why socialism will always lead to serfdom and the sacrifice of

Hayek’s analysis has never been the common view in the West, and
least of all in political Europe and in American intellectual circles. The
collapse of the European Communist regimes would only entail disillu-
sionment with the substance of socialism under other names if the latter
were linked, in the Western mind, to the catastrophic experience of the
former. There is no reason to believe that this has occurred. Let us exam-
ine, for a point of reference, the first wave of significant disillusionment
that swept across Europe and the West in the 1930s in response to the
perceived “excesses” of Stalinism or, indeed, to the sense that it had not
succeeded in accomplishing the Bolshevist dream. Note well, to under-
stand the nature of such intellectual anti-Stalinism, that in the case of
Nazism, there were no significant works that spoke of “disillusionment”
because national socialism had failed to fulfill appropriately the rightful
ideal of tribalism, exclusive and expansive nationalism, the corporate
state, and the führer principle. The anti-Communist texts of greatest ap-
peal to Western intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s, however, generally
reached the conclusion that Communism had failed to achieve the right-
ful socialist ideal. Although many reached to the existential autonomy of
the individual’s experience, not one of them concluded on behalf of clas-
sical liberal society and its system of private property, free enterprise,
voluntary exchange, and individual rights.

George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938) celebrated above all, as the
antithesis of Communism, the anarcho-syndicalism that he saw as the
most antiliberal strata of the Spanish Left. Communism, in contrast, was
decidedly “bourgeois.” Orwell’s ineffable 1984 (1949) touched on the per-
sonal liberty of the private life and the life of the mind, but not on the
economic liberty that has been the greatest friend of both. The final trag-
edy of his brilliant Animal Farm (1945) was that the leadership of the
revolution has become just like the bourgeoisie. Arthur Koestler’s Dark-
ness at Noon (1940) —the deepest, most moving, and most compelling
analysis and criticism of Communist moral logic ever penned on the
Left —dreamed of a future in which the socialist struggle against “eco-
nomic fatality” would be joined to a universal sense of humanity and
absolute ethics.

Few anti-Communist works have had more influence or a longer shelf
life than The God That Failed (1949), edited by Richard Crossman, the
British socialist and Labour Member of Parliament.5 The essays of political disillusionment in this anthology are stunning pieces. They explain more compellingly and empathetically than any other work the appeal of Communism to its intellectual devotees. They make vivid and credible the nightmarish experience of participation in the Communist movement (or of fellow-traveling) during the interwar period, the cognitive dissonance of remaining involved long after one should have seen the betrayal of one’s ideals, and the pain and moral necessity of a final break. They also conclude, every one of them, with an ongoing rejection of a liberal, and, above all, an economically liberal society.

Crossman’s introduction made plain that the appeal of Marxism was
that “it exploded liberal fallacies —which really were fallacies.” He de-
picted the intellectual underpinnings of free enterprise as the belief in
“automatic Progress” and the denial “that boom and bust are inherent in
capitalism.” He determined that “no intelligent man after 1917” could
have chosen liberal “dogma,” and given only two choices, any honest
mind would have chosen Communism. Fortunately, however, Crossman
opined, “two world wars and two totalitarian revolutions” had taught the
Western democracies of their need “to provide an alternative to world
revolution by planning the co-operation of free peoples.” 6

In his essay in The God That Failed, Koestler compared his time with
the Communist Party to Jacob’s finding himself with Leah, not the
beloved and beautiful Rachel. Communism, he claimed, presented it-
self under false appearances. He hoped that he, like Jacob, would be
given,  after  appropriate  labor,  the  reality  of  Rachel.7 Ignazio  Silone

spoke of his “faith in Socialism” being “more alive than ever in me.”
Socialist theories, he decided, were transient and unimportant. “Social-
ist values,” on the other hand, were “permanent,” and on the basis of
them, “one can found a culture, a civilization, a new way of living
together among men.” 8 Richard Wright concluded of the Communists,
“They’re blind……… Their enemies have blinded them with too much

oppression.” Nevertheless, he said to himself, “I’ll be for them, even though they are not for me.” 9

André Gide, whose essay in Crossman’s anthology was taken from his
Retour de l’U.R.S.S. (1936) and his Retouches à mon Retour de l’U.R.S.S. (1937), was disillusioned with Communism both because of its trampling of artistic independence and, above all, because he found in the Soviet Union “privileges and differences where I hoped to find equality.” Soviet workers, he noted, “are no longer exploited by shareholding capitalists, but nevertheless they are exploited,” and “all the bourgeois vices and failings are still dormant, in spite of the Revolution.” Stalin’s Russia, for Gide, was “the same old capitalist society.” 10 In his essay, Louis Fischer turned to Gandhi, not Western democratic socialism, and called for a “Double Rejection” of competing liberal and Communist systems.11 Stephen Spender was emphatic in his own form of double rejection. Al-
though he held out no hope for Communism, he felt that “if it could
achieve internationalism and the socialization of the means of produc-
tion, [it] might establish a world which would not be a mass of automatic
economic contradictions.” He assured his readers that “no criticism of the
Communists removes the arguments against capitalism.” Indeed, he ar-
gued that “America, the greatest capitalist country, seems to offer no
alternative to war, exploitation, and destruction of the world’s resources.” 12

Indeed, “socialism” almost never has been judged, as a goal and value,
by the experience of Communism in power. Like the Marxists themselves,
however, Hayek rightly asked his century to judge forms of human so-
ciety not by their ideals, but by their living incarnations. Let us do this.
The goal of socialism was to reap the cultural, scientific, creative, and
communal rewards of abolishing private property and free markets, and
to end human tyranny. Using the command of the state, Communism
sought to create this socialist society. What in fact occurred was the achieve-
ment of power by a group of inhumane despots: Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-
tung, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro, Mengitsu, Ceaucescu,
Hoxha, and so on, and so on. On the whole, these despots ruled (and
some still rule, personally or dynastically) until old age. Traditionalist
societies were supposed to be the ones that valued the aged, but revolu-
tionary societies gave us undreamed-of lessons in gerontocracy. Hayek
didn’t know the half of it in 1944: “the worst” loved and clung on to
ruthless power at all costs. We are invited now to discuss what follows
these tyrants, and what lessons we have learned from them, and what
sort of world might emerge from the loss of belief in Communism. There
is one problem, however: the bodies.

We are surrounded by slain innocents, and the scale is wholly new. This
is not the thousands killed during the Inquisition; it is not the thousands
of American lynching. This is not the six million dead from Nazi exter-
mination. The best scholarship yields numbers that the mind must try to
comprehend: scores, and scores, and scores, and scores of millions of
bodies.13 All around us. If we count those who died of starvation during
Communists’ experiments with human interactions —twenty to forty million in three years in China alone14 —we may add scores of millions more.
Shot; dead by deliberate exposure; starved; and murdered in work camps
and prisons meant to extract every last fiber of labor from human beings
and then kill them. And all around us, widows and widowers and orphans.

No cause, ever, in the history of all mankind, has produced more cold-
blooded tyrants, more slaughtered innocents, and more orphans than
socialism with power. It surpassed, exponentially, all other systems of
production in turning out the dead. The bodies are all around us. And
here is the problem: No one talks about them. No one honors them. No
one does penance for them. No one has committed suicide for having
been an apologist for those who did this to them. No one pays for them.
No one is hunted down to account for them. It is exactly what Solzhen-
itsyn foresaw in The Gulag Archipelago: “No, no one would have to answer.
No one would be looked into.” 15 Until that happens, there is no “after

The West accepts an epochal, monstrous, unforgivable double stan-
dard. We rehearse the crimes of Nazism almost daily, we teach them to
our children as ultimate historical and moral lessons, and we bear witness
to every victim. We are, with so few exceptions, almost silent on the
crimes of Communism. So the bodies lie among us, unnoticed, every-
where. We insisted upon “de-Nazification,” and we excoriate those who
tempered it in the name of new or emerging political realities. There
never has been and never will be a similar “de-Communization,” al-
though the slaughter of innocents was exponentially greater, and al-
though those who signed the orders and ran the camps remain. In the
case of Nazism, we hunt down ninety-year-old men because “the bones
cry out” for justice. In the case of Communism, we insisted on “no witch
hunts” —let the dead bury the living. But the dead can bury no one.

Our artists rightly obsess on the lesser but still immeasurable Holo-
caust, which lasted several years, and when we watch “Night and Fog,”
“Shoah,” “Schindler’s List,” and almost countless other films, we weep,
we lament, and we rededicate the humane parts of our souls. The greater
Communist holocaust, which lasted decade after decade —the great char-
nel house of human history —educes no such art. Its one tender, modest
film, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” based on Solzhenitsyn’s
novel, is almost never replayed and cannot be found for purchase. The
Communist holocaust should have brought forth a flowering of Western
art, and witness, and sympathy. It should have called forth an overflow-
ing ocean of tears. Instead, it has called forth a glacier of indifference.
Kids who in the 1960s had portraits of Mao and Che on their college
walls —the moral equivalent of having hung portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, or Horst Wessel in one’s dorm —now teach our children about the moral
superiority of their political generation. Every historical textbook lingers
on the crimes of Nazism, seeks their root causes, and announces a lesson
that should be learned. Everyone knows the number “six million.” By con-
trast, it is always “the mistakes” of Communism or of Stalinism (repeated,
by mistake, again, and again, and again). Ask college freshmen how
many died under Stalin’s regime, and they will answer, even now, “Thou-
sands? Tens of thousands?” This is the equivalent of believing that Hitler
killed “hundreds” of Jews. The scandal of such ignorance does not derive
from this or that textbook, but from an intellectual culture’s willful blind-
ness to the catastrophe of its relative sympathies. Chile offered refuge and
asylum to Erich Honecker, the tyrant of East Germany who wanted the
tanks in the streets —it is time to bury the past without rancor, everyone
said —but clamors now for “justice” for Augusto Pinochet. On the same
day that Spain indicted Chile’s Pinochet, it welcomed, with honors, Cuba’s
Castro, while Castro’s critics or naysayers —or any groups, like gays, that
annoyed the tyrant —lie dead, rot in prison, or try to recover from the
deadly work camps to which he sent them. Most of Europe has outlawed
the neo-Nazis, but the French Communist Party has been, from 1999 to
2002, part of a ruling government. One may not fly the swastika, but one
may hoist the hammer and sickle at official events. The denial of Hitler’s
dead or the minimization of the Jewish Holocaust is, literally, a crime in
most of Europe. In contrast, the denial or minimization of Communist
crimes is an intellectual and political art form. The most recent of Communist
mass murderers, Pol Pot and his Communist Khmer Rouge, enslaved a
people and slaughtered a fifth to a fourth of the entire Cambodian pop-
ulation (as if an American regime had murdered some fifty-six to seventy
million of its people). Pol Pot learned his politics in Paris from the French
Left, and he was supported, above all, by his Chinese Communist patrons.
The consensus about him today, however, is that he was an aberrational
creation not of his beliefs, values, and allies, but of American bombing on
behalf of anti-Communism in Indochina. The bones of Cambodia and the
millions who risked death to flee Communist Vietnam and Laos for an un-
certain life anywhere else tell us about the value —though not the tactical
wisdom —of the anti-Communist cause there too. “Antifascist” is a term of
honor, where “anti-Communist” is a term of ridicule and abuse. Therefore
the dead lie among us, ignored, and anyone with moral eyes sees them, by
their absence from our moral consciousness, spilling naked out of the tele-
vision and movie screens, frozen in pain in our classrooms, and sprawled,
unburied, across our politics and our culture. They sit next to us at our
conferences. There could not have been an “after Nazism” without the
recognition, the accounting, the justice, and the remembrance. Until we
deal with the Communist dead, there is no “after socialism.”

The record is truly plain. Socialism, wherever it actually had the means
to plan a society, to pursue efficaciously its vision of the abolition of private property, economic inequality, and the allocation of capital and
goods by free markets, culminated in the crushing of individual, eco-
nomic, religious, associational, and political liberty. Its collectivization of
agriculture alone led to untold suffering, scarcity, and contempt for prop-
erty as the fruit of labor. It was, at its best, the ability, through horror and
servitude, to build Gary, Indiana once, without the good stuff, and with-
out the ability even to maintain it. Socialism in power produced relative
poverty, murderous inefficiency, arbitrary inequality, cronyism, enslave-
ment, concentration camps, torture, terror, the destruction of civil society,
ecological disaster, brutal secret police, and systemic tyranny. Everywhere
it ruled, there were, beyond our ability to comprehend their courage or
their suffering, those who endured solitary confinement, sleep depriva-
tion, the sadistic infliction of pain, and slow or rapid death because they
said “No,” because they criticized their rulers, because they would not
denounce their friends and colleagues, or simply because they annoyed,
for whatever reason —even with a joke —a Communist with power. Until
we come to terms with all these crimes and victims, there will be no “after
socialism.” To be moral beings, we must acknowledge these awful things
appropriately and bear witness to the responsibilities of these most mur-
derous times. Until socialism —like Nazism or fascism confronted by the
death camps and the slaughter of innocents —is confronted with its lived
reality, the greatest atrocities of all recorded human life, we will not live
“after socialism.”

It will not happen. The pathology of Western intellectuals has commit-
ted them to an adversarial relationship with the culture —free markets
and individual rights —that has produced the greatest alleviation of suf-
fering, the greatest liberation from want, ignorance, and superstition, and
the greatest increase of bounty and opportunity in the history of all hu-
man life. No one has explained the etiology of this pathology adequately,
although it constitutes one of the deepest flaws and tragedies of societies
based on free markets and individual rights, the most radically progres-
sive civilizations that the planet has seen thus far. It is a pathology that
with each passing decade becomes coarser and more detached from any
principle of reality.

This pathology allows Western intellectuals to step around the Everest
of bodies of the victims of Communism without a tear, a scruple, a regret,
an act of contrition, or a reevaluation of self, soul, and mind. In his essay
in The God That Failed, Spender noted that it was a general human moral
failure to treat in categorically different fashion the various victims of
history. He meant his observation, correctly, to describe the adherents of
all ideologies and political camps, but his judgment is vital to under-
standing why Communism’s countless bodies —the Holocaust at least ten
times over —can remain among us. When men pursue a political course,
Spender wrote, human beings who stand with them become “vivid and
real . . . real human beings with flesh and blood and sympathies like yourself.” By contrast, those who stand in the way of their cause become
“abstractions . . . tiresome, unreasonable, unnecessary theses, whose lives
are so many false statements.” In the first case, they see “corpses”; in the
second case, they see “words.” 16 We and our children are educated,
entertained, instructed, informed, and given art by individuals who do
not see this unspeakable mass of piled bodies, but see only words about

The cognitive behavior of Western intellectuals faced with the accom-
plishments of their own society, on the one hand, and with the socialist
ideal and then the socialist reality, on the other, takes one’s breath away.
In the midst of unparalleled social mobility in the West, they cry “caste.”
In a society of munificent goods and services, they cry either “poverty” or
“consumerism.” In a society of ever richer, more varied, more productive,
more self-defined, and more satisfying lives, they cry “alienation.” In a
society that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities,
and gays and lesbians to an extent that no one could have dreamed
possible just fifty years ago, they cry “oppression.” In a society of bound-
less private charity, they cry “avarice.” In a society in which hundreds of
millions have been free riders upon the risk, knowledge, and capital of
others, they decry the “exploitation” of the free riders. In a society that
broke, on behalf of merit, the seemingly eternal chains of station by birth,
they cry “injustice.” In the names of fantasy worlds and mystical perfec-
tions, they have closed themselves to the Western, liberal miracle of in-
dividual rights, individual responsibility, merit, and human satisfaction.
Like Marx, they put words like “liberty” in quotation marks when these
refer to the West. Note well, of course, that when an enemy arose that
truly hated Western intellectuals —fascism and Nazism —and whose de-
feat depended upon the West’s self-belief, intellectuals had no difficulty
at all in defining and indeed popularizing a contest between good and

This intellectual behavior is a pathology that freezes time selectively to
suit its purposes. The first economic dislocations of capitalist industrial-
ization became the intellectuals’ model for the future that would emerge
from such dynamism, as if one should ignore the process that raised
previously unimaginable numbers of human beings to a dignified, free
life, protected as never before from helplessness before nature and men.
Russia from 1914 to 1917 became frozen for all time, with war and Ras-
putin being the only alternative to Stalinism, as if the curve of Russian
economic and social development by the early twentieth century did not
point to energetic and promising change. Once able to mobilize large
numbers at any moment, Communists were given a right to permanent
and absolute power, as if the Republican Party of 1920, which at least won
an honest election, had gained a permanent right to govern America and to choose the party’s own successors. The pathology also allowed one
simply to ignore history and to restake one’s claims anew with no ac-
countability for the past. First Stalin, then Mao, then Castro, then Ho Chi
Minh and the Khmer Rouge, and then the Sandinistas, truly ad nauseum.

The intellectual manifestation of this pathology was and is a collective
delusion that ignores both history and ethology. It is a belief that good-
ness, stable order, justice, peace, freedom, legal equality, mutual forbear-
ance, and kindness are the default state of things in human affairs, and
that malice, disorder, violence, coercion, legal inequality, intolerance, and
cruelty are the aberrations that stand in need of historical explanation.
Getting the defaults precisely and systematically wrong, Western intel-
lectuals fail to understand and appreciate the form of society that has
given us the ability to alter them. The pathology is also the demented
belief that evolved successful societies may be redrawn at will by intel-
lectuals with political power and that the most productive human cul-
tures are almost wholly dysfunctional.

Rousseau and all the Marxisizing intellectuals who have cast their dark-
ness over the past one hundred years and more have had it all backward
in this domain. It is not aversion to difference that requires historical
explanation —aversion to difference is the human condition. Rather, it is
liberal society’s partial but breathtaking ability to overcome tribalism and
exclusion that demands elucidation, above all in the singular American
accomplishment. Tyranny and abuse of power have also been the human
condition. It is, in contrast, the limitation of power and the recognition of
individual rights that demand historical explanation. It is not slavery that
startles, because slavery is one of the most universal of all human insti-
tutions. Rather, it is the view of self-ownership, liberty, and voluntary
labor that requires historical explanation, the values and agencies by
which the West identified slavery as an evil, and, to what should be our
wonder, abolished it. Western intellectuals write, dramatically, as if it
were relative pockets of Western poverty that should occasion our aston-
ishment, when in fact the term until recently for almost infinitely worse
absolute levels of poverty was simply “life.” What generally remains
unaddressed by our secular intellectuals is the question of what values,
institutions, knowledge, behaviors, risks, and liberties allowed the West
to create such prosperity that we even notice such relative poverty at all,
let alone believe that it is eradicable. Tragically, the very effort to overturn
the evolved systems and values of the West has produced the most ex-
treme examples in history of, precisely, malice, disorder, violence, coer-
cion, legal inequality, intolerance, and cruelty.

Ironically, of course, the main traditions of socialism and Communism
both claimed Marxist credentials, and the Marxists surely had one argu-
ment right: we should judge human systems, in the final analysis, not as
theories and ideal abstractions, but as actual history and practice. In
ineffable bad faith, they applied that measure to everything except what allegedly mattered the most to them. From one end of the earth to the
other, Marxist intellectuals, propagandists, professors, and apologists never
contrasted the existing “socialist world” with the more or less liberal
societies of Western Europe and North America. They contrasted, instead,
a fictional perfect society that never was to an existing imperfect society
that had accomplished actual wonders. Marxists were fond of denounc-
ing such antirealism as “philosophical idealism” when they condemned
it in others. It was they, however, who feigned an ideal world of their own
spinning —it was they, that is, who were always the most antirealist of all.
It is fitting, now that historical evidence has taken everything away from
Marxism, that its heirs —the anti-Western postmodernists of the cultural
Left —should embrace that antirealism explicitly, as a chosen cast of mind.

The gulf between a realistic appraisal of the socialist dream of the
twentieth century and the socialist reality is both vast and largely ig-
nored. This appraisal could have occurred time and time again through-
out the past three generations, and those who in fact did it well should be
among the lionized intellectuals in our midst or memory. In fact, they
remain —pockets of recognition aside —the most marginalized. The gulf
between what central planning has brought us and what individual eco-
nomic and social liberty has brought us should be, given the intellectual
and moral passions engaged in the contest between these two visions, the
most studied phenomenon of our times. One looks in vain for the fruits
of such study —or, indeed, such study itself —in our textbooks, schools,
colleges, and universities, and in both federally funded and philanthropi-
cally funded research. Economists who might understand such things
rarely do economic history, though it could shed the light of the pro-
foundest human experience across the fields of theory. Historians who do
the so-called economic and social history of capitalism still teach the
history of the world’s greatest liberation and enhancement of human life
as the history of repression (objective and internalized), regimentation,
mystification, degradation, and waste. The humanities in general have
become schools of “oppression studies” in the very societies that have
extended more freedom, choice, and bounty than humanity has ever
known. Everyone who cares about this should take one afternoon to
wander the aisles of required reading at a local college bookstore and to
examine college syllabi. It is far, far worse than you surely think, even if
you are a pessimist.

What should have occurred “after socialism”? Think just upon the
American experience. For almost fifty years, the United States sacrificed
its wealth and, at times, the lives of its young to contain armed Commu-
nism. Its brave pilots risked their lives by skimming the hills of Western
Europe (and, above all, of West Germany) —such perilous training was a
prerequisite of any deterrence and defense —to the great annoyance of the
picnickers whose liberty depended upon such risk and, often, sacrifice. Its
submariners left comfort, family, and friends behind to make full deterrence real. It did whatever it had to do to prevent the armed Bolsheviks
from achieving tactical or strategic superiority, an anti-Communism not
to be confused, as it is now, with ordinary, long-term American and
Russian diplomatic history. It ran itself into staggering debt to meet the
final Soviet military buildup. It sustained its will even when its young,
its artists, its professors, its authors, and its filmmakers turned against
the alleged folly of such efforts. It obsessed on Communism and anti-
Communism. It was haunted by its and its enemy’s bombs and missiles,
and by the national-defense strategy of “mutually assured destruction.”
This was the burden the United States chose to bear, and then, in a
seeming miracle, the fatal weaknesses of tyranny, central planning, and
illiberalism were actualized in the collapse of European Communism.
Now, it could do a real accounting of what it had fought to preserve and
to prevent.

To say the least, there was and is no rush to do the accounting that
ought to have been the most urgent and welcome task confronting an
America suddenly free of its long, heroic charge and of its worst fears.
What might an optimist have expected? The list is long: An anti-Communist
epiphany. A festival of celebration. A flowering of comparative scholar-
ship about them and us. A full accounting of the Communist reality —
political, economic, moral, ecological, social, cultural, and so on. (What
wouldn’t one want to know?) A rededication to the principles that
underlay —from our side —the differences. A set of profound, anguished,
and soul-searching mea culpas from all of those who, without malice, had
been tragically wrong. An acute sensitivity to the nature and policies of
persisting Communist regimes. A revision of curriculum. A recognition of
the ineffable value of a truly limited government.

Examine any one of these perfectly reasonable expectations, and the
data are grimly discouraging. What has fallen into place at all, let alone
with flash of insight, for those who teach, comment upon, or write about
such things? Have they turned to Mises or Hayek, to the dissidents, or to
those few historians who told the truth all along, avidly reading those
perspectives from which Communism had been rightly and deeply un-
derstood? Have they even connected the dots between Marx, Lenin, Sta-
lin, Mao, and Castro? Where were the fêtes, the outpourings of joy, at the
triumph of liberal civilization? Leonard Bernstein played Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony in Berlin, in the shadow of the Wall, and substituted
Freiheit (freedom) for Freude ( joy). Where else did events like this occur?
And why not? There have been more jeremiads about the world being
adrift than jeroboams of champagne celebrating the defeat of the oppres-
sive evil armed with nuclear arms. Then again, when Ronald Reagan
uttered his notorious phrase to describe the Soviet Union, “evil empire,”
it occasioned only derision among almost all commentators.

Imagine if World War II had ended with a European Nazi empire, from
the Urals to the Channel, soon armed with nuclear weapons, in a mortal contest with the United States, with peace kept only by deterrence. Imag-
ine an evolution from a Hitler to an Albert Speer. Would the children of
the Left have led songs of “All we are saying is give peace a chance”
beneath symbols of unilateral disarmament? Would American opposition
to Nazi influence anywhere, let alone the Nazi securing of bases in the
Western Hemisphere, have led to domestic charges of our being the im-
perialist “world policeman”? Would our intellectuals have mocked or
cheered the phrase “evil empire”? What were the differences? Deaths?
Camps? The desolation of the flesh and of the spirit? The bodies will not
be buried without an answer to this. How we celebrated the fall of Na-
zism and the blasting down of the swastika. How mute we were in 1989
during what should have been (and still should be), at the least, the
solemnization of the fall of the world’s most powerful hammer and sickle,
symbol of the ultimate slaughter. If it had been the Third Reich’s swastika
that had fallen after two generations of cold war, the joy and catharsis
would have lit our cities. Do our intellectuals, our politicians, and our
teachers believe or disbelieve what Solzhenitsyn stated so directly about
the Soviets?

[N]o other regime on earth could compare with it either in the number of those it had done to death, in hardiness, in the range of its ambitions, in its thoroughgoing and unmitigated totalitarianism — no, not even the regime of its pupil Hitler.17

After generations of conflict between two systems, where now is the
excitement of comparative scholarship? From the economists to the cul-
tural scholars of gender and sexuality to the ecologists, history now has
opened a vast terrain in which to study the differences in real terms
between private property and commons, markets and planning, and in-
dividual rights and collective purpose. Have the Greens, in anguished
study of centrally planned pollution of air and water, discovered the
tragedy of the commons? Are historians teaching their students any dif-
ferently about the human consequences of free markets in a real world of
comparative phenomena? Have our Foucauldians and postmodernists
reexamined their own premises in the light of intensive study of gender
and sexuality behind the Iron Curtain or, indeed, so close by in Cuba? It
is extraordinary that we do not have an intellectual, moral, and, above all,
historical accounting of who was right and wrong, and why, in their
analyses of socialism and of socialism in power. We live in an era of
appalling bad faith.

The contestation between liberal and socialist societies and visions had
been the defining condition of Western lives and debates, so now, where
is even the effort toward an empirical and moral ledger? The Black Book ofCommunism has had influence only in France (which notwithstanding
elected, soon after the book’s publication, a front of Socialist Party and
Communist Party deputies and ministers). Where else? Why has it never
penetrated American life —or even college bookstores —when it answers
the question that should be most on everyone’s mind? What will we teach
the children? Was deterrence, for example, worth it? Soon after the Berlin
Wall came down, my children’s high school, in a conservative school
district —and the case is not atypical —did a week on the cold war. Their
one supplement to discussion was the antidefense film “Fail-Safe.” A year
later, their textbook explained how the saintly Gorbachev led the “cow-
boy” Reagan down the road to peace. Far, far worse, our children do not
know what happened, in any domain, under socialism in power. Those
who depend on our media and our films do not know. The strength of
even relatively free enterprise and relatively limited government will
ensure that our civilization lives on, prosperous and strong by any his-
torical standard. It does so without self-belief, however, without moral
understanding of its place in the drama of organized human life, and
without an accounting of both the scores of millions of dead and of the
societies and beliefs that butchered them.

There is no revivification of the principles that separated us from the
socialists in power. “You put private property ahead of people” remains
a potent malediction, as if we had not learned sufficiently and amply that
the former is essential to the well-being, dignity, liberty, and lives of the
latter. “You put profits ahead of people” remains of equal force, as if we
had not learned sufficiently that profits are the measure of other people’s
satisfactions of want and desire. Indeed, it is precisely to avoid the re-
vivification of classical liberal principles that our teachers, professors,
information media, and filmmakers ignore the comparative inquiry that
the time so urgently demands.

Indeed, it is precisely because of the lessons that would be taught by
knowledge and truth that no revision of the curriculum occurs. For at
least a generation, intellectual contempt for liberal society —as a civiliza-
tion, a set of institutions, and a constellation of ideals —has been at the
core of the humanities and soft social sciences. This has accelerated, not
changed, despite the fact that now there is no intellectual excuse for
ignoring certain verities. We know that voluntary exchange among indi-
viduals held morally responsible under the rule of law creates both pros-
perity and an unparalleled diversity of human choices. Such a model also
has been a precondition of individuation and freedom. By contrast, re-
gimes of central planning create poverty and occasion ineluctable devel-
opments toward totalitarianism and the worst abuses of power. Dynamic
free-market societies, grounded in rights-based individualism, have al-
tered the entire human conception of liberty and of dignity for formerly
marginalized groups. The entire “socialist experiment,” by contrast, ended
in stasis, ethnic hatreds, the absence of even the minimal preconditions of economic, social, and political renewal, and categorical contempt for both
individuation and minority rights. Our children do not know this true

When our political and media leaders examine the ongoing Communist
regimes —in China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia —
however transformed some of these may or may not appear, their minds’
gaze should be informed by the history we know and by the bodies we
ignore. Think, yet again, upon the historical double standard. When the
right-wing Joerg Haider achieved political success in Austria —by dem-
ocratic means, no less —the governments of Western Europe made him a
virtual pariah or outlaw for his symbolic or rhetorical ties to the Hitler of
two generations ago. Fine. And the ruling Communist heirs of Stalin and
Mao? In terms of death and suffering, the laogai of China should be more
infamous than the concentration camps of Germany and German con-
quest, and, indeed, they are yet more extraordinary because they are with
us still. By the most serious estimates, perhaps fifty million individuals
have passed through them.18 Good scholarship suggests that in the 1950s
and 1960s, close to 10 percent of all Tibetans never returned from prison
camps, and severe political repression and the attempt to destroy one of
the world’s remarkable cultures continue apace.19 Out of eleven million
Cubans, two million now live abroad, and we will never have a full count
of the multitudes who have died trying to escape.20 Indeed, in all of these
countries with Communist regimes, the right of exit —“Love it or leave it”
is immeasurably far from the worst of mottoes —in fact is still a crime. In
North Korea, which is building nuclear arms, a nation starves because of
the folly of its planners, while across the border, South Korea has evolved
humanely and productively both economically and politically in one short
generation. Yes, world peace, world stability, and even a strategy for the
change of enslaved societies may well counsel normalization of relations
with all of these murderous regimes. We should do this, however, with
eyes open, and do everything possible for the victims. In addition, there
must be moral lines that we will not cross.

As for the mea culpas, we await them in vain from those who claim not
to have known or who still choose not to learn. When Eisenhower heard
that the German residents of a nearby large town “didn’t know” about a
death camp whose stench should have reached their nostrils, he marched
them, well dressed, through the rotting corpses, and made them help
dispose of the dead. We lack his authority. Milan Kundera, the dissident
Czech novelist during the Communist period, stated the moral reality
with reference to its only appropriate genre, tragedy. Take the extreme
case, he suggested. What about those with good intentions? he asked in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. What about those who didn’t know, and who acted in good faith? Kundera wrote of Oedipus:

Little did he know that the man he had killed in the mountains was
his father and the woman with whom he slept his mother. In the
meantime, fate visited a plague on his subjects and tortured them
with great pestilences. When Oedipus realized that he himself was
the cause of their suffering, he put out his own eyes and wandered
blind away from Thebes…….. Unable to stand the sight of the misfor-

tunes he had wrought by “not knowing,” he put out his eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes.21

How not to be tempted by this? For me, I would offer one indulgence.
Let the socialists, fellow travelers, apologists, and revisionists acknowl-
edge the dead, bury the dead, teach what they have learned, and atone for
the dead. Otherwise, given the enormity of what has occurred, let them
indeed be forgiven only when they have put out their eyes and wandered
blind away from Moscow, Beijing, or Thebes. Let Western intellectuals
repeat the phrase of “Requiem,” a work written during the Stalinist terror
by Anna Akhmatova, the greatest Russian poet of the twentieth century:
“I will remember them always and everywhere, I will never forget them
no matter what comes.” 22 The bodies demand an accounting, an apology,
and repentance. Without such things, there is no “after socialism.”

History, University of Pennsylvania

1 Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane (Indianapolis, IN: LibertyClassics, 1979), 1-2.

2 F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944).

3 Ibid., 134-52.

4 Ibid.

5 R. H. S. Crossman, ed., The God That Failed (New York: Harper, 1949).

6 The quotations in this paragraph are from R. H. S. Crossman, “Introduction,” in ibid.,

7 Arthur Koestler, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 74-75.

8 Ignazio Silone, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 113-14.

9 Richard Wright, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 157-62.

10 André Gide, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 179-95.

11 Louis Fischer, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 225-28.

12 Stephen Spender, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 265-77.

13 Of so few works of scholarship may one say that it is indispensable to honest debate in one’s time. The following book, with its documentation, is just that: Stéphane Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). For the numbers of Soviet dead, see also Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), which makes use of data made available by glasnost.

14 Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism, 487-96; see also the works and articles to which this part of the book refers.

15 Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956, trans. Harry Willetts (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 3:482.

16 Spender, essay in Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, 253.

17 Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 3:28.

18 See Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism, 498-507, and the references contained

19 Ibid., 542-46, and the references therein.

20 Ibid., 663-65.

21 Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, trans. Michael Henry Heim (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), 175-77.

22 Anna Akhmatova, Selected Poems of Anna Akhmatova, ed. Roberta Reeder, trans. Judith Hemschemeyer (Brookline, MA: Zephyr, 2000), 151.