Economists for Free Trade.

Professor Patrick Minford addressed the first public meeting held by The Edmund Burke Institute in the late nineteen eighties. Then Minford’s work focused on unemployment. More recently he has moved from Liverpool to Cardiff and become widely know as the leading economic advocate of Brexit. During the referendum campaign in 2016 he headed Economists for Leave, which has now been transformed into Economists for Free Trade.

The gist of Minford’s message is that the economic modelling which purports to show that Britain will suffer grave economic damage from leaving the EU is hopelessly flawed because it assumes that a post Brexit Britain would impose the same tariffs on imports as does the EU.

We have added Economists for Free Trade to our Brexit links.  They can also be found here: http://economistsforfreetrade.com

Be thinking

According to Etienne Gilson ( 1884-1978 ) in his classic “Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages” there are two families of thought within the Christian tradition. One derived from St Paul, and especially his epistle to the Romans challenges culture from the outside; and the other which draws from from St. John’s gospel which sees Christ and culture as mutually illuminating one another. Protestantism is rooted in the first of these families. But there is nevertheless a rich tradition of protestant apologetics. The famous Long Room in the Trinity College ( Dublin ) Library is for example packed with the contributions of those who engaged in the eighteenth century dispute about deism. And of course, this tradition has continued. At the end of the eighteenth century there was, for example, the remarkable figure of William Paley who championed both the rationality of theism and the credibility of the claims made by Christianity. In all this Ireland has made a significant contribution. In the eighteenth century it was the Dublin based John Leland who provided the first systematic critical account of the Deist phenomena. In the twentieth century there was of the towering figure of the Belfast born C.S. Lewis, and more recently John Lennox and Alistair McGrath ( both with Irish roots ) have provided some of the most powerful opposition to the “New Atheism.”

It is with all this in mind that we have added the bethinking web site to our philosophy links. This web site is an outreach project of the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship ( UCCF )  which is a British evangelical organization firmly committed to the idea that religious experience, however uplifting, is by itself not enough, and that the Christian faith can and must defend itself in the intellectual market place. It is specifically aimed at students, both at school and at university. But its appeal is not just to the young. It has a lot to teach, both about sound thinking, and about how to articulate ideas in the current challenging cultural environment.

It also publishes the writing of our friend and associate Philip Vander Elst.

It is strongly recommended, and can also be found here:http://bethinking.org

NOTE: Anyone who unaccountably still has an unspent Christmas book token should consider spending it on John Lennox’s book “God’s Undertaker, Has Science killed God?” ( London 2009)  £8.99. Lennox by the way is also an impressive performer on Youtube.

The Communist Holocaust and its lessons

By Philip Vander Elst.

[ The ] usage of force in all its forms, from executions downwards, is the only method which can enable the proletariat to evolve Communist Man from the human material of the present Capitalist epoch. ” Bukharin.

For at least half a century, nearly every secondary school pupil and university student in Britain has learnt about the evils of Nazism and Fascism, and the crimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. Most young people have also been taught something about the evils of apartheid in South Africa, Western colonialism, and white racism in the United States. One enormously important subject, however, has generally been missing from the education curriculum: namely, the horrendous and universally destructive nature and record of Communism.

Whilst mainstream historical textbooks and political commentary have typically described Stalin’s purges and repressive rule during the 1930s and ‘40s, and the post-war Soviet occupation and subjugation of Eastern Europe, their coverage of 20th century history has tended to downplay the role of Lenin and Trotsky as the original architects of Soviet totalitarianism, rarely emphasizing the full extent or scale of the bloodletting for which these two men were responsible during the early years of Communist rule in Russia (1917-1924). The repressive nature and sanguinary record of Communism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – in countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Mozambique, to mention only a few examples, has been similarly minimised or ignored. Worst of all, there has usually been little adequate discussion of the totalitarian ideological roots of Communist tyranny – of the fact, for example, that Marx, Engels and Lenin, were, in all their writings, (as will be shown later in this paper) quite open and explicit about their hostility to freedom and democracy, and their support for revolutionary violence, the physical extermination of their opponents, and the ruthless suppression of all dissent in their future Socialist State.[i]

Not surprisingly, these failures of omission, reflecting the well-documented left-wing bias of so many teachers, academics, and broadcasters,[ii] have helped to produce a lopsided and morally distorted understanding of recent modern history, particularly that of the Cold War. Instead of recognizing, from the very beginning, the inherently totalitarian and globally aggressive character of Communist ideology, many on the Left spent decades constructing alibis to excuse Soviet and Chinese despotism, a pattern repeated in relation to other Communist regimes in Cuba, North Vietnam, Nicaragua, and other parts of the Third World.[iii]

To cite the earliest example of this recurring phenomenon, most Western leftists, having begun by denying the reality of Communist tyranny in Russia during the 1920s and 1930s, were forced by subsequent events and revelations to acknowledge it, but they typically protected their faith in socialism by blaming Soviet repression on the personality of Stalin, who had allegedly ‘betrayed’ the supposedly noble Marxist ideals of the October 1917 Revolution. In the 1950s and ‘60s, a similar pattern of denial and fellow travelling, followed later by excuses and evasion, characterized left-wing attitudes towards Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel Castro. Having at first welcomed these Communist leaders as reforming Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban ‘nationalists’, and ‘liberators’ of their people, the Left blamed their subsequent emergence as ruthless anti-Western dictators on the failings of American foreign policy and the harmful legacy of European colonialism.

Another enduring result of this general failure on the Left to recognize the totalitarian logic of full-blooded socialism, has been to discredit and cast suspicion on the motives and attitudes behind strong expressions of anti-communist sentiment, commonly dismissed since the late 1960s as evidence of ‘paranoia’, ‘McCarthyism’, and ‘extreme right-wing’ views. As a consequence, so far a lasting one within mainstream British and Western political culture, those who express support or sympathy for socialist revolutionaries tend to be looked upon as well motivated idealists – mistaken perhaps, but with their hearts in the right place – whereas their principled ideological opponents are typically dismissed, at best, as uncaring and selfishly motivated conservative reactionaries, or at worst, as hateful ‘neo-fascists’ who should be denied the freedom and platforms to express their ‘obnoxious’ opinions on university and college campuses.[iv]

That such views and attitudes are sincerely held, and expressed with passionate conviction, by many well-intentioned and intelligent young people in secondary and higher education on both sides of the Atlantic, makes it all the more necessary to point out their wrongheadedness and perversity, especially given the enthusiastic support in British universities for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s Marxist Left, and a recent 2016 American opinion survey showing that 25% of Millennials have a “favourable” view of Lenin, 21% would be willing to vote for a communist, and 32% “believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under  Joseph Stalin.” [v]

To counter these misconceptions and mistaken beliefs, we must begin at the beginning, with a brief explanation of the central link between Marxist ideology and Communist totalitarianism.

The link between Marxist ideology and totalitarianism.

The overwhelmingly powerful moral case against full-blooded revolutionary socialism, or communism, is based on one very simple truth amply confirmed by experience. And that is, that abolishing private property, nationalising industry, and giving the State control over all housing, employment, education and welfare, necessarily destroys personal independence as well as the economic autonomy of all non-governmental media and social institutions. The resulting centralisation of all authority, resources and decision-making in the hands of government and its omnipotent bureaucracy, renders it inevitable that such a concentration of absolute power in the ruling socialist elite will eventually prove corrupting and end in tyranny. To believe otherwise, is to disregard the moral frailty of imperfect and fallible human nature, as well as the lessons of history. Even if the motivation of the ruling socialist revolutionaries in any particular society is purely altruistic, their passionate desire to use the coercive power of the State to remake the world, and create a perfect utopia of social harmony and justice, will always make them intolerant of all disagreement and resistance, ever more so as their utopian vision comes into inevitable conflict with recalcitrant reality. And that, of course, brings us back to the historical phenomenon of the Communist Holocaust.

The terrible and neglected truth is that not only is revolutionary socialism an experiment in coercive social engineering that has failed in every continent, but the price in blood and tears of its global failure over the past century has also been colossal, dwarfing by far the combined loss of life incurred in both World Wars. According, for instance, to The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press, 1999), the English edition of a scholarly and exhaustively documented country by country indictment of Communism written by a group of mainly French historians, some of whom are former Marxists, at least 94 million people have been killed by Communist regimes since 1917, through executions, assassinations, forced labour, man-made famines, and the civil wars and uprisings provoked and bloodily repressed by them.

Other estimates of the human cost of Communism are even higher than this already shocking figure of 94 million. For instance, in his equally exhaustive landmark study, Death by Government (Transaction Publishers, 1996, pp v-vi), the late Professor R. J. Rummel, political scientist and former Director of the Haiku Peace Research Center at the University of Hawaii, calculated that the total death toll from Communism was over 105 million, and his detailed estimates did not include the human cost of Communism in most of Eastern Europe, or in Third World countries like Cuba and Mozambique. Even so, his figure is double the total number of casualties (military and civilian) killed on all sides during World War 2.

Another more recent study, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism (Regnery, October 2017), by American historian and political scientist, Dr Paul Kengor, offers a particularly powerful, wide-ranging, and well-documented philosophical and historical critique of revolutionary socialism, including a damning analysis of its fellow travelers in the West. And it too suggests that the Black Book seriously underestimates the human cost of Communism.

Communism may have killed 140 million people.

“Take the figure for the Soviet Union, where the Black Book records 20 million dead,” writes Dr Kengor: “Most accounts of the total Soviet death toll exceed 33 million, and some estimates are twice that…Alexander Yakovlev, a high-level Soviet official who became one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief reformers and in the 1990s was given the official task of trying to tabulate the victims of Soviet Communism, estimates that Stalin alone ‘annihilated…60 to 70 million people’…A similar level of bloodshed was wrought solely by China’s Mao Zedong, who was responsible for the deaths of at least 60 million in China, and more likely over 70 million, according to the latest biographical-historical research…Also too conservative is the Black Book’s North Korea number, which does not include the 2 to 3 million who died in the famine of the late 1990s, a famine resulting directly from Communist policies.”

Indeed, to get a full sense of the scale of the devastation and human tragedy of this particular Communist man-made famine, adds Dr Kengor, you need to realize that “Two to three million dead was roughly 10 to 15% of the North Korean population. That percentage of the American population would be 40 million people. (America lost 300,000 dead in all of World War 2).”

All in all, concludes Dr Kengor, and allowing for the fact that the Black Book may have also underestimated the dimensions of the Communist holocaust in Cambodia (Kampuchea), “The total deaths caused by Communism in the twentieth century are closer to 140 million.” – a figure more than twice the population of Britain and more than 23 times the total number of Jews murdered by Hitler.

Dreadful though these statistics may be, they obviously cannot convey the full horror of what decades of Communist rule has meant for the populations beneath its iron yoke. Numbers, however impressive, cannot tell the citizens of a free country what it feels like to have to conceal one’s thoughts and opinions daily, for fear of being denounced to the secret police, or what it feels like to be in their prisons awaiting interrogation and torture. They cannot tell you what it feels like to be a slave in the Gulag, or to have to spend a whole day in a queue for the most basic necessities, because shortages of food, medicine and clothing, and other staple products, are endemic within a centrally planned State controlled economy. Nor, finally, can statistics convey what it must be like to have to ask for official permission to travel, or to change one’s job, or how it feels to be denied freedom of conscience and worship.

To begin to visualize and appreciate something of the suffering endured by different categories of people, as well as whole populations, you have to read the memoirs and listen to the personal testimonies of the victims of Communism.  Of this now extensive literature, the most plentiful, for obvious reasons, describe the experience of life under Soviet Communism, notably the writings and speeches of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, particularly his great and partly autobiographical three volume history of Soviet totalitarianism, The Gulag Archipelago. Less well known, but equally powerful, is Against All Hope, the prison memoirs of Cuban poet and human rights activist, Armando Valladares, first published in Britain by Hamish Hamilton in 1986 and dedicated “To the memory of my companions tortured and murdered in Fidel Castro’s jails, and to the thousands of prisoners still suffering in them.”

Tortured in Castro’s jails: a dramatic personal testimony.

Given, therefore, that the late Fidel Castro, and his revolutionary sidekick, Che Guevara, were revered and popular political and cultural icons of the New Left in the 1960s and ‘70s, and remain widely admired figures on Western university and college campuses, left-wing fans of the Cuban Revolution would do well to read Armando Valladares’ above-mentioned memoirs, as well as his speech of the 23rd February 1988 to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, describing and reflecting upon his 22 years as a political prisoner in Cuba. To quote just a short but vivid extract from his testimony on that occasion: “I recall when they kept me in a punishment cell, naked, with several fractures on one leg which never received medical care; today, those bones remain jammed up together and displaced. One of the regular drills among the guards was to stand on the steel mesh ceiling and throw at my face buckets full of urine and excrement. Mr Chairman, I know the taste of the urine and the excrement of other men: That practice does not leave marks; marks are left by beatings with steel rods and by bayonet thrusts. My head is still covered with scars and you can feel the cracks.” [vi]

Liberal admirers of the Cuban Revolution, which have included Hollywood stars and prominent American journalists and politicians,[vii] should also take note of the fact that Castro’s Communist regime is estimated by scholars and human rights organizations to have been responsible for the deaths of around 100,000 Cubans[viii] and the flight of well over a million refugees to the USA since 1959.[ix]  Furthermore, to quote Cuban exile and historian of the Cuban Revolution, Humberto Fontova: “According to the [New York based] human rights group, Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans (young and old, male and female) have passed through Castro’s prison and forced-labour camps. This puts Fidel Castro’s political incarceration rate right up there with his hero Stalin’s.” [x]

And to open once again just a brief window into the lives and personal experience of Communist tyranny of particular individuals and families, here below is another brief extract about life in Castro’s Cuba, and the lethal consequences of seeking to escape from what President Kennedy rightly described as “that imprisoned island” in his famous October 1962 Cuban missile crisis address to the American people.

The extract in question is taken from a brief December 2010 report on the website of Cuba Archive, a branch of the Free Society Project, an American human rights monitoring organization partly run by former Cuban political prisoners and dissidents. To quote the relevant passage: “Among the long list of violations [of human rights], countless thousands languish in the tropical gulag for ‘crimes’ unique to totalitarian regimes. In Cuba, distributing the [United Nations] Universal Declaration of Human Rights or trying to escape the country are punished with years of prison…Many thousands are held for ‘crimes’ related to economic activities the government does not control – in other words, pretty much everything…Three [members of an] asylum-seeking group paid with their lives [for trying to escape from Cuba]. On April 11th 2003 [the three men] were executed by firing squad…[One of their mothers] relates how the sentences were delivered a mere five days after their escape attempt was foiled. Two days later, without warning or allowing farewells, they were taken from their cells in the early morning hours and executed. Their families received a 6 am call to go to the cemetery for the funeral. When they arrived, they had already been buried.”

The Marxist Mengistu regime killed over a million Ethiopians.

The crimes of the Castro regime have not been limited to over half a century of mass repression within Cuba. They have also included the dispatch of Cuban troops to prop up Marxist-Leninist dictatorships in Africa during the 1970s and ‘80s. Cuban troops, for instance, were sent by Castro to Ethiopia to fight on behalf of the Communist Mengistu regime, “which killed 1.25 million people through massacre and forced starvation”. [xi]

It is therefore dismaying, against this background, to read the totally deluded tributes to Fidel Castro and his Cuban Revolution expressed over the years by legions of credulous left-wing activists, cultural figures and politicians.  Following the announcement of Castro’s death in November 2016, to give only a few examples, British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, said of him that despite his “flaws” he was a “huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th century socialism…Castro’s achievements were many.” [xii] On the other side of the Atlantic, Jill Stein, America’s 2016 Green Party Presidential candidate, praised Castro as “A symbol of the struggle for justice.” [xiii] And to round off this list of foolish liberal public figures, Canada’s politically correct Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, paid this gushing tribute to the memory of the Cuban Communist dictator: “Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century…While a controversial figure, both Mr Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante…I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father [former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau] passed away.” [xiv]

Can anyone doubt, by contrast, what the reaction on the Left would be if Conservative journalists, politicians, or historians, paid tribute to the memory of Hitler and Mussolini because the former ended mass unemployment in Nazi Germany and built the world’s first motorways, and the latter famously ‘made the trains run on time’?

Double standards and an inability to acknowledge the full truth about Communism have not only characterized the attitude of large sections of the Western Left towards Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. It also characterized (and continues to do so) left-wing attitudes to the Vietnam War (1963 – 1975) and American foreign policy in general. As a result, a widely accepted narrative has grown up which portrays the ‘anti-war’ movement of the 1960s and early ‘70s as a movement of noble idealists, bravely resisting an ‘immoral war’ waged by successive American Presidents against a heroic and supposedly authentic South Vietnamese ‘national liberation movement’. The reality, of course, was very different and needs to be revisited, not only in the interest of historical truth, but also because the Left’s erroneous view of the Vietnam War and its supposed ‘lessons,’ has helped to reinforce and spread its lopsided and distorted view of the world, encouraging in many an instinctive and uncritical bias in favour of so-called ‘liberation movements’, and by contrast, an over critical attitude towards the United States and all attempts to use American and Western military power in the legitimate defence of Western interests and values.

Whilst it is (and was) perfectly reasonable to question the wisdom of America’s military intervention and conduct of the Vietnam War, the fact remains that the central cause of that armed conflict was the ruthless determination of the Communist North to impose its tyrannical rule on the non-Communist South. And in seeking to resist that aggression (supported by the Soviet Union and China), as it had earlier resisted Communist aggression against South Korea in the early 1950s, the USA and its allies (which included Australia and New Zealand) were genuinely engaged in a morally just war in defence of freedom and democracy.[xv]

The truthfulness of these claims was, of course, denied by the anti-war movement, but the evidence available at the time and subsequently confirmed by official documents and personal testimonies from Communist North Vietnamese as well as other sources, fully vindicate them.[xvi] And the story they tell is a grim one.

From the very beginning, Ho Chi Minh, founder (1930) and leader of the Indo-China Communist Party, and a Comintern agent and loyal follower of Lenin and Stalin,[xvii] aimed to establish an all-powerful Communist dictatorship over the whole of formerly French Indo-China. The first stage of this process, the setting up and consolidation of his Communist regime in North Vietnam, in the mid-1950s, was as characteristically bloody as the equivalent stage in all other Communist revolutions. According to Professor R. J. Rummel’s painstaking and detailed calculations, for example, drawing on a variety of credible sources, around 150,000 North Vietnamese peasants were slaughtered during the so-called ‘land reforms’ of this period, and that is a relatively conservative estimate. In 1956 a further 70,000 North Vietnamese were murdered in campaigns of political repression, a figure that does not include the many victims of periodic internal Communist Party ‘purges’. Not surprisingly, all this repression provoked armed peasant rebellions that were also bloodily suppressed, at an estimated cost of between 10,000 to 15,000 lives. “All told,” writes Professor Rummel, “from 1953 to 1956 the Communists likely killed 195,000 to 865,000 North Vietnamese. I conservatively estimate the toll as around 360,000 men, women, and children.” [xviii]

Around the same time all this blood was being shed, knowing the fate that awaited them if they stayed in the North, some 727,000 to 1 million North Vietnamese refugees (about 60% of them Catholics) fled to the non-Communist South after 1954 – further powerful evidence that whenever ordinary people have had the chance, they have always voted against Communism with their feet, risking life and limb to do so, like the Cubans fleeing Castro after 1959, and their equivalents fleeing equally repressive Marxist-Leninist dictatorships in Red China, North Korea, and other parts of the Communist world.[xix]

Communist terrorism and mass murder in South Vietnam.

Unfortunately for those above mentioned Vietnamese refugees, however, their escape from the North did not in the end secure them from the danger of Communist violence and tyranny. Like the rest of the majority non-Communist South Vietnamese population, they became the victims of Ho Chi Minh’s terrorist campaign against the South, planned, organized and meticulously controlled by the North Vietnamese Communists in Hanoi. Long before the arrival of any significant American military presence in South Vietnam in 1963 and 1965, the Communist Viet Cong guerrillas of the so-called ‘National Liberation Front’ were murdering South Vietnamese soldiers, officials and civilians in every part of the country, a campaign of terror and mayhem that escalated throughout the 1960s and was accompanied by every kind of atrocity, including kidnapping and torture, the decapitation of village headmen, the bayoneting of pregnant women, and the burying alive of other unfortunate captives.[xx]

Rummel estimates that a total of about 66,000 South Vietnamese civilians were assassinated by Hanoi’s terror squads, people who “because of the good job they were doing in a village, their honesty, industriousness, or leadership, or because of their beliefs or outspokenness, were murdered – sometimes with the greatest cruelty and pain.[xxi]  Professor Guenter Lewy, another meticulous historian of the Vietnam War, whose classic book, America in Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 1980) challenges many of the myths surrounding that conflict, similarly points out that most of these “hapless victims were peasants, teachers, social workers, and the like who had sided with the [government of South Vietnam]…” [xxii]

To make matters even worse, the civilian casualties of Vietnamese Communist violence in the South were not limited, during that War, to the victims of deliberately planned and executed assassinations. They also included those killed by indiscriminate Viet Cong shelling and mortar attacks on cities, hamlets and villages, as well as those who died in buses and other forms of civilian transport raked by automatic fire or mortared from the roadside. When, to quote Professor Rummel’s estimate, you therefore add these other victims to the number assassinated by the Viet Cong, the death toll of South Vietnamese civilians directly and intentionally slaughtered by the Communists during the Vietnam War climbs to a figure of around 164,000.[xxiii]

Tragically, the essential truth about what was really going on in Vietnam, and about the nature, significance and scale of the Communist violence taking place there, was increasingly obscured at the time (and for most people has remained so) by the misreporting of the Vietnam War by America’s biased liberal mainstream media, the subject of an invaluable and careful book length study entitled, Big Story, by Peter Braestrup, published in 1977 by Yale University Press.

The blind spots and bias of America’s ;liberal media.

Whilst this is obviously not a topic that can be adequately discussed in this brief paper about the global Communist holocaust, the principal problem underlying this misreporting was the excessive and disproportionate focus by the Saigon based American press corps on both the undoubted imperfections of the South Vietnamese Government and military, and the failings of their American counterparts. But though it is true that authoritarianism and corruption hindered the development and functioning of democratic institutions in South Vietnam, progress was being made despite the enormous difficulties thrown up by having to try and make democracy work in the midst of a desperate war for survival in a country infested by hostile and ruthless networks of Communist informers and terrorists, constantly reinforced, rearmed and resupplied by their Soviet backed North Vietnamese puppet masters.[xxiv] Similarly, the widespread allegation that American troops were careless of civilian casualties in their military operations, takes too little account of the problems they faced due to the fact that the Communist Viet Cong deliberately hid themselves, and their bunkers and tunnels, amongst the rural population of South Vietnam – in their villages, hamlets and homes. As a result, it became extremely difficult for the American soldiers to distinguish friend from foe and avoid killing the innocent, though most of the time most of them tried to do so. [xxv]

Commenting on this situation, Professor Rummel rightly points out that this “Viet Cong practice of swimming in a civilian sea…Using innocent civilians to protect oneself is in itself a war crime and makes the Viet Cong and thus Hanoi criminally responsible for the resulting civilian dead.” [xxvi]

The misreporting of the Vietnam War by the American liberal media stemmed from a general failure to judge American and South Vietnamese conduct against its proper background and in its proper context, namely, one of necessary resistance to years of massive unprovoked North Vietnamese aggression fuelled and encouraged by the two superpowers of the Communist world – the Soviet Union and Red China.

As a result of this blind spot and the bias to which it gave rise, the American liberal media undoubtedly contributed to the global advance of totalitarian socialism in the 1970s, because it helped to convince millions of Americans at home that their country was engaged in both an immoral and, just as important, an unwinnable war. These two beliefs were, as we shall see shortly, entirely false, but their growing acceptance by public opinion and the American political and cultural elite, increasingly hindered the successful conduct of American military operations in South East Asia. Eventually, of course, this process culminated in the final liberal betrayal of South Vietnam in the Spring of 1975, when the then U.S. Democratic Party controlled Congress prevented the Republican Administration of President Ford from providing the embattled South Vietnamese with the military assistance they needed (and had been promised) to resist a full scale conventional invasion launched by the North Vietnamese Army, then the fifth largest in the world, amply rearmed and resupplied by the Soviets.

What makes this liberal betrayal of South Vietnam so doubly tragic, is that quite apart from its bloody aftermath of Communist genocide and repression, to which we will be turning shortly, it aborted the developing embryo of a more peaceful and liberal society.

Progress to a freer society aborted by American liberals.

That South Vietnam was, even in the midst of war, slowly becoming a freer, better governed, more democratic, and more prosperous country, with real hope for the future, one moreover infinitely preferable to the nightmare of socialist tyranny offered by its invading Communist enemies, is indisputable when one looks at the evidence ignored or obscured by the American liberal media. To quote, first of all, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War, a well documented and highly readable refutation of the principal liberal myths about that war, by former Vietnam veteran and U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot, Philip E. Jennings: “South Vietnam might not have been a model liberal democracy, but it was worlds removed from the murderous Communist totalitarianism of North Vietnam. Whatever its flaws, if you lived in South Vietnam, you were largely free to work, worship, travel, and live how and where you wanted – unlike your neighbours in the North.” [xxvii]

Similarly, in an article for the Summer 1988 issue of Policy Review, the academic journal of the Washington based Heritage Foundation, Lee Braddock, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer in Vietnam from 1968 to 1975, also gives a more positive picture than the anti-war Left of conditions in South Vietnam, and the political and social progress that was being made there, behind the defensive military shield of the United States and her Australian, New Zealand, and South Korean allies.

In accordance with President Nixon’s ‘Vietnamization’ strategy, formalized in 1969 to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops, South Vietnam’s political, economic and social institutions were being successfully built up, together with her own military and security forces, records Lee Braddock, so that she could increasingly stand on her own feet, as a united country, able to resist Communist aggression with the help of American air and naval power only.

To that end, writes Braddock, political authority was decentralized, with popular elections of local officials empowered to govern. In addition, the mass of the South Vietnamese people – in their local towns, villages and hamlets – were given “the weapons, training, and ancillary support they needed to defend themselves,” and there was new investment “ in roads, bridges, canals, schools, and hospitals.” A considerable effort was also made to broaden  “economic participation in the market economy through land reform, as well as agricultural credits, research, and technical assistance to the new landowners…”

But perhaps most significant of all, “The atrocities committed by the Communist forces in the Tet offensive [January/February 1968]” continues Braddock, “had helped to galvanize the fighting will of the Vietnamese people. According to James Collins in The Development and Training of the South Vietnamese Army, the Vietnamese armed forces grew dramatically, with the regular military forces increasing from fewer than 350,000 prior to Tet, to more than 500,000 by the time U.S. forces were completing withdrawals in 1972, while territorial forces grew from under 300,000 to over a half million, and armed self-defense forces at the hamlet level rose to another half million…By 1972, the South Vietnamese government had gained the political dominance in the countryside that had been enjoyed by the Viet Cong in 1967. Democracy, including a flourishing opposition, was beginning to take root. In 1966 and 1967, only about half of South Vietnam’s villages were secure enough to participate in elections for national constituent assembly, president, upper and lower houses of the national assembly, village councils, and hamlet chiefs. By 1970, the countryside was sufficiently pacified, at least in daytime, that 95% of the villages and hamlets were able to hold elections, and an opposition party, the ‘lotus flower’ slate, received the largest number of votes in elections for the Senate.”

Rising living standards and spreading property ownership.

South Vietnam also enjoyed rapid economic progress, Braddock points out, with huge increases in rice production and rising numbers of pigs, chickens, and ducks. And to emphasize the significance of all these developments, his 1988 Policy Review article goes on to quote the assessment made by Sir Robert Thompson (1916 – 1992), Britain’s widely respected Cambridge educated South East Asian counter-insurgency expert, and former adviser to the Malayan Government: “The increased prosperity has frequently been referred to as ‘the Honda boom’. Certainly Hondas, television sets, and transistors [radios] announced the arrival of the consumer society in South Vietnam’s farming community. But there was also considerable investment in water pumps for improved irrigation, in outboard motors for sampans and fishing vessels and, above all, in tractors. By the end of 1971 there were nearly 40,000 tractors in South Vietnam. They were not gifts. They were bought and owned by individual farmers or cooperatives. This was the ‘revolution’ required and it was achieved even in war through the incentive of free enterprise. All this increased production enabled South Vietnam to become almost self-supporting in food by the end of 1971… Prosperity was giving the farmer a greater stake not only in the security of his own area but in the defence of the country as a whole.”

Sir Robert Thompson went on to note that by 1973 the South Vietnamese land reform programme had made landowners of over 600,000 peasants, who had acquired over 2 million acres of agricultural land.

Not only, then, was the condition of the people improving steadily in South Vietnam, in the midst of the most dreadful and difficult circumstances, but the very fact that more than 200,000 young South Vietnamese soldiers sacrificed their lives during the Vietnam War, defending their country, and millions more civilians risked torture and death resisting Viet Cong terrorism, [xxviii] hardly suggests that their cause and their future was not worth fighting for, as the anti-war movement argued.

Some liberal readers may think, at this point, that my criticism of the anti-war movement is unfair because it appears to be based on hindsight, but that ignores the fact that the truth about the universally oppressive nature and murderous record of Communism was already widely available in the 1960s and early ‘70s.

The testimony of defectors and other witnesses from the Soviet Union, for instance, began to be published in the West as early as the 1920s, and that of their counterparts from behind the Iron Curtain, in Eastern Europe, from the late 1940s onwards. Of works in the first category, about Soviet Communism, perhaps the most famous was Russian defector, Victor Kravchenko’s great autobiographical classic, I Chose Freedom, first published in English in 1947. Nine years later the truthfulness of his testimony was spectacularly reinforced by Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev’s famous and widely reported 1956 speech to the Soviet Communist Party’s 20th Annual Congress, denouncing Stalin’s tyrannical rule and crimes. A few years earlier, in 1950, a seminal collection of essays by European left-wing intellectuals like Arthur Koestler and Stephen Spender, describing their disillusionment with Communism, was published under the title of The God that Failed.

Firsts hand  testimony of refugees from Tibet and China.

On the other side of the world, evidence of the repressiveness and genocidal barbarity of Chinese Communism was steadily percolating through the Bamboo Curtain throughout the 1950s, in the stories and testimonies of Chinese refugees and defectors who managed to escape from the Mainland to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and similarly in the stories and testimonies of those fleeing the Communist Chinese invasion and rape of Tibet.[xxix] In 1963, some of this material, and other evidence, including that from official Chinese Communist sources, was drawn upon and presented to a wider Western public by Chinese writer and Time Magazine journalist, Chu Valentin, in his book, The Inside Story of Communist China. [xxx]

On a more general front, sober, readable and informative popular paperbacks seeking to educate the general public about Communism both as an ideological and also a global phenomenon, also appeared in these decades. One excellent and very well documented example was the best-selling book, What We Must Know About Communism, by two widely respected American academics, Harry and Bonaro Overstreet, first published by W.W. Norton in hardback in 1958, and in subsequent paperback ‘Pocket Book’ editions in 1960 and 1964.

All this material, moreover, is only the tip of the iceberg of what was available at the time and does not include official reports by Western governments or international agencies, let alone news reports and articles about Communism and the Communist world in the American and Western conservative press. Ignorance or naivety about Communism in general, and about Vietnamese and East Asian Communism in particular, was therefore inexcusable during the Vietnam War, especially given the publication of two U.S. Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee reports on The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam in 1972 and 1973, and the previous publication in 1971 of two others: one on The Human Cost of Soviet Communism, by British historian and Russian expert, Dr Robert Conquest, and the other on The Human Cost of Communism in China, by American historian and East Asia expert, Professor Richard Walker.

Nobody, therefore, who took the trouble to read these four detailed and well-documented studies in the 1970s, could have been left in any doubt about the cruel, violent, and totalitarian character of revolutionary socialism and the Marxist-Leninist dictatorships it had spawned in the 20th century. Robert Conquest’s report, for example, calculated that a minimum of 35 million Soviet citizens had died in internal repression since 1917, with Lenin alone responsible for between five and a half and nine and three quarter million deaths between 1917 and 1923. Such figures, of course, are hard to take in, let alone to visualize in terms of the personal misery and bloodshed they represent, so to try and give my readers a better idea of what they mean, the lower of these two estimates for the genocide under Lenin amounts to nearly twice the entire population of Rome in 2014, and the higher one to considerably more than the entire population of London in 2015.

Mao’s victims almost as numerous as the population of France.

Richard Walker’s companion study of mass murder in Asia estimated that the human cost of Chinese Communism varied between an absolute minimum of 32 million deaths in internal repression since Mao’s seizure of power in 1949, and a possible maximum of 61 million. And to convey once again a better sense of the scale of magnitude of these horrifying statistics, that minimum calculation of the total number of victims of Chinese Communism represents a higher figure than the total population of Venezuela in 2017. The maximum figure is almost as large as the total population of France in the same year.

The other two U.S. Senate reports, both on The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam, drew mainly on the work of three acknowledged experts: (1) Irish-born Vietnamese language and South East Asian scholar and historian, P. J. Honey, (2) American historian and Indo-China scholar, Douglas Pike, whose main expertise was in the history and politics of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, and (3) Bernard Fall, another prominent historian of Indo-China, political scientist and war correspondent. Their assessments, based on their expert knowledge and personal experience of life in the Far East and Indo-China, was also supplemented by evidence from other credible sources, including the testimony and advice of key North Vietnamese defectors, information from captured Communist documents, and last but not least, some background analysis of the ideological Marxist-Leninist roots of terrorism and post-revolutionary repression.

On the basis, then, of all past experience of Communist revolutions, especially the one in North Vietnam, and the then more recent and still ongoing story of Viet Cong terrorism in the South, the above-mentioned experts and witnesses predicted a bloodbath in the event that Communism triumphed throughout the whole of Indo-China.

Their warnings, like so many other similar ones, received some publicity at the time but otherwise made little impact on the American liberal media and anti-war movement, being typically either ignored, or else dismissed as official and therefore unreliable propaganda from the U.S. government and military. The rest, as we know, is history, and a very tragic one. Far from ushering in some new reign of peace, liberty, and social justice, as so many in the anti-war movement predicted or hoped, night descended on South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (Kampuchea) after the withdrawal of the Americans and the final Communist victory in 1975. In a matter of just weeks or months, the unfortunate inhabitants of these three countries plunged from the frying pan of political authoritarianism, or partial, corrupt and imperfect democracy, into the totalitarian fire of revolutionary socialism.

The nature and scale of the infamous Cambodian genocide organized by Pol Pot and his fellow Khmer Rouge revolutionaries, which killed around 2 million people, or roughly one third of the entire population between 1975 and 1979 (to cite Rummel’s careful conservative estimate),[xxxi] is too well known to require detailed elaboration here. Instead, I will only quote one chilling story from those dreadful years because it illustrates to perfection the savage and ruthless mentality that lay behind the crimes and atrocities of Pol Pot’s Communist regime.

Children turned into torturers and killers by Communists.

“Said one officer at a political meeting, ‘In the new Kampuchea, one million is all we need to continue the revolution. We don’t need the rest. We prefer to kill ten friends rather than keep one enemy alive.’ Indeed, the Khmer Rouge purposely trained many child recruits to be cruel and unemotional about causing pain and death by having them practice on monkeys, dogs, cats, and other animals. As soldiers or cadres, these killing machines could execute a starving peasant for just eating a banana collected in the forest – as we would swat a fly. As many Cambodians noted, these children followed orders like trained dogs.” [xxxii]

The fate, by contrast, of the conquered people of South Vietnam, did not, it is true, involve quite the same descent into Hell as in Cambodia (Kampuchea), but it was terrible enough.

To begin with, here are some more awful statistics. According to Nguyen Cong Hoan, a former official of the new post-war Communist government in the South, anything from 50,000 to 100,000 South Vietnamese were executed outright during the first year under the new regime. Others estimate the true number of post-war executions to have been at least or at most a quarter of a million. Taking these and other sources into consideration, Rummel’s conservative calculation hovers around a figure of 100,000 executions.[xxxiii]

Behind these statistics of mass murder, of course, lay a country undergoing all the usual misery of submission to new totalitarian socialist laws and institutions. Two books in particular, both by Vietnamese authors, have described this process, and the consequent suffering of the people of South Vietnam, in great detail. The first one, Vietnam Under Communism, 1975 – 1982, published by the Hoover Institution in California in the early 1980s, was written by Nguyen Van Canh, a former professor of law and politics at the University of Saigon. The author of the second book, The Vietnamese Gulag, first published in English by Simon & Schuster, New York, in 1986, is Doan Van Toai, a former student leader and supporter of the Communist controlled National Liberation Front, who served in the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the South before the formal reunification of Vietnam. According to its dust jacket, his book “is a shocking first person chronicle of the human cost of ‘liberation’ in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, where torture, starvation, and slow death have marked the rapid descent of a nation into a totalitarian state.”

This descent into totalitarianism, described by many other personal witnesses in addition to Doan Van Toai, began at the institutional level with the usual Marxist attack on private property and free enterprise, designed to destroy personal independence and ensure total government control over the whole of society. To that end, in March 1978, “all private trade in South Vietnam was abolished. Merchants were directed to shift to productive activities or to join collectively owned or joint private-State enterprises. All goods held by private merchants were to be purchased by the State. Youth assault squads were mobilized the night before the announcement to confiscate goods before they could be dispersed…By the end of the year, 30,000 private firms had been abolished and government control over the urban economy in South Vietnam had been established.” [xxxiv]

The bitter words of a disillusioned Viet Cong militant.

Not surprisingly, given these (and other) changes, the quality of life deteriorated rapidly in the new collectivist police state into which South Vietnam was being transformed. To quote the bitter testimony of another disillusioned Viet Cong militant, Truong Nhu Tang, writing in 1981, the people of Vietnam, who “want only the freedom to go where they wish, educate their children in the schools they choose and have a voice in their government,” are instead “treated like ants in a colony. There is only the opportunity to follow orders strictly, never the opportunity to express disagreement.” [xxxv]

As part of this process of creating a totalitarian socialist anthill, the new Communist government in the South closed all bookshops and theatres, recorded Doan Van Toai, in his poignant article ‘A Lament for Vietnam’, published in the 29 March 1981 edition of the New York Times Magazine. In addition, all books published under the former non-Communist regimes were confiscated or burned, including translations of the works of French writers like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. “The new regime,” he added, “ replaced such books with literature designed to indoctrinate children and adults with the idea that the Soviet Union is a paradise of the socialist world.”

As with books, so it was with newspapers and other formerly independent media. Under the old non-Communist government of South Vietnam, under constant attack throughout the world for its repressiveness, there had been 27 daily newspapers, 3 television stations, and more than 20 radio stations. By contrast,“When the Communists took over” wrote American political analyst, Carl Gershman, “these were all closed down, and replaced by two official dailies, one television channel, and two radio stations – all disseminating the same government propaganda.” [xxxvi]

All the other freedoms that had existed, in full or large measure, in non-Communist South Vietnam were also abolished by her new Marxist-Leninist rulers. Thus freedom of movement began to be regulated by a system of internal passports, and freedom of association was eliminated to such a degree that even a large family gathering, such as a wedding or a funeral, required a government permit and was attended by a security officer. [xxxvii]

In the case of freedom of religion, the comparison with the past, including the reaction of the Western liberal press and anti-war movement to events in Vietnam, was especially revealing and tragic. A Human Rights Appeal drafted by the Unified Buddhist Church and smuggled out of Vietnam by the Venerable Thich Manh Giac, accused the new Communist regime of “pursuing the policy of shattering the religious communities in our country, …has arrested hundreds of monks, confiscated hundreds of pagodas and converted them to government administration buildings…prohibited celebration of the Buddha’s birthday as a national holiday…and forbidden monks to travel and preach by ordering restrictions in the name of ‘national security’.” [xxxviii]

Yet not only did this appeal fall on deaf ears, so did more dramatic ones. Whereas the spectacle of a single Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in South Vietnam attracted the horrified attention of the world’s press back in 1963, the self-immolation of 12 Buddhist nuns and priests on 2 November 1975, in protest against Communist repression, received scarcely any notice either in the United States or anywhere else.[xxxix]

Every freedom abolished and over 2 million in the Gulag.

In addition to the abolition of freedom of enterprise, movement, conscience and speech, the collectivization of society and destruction of liberty in South Vietnam also involved the imprisonment of vast numbers of her citizens in the ‘re-education’ and forced labour camps of the Vietnamese gulag.

“Based on a 1985 statement by [Vietnamese] Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach,” states Rummel, “ 2,500,000 people may ultimately have passed through these ‘re-education’ camps.” Furthermore, he continues, “One estimate is that at least 200,000 people also died or were killed in them. This is probably a high, however. Taking account of the death toll in the similar Stalinist and Maoist gulags, a more likely figure is around 95,000.” [xl]

Appalling as all these facts are, they do not exhaust the list of crimes against humanity perpetrated by Vietnam’s Communist leaders after the fall of Saigon in 1975. These also included the compulsory herding and resettlement of millions of people in Vietnam’s so-called ‘New Economic Zones’ – mainly jungle areas where these unfortunate victims worked “in collective gangs at such tasks as clearing land and digging canals,” under primitive living conditions with little food and rampant disease.[xli] So harsh were these conditions of forced labour, that Rummel estimates that “possibly 48,000 Vietnamese thus lost their lives, maybe even 155,000.” [xlii]

Again, statistics by themselves, however terrible, can never fully convey the dreadful reality of life in a totalitarian socialist state like Vietnam, but the Buddhist human rights appeal mentioned earlier, does help to lift the veil and catch a glimpse of the agony inflicted by Communism on its captive population in the late 1970s and 1980s. “Since the liberation thousands have committed suicide out of despair. Thousands have fled the country in small boats. Hospitals are reserved for [Communist] cadres; civilians hardly have a chance to be hospitalized in case of sickness…Schoolchildren under fourteen have been assigned to collect pieces of scrap material in big garbage heaps and other places during the summer vacation…A country that used to export rice has no rice to eat, even though the number of ‘labourers’ has now increased about ten times.” The Communist government, the appeal goes on to say, also prohibits “creative thinking and participation of independent groups. Totalitarianism destroys all possibility of genuine national reconciliation and concord.” [xliii]

So bad did life under Communism become in Vietnam, that huge numbers of its captive citizens – the ‘Boat People’ – as they came to be known, took to the sea, risking pirates, storms and other dangers, often in ridiculous boats, in order to reach Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and other South East Asian countries, including even Japan. The U.S. State Department calculates that a million Vietnamese ‘boat people’ fled Vietnam between 1975 and 1985. Other estimates are even higher. Taking them all into consideration, Rummel calculates that “probably 1,500,000 attempted the dangerous escape from Vietnam by sea, possibly even 2 million.” He further estimates, conservatively, that the deaths of around 250,000 boat people who failed to reach their destinations can also be laid at the door of Vietnam’s Communist dictatorship.[xliv]

Worse than any previous regime said former Communist.

Horrifying as all these events and statistics are, their full significance can only be understood by appreciating the strong attachment of the Vietnamese to their homes, localities, customs and traditions, and their natural reluctance to abandon them for an unknown future, a fact repeatedly emphasized by many Vietnamese writers and commentators. Consequently, there could hardly have been a more significant and damning indictment of Communism, and its record in Indo-China, than this mass exodus of the Boat People after 1975. Little wonder that Truong Nhu Tang, quoted earlier in this paper, and formerly the Communist Minister of Justice in the Provisional Revolutionary Government, had this to say in 1981, two years after his own flight from Vietnam: “Never has any previous regime brought such masses of people to such desperation. Not the military dictators, not the colonialists, not even the ancient Chinese overlords.” [xlv]

At the time that all these awful events were taking place, most people on the Left and in the anti-war movement either ignored, or else failed to fully acknowledge, let alone protest against, both the true nature of Communist rule in Indo-China, the full reality of the inferno into which it had plunged the whole region, and last but not least, their own responsibility for undermining the will of the United States to resist the conquest of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia by North Vietnam and its Communist allies. Even today, in 2017, the politically correct narrative about Vietnam – especially in the liberal media and our education system – is still largely dominated by the idea that successive American Presidents engaged in an immoral and unwinnable war in South East Asia, and that their domestic political opponents in the anti-war movement were the moral conscience of the nation who deserve the admiration and emulation of posterity.

It is therefore all the more important to draw to the attention of those who accept this narrative, the rueful words of two formerly fierce and influential critics of America’s military intervention in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The first of these former critics, British journalist, William Shawcross, originally wrote a book, published in 1979, and entitled Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, in which he blamed the United States for the carnage and bloodshed in that tragic country. Fifteen years later, however, in an article in The Times (London) of 16 December 1994, his perspective had changed dramatically: “Those of us who opposed the American war in Indo-China,” he confessed, “ should be extremely humble in the face of the appalling aftermath: a form of genocide in Cambodia and horrific tyranny in both Vietnam and Laos. Looking back on my own coverage for the Sunday Times…I think I concentrated too easily on the corruption and incompetence of the South Vietnamese and their American allies, was too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the Communists would provide a better future. But after the Communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.” [xlvi]

The bitter remorse of a leader of the anti-war American Left.

The mea culpa of the second of these former critics, David Horowitz, is even more dramatic and significant, because he was the son of Communist parents and one of the founders and leading figures of the American New Left in the 1960s, co-editing, with his Marxist friend Peter Collier, its prominent magazine, Ramparts, and organizing the first American campus demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

In 1989, however, looking back on their years as radical left-wing militants, and on the views and behaviour of their fellow revolutionaries and anti-war activists, he and Collier co-authored a sobering book entitled “Destructive Generation: second thoughts about the ‘60s,” containing the following illuminating passage:

“The government we had sought to undermine might not be able to punish us, but history would not prove so kind. In the years after America’s defeat in Vietnam, we were presented with a balance sheet showing the sobering consequences of our politics. New Left orthodoxy had scorned the idea that the war was about North Vietnamese aggression and Soviet expansion, but soon after the American pullout, North Vietnamese armies were in Cambodia and Laos, and the Russians were occupying the bases at Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang…What we had dismissed as impossible was happening with dizzying speed. Far from being liberated, South Vietnam was now occupied by a conquering army from the North. The ‘bloodbath’ our opponents predicted took place in the form of tens of thousands of summary executions, while many of the ‘indigenous’ revolutionaries of the NLF [National Liberation Front], whom we had supported, disappeared into ‘re-education’ camps or joined the ‘boat people’ exodus to freedom in the West. In Cambodia, two million peasants died at the hands of the Communist Khmer Rouge, protégés of Hanoi and beneficiaries of the New Left’s ‘solidarity’ with the revolutionary cause. It was a daunting lesson: more people had been killed in the first two years of the Communist peace than in the thirteen years of America’s War. There were other consequences as well. During the late Seventies – a time when American democracy was trying to heal itself from the trauma of Vietnam and Watergate – the Soviet Union was demonstrating that totalitarianism abhors a vacuum by moving into Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and, most brutally, Afghanistan.” [xlvii]

To repeat one of the central arguments of this paper, the post-1975 Communist holocaust in Indo-China should not have taken anyone by surprise, not only because of the lessons of previous Communist revolutions, but also because Communism’s crimes against humanity have been the inevitable outcome of its ideology, one which from the very beginning made no secret of its commitment to terror, violence and repression, to bring about the triumph of the socialist revolution. Only by gaining total and undivided control of the coercive power of the State, and then using that concentrated power to control every institution and every facet of the individual’s existence, its founding fathers believed, could the utopian goal of a radically transformed society, and the creation of a perfect new socialist man, be achieved. That is why Marx, Engels, and Lenin, and other Communist thinkers and leaders, never hid their belief that their socialist end justified whatever means might be necessary to bring it about, however bloody. And as the quotes below demonstrate, they gave plenty of warning of both their totalitarian goals, and their determination to crush all opposition to their future rule.

Out of the horse’s mouth: Marx and Engels on the need for terror.

Beginning with Marx and Engels, their commitment to the abolition of private property and the total collectivization of society, with all its totalitarian implications, was clearly set out in their famous Communist Manifesto of 1848, but it is in their mutual correspondence that one finds the clearest and most shocking statements revealing their contempt for democracy and freedom, and their willingness to use coercion and violence to advance their Communist goals. Here below are just a few examples of this:

“Democracy is more to be feared than monarchy and aristocracy.”(1st Soviet Edition of the writings of Marx & Engels, 1929, Vol.2, p.369).

“Political liberty is a false liberty, worse than the most abject slavery.(Ibid, p.394)

“It will be necessary to repeat the year 1793 [the beginning of the ‘Reign of Terror’ of the French Revolution]. After achieving power, we’ll be considered monsters, but we couldn’t care less.”(Op cit, Vol. 25, p.187)

Lenin, Kruschev and Mao on the need for terror and repression.

And here too are similar statements by Lenin, Khruschev, and Mao Tse-tung.

Lenin: “We do not believe in an eternal morality, and we expose the falseness of all the fables about morality.”(Speech to the Third All-Russia Congress of the Russian Young Communist League, 2 October 1920)

Lenin: “The scientific concept, dictatorship, means neither more nor less than unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything, not restricted by any laws or any absolute rules. Nothing else but that.”(A Contribution to the History of the Question of Dictatorship, 1920)

Lenin: “The courts must not ban terror…but must formulate the motives underlying it, legalize it as a principle, plainly without make-believe or embellishment. It is necessary to formulate it as widely as possible.”(Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th Soviet Edition, Vol.33, p.321)

In 1908 Lenin wrote of the need for “real, nationwide terror, which reinvigorates the country and through which the Great French Revolution achieved glory.”(Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th Soviet Edition, Vol.13, p.435)

According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Before the [1917] October Revolution in Russia, Lenin wrote a book called The Lessons of the Paris Commune. There he analyzed why the Paris Commune was defeated in 1871. And his principal conclusion was that the Commune had not shot, had not killed enough of its enemies. It had destroyed too few people, when it was necessary to kill entire classes and groups. And when he came to power, Lenin did just this.”(Solzhenitsyn: The Voice of Freedom, AFL-CIO, Washington DC, USA, 1975, pp.32 – 33)

Lenin: “If the peasants and workers do not accept the socialism which we are bringing them, we shall reply: it is useless to waste words when we can employ force.”(Speech in 1917 quoted in Lenin, an article by Russian witnesses of the October 1917 Revolution, published in La Sentinelle, Brussels, April 1970, reprinted as a pamphlet by the Inter-City Research Centre, London).

Khruschev: “The questioning of Stalin’s terror, in turn, may lead to the questioning of terror in general. But Bolshevism believes in the use of terror. Lenin held that no one was worthy of the name Communist who did not believe in terror.”(‘Secret Speech’ to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, 24 February 1956)

Mao Tse-tung: “Some of our comrades have too much mercy, not enough brutality, which means that they are not so Marxist. On this matter, we indeed have no conscience! Marxism is that brutal…We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of the world revolution.”(Quoted in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s book, Mao: The Unknown Story, Jonathan Cape, 2005, pp.411 & 457 -458)

Two quotes on what was at stake in the Cold War.

And finally, for those on the Left who still question whether we in the West really faced a serious Soviet and Communist threat to our lives and liberties during the years of the Cold War (1947 – 1989), here are two more relevant and revealing quotes for them to consider:

(1) Red Army General Klykov, writing in the 1950s: “If we intend to build Communism seriously there [in Western Europe] we’ll have to send half the population to Siberia.”(Quoted in Gregory Klimov, The Terror Machine: the inside story of the Soviet Administration in Germany, Faber & Faber, London 1953, p.306)

(2) Bertrand Russell, one of the Left’s favourite 20th century philosophers, on the most likely consequences of a Soviet occupation of Western Europe: “…the destruction will be such as no subsequent reconquest can undo. Practically the whole educated population will be sent to labour camps in North East Siberia or on the shores of the White Sea, where most will die of hardships and the survivors will be turned into animals.”(R.W. Clarke, The Life of Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Cape & Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London 1975, p.524)

What, to conclude this paper, are the permanent lessons for us all, of this long and terrible story of Communist tyranny and mass murder which began so tragically in Russia in 1917, and then spread to nearly every continent during the rest of the 20th century?

The first one is the moral challenge it poses to pacifists and left-wing opponents of Western nuclear deterrence, defence spending, and military power in general. Contrary to what they and many others believe, armed conflict is not necessarily the greatest of all possible evils, to be avoided at all times and at all cost. Totalitarianism is worse, and has actually killed more people in the 20th century. Even at it lowest estimate, the Communist holocaust (100 million deaths) amounts to a figure at least 500 times larger than the total number of deaths caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Furthermore, despite the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, Communism still lives on in China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea, where, to quote Marion Smith, “where one-fifth of the world’s population are unjustly imprisoned, where torture is a daily occurrence, and where freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience are denied.” [xlviii]

The inevitable conflict between socialist equality and freedom.

The second principal lesson is that full-blooded socialism cannever be reconciled with the maintenance of a free society. Quite apart from the totalitarian consequences of collectivizing property and industry, the socialist goal of perfect equality cannot be achieved without the constant frustration of creativity and enterprise, and the abolition of liberty and the family. This necessarily follows since unless the State steps in to prevent it, the natural variations of talent, temperament, and character that exist between different individuals, will always lead to unequal outcomes, even if everyone starts off with exactly the same opportunities. The tall poppies, metaphorically speaking, will have to be repeatedly cut down to level the field for each new generation, yet even this cruel and destructive process will inevitably fail to achieve its stated objective, for what should be a very obvious reason. By its very nature, that need to concentrate all ownership and control in the hands of the State, in order to bring about perfect ‘equality’, simply creates a new and far more harmful kind of inequality – that between the all-powerful ruling socialist bureaucracy and the rest of society. And most ironically of all, this inequality of power sooner or later leads to new and often greater inequalities of wealth and living standards than exists in most liberal ‘capitalist’ societies.

Recommended reading on the totalitarian logic of socialism.

This totalitarian logic of socialism is not a new discovery, but was understood and foreseen by many of the great classical liberal thinkers of the 19th century,[xlix] and subsequently explained with great clarity in two short but powerful books published in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and available today in more recent editions. The first and most famous of these was F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944), and the second, less well known but equally compelling, was Max Eastman’s Reflections on the Failure of Socialism (1955). Given the fact that Max Eastman was originally one of the most prominent American radical socialist literary figures of the first half of the last century, and a personal friend of both Lenin and Trotsky, his testimony of disillusionment is especially illuminating and significant. Young present day admirers of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and anyone else who thinks full-blooded socialism is some great idea that has never been given a fair trial, or has only failed because of the defective personality of past socialist leaders, should therefore read Eastman and Hayek’s books and re-examine their political philosophy.

The third major lesson taught by the Communist holocaust, is that nothing is more lethally corrupting of human nature and socially destructive than political utopianism. Since human beings are inherently imperfect, the idea that any group of fallible revolutionaries can be trusted with total power in order to create some perfect society is self-evident nonsense. They are bound to fail and become monsters of cruelty in the process. That is why, again, it is no accident that, in the words of one former and famous American Marxist revolutionary and Black Panther leader, the late Eldridge Cleaver (1935 – 1998), “Communism has imposed on people the most oppressive regimes in the history of the world.” (Interview in Rolling Stone quoted in Human Events, Washington D.C. 13 September 1975).

And that Eldridge Cleaver quote brings us to the final and, for 21st century Western liberal societies like our own, perhaps the most important and culturally relevant lesson of all, namely, that the totalitarianism and inhumanity of Communism is directly related to its contemptuous rejection of the idea that there is such a thing as an eternal and absolute Moral Law, or Golden Rule, which ought to guide human behaviour and which ought to impose objective moral limits on the policies and actions of governments and rulers.

Solzhenitsyn’s challenge to Western moral relativism.

Lenin and Mao, as we have seen, were particularly and brutally frank on this subject, but though their words may shock Western liberals, the latter should be unsettled by the fact that moral relativism is not confined to Marxist militants who believe that nothing should be allowed to obstruct the advance of the socialist revolution. It has also deeply infected Western culture and society. It is therefore appropriate to end with some powerful and challenging words addressed to all of us in the West by the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russia’s great Nobel Prize-winning dissident writer and former inmate and historian of The Gulag Archipelago:

“Among enlightened people it is considered rather awkward to use seriously such words as ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Communism has managed to instill in all of us that these concepts are old-fashioned concepts and laughable. But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of one another. We will decline to the status of animals…to reject this inhuman ideology is simply to be a human being. It isn’t being a member of a party. It’s a protest of our souls…”(Solzhenitsyn: The Voice of Freedom, AFL – CIO, Washington DC, USA, p.30)

.Sources

[i] For information about Lenin as well as Marx and Engels, see for example: Thomas G. West & Sanderson Schaub, Marx and the Gulag: two essays, (The Claremont Institute, California, 1987); and also Leopold Schwarzschild, The Red Prussian: The Life and Legend of Karl Marx, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1948)
[ii] For evidence relating to Britain, see, for example, the following: Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC? (Continuum, London, 2007); Anthony Browne, The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain, (Civitas, London, 2006); Melanie Phillips, The World Turned Upside Down: the global battle over God, truth, and power, (Encounter Books, London, 2011). For evidence of left-wing bias in the mainstream media and in education in the USA, see for example: The reports and other material published by the Media Research Center, Virginia, USA; African American scholar, Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas, (The Free Press, New York, 1993); and Lesbian and feminist writer and activist, Tammy Bruce, The New Thought Police: Inside The Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds, (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2003).
[iii] For a detailed study of this phenomenon, see: Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society, (Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 1997).
[iv] Radical left attacks on freedom of speech were a regular occurrence in British and American universities in the late 1960s and during the 1970s, including Oxford (as I personally witnessed), and continue today on both sides of the Atlantic. For recent British examples, see the annual Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) reports and other information produced by Spiked, the British student online magazine, whose ‘Down With Campus Censorship’ campaign was launched in March 2014.
[v] Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation survey in 2016 (Washington D.C., USA).
[vi] Quoted in ‘Fidel Castro’, Conservapedia article, 26/01/2017, p.5.
[vii] See: Paul Hollander, op cit, chapter 6; also: ‘Fidel Castro’, op cit, p.7; and Humberto Fontova, ‘Why all that Dancing in the Streets of Miami?’, Townhall, Washington D.C., 18 October 2017, pp.2 – 3.
[viii] See, for a range of estimates and their sources: ‘Fidel Castro’, op cit, p.6; and also Humberto Fontova, op cit, p.2.
[ix] The modest official estimate of the U.S. State Department. Cuban refugees organizations believe the real figure is much higher than that.
[x] Humberto Fontova, op cit, p.2.
[xi] For this statistic and its original source, see: ‘Fidel Castro,’ op cit, p.4.
[xii] See: ‘Jeremy Corbyn’, Wikipedia article, 13/10/2017, p.17.
[xiii] See: Jeremy Lott, ‘Jill Stein praises Fidel Castro: a symbol of the struggle for justice’, Washington Examiner, 26 November 2016.
[xiv] See: Liam Stack, “Justin Trudeau Criticized for Praising Fidel Castro as ‘Remarkable Leader’”, New York Times, 26 November 2016.
[xv] See the following highly recommended books which, while acknowledging America’s errors and failures in her conduct of the Vietnam War, tell the truth about its real causes and explain why American intervention was morally justified: Dennis J. Duncanson, Government and Revolution in Vietnam, (Oxford University Press, 1968); Norman Podhoretz, Why We Were In Vietnam, (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1982); and most recently: Phillip Jennings, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War, (Regnery, Washington D.C., 2010). Dennis Duncanson was an East Asia expert fluent in Vietnamese, Chinese and French, a former member of the Malayan Civil Service during the Communist insurrection there, a member of the Robert Thompson Advisory Mission to Vietnam from 1961 to 1965, and an aid official at the British Embassy in Saigon from 1965 to 1966. And Phillip Jennings served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps, and in Laos as a pilot for Air America. Jennings’ book, amongst its other merits, has a useful list of other books – by expert witnesses and other Vietnam veterans – which also tell the truth about the Vietnam War and challenge the standard politically correct narrative about that conflict, including the lie that it was ‘unwinnable’.
[xvi] See, for instance, an illuminating interview with a former North Vietnamese colonel and member of the North Vietnamese Army’s General Staff, now a disillusioned political refugee living in Paris: ‘How North Vietnam Won the War’, Bui Tin interviewed by Stephen Young, http://www.viet-myths.net/buitin.htm
[xvii] See: Dennis Duncanson, op cit, chapter 4; and also a copiously documented article, ‘Who Was Ho Chi Minh? A deceitful Mass Murderer’, on the Vietnam Veterans for Factual History Blog,

https://blog.vvfh.org/2014/04/who-was-ho-chi-minh-a-deceitf…
[xviii] R.J. Rummel, ‘The Vietnamese War State’, Death by Government, (Transaction Publishers, USA, 1996) p.253.
[xix] Ibid, and also: Philip Vander Elst, Idealism Without Illusions: a foreign policy for freedom, (The Freedom Association, London, 1989) footnote 65, p.49.
[xx] See: Rummel, op cit, pp.254 – 256, 258 – 264; also: Douglas Pike, The Viet Cong Strategy of Terror, report prepared for the United States Mission, Vietnam, 1970.
[xxi] Rummel, op cit, p.262.
[xxii] Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam, (Oxford University Press, 1978) p.273.
[xxiii] Rummel, op cit, p.264.
[xxiv] Phillip Jennings, op cit, pp.159 – 161
[xxv] According to British Vietnam War correspondent, the late Richard West (an opponent of the war) in his critical review of Oliver Stone’s movie, Platoon, in the London Spectator (16/05/87), “At any rate until 1968, the troops I observed had good morale, they were disciplined, they had some belief in why they were there, and they did not mistreat civilians unless they were much provoked. In their generous and good-hearted way, the GIs would try to befriend the Vietnamese, especially the children…To get a truthful idea of the U.S. fighting men in Vietnam, one should read Tim O’Brien’s excellent novel, Going After Cacciato.” West goes on to say that the discipline and behaviour of many American soldiers deteriorated after 1968 because conscription brought over to Vietnam people corrupted by the radical counter-culture of the 1960s – by drugs, hard core pornography, sexual licence, and hostility to authority.
[xxvi] Rummel, op cit, p.262.
[xxvii] Jennings, op cit, pp.159 – 160.
[xxviii] Jennings, op cit, p.39.
[xxix] For the full and terrible story, see: Mary Craig, Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet, (HarperCollins, London, 1992). To quote from her book: “In the first twenty years of Chinese occupation, 1.2 million Tibetans – one fifth of the total population – are believed to have died, either by starvation (unknown before the Chinese came and changed the traditional agricultural practices), execution, imprisonment, torture or in conflict. (Tibet has been described as ‘a laboratory for torture techniques for the Chinese security forces.’).
[xxx] See, for instance, the following book, based on the testimonies of Chinese refugees fleeing Communism after Mao’s seizure of power in 1949: Suzanne Labin (a French socialist), The Anthill: the human condition in Communist China, (Stevens & Sons, London, 1960).
[xxxi] Rummel, ‘Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge’, op cit, p.193.
[xxxii] Ibid, p.196.
[xxxiii] For these facts and their original sources, see: Rummel, ‘The Vietnamese War State’, op cit, p.284.
[xxxiv] Quoted, with original sources, in Rummel, op cit, p.285.
[xxxv] Truong Nhu Tang, Vietnam the Myth of a Liberation, unpublished manuscript, 1981, quoted in Norman Podhoretz, Why Were In Vietnam, p.201.
[xxxvi] Podhoretz, op cit, p.202.
[xxxvii] Podhoretz, op cit, pp.202 – 203.
[xxxviii] Ibid, p.203.
[xxxix] Ibid.
[xl] See: Rummel, op cit, p.283.
[xli]See: Podhoretz, op cit, p.203.
[xlii] Rummel, op cit, p.283.
[xliii] Podhoretz, op cit, p.204.
[xliv] Rummel, op cit, p.287
[xlv] Podhoretz, op cit, pp.198 – 199.
[xlvi] Quoted in: Jeff Jacoby, ‘Why we fought in Vietnam’, Conservative Chronicle, Iowa, USA, 17 May 2000.
[xlvii] Horowitz & Collier, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the ‘60s, (Summit Books, New York, 1989), pp.148 – 149.
[xlviii] Press release (7/11/2017) welcoming President Trump’s decision to make 7 November a National Day of Remembrance for the worldwide victims of Communism.

NOTE: We will be adding illustrations to this later.

Christmas 2017

Once again the calendar has been cruel. I have not been able to get to the carol service that I love to attend in South Wexford. So instead of contemporary seasonal reflections I offer instead some notions which commended themselves to my ancestors. In 1808 the Millers were too busy making money in Bristol to be spending it in the West End of London. But one of my mother’s forebears felt the need to buy himself a new bible which he had exquisitely bound in green leather at Hatchards ( a shop which still continues although in new ownership ). In front of this fine, but alas badly printed volume, someone, perhaps Hatchards, perhaps my ancestor, pasted a passage from the famous pioneering philologist Sir William Jones ( 1746-1794). He was the man who did more than any other to establish the link between the Indo- European languages. The first pargraph reads as follows:
“I have regularly and attentively read these Holy Scriptures:  am of [ the ] opinion, that this Volume contains, independently of its Divine Origin, more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains of both poetry and eloquence, than can be collected, within the same compass, from all other books that were ever composed, in any age or in any idiom”
ON A DIFFERENT NOTE, we find in a manuscript volume of family recipes dating from 1802, an unnerving way of telling safe from poisonous mushrooms, which are not going to share ( this web site already has far too few readers!) and this recipe for MOCK HAMBURGH BEEF which we can commend to any of our readers who dare use it, as a tasty and nourishing addition to their menus this Christmas.
“Salt your beef with common salt, salt petre [ sic.] and coarse sugar, let it be well rubbed in and turned every day for at least a fortnight, a longer time would not hurt it. When you want to dress [ i.e. cook ] it, let it be smoked for two of three hours over  horse dung and saw dust. The [ illegible] thing is that it must simmer until it is tender and never boil.”
The Edmund Burke Institute wishes everyone, friends and “foes” alike, a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year!
We will be closed until well into January
.HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

“A Conflict of Visions.”

BY GARY KAVANAGH

“It would be good to be able to say that we should dispense with visions entirely, and deal only with reality. But that may be the most Utopian vision of all. Reality is far too complex to be comprehended by any given mind.”  Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell’s book  “Conflict of Visions”, was  first published in 1987.  At its core it is about why it is that political questions, unlike scientific questions, do not appear to have any one answer, even assuming everyone involved has the same goal in mind, that being to promote the public good.

Sowell tells us that this can be explained through the theory that there are two primary ways to view man and the interaction between man and society. They are in his terms the constrained and unconstrained visions. These two visions are naturally in conflict with each other because they rest on incompatible assumptions about the nature of man and society; and  it  is to this conflict between that the book’s title refers.

The constrained vision tells us that man is limited by his past, his present, and his physiology, that he is inherently imperfect, and is driven primarily by self-interest in various guises. The unconstrained vision holds that man, whilst perhaps limited by his past and physiology, is innately good or at the very least a blank slate, and that the evils of society are products of institutions and structural incentives within a particular culture rather than a reflection of man’s basic nature or limitations. One is immediately struck that is not a new argument, as it is reminiscent of the debate about the state of nature that has exercised the  followers of, among others, Hobbes and Rousseau.

Sowell also writes of a type of vision he calls the ‘hybrid vision’, of which he offers three primary examples, those being Marxism, Utilitarianism and Fascism. These ‘hybrid visions’ are stated to be visions of the nature of man and society that take from both the unconstrained and constrained visions and create something purely their own. Sowell believes that this can be done in either an internally consistent or internally inconsistent fashion, and that this will rather depend on the theory in question at any particular time.

To give an example of a hybrid vision, Sowell states that Fascism took from the constrained vision, symbols and certain beliefs, but their actions and the systems that sought to create were derived from the unconstrained vision. The fascists used key aspects of the constrained vision, loyalty to one’s people, obedience, etc and placed those under the control of a totally unconstrained leader who would reshape society, in the light of his will to remove imperfections and lead his people to retake Eden. Sowell makes an interesting argument here that, due to this synthesis of visions, both the political left and the political right see Fascism as being a product of an adversarial vision, as Sowell puts it. Essentially he argues that the left say that Fascism is a far-right doctrine, whilst the right say that Fascism shares a central component of socialism in both concept and execution. Sowell makes the further observation here that the existence of hybrid visions, and inconsistent visions, means that it simplistic to say the unconstrained is left-wing and the constrained is right-wing. He argues that Marxism is left-wing but contains elements of the constrained vision, whilst libertarianism is right-wing in general, but holds an unconstrained view of human nature.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the book is filled with quotations from, and commentary on the work of, Hobbes, Locke, Rawls, Galbraith, Edmund Burke, Hume and Rousseau, and many others. Although there is a growing tendency for academics to write only for other academics it is a great credit to Sowell’s eloquence that these long sections of the book devoted the the thinkers of the past, do not slow his pace. The book is very much designed to be read by people of varying ability and knowledge whilst still putting across its core message; that good people can disagree on political matters for understandable and defendable reasons. Sowell has the ability to discuss complicated matters in a clear way, and this is part of the reason why he is widely considered be such an important figure in the modern classical Liberal movement.

A large portion of the book concerns itself with interactions between those who hold these different visions and how they appear to each other. Sowell argues that holders of a constrained vision look at those who hold an unconstrained vision as being naive, perhaps dangerously so, but ultimately believe them to have good intentions. On the other hand holders of an unconstrained vision are mostly unable to understand the viewpoint of holders of a constrained vision. To holders of the unconstrained vision, Sowell argues, traditional institutions do not provide positive incentivisation or structural opportunity to citizens, and anyone who fights for their continued existence, must be either corrupt, in that they benefit from the system, or bigoted, in the sense that they want others to be oppressed by the system even if they do not personally benefit from the it themselves.

Conversely the constrained vision is, in its treatment of political, societal and cultural institutions, essentially Burkean in outlook in that it accepts that these institutions are imperfect, but that this imperfection does not invalidate the societal good that they do. While the constrained vision accepts that change is in an integral part of life, both individually and socially, it denies that one can just charge headlong into the void and expect things to work out.

According to Sowell, who is especially eloquent here, the constrained vision teaches that there are no solutions but  only trade-offs. Moreover those informed by the constrained vision believe that any attempt to fix these institutions, on the grounds that they provide no or few benefits, can make matters worse because those seeking to affect the change do not fully understand what they are replacing. Reading  Sowell’s articulation of the constrained vision I can, I can’t help thinking, be summarized by the phrase that ‘the perfect is the enemy of the great and the good alike”.

One must wonder if Sowell’s theory, for all his professions that he holds the constrained view of mankind, does not reflect a certain Utopian view of man’s rational nature and/or behavior. By positing that everyone holds particular views about human nature and the state of nature, even if only subconsciously, he showcases a view of mankind that is profoundly rational, or at very least perfectly understandable, and that suggests that politics is simply about balancing these visions through continual change and development. A more pessimistic individual could argue that politics are mostly a matter of identity, and that people’s political views but are just attempts to signal where they fit into  predominant political or social culture or sub-culture. Sowell’s theory privileges rational debate. But one could perhaps more easily argue that on many political issues rational debate is not possible, or at least not likely, due to the emotive nature of the topic, the desire of people preserve their identity by aligning with one side or another, and the entrenched political narratives of particular cultures

In this connection it is worth considering the debate about abortion debate, in which one side will call their opponents murderers, and in which the other will compare their opponents to slave drivers. Both sides are equally committed and sincere, but both viewpoints can be challenged quite easily, by way of the “problem of the heap” that suggests that our understanding of personhood can only ever be subjective.

Sometimes I  wonder if what would happen if one were to assemble a group of abortion activists on both sides of the argument, and asked them to make their opponents’ case as powerfully as they possibly could. I have never conducted such an experiment, but I suspect that if one did so one would discover that neither side had any real understanding of what their opponents were trying to say. And this, of course, raises questions about the  to which such debates can really be called  rational.

Following from that, one must query if Sowell’s theories actually apply to everyone, as he argues, rather than to a particular ‘intellectual elite’. Is Sowell right when he says that political differences, at a certain high-level theoretical level, are driven by differing views of the state of nature, but that these theories are then taken by politicians and policy formulators and fed into the medium of the public, with their attached biases, before becoming actual policies? Sowell does discuss this point briefly, as he argue that vision can be separated from one’s idea of how society should be and what policies should be adopted. He argues that adherence to a particular vision is not an either/or system. People hold these visions to varying degrees and very few people’s thought fit neatly into one category. In fact Sowell argues that is it impossible for a person to, hold a particular vision absolutely.

Finally, whilst probably not Sowell’s intention, one does wonder if these “visions” that he speaks of, are byproducts of the Christian history of the West. Is the clash between Sowell’s constrained and unconstrained visions a reflection of the deeper and older division between those who see human nature as fallen, and those who take a more optimistic view? Is our understanding of man being shaped, in a fashion we don’t realize, by the long infusion of Christian concepts into the collective unconscious of the West? Does the constrained version speak of the Fall while the unconstrained speaks of recapturing Eden?

These questions are worth asking. But Sowell fails to explore them, at least in “A Conflict of Visions.” If Sowell’s two visions do indeed indeed reflect this Christian history, what relevance can they have for those not raised in the Western tradition. Do the Chinese, for instance, hold different ‘visions’ due to the Confucian infused culture; does India hold different ‘visions’ due to the impact of Hinduism on their cultural development? One gets the feeling as one goes through the book that Sowell is aware of this but he never really delves into detail on the subject, perhaps due to his position as an American theorist writing for a predominantly American readership.

Overall “A Conflict of Visions” offers  a lot to those who are interested in learning about the reasons for political differences, despite Sowell’s unabashed adherence to the constrained vision. Beyond that, and beyond the joy of simple reading Sowell’s work, “A  Conflict of Visions” also conveys important practical lessons as to how we should consider our political opponents and  how they view the world. A libertarian might agree with a left-wing individual on a number of social issues, and that may lead the left-winger to think the libertarian is essentially a left-winger, but if they’re counting on the libertarian chap to support left-wing policies they may be unpleasantly surprised, if, for example, they go to the libertarian and ask them to support some government-led market intervention or something of the same sort. The lesson then that Sowell teaches is that:- if you only know person’s actions, but not the drive that creates them, you do not know that person and you cannot predict their behavior with any certainty.

“Visions are like maps that guide us through a tangle of bewildering complexities. Like maps, visions have to leave out many concrete features in order to enable us to focus on a few key paths to our goals. Visions are indispensable- but dangerous, precisely to the extent that we confuse them with reality itself.” Thomas Sowell.

NOTE: Mr. Kavanagh has recently joined the board of The Edmund Burke Institute.

 

Kirk on Mises

[ Mises ] leaves the attentive reader [ of “Human Action” ] quite convinced that a system of free enterprise is the most productive and most liberal economic arrangement conceivable. And yet the fact remains that most of the world has rejected these beneficent formulas, and  that where they still prevail their merit is the subject of debate. Why? “Man has only one tool to fight error: reason.” Professor von Mises says. But apparently reason has not sufficed. Can it be that the classical assumption concerning the reasonableness of humanity is inadequate for a man who presumes to analyze human action? Can it be that humanity needs something more than reason- love?”

Russel Kirk, “A Program for Conservatives” ( Chicago, 1954 ) p.145 

Mises on Keynes

“A retailer or innkeeper can easily fall prey to the illusion that all that is needed to make him and his colleagues more prosperous is more spending on the part of the public. In his eyes the main thing is to impel people to spend more. But it is amazing that this belief could be presented to the world as a new social philosophy. Lord Keynes and his disciples make the lack of the propensity to consume responsible for what they deem unsatisfactory economic conditions. What is needed, in their eyes, to make men more prosperous is not an increase in production, but an increase in spending. In order to make it possible for people to spend more, an “expansionist” policy is recommended.

This policy is as old as it is bad.”

Ludwig Von Mises, “Human Action” Scholars edition, p. 429

Best avoided

Thomas Hoerber, “Hayek vs. Keynes, a Battle of Ideas” ( Reaktion Books, London 2017) E. 20

This book claims to be a contribution to the history of economic thought ( p. 7  ) but since the author is apparently unaware that differing understandings of the nature of the trade/ business cycle was central to the debate between Keynes and Hayek, it is, in my view, a less than completely successful exercise.

Philip Shenon on the JFK assassination.

Philip Shenon,  ” A Cruel and Shocking Act, the secret history of the Kennedy Assassination.” ( New York, 2013 )

Dealey Plaza, where Occam’s razor is needed most

Far too many books have been written about the assassination of JFK . Indeed I gather that in total no less than twenty eight different gunmen have been identified in Dealey Plaza by various authors. If this was just another bonkers conspiracy book it would be best to ignore it.

In fact though it is interesting for two reasons. First, Shenon, who has also written about the Commission that looked into 9/11, has obviously made a profound and detailed study of the Warren Commission’s internal workings. The Commission, headed by Chief Justice  Earl Warren, has always known to have been a bit of a shambles which relied far too much on the information provided by the FBI. What I had not known though before I browsed through Shenon’s account, is how disgraceful the it was in other ways. Apparently one of its senior staffers even  tried to seduce Marina Oswald- then an attractive widow! And there were also more serious lapses.

While the Warren Commission certainly reached the right conclusion about the events in Dallas- namely that Oswald was not part of a wide conspiracy. Nevertheless Shenon may be on firm ground when he suggests that not enough was done to investigate some important leads which suggested that Oswald had been influenced by left wingers who he had met when he paid a brief visit Mexico City some weeks before he opened fire.

The Warren Commission took the view that Oswald’s trip to Mexico had been essentially inconsequential- nothing much had happened there except that Oswald had failed to get the visas he had wanted which would have enabled him to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. We will never now know the facts, but Shenon provides fairly convincing evidence that Oswald may have had a brief affair with the junior Cuban diplomat who handled his visa application, that she introduced him to a group of anti American students; and that he may have convinced himself that he would be welcomed back into this group if he proved himself worthy of their attention. Shenon implies that it was to do this, and perhaps to win himself a lover, that he killed President Kennedy when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself a six weeks later.

All this is, of course, far, far, too vague to rank as history or anything like it. The woman concerned denies that she had a fling with Oswald, and the story of Oswald presence at a “Twist party” where he is alleged to have been seen in the company of Mexican/ Cuban leftists could well just be the creation of someone’s imagination. But then again, some such course of events does explain Oswald’s actions after the assassination. Were was Oswald headed when he fled from the Book Depository building?Was he- like rocket man- on a suicide mission? Or did he have a plan? Was he headed to back to Mexico and the “friends” he had met there? Shenon describes how the suggestion that he was trying to get to Mexico was nearly included in the Warren Commission’s report, but was  excluded from the final version.

The best that can be said is that Shenon’s book raises some interesting possibilities. However it should not be despised like so many of the other idiotic publications about the assassination. At the very least Shenon does at least ask the right questions, questions that have been ignored too often both by those with a conspiracy to sell and those who have tried to debunk them. The deep point that he makes is, I think, that in respect of the assassination, and other matters too, we should be thinking not so much about plots, but about contexts. Future historians will have to make use of Shenon’s book, and not just for what it tells us about the Warren Commission, interesting though that is.

NOTE: “The Daily Mail” should be ashamed of itself for giving publicity to an absurd theory that identifies Jackie Kennedy as one of the assassins. Even by the standards of planet tabloid….. 

 

The news from Zimbabwe.

Since we have previously commented here about events in Zimbabwe it seems only right to say something about the coup, or rather the attempted “correction”, that has just taken place in Harare.

1] The situation is complicated and fast moving. There is no certainty about either what has happened or about what will happen. That said, the following thoughts suggest themselves

2] There is no doubt that Bob had it coming. In his first years in power he showed that he had the capacity to govern Zimbabwe well. He could have turned Zimbabwe into a beacon of prosperity and hope in central Africa. And he was some of the way to doing this, as was widely admitted by quite conservative whites in South Africa when I was there for about six months in 1989. There was real hope in the air. Bob’s failure was then one pure corruption. He has brought needless misery on the people of Zimbabwe. His fall will be fully deserved.

3] However, coups are a bad business. There have been far too many of them in Africa since the sixties. They may save a country from a tyrant as in this case, but they always set a bad example. Apart from all the other obvious moral,political, and legal considerations investors do not like seeing tanks on the streets.

4] The auguries for the future of Zimbabwe may be better than they were before recent events, but they are still not good. Well informed observers are expressing doubts about the motives and characters of those who are trying to depose Mugabe. Their record is unimpressive, and our jubilation about their efforts should, consequently, be muted.

5]  The best hope now is for a rapid return to legality, and for free and fair elections to take place. But here the matter becomes unusually complicated. Bob has unexpectedly “won” elections in the past. He is the wiliest old fox in the business, and as of this moment it doesn’t look as if he wants to go quietly.

6] The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough. In the long run the only way in which Zimbabwe can release its huge economic potential is through the rule of law, democratic institutions, and private enterprise. All other proposals will end in further disaster and humiliation. The misrule of Robert Mugabe will not have been completely wasted if it teaches this lesson.