BOOK REVIEW

Reflections on a Ravaged Century
by
Robert Conquest

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 3, No. 10, 10/1/01.

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Myths and policy blunders:

  The author's purpose in this book is to present "an overview, an attempt to present in a reasonably coherent way the crucial causes of past disasters, and so of the problems still facing us in our hopes for a reasonably peaceful and consensual world." This is clearly a useful objective, so the book deserves to be evaluated on that basis.
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By failing to at least note the many positives that have led to the continuing success of western pluralistic systems, Conquest fails to provide essential context for this part of his book.

  This history is judgmental. It includes the reflections of the author informed by the learning and experiences of a scholarly lifetime. Not "prejudice" but "postjudice."
  &
 
Inevitably, such a book accentuates the negatives. Unfortunately, 20th century history had all too many of them. Conquest sets forth in nauseating detail the intellectual myths and policy blunders involved in the rise of fascism and communism - but nevertheless cannot possibly overstate the case against the ideas and policies that played roles in these vast human tragedies.

  Intolerant fundamentalist religions of all types have been responsible for vast human misery throughout history. Today, it is a broadly hostile - determinedly ignorant - form of Moslem fundamentalism that the world must deal with. This book about the evils of similar secular religions is certainly relevant to today's events.

    Then, Conquest turns his attention to the many intellectual myths and policy blunders currently afflicting western world nations.  However, here, he goes somewhat astray.  Here, it is possible to overstate the case - and this Conquest does.
  &
  By his own standard (when discussing the pros and cons of British imperialism), Conquest correctly asserts that context and a balance of positives and negatives are essential. "A serious view  needs to take in the positives -- not only in themselves but as compared with other [imperial examples]."
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  Conquest does offer views on the historic development and strengths of common law democratic systems. However, in his extensive - and largely correct - discussion of the western world's current ideological and policy failings, Conquest fails to provide even a glimmer of context or balance. There must be something more than just the common sense and intellectual incomprehension of the general public that explains public rejection of the ideological attacks on  economic and political freedom and individual liberty. As vitally important as it is, there is much more about western world governance than just rule of law that explains economic success and political stability.
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  Conquest covers many of the same negatives frequently covered in FUTURECASTS articles, but adds many illuminating details. However, there are not even the slightest indications of any of the many reasons for the overall optimism of FUTURECASTS outlooks. Yes, the modern world is going to hell in a hand basket - and has been doing so for at least the last 2500 years of recorded history. Indeed, it has on innumerable occasions even arrived at such nether regions. But it has somehow found its way forward in modern times, and the broadening number of nations committed to western values have triumphed magnificently over powerful 20th century challenges.
  &
  By failing to at least note many of the positives that have led to the continuing success of western pluralistic systems, Conquest fails to provide essential context for this part of his book.

The "Idea"

Authoritative myths:

 

 

 

&

  "Ideas that claimed to transcend all problems, but were defective or delusive, devastated minds, and movements, and whole countries, and looked like plausible contenders for world supremacy. In fact, humanity has been savaged and trampled by rogue ideologies."
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  "The basic characteristic and attraction was and is the archaic idea that utopia can be constructed on earth; the offer of a millenarian solution to all human problems."

The history of the 20th century was dominated by vast and devastatingly failed experiments in government administered systems of economic distribution - all doomed to failure because of the inherent ineptness of government management systems - and the impossibility of any effective economic management without market mechanisms.

 

Study of the future is impossible without first dispelling the fog of authoritative myths and propaganda ploys that always envelop intellectual discourse.

  This is a history of the most influential myths - the authoritative myths - that influenced the bloody, savage history of the 20th century. It is an attempt "to develop the history and nature of the various destructive ideologies in action."

  This destructiveness is just one reason why FUTURECASTS is dedicated to the debunking of authoritative myths. Even the best intended and utopian of myths can be taken over by thuggish leaders and used to provide excuses for thuggish behavior that can blight the lives of vast multitudes.
  &
  Even without this outcome, efforts to implement such Ideas - like socialism, command economics, and their current version - economic and social "rights" - are doomed to failures that must also inevitably blight the lives of vast multitudes. The history of the 20th century was dominated by vast and devastatingly failed experiments in government administered systems of economic distribution - all doomed to failure because of the inherent ineptness of government management systems - and the impossibility of any effective economic management without market mechanisms.
  &
  Whatever we wish to accomplish in the economic sphere, we have to work with markets. Only idiots try to work against markets. Changing the rationale can't change the reality of inevitable failure for economic efforts that don't utilize market mechanisms.
  &
  As Conquest points out: "It is impossible to have any understanding of the present without some perspective on humanity's past, and on its unpredictable but conceivable futures." The FUTURECASTS effort to set forth as much as can be seen of our "substantially probable outcomes" would be impossible without historic perspective that includes, among other things, the irrational aspects of man's behavior. It would also be impossible without first dispelling the fog of authoritative myths and propaganda ploys that always envelop intellectual discourse.

The belief that we have the power to mold society according to a formulaic idea, "that human affairs are in principle fully understandable and fully manipulable," has in modern times been - and remains - a devastating force in human history.

  We still face a long and dangerous struggle to bring a highly refractory planet into a peaceable, let alone democratic, condition, Conquest points out. Even today (as demonstrated by recent tragic events), "archaic hatreds, ideologically modernized and totalitarianized, flourish." The world must still grapple with the "primitive but still powerful notion that any political or other objective can be achieved by mere force." The delusion that force can solve all problems is "above all a 'slothful' attempt to ignore the complexity of reality."

  Indeed, all utopian concepts - even those that oppose resort to force - invariably are "slothful" attempts to ignore the complexity of reality.

  Also, we continue to suffer from the deplorably widespread tendency among many western intellectuals towards "muddleheadedness" - towards " misconceptions based on what Dostoevski called 'being in bondage to advanced ideas.'" The belief that we have the power to mold society according to a formulaic idea, "that human affairs are in principle fully understandable and fully manipulable," has in modern times been - and remains - a devastating force in human history.
  &

The English Revolution of 1688, and the American Revolution in 1776, were both undertaken "in protection of the legal and civic order, [with] no connotation of total and utopian change."

 

Intellectual followers of a Stalin find attractive the need to accept the guilt of "the necessary merciless action" required to create a new society.

  This modern destructive intellectual trend is traced by Conquest to the French Revolution. "The sense of the complete destruction of the existing order, and its replacement by abstract concepts, these latter formulated by, and dictatorially enforced by, theorists with no experience of real politics," was a characteristic of that event.

  Here, Conquest goes partially astray. The "enforcers" frequently are not the theorists. Frequently, these utopian concepts have been appropriated by the paranoid thugs - in nations large and small - who survive and come to dominate revolutionary situations. These thugs - like Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot - use these concepts to justify their own ambitions. The intellectual theorists are frequently casualties of their own revolutions - or wind up as lackeys providing intellectual cover for some horrific regime.

  The English Revolution of 1688, and the American Revolution in 1776, were both undertaken "in protection of the legal and civic order, [with] no connotation of total and utopian change."
  &
  In Soviet Russia, according to the widow of a great Russian poet murdered by Stalin, "a generation of Russian intellectuals was ruined by the word, which none of them could give up, and which prevented them from opposing the dictatorship." After all, Stalin was indubitably completing a revolution and destroying the hated existing order.
  &
    Then, there is the intellectual attractiveness of the uplifting lie. "The lie that uplifts us is dearer to me than the mass of petty [factual truths]," wrote Pushkin sardonically. Dostoevsky pointed out that there are some who find "causes" attractive because they provide excuses for behaving badly. Intellectual followers of a Stalin find attractive the need to accept the guilt of "the necessary merciless action" required to create a new society.
  &

Intellectuals who willingly accept the bestiality with which paranoid thugs lead their revolutions have a particular temperament that leads them to believe such suffering to be necessary and justifiable.

  Ideas of these kinds generally infect highly educated, sophisticated, knowledgeable, ambitious people who may be bored, or whose shortcomings may have caused a loss of faith in themselves - or inexperienced students attracted to an ideology that provides ready made answers. Above all, intellectuals who willingly accept the bestiality with which paranoid thugs lead their revolutions have a particular temperament that leads them to believe such suffering to be necessary and justifiable.

  Always, inexperienced and relatively ignorant students are sought out, indoctrinated, and made the ideological - and sometimes real - cannon fodder of these movements.

While many in the intelligentsia harbored delusions about the Stalinists, these illusions were widely rejected by the "common sense" of the public.

  Conquest notes how many establishment intellectuals were blatantly unwilling to take seriously the warnings about Hitler. They were unable "to grasp the totalist mentality." "The concept of a quite different set of motivations, based on a different political psychology, was absent."

  This is true, but out of context. The context must include the then recent horrors of WW I that made so many so desperate to avoid another military conflict - and the Great Depression that sapped the financial and moral strength of nations. Had Hitler somehow come to power in 1910, he would have found a Britain and France ready to oppose him.
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    Yet, it is true that there are always some intellectuals of that type - like those who for so long refused to see the evil in the Evil Empire - and those pacifists who determinedly remain in denial that the world remains a dangerous place that occasionally will require military interventions in support of freedom. In the age of nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, the world can no longer tolerate such delusions or excuse the conduct of the paranoid thugs who often gain dominance during revolutionary times.

  Truly serious scholars and ordinary people rarely were misled by Fascist or Soviet propaganda. Frequently, the West has been saved by a public "too sane and too stupid to accept the sophisticated in place of the obvious." While, for example, many in the intelligentsia harbored delusions about the Stalinists, these illusions were widely rejected by the "common sense" of the public. However, this is not always true. The "common sense" of the public can be too parochial to understand alien ambitions and viewpoints. It is essential to critically examine all ideas - particularly those carrying "a high emotional charge."
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The intellectual virtues of rationality, balance and objectivity are abandoned in favor of "commitment."

 

Progressives are frequently in denial about the limits of bureaucratic capabilities. Excessive legislation, regulation and litigation are often directed at aims "based more on conviction than on knowledge."

  Then, there are the lesser "progressive" solutions that generally prevail amongst many who reject despotic utopian extremism. A century ago, these included natural philosophy, phrenology, free thought, spiritualism, temperance, unorthodox medicine, social reform, and the transformation of the family. These were pursued with much righteousness and certainty - just as is the partially different batch today.

  "Certainty on matters in which our knowledge is inevitably imperfect is the enemy of good understanding and good policy."

  Most "progressive" thinkers simply have a certain temperament that is attracted to the novel and unorthodox, but   there is an element of "sheer lunacy" in some. However, Conquest does recognize that not all "progressive" ideas are illogical or fail.

  Again, an overstatement of the case. Some social reforms - like the rational aspects of the civil rights and environmental movements - have not just been successful, they have been essential.

  The problem arises, according to Conquest, when commitments to current authoritative myths become more important than rational discourse. The intellectual virtues of rationality, balance and objectivity are abandoned in favor of "commitment." (Today, in the western world, various versions of political correctness are often the main adversaries of rationality, balance and objectivity.)
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  In the West, there is often a disconnect between "the principle of state control and the actuality of bureaucratic power." Progressives are frequently in denial about the limits of bureaucratic capabilities. Excessive legislation, regulation and litigation are often directed at aims "based more on conviction than on knowledge."

  At least, in the western democracies, programs that clearly fail can be and have been abandoned by a disgusted public. Entitlement welfare programs and notions that "society" is to blame for criminal behavior have been abandoned in the U.S. Command and socialist economic policies have been widely if hardly completely abandoned. The refusal to build new power plants in California and some other states has been hastily abandoned.

"[T]he political virtues of free discussion, political compromise, plural societies, change without chaos, and market economics have triumphed."

  Conquest calls for "a sense of balance, between the proper rights of the individual and the necessary rights of the state, between personal aims and mutual obligations, between the often conflicting claims of liberty and equity." He argues against formulaic thinking.

  "There is no simple concept which will answer such questions as how much the state can do (though we have learned that to give it too much power is disastrous), or how far market forces can give positive results (though we have learned that their abolition is disastrous). Nor is there a simple guide to foreign policy." 

  Unfortunately, in the 20th century, policy has often been directed by those who believed that some formula can explain "the condition of mankind in all its vast complexity." Nevertheless, "the political virtues of free discussion, political compromise, plural societies, change without chaos, and market economics have triumphed. But it was a near thing, and we are still beset by a whole array of great dangers." (This is well said, but there is a lot more to the inherent strengths of modern free societies than this.)
  &
  The academic pseudo sciences
based on formulaic thinking or on statistics that are inevitably nebulous are also rightly targeted for criticism. (See the "Education" segment of "The West," below.)

  Democracy

Good governance:

  "The emergence of the open society" that somehow managed to successfully navigate the challenges of the 20th century is reviewed by Conquest.
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The large majority of the people must view their own lives as existing outside politics.

 

Conquest advises caution, humility, and due regard for the law of unintended consequences.

  The strength and resiliency of "the civic tradition" of England that repeatedly thwarted occasional absolutist efforts by the monarchy is particularly noted. "The rights of Englishmen" have a long tradition running back into Saxon customs.

  English civic tradition also has the advantages of development on an island nation that didn't have to maintain a large army to fend off invaders. The English monarchy always had to rely on the willing support of a widening circle of influential men when financial or military needs arose. Even in later years, the navies that defended the nation could not be used to collect taxes or maintain civic order. But on the continent, the armies that defended the realms gave autonomous strength to kings and emperors.
  &
  Although Conquest is very aware of the many geographic advantages of England's island status, this major geographic distinction is overlooked. It is, indeed, widely overlooked in scholarly circles.
  &
  In the U.S., during the first 150 years of its existence, a weak federal government had no choice but to govern in a way that would win the willing support of its citizenry - a goodly portion of whom were armed and not amused by restrictions that seemed unjustified.

  Conquest notes the importance of apathy in democratic governance. The large majority of the people must view their own lives as existing outside politics. (If there is any substantial opposition, it is essential that political advocates should have to work very hard and be very persuasive to win enough public support to achieve their worthy political purposes.)

  "A democratic community enjoying political liberty is only possible when the attachment of the majority of the citizens to political liberty is stronger than their attachment to specific political doctrines."
  &
  "The instability of the [ancient] Greek states was due to the devotion to politics of all concerned."
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  "At any rate, all the major troubles the world has had in our era have been caused by people who have let politics become a mania. The politician should be a servant and should play a limited role."

  Conquest advises caution, humility, and due regard for the law of unintended consequences. Progress should be made in small steps that can be readily reversed if things don't work out. "In the human context, we cannot predict on the basis of theory."
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  Nevertheless, Conquest emphasizes that "the maintenance of liberties, the principle of accommodation of various interests, the preserving of balances," are constant political concerns requiring reasonable levels of good governance. Abstract "libertarian" principles are not of much use in real life.
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  Democracy is neither natural nor easy. "It depends for its arrival and survival on long established foundations, both institutional and mental." It requires "an evolution of political attitudes, and an acceptance of consensual principles, [that] really permeate the society in question, and above all the Rule of Law that represents and realizes these principles." It must balance majoritarian rule with the protection of essential minority rights.

Marxism

The utopian propaganda myth:

 

Many Marxist fallacies still persist - to confuse the credulous - who are forever with us.

  Given the obvious absurdities of Marxism, how did it gain such widespread acceptance and respect?
  &
  Conquest feels obligated to give a fairly extensive refutation of the now obvious fallacies of Marxist theories because they still persist - in bits and pieces - in greater or lesser degree - in various nations and intellectual circles - to confuse the credulous who are forever with us.

  "It was Jonathan Swift who said that the most positive men are the most credulous. There are temperaments that will always seek absolutes, and no argument could persuade them otherwise."

  Marx's "scientific" theory was not induced from empirical studies, like that of Darwin. It was deduced from his academic background. He invented the theory first and then "found" the facts to support it - ignoring all others. (This is the essence of theocratic reasoning. This is how you create a myth.)
  &
  The attractiveness of his theory is similar to that of previous utopian European concepts. "A state of total community, a society wholly unanimous in its beliefs and wholly free from inner conflicts," has long been an enticing illusion for European utopians. Individuality ends, and the "community" becomes the entity in its own right, "rather than a coherence of individual social beings."
  &
  The Marxist utopia included the notion of the disappearance of the state - perhaps the most dangerous (and obviously preposterous) utopia of all kind. Humanist Leonard Shapiro argued: "The end of the state means the end of legal order - but it does not mean the end of rule. What survives when the state goes is therefore naked rule, unrestrained by law, constitution or conviction."
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  Marx assumed the eventual development of a homogeneous society that would voluntarily accept direction from its leaders. This, of course, means the abandonment of criticism - the abandonment of all reasoning powers.

  Of course, such Marxist myths are obviously absurd. It required real idiocy for some intellectuals to even treat them seriously. And the absurdities mentioned by Conquest are just the beginning.

  • Fears of chronic productive overcapacity - of automation - of capitalist economies reaching a level of "maturity" where they become so productive that profits are squeezed and the economies collapse - has been the basic stuff of left wing propaganda from the times of Karl Marx. It was one of the basic misconceptions of the New Deal that led to disastrous efforts at wage and price controls and other command economic policies. It was one of the basic misconceptions of the automation scare of the 1960s that was actually reflected in the widely used Economics textbooks of Paul Samuelson. It was one of the innumerable fallacies behind the frustrated expectations of John Kenneth Galbraith.

  • Then there is the absurdity that once capitalism creates industry, it can be taken over and run by communists without capitalist systems. This constitutes a static view of the world and breathtaking ignorance of the realities of economics. The rapid deterioration of nationalized industries and rent controlled apartments could be a surprise only to the totally ignorant.

  • Then there is the absurdity that profits are unnecessary for productivity ("All profits are theft!") - that they can be dispensed with and made available for redistribution without economic damage.

  • Then there was the ridiculous distinction between financial capital (the useless capitalist "bad guys") and industrial capital (the useful capitalist "good guys") - as if industrialists could possibly function without the support and guidance of financial markets.

How did so many intellectuals come to accept such blatant stupidity?

  Indeed, there is almost nothing in the Marxist propaganda myth that is not sheer lunacy. How did so many intellectuals come to accept such blatant stupidity? How did so many others who didn't accept it nevertheless believe it deserved respectful consideration? How did it receive such acceptance in academic institutions around the world?
  • The utopian perfect is the greatest ideological enemy of the practical best. Conquest notes that reality always involves parochial or short sighted motives. Inefficiencies, and degrees of selfishness and corruption are always a part of the real world. Constant efforts to limit these faults are essential, but resort to utopian alternatives is always absurd.

  • Marxists demonized an "enemy." As Hitler demonized the Jews, plutocrats and "das system," Marxists demonized the "bourgeois" and their system. In this way, militant dogmas gain allegiances and enthusiasms among credulous supporters.

  • Marx presented his myths as the certainties of proven scientific theory - a historic "science." Of course, a propaganda myth that provides ready-made "scientific" certainties has great attractiveness for intellectuals of limited understanding, knowledge and/or experience. This is especially true of students and some academics.

  • Also, Marx provided justification for revolution - a real attraction for the many truly oppressed of Russia and China and similar nations.

The "science" propaganda ploy:

 

The pretense of "science" gave Marxists the feeling of "modernity" - the heady ego trip of being at the cutting edge of understanding and events.

 

 

 Scientific achievement had given "science" great stature by the end of the 19th century. Many sought to use the pretense of "science" as a prop for religious faiths and secular propaganda myths. "Even now we do not know enough about the endlessly complex affairs of the human mind or of human society to predict, plan and manipulate."

  Of course, even outside the hard sciences, we can - and always do - predict, plan and manipulate. We simply can't do it to anything approximating scientific certainty or precision. Sociology, politics, economics, war, law, accounting - these are learned professions that can never be reduced to mere sciences. They will always remain too complex, and will always depend on the subtleties of professional understanding.

  However, Conquest points out, the pretense of "science" gave Marxists the feeling of "modernity" - the heady ego trip of being at the cutting edge of understanding and events.
  &

  The "end of history" stupidity:

  Heavy industry and its masses of worker proletarians was viewed by Marx as the final evolution of economic history.

  "Indeed, the failure of the Soviet Union in the later technological, and military-technological, contest with the west may in part be seen as the defeat of archaic heavy industry by newer automated and sophisticated conditions of production."

  Ideological cannon fodder:

 

 

The people were viewed as mere raw material for ideological and political purposes.

  Ultimately, communism was not rule for the proletarians - it was rule over the proletarians. 

  This is typical of such religious and secular theocracies as extreme nationalists and authoritarian religious fundamentalists. Their ideology justifies rule "over," not "for." 

  Ultimately, mass worker general strikes would bring down communist states - not capitalist states.
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  Marx and Hitler had similar attitudes. The people - the workers and the German people - for whom they respectively purported to act - had a duty to provide support - and could be justifiably forced to do so. The workers and the German people were viewed as mere raw material for their respective purposes. There was never respect for them or any concern for their desires. "Only when envisioned in the abstract, as verbal icons, did the proletariat or the masses figure positively."
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Obfuscatory propaganda ploys:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

&

 Nevertheless, to deflect criticism, Marxists could call on an array of propaganda ploys.

  • Marxist theory was simple enough in broad conclusions to attract the intellectually limited or lazy, yet theoretically complex enough to be incomprehensible to most and vague enough to make refutation tedious and difficult. "The lack of clarity is sometimes a device to mask the fact that the conclusions sought could not be arrived at by logical means."

  • Like many ideologies, Marxism automatically demonized all opponents. It assumed that all opponents had evil motives deriving from class enmity. This conveniently permitted adherents to deflect all criticism.

  • Since the theory purported to be a "science," all contradiction was automatically erroneous.

  • As a last resort, all logical weaknesses could be explained away as mere "vulgar Marxism," which had been adequately remedied by more sophisticated Marxist theorists who had provided necessary nuances and subtleties - that not even Marxists understood sufficiently to explain.

  Das Kapital:

 

 

 

&

  Some of the main stupidities of Das Kapital are explained by Conquest. These include:

  • The "mature economy" prediction that overproduction and falling wages and profits  would lead to economic collapse and revolution. (This ignores the constant social and technological change, and the essential processes of creative destruction.)

  • Also, the labor theory of value (surplus value) explanation that all profit is extracted from workers. (With incredible stupidity, this attempts to deny the absolutely essential roles of management and capital and capitalist markets.)

  Most Marxists and others never understood - or cared - that Marx never succeeded - despite numerous chapters in Das Kapital - in providing a practical definition of "use values"  with which to supplant the "exchange values" of capitalist markets. Use values were the core of Marxist economic theory, but neither he nor any of his followers could ever square that circle. Marx could never provide a finish for Das Kapital despite lengthy efforts. Nor could any subsequent Marxist "scholars" finish it for him.

  These propaganda myths were designed "to give an apparently scientific and doctrinal form to the simple notion that the rich rob the poor."
  &

Capitalist markets:

 

A complex modern economy cannot operate without market mechanisms.

  Marx assumed that bureaucratic decision making could substitute for and would be less "alienating" than the unplanned play of market forces. "In fact, the whole history of the USSR testifies to a refusal to face the fact that a complex modern economy cannot operate without a market mechanism." 

  Nobody likes discipline, and resentment at the disciplines imposed by capitalist markets still causes many to thrash about seeking ways of avoidance.

 Marxism has in fact had a major success - in widely demonizing capitalism - the economic goose that lays the golden eggs that support all human progress.

  Of course, "free markets" have never been free of the need for proper governance structures - the need for rule of law. Also, "trust must prevail." For markets to work, they cannot be cutthroat. Capitalism thrives on a sophisticated system of ethical conduct. (The old conservative "laissez faire" myth has become the modern left wing "laissez faire" straw man.)
  &
  Marxism has in fact had a major success - in widely demonizing capitalism - the economic goose that lays the golden eggs that support all human progress.
  &

Absurdities:

 

Marx's class struggle concepts suffer from blatant unreality, repeatedly exposed - much to the surprise of communists - by workers who ultimately recognize that their mutual interests lie with management and capital.

  The evident absurdity of Marx's historic analysis - that simplified all history into a progression from slave to feudal to capitalist to socialist forms of society - is pointed out. Marx's class struggle concepts suffer from blatant unreality, repeatedly exposed - much to the surprise of communists - by workers who ultimately recognize that their mutual interests lie with management and capital. The theory of economic determinism was disproved by Stalin and Mao themselves, who chose policies of political control rather than economic effectiveness.

  However, this last one  we have to chalk up for Marx. Economics is hardly as dominant a determinant factor as Marx presented it. Economic developments are themselves determined by factors of governance and culture. However, economics is obviously a powerful determinant force in human history. Although it took some time, it was in fact the economic weaknesses of communism that ultimately doomed Stalinist Russia and Maoist China.

  Marxist predictions had all failed by the end of the 19th century, Conquest points out.

 "Marxist predictions of a capitalist failure to expand production, of a fall in the rate of profit, a decrease in wages, of increasing proletarian impoverishment and the resulting approach of revolutionary crisis in the industrial countries had all proved false." (However, the Great Depression would give many Marxist theories a new lease on life because of a determined and successful widespread intellectual effort to accept left wing explanations and thus obscure that it was government policies that were the Depression's actual causes.)

Nationalism and Nazism

The "nation:"

  Conquest then goes through the same tedious exercise - proving the obvious - the blatant stupidities of the Nazi propaganda myth. Some of the similar fallacies of less extreme forms of nationalism are also set forth, along with a useful history of nationalistic consciousness and concepts.
  &

The long held belief (most strongly held by the ideological left) that WW I was caused by accidental blunders or commercial rivalries has now been abandoned by most historians.

  In England, public sense of nationhood evolved first among the people - as did their sense of the rights of the individual, which was thereafter codified by government. Nationalism in England, like democracy, was a bottom-up process.
  &
  In France and on the rest of the Eurasian continent, rights and nationhood were bestowed by the leadership on the people in a top-down process. (With the constant presence in the continental states of standing armies of professional warriors, how could it have been otherwise?) Only convulsive and successful revolutions could create republics that would broadly free people from despotic bondage.

  "It was, as it was not in England or Scotland or Switzerland, the state that in effect brought [the "nation"] into being, and that formed it, administered it and represented it from above." (Switzerland is like an island amidst its mountains.)

  The concept of Germany as a nation evolved first among intellectual activists and later among political and military activists rather than as a broad sense of the people. After the 1848 debacle, the Prussian monarchy adopted German nationalism as a pretext for expansion. Like Japan in the early 20th century, many of the attributes of democracy were established from above - but real power always remained with the Kaiser and his military leaders.
  &
  The long held belief (most strongly held by the ideological left) that WW I was caused by accidental blunders or commercial rivalries has now been abandoned by most historians. It is now clear that the Kaiser's regime was "inherently headed for war."
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  The Weimar Republic provided a chance for real democratic evolution, but "its basis was shaky and shallow." (It would have had to have been sturdy indeed to have overcome the burdens imposed by the Treaty of Versailles and the shocks of hyperinflation and the Great Depression.) German democracy now looks more firmly established. (Indeed, it has been tested as the front line state in the Cold War.) Hopefully, more recent efforts to establish democracy will travel "a better road."
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Nazism:

 

Both Nazism and communism relied on social pseudo science.

  The similarities and differences between communism and national socialism are explained. For both, the individual had to be repressed, and limited to life as part of mass experience. Both relied on the social pseudo science of the late 19th century - so beloved of so many intellectuals of the day (and still beloved of many intellectuals today).
  &
  For both ideologies, moral nihilism was a central feature. Both ideologies identified with the masses, but had no real respect for them and considered them as nothing more than ideological - and real - storm troopers and cannon fodder.
  &

Temperaments that could accept the one could more readily accept the other than accept concepts of freedom and individuality.

  These similarities explain the ease with which so many adherents passed so readily between the two supposedly virulent enemies. Temperaments that could accept the one could more readily accept the other than accept concepts of freedom and individuality. The attractions of submergence in a mass movement were the same for both.
  &
  In recent times, the two ideologies seem to have merged. The Red Brigades of Germany and the Khmer revolutionaries in Cambodia included Nazi ethnic intolerance in their propaganda myths.
  &

National states:

  Distinctive characteristics influenced all the peoples that eventually coalesced into the nations of continental Europe. In Russia, social arrangements were diametrically opposite to normal concepts of citizenship. Russia has no "civil tradition" on which to create the fabric of political freedom.
  &

Tolerance remains an ultimate requirement, since it is impossible to disentangle all the intertwined tribal and ethnic minorities.

 

Cultural differences impose constraints on efforts to impose market economics or multiparty democratic systems in areas where such concepts are strange.

  The sorting out of nationalist self determination tendencies has not yet run its course (as witness recent events in the Yugoslav region). Nevertheless, tolerance remains an ultimate requirement, since it is impossible to disentangle all the intertwined tribal and ethnic minorities. Unfortunately, tolerance may be a long time in developing in certain heated regions.
  &
   National states will provide the building blocks of the world's political order for the present and for the foreseeable future. "Pirate states" that refuse to be constrained by any rules of international behavior (Iraq, N. Korea, etc.) and failed states involved in warlord conflicts (Somalia and similar sub Sahara African states) remain problems. The supranational world state idea is not currently a plausible alternative. "As with all our problems, it is a matter of adjustment, not perfection."
  &
  Today, in the Balkans, we see that nationalist extremism continues to be a powerful disruptive force in the world. Local versions - influenced by local cultures - cause trouble in the Indian subcontinent and Africa.
  &
  Cultural realities are vital in these considerations. Cultural differences make problems in the Balkans distinct from those in the Indian subcontinent and from those in Africa. Cultural differences also impose constraints on efforts to impose market economics or multiparty democratic systems in areas where such concepts are strange. Latin America has had a long history of economic and political failures because of a lack of appropriate supporting civic traditions and political institutions.
  &
  Conquest rightly cautions about simplistic analyses. He points out that one reason for the failure of the Alliance for Progress - "based on the supposedly scientific view" of economic takeoffs - was its simplistic assumptions that neglected cultural impediments.

An Ideology Prone Intelligentsia

The " Idea:"

It is a shortcut to achieving a sense of intellectual enlightenment and even superiority.

  Reliance on the Idea as a substitute for the hard work of achieving real understanding - the attractiveness of the Idea that, like religion, provides ready made answers to the world's complex problems - appeals to certain intellectual temperaments, and especially to students not yet knowledgeable enough or experienced enough to understand their world. It is a shortcut to achieving a sense of intellectual enlightenment and even superiority.
  &

  The intelligentsia willingly substituted the Idea for thought.
  &
  According to Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdayev: "Scientific positivism, and everything else Western, was accepted in its most extreme form and converted not only into a primitive metaphysic, but even into a special religion supplanting all previous religions." 
  &

Credulous intelligentsia:

  "Incredible"  acceptance of Soviet communism in some western intellectual circles was sustained well into the Cold War period. There were intellectual temperaments prone to substitute dogma for rigorous analytical effort, and willing to accept such garbage as "science."
  &

Prominent credulous intellectuals wrote "utopian fantasy" on behalf of the Soviet propaganda myth. They were willfully blind concerning the realities of Soviet  socialism.

  The "social justice" propaganda ploy provides the justification for socialism. However, the need in communism for total social justice is justified as essential for the creation and maintenance of the socialist system. "Their idea of socialism was built around the concept of social justice, but the form retained its admirers after the removal of the content." 

  To this day, the "social justice" propaganda ploy is still used by those who hate economic freedom. It is used as justification for measures that can destroy or greatly undermine capitalism. That opponents can no longer offer any credible alternative economic system is a mark of their irrationality. It is impossible to carve out larger portions of social justice from a diminishing economic pie.

  It is a proper - and necessary - purpose of democratic media and intellectual communities to be critical of its own government and society, Conquest acknowledges. "But when this results in a transfer of loyalties to a far worse and thoroughly uncritical, or at least to a largely uncritical favoring of such [an absolutist] culture, it becomes a morbid affliction - involving, often enough, the uncritical acceptance of that culture's own standards." There are many causes for this affliction.

  • Ideologues are attracted to intellectual fashion - to "the revolutionary cause" - to the utopian left - to the egoistic desire to believe that they are part of the avant-garde. They become "traitors to the human mind, to thought itself."

  • They suffer from parochialism - the inability to believe that certain unfamiliar lands or groups could be so different as to accommodate such evil. (Yes, indeed, it is still a very dangerous world.)

  • They have an intellectual temperament that welcomes Potemkin Village propaganda and determinedly remains in denial concerning even the worst horrors.

  • They automatically reject all information coming from their own government's official sources. This is understandable under a totalitarian state, but is utterly ridiculous in an open democracy.

  • Ultimately, the worst of them suffer from intentional self deception. They suffer "a selfish refusal to face disillusionment."

  Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Lincoln Steffens, John Kenneth Galbraith, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Harold Laski, and John Strachey are named as examples of these types. These people wrote "utopian fantasy" on behalf of the Soviet propaganda myth. West German and French intellectual and academic circles were afflicted with even more self deception than in England and the U.S.  They were willfully blind concerning the realities of Soviet and East German socialism.
  &

Many courses covering modern American history omit mention of the actual extent of Soviet espionage and penetration of the U.S. Government and scientific community.

  There were others who permitted themselves to be duped. These included businessmen, scientists, economists, etc. Economists (including CIA economists) actually used Soviet figures in hugely  erroneous analyses of the Soviet economy - even as late as the 1980s. Such analytical works filled whole library sections.
  &
  Conquest points out that McCarthyism - properly - is almost always a subject of modern American History courses - even though many of these courses omit mention of the actual extent of Soviet espionage and penetration of the U.S. Government and scientific community.
  &

 "One might suggest that a course on the credulity of supposed intellectual elites should be one of those given, indeed made compulsory, at universities."

  Those of revolutionary temperament naturally hate the target system more than they pity the victims. Revolutions on behalf of peasants and "agrarian reform" proceeded, when successful, to imprison the peasants on collective farms in much worse conditions than before. "One might suggest that a course on the credulity of supposed intellectual elites should be one of those given, indeed made compulsory, at universities."

  A lot of these "credulous intellectuals" - epitomized by John Kenneth Galbraith - are really dilettantes. Hard work and serious rigorous study and analysis is beneath them. When proven wrong by events, they smile and shrug and move on without any intellectual shame. Being well meaning is a complete shield. Anyone judgmental of their errors and the great damage such errors caused or could have caused is dismissed as mean spirited.

Maintaining credulousness:

  Demonization becomes an essential tactic. Not just the opposition, but all who are perceived as obstacles are demonized and destroyed.
  &

Not just the opposition, but all who are perceived as obstacles are demonized and destroyed.

 

 

 

Such incredible stupidity and moral nihilism inevitably drives all but the morally and intellectually dead into opposition. Only pitiless absolute toadies remain acceptable to the revolutionary regime.

 

Totalitarian revolutionary regimes remain constantly at war - with their own people.

 Even the possibility of dissent must be extinguished if absolutist ideas are to succeed. Opponents are demonized as a precondition to justifying their destruction.

  Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao - all demonized vast multitudes to justify their destruction.
  &
  This technique is also used - thankfully in a nonphysical way - in the West. Political Correctness demonizes opposing views - politicians from Nixon to Clinton dealt with opponents by demonizing them. Liberals demonize Robert Bork, conservatives demonize Hillary Clinton.
  &
  Lyndon Johnson lost the propaganda war when he failed to demonize the North Vietnamese.

  Unhistory replaces history.  Reality MUST be made to appear to conform to ideological expectations. (This tendency can be seen in the politically correct rewrites of history today.)
  &
  Ultimately, the original revolutionaries themselves must be purged
to eliminate all those who have exhibited revolutionary fervor - all those who might become political opponents of the top man. Only pitiless absolute toadies are acceptable.
  &
  Conquest analyzes the totalitarian aspects of Soviet communism.
The all encompassing, blind stupidity required of those committed to the Idea - the resultant constant reduction in the intellectual capacity (originally already marginal) of its leadership and membership - the insistence on scientific infallibility even as it insisted on obvious absurdities - and the rejection of all moral or customary restraints on its freedom of action - inevitably drove all but the morally and intellectually dead into opposition. (This was similar to Hitler's inner circle, too.) One result is that such communist parties in power are constantly at war - with their own people.

  "[The 20th century] has in fact been the first in which the groups taking over countries had the power to use the state machinery to impose doctrinally produced errors on the whole of society."

  Modern revolutionary despotisms - unlike prior despotisms that were generally content just to rule - inevitably resort to terror to force their fallacious doctrines broadly upon their subjects. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler - all were in constant conflict with their own peoples.
  &
  Terror succeeded in crushing the Russian population. After Stalin's death, a generation had to pass under somewhat more "normal" police state policies before any serious ideas of change became thinkable.

  It is in the most profound interests of the successors of the revolutionary leader - the successors to the Stalins or Maos - to stop the terror and rely instead upon the ordinary repression of the totalitarian state. Within a generation - inevitably - ordinary resentments and revulsion towards such systems must accumulate.

The consequences of intellectual death:

  The results became increasingly apparent in the communist economy. Conquest extensively presents and explains the horrors of soviet socialist economic production. (This is the economy that John Kenneth Galbraith - as late as 1992 - could still find reasons to extol.)
  &

The problems of administered prices were insoluble.

 

A "negative selection" quickly shaped the ruling stratum. Only "the morally and intellectually crippled" could rise in the ranks of the apparatchiks.

  Russian industrial growth - always overstated - never exceeded about 3.5% per year. Gigantism and similar policy mistakes (and the inherent imbecilities of government management) resulted in continual organizational problems, inferior quality, bulk production without variety, and ultimately disastrous neglect of infrastructure and maintenance in favor of immediate production. Ecological and health considerations were totally neglected.
  &
  The problems of administered prices were insoluble.

  "Twenty-four to twenty-five million industrial prices alone per annum, each backed by pages of documentation, had to be handled by the State Commission on Prices. In the end, no one knew what the true production figures were, nor what the costs were, nor the quality of the products."

  80 million tons of steel were produced. About 20 million showed up in armaments, but very little of the rest ever showed up in products. The military was a "real consumer" that could reject shoddy goods - and so received serviceable quality - but at huge economic cost.
  &
  The results were even worse in the Communist government. A "negative selection" quickly shaped the ruling stratum.
  &
  Only "the morally and intellectually crippled" could rise in the ranks of the apparatchiks. These became the new upper class created by communism in Russia (and also elsewhere under similar absolutist regimes). "The ruling stratum was increasingly selected from the stupefied and inhuman."
  &
  Such a state inevitably created immense hidden grievances - available to support any credible opposition to the horror. (These hidden grievances grew even - indeed especially - in the ranks of the secret police and military officer corps who were most aware of the huge governance failures.)

The Cold War

The Machiavellian "siege mentality" propaganda ploy:

 

The Soviet assumption "that all other political life-forms and beliefs were inherently hostile" - including and especially other socialist and communist groups - colored Soviet views and policies and made conflict inevitable.

 

&

  Cold war disputes are covered - including the extensive penetration by Soviet sympathizers in the U.S. Government and the U.S. State Department - the great lengths that the U.S. and Britain went to in appeasing their WW II ally - the many affronts with which the Soviets responded - and the inevitability of the Soviet Cold War challenge.
  &
  The Soviet assumption "that all other political life-forms and beliefs were inherently hostile" - including and especially other socialist and communist groups - colored Soviet views and policies and made conflict inevitable.

  Conquest complains of how the U.S. and Britain meekly accepted Soviet affronts, and Soviet domination of East Europe before the end of WW II and the start of the Cold War. The reality is that they had no choice. They had no influence on what Russia did in the lands occupied by the Red Army. Their immediate WW II interests were served - immensely - in the fact that Russia bore the brunt of the ground war in Europe (albeit through no choice of her own) - and promised to assist in any invasion of Japan. Immediately after WW II, there was no political support for a new great military confrontation with Soviet Russia.

  In fact, Stalin needed confrontation with the West - whether or not at the level of the Cold War - to maintain the validity of and justification for Stalinist communism. Thus, the Soviet assumption of continuous conflict would not be revised merely because of the successful WW II alliance. Stalin had to immediately repress democratizing or other westernizing tendencies in the Soviet empire, and reestablish a Machiavellian siege mentality.
  &

Tracks in the sand:

  With the elimination of opposition parties in East European nations in 1945, and then the coup in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin Blockade, the West was forced to respond. To surrender to Russian demands would simply lead to further demands.
  &

Soviet Russia's own periodic dark deeds fatally undermined its propaganda and disinformation efforts. Nevertheless, there remained a core of credulous intellectuals willing to be duped until the end.

 

You can be both red and dead.

  With extensive "peace campaigns," and massive propaganda and disinformation efforts, the Soviets sought to undermine western opposition. However, its own periodic dark deeds fatally undermined these efforts, and heroic private efforts like George Orwell's "1984" proved very effective. The West had some propaganda triumphs, too, mainly by publicizing the realities of life in the Soviet empire.
  &
  Ultimately, only those afflicted by a willful suspension of critical faculties
- a willful suspension of disbelief - a willful suppression of empathy for the subjects of the Soviet empire - remained duped by Soviet propaganda.
  &
  Many pacifists convinced themselves that surrender would avoid nuclear war. They willfully ignored the certainty of nuclear conflict in a world ruled by communist totalitarians. In fact, throughout the Cold War, communist fought communist frequently and ruthlessly - not just when East European regimes tried to edge away from domination by Moscow, but also between Russia and China, China and Vietnam, Vietnam and Cambodia, and very nearly between Russia and Yugoslavia. You can be both red and dead.
  Conquest hits the highlights of the Soviet Cold War propaganda campaigns and the amazing success they had within credulous intellectual circles and much of the western media.
  &
  He explains the contradictions in Soviet foreign and domestic policy that led to the slow accumulation of inconvenient views among Russian intellectuals and even members of the Soviet apparat. Once a generation had come of age since the end of Stalinist terror, the Soviets could no longer maintain their propaganda myths while proceeding with repression at home and expansion abroad - and permitting their economy to unravel.

  Credulous western intellectuals are repeatedly berated by Conquest for a failure of "imagination" - an inability to mentally encompass the extent of Soviet evil - or "an often inadequate conception of the Soviet psychology." What this amounted to then - and still amounts to today - is willful suspension of disbelief - for ideological purposes.

  It is a trap - especially in foreign affairs - to believe that others - coming from unfamiliar cultures and circumstances - think something like us or along lines familiar to us.
  &
  Chamberlain and FDR - obviously men of great intelligence and capability - simply couldn't conceive of such alien minds as those of Hitler and Stalin respectively. But these men, too, were influenced by an ideological need - a need for peace. Their political programs were incompatible with war budgets. FDR was an early convert to the threat of Hitler, but he was a tired and sick leader during his wartime dealings with Stalin. "People can be able, clever, but not in the deepest sense wise."
  &
  Occasionally, the Soviets would show their true colors.
To achieve their objectives, they had to act - and their actions left unmistakable tracks in the sand.
  &
  These instances shocked the appeasers and the myopic apologists - for a time. But many invariably reappeared with the same delusions.

  And they kept on reappearing after the Cold War ended, with similar delusions about the absence of need for U.S. military strength - and the absence of need to provide intelligence services with the power to act. Despite occasional and inevitable abuses of power, the nation must not be left defenseless in a still dangerous world.

The slow destruction of human capital:

 

The socialist system had already ruined and doomed the Soviet economy.

  Soviet Russia "ruined its economy by putting every possible resource into the arms race." 

  Not quite true. The arms race and other Cold War expenditures were more than the Soviet economy could stand, and undoubtedly hurried the Soviet collapse by many years. However, the socialist system had already ruined and doomed the Soviet economy. Otherwise, China and Russia would not now be struggling to bring market mechanisms into their economic systems, and North Korea and Cuba would not be economic basket cases.

Still, beyond reason, Russia continues to experience reasonably free elections and avoids utter economic disaster and political disintegration.

 

The world has a vast stake in the successful establishment of a reasonably peaceful, prosperous and civic minded Russia.

  Now - bereft of political or economic know how or popular civic commitment - Russia struggles with inefficient, irrational, poorly maintained productive assets and a 19th century infrastructure. According to Mikhail Gorbachev, the legacy of socialism was "collective responsibility and individual irresponsibility."

  "On the land, the old hardworking peasantry has virtually disappeared. In the factories, the watchword of 'they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work' largely prevails."

  Vast cultural changes are needed before market economics, multiparty politics, and rule of law can be successfully instituted. 

  Seven decades of authoritarian socialism has destroyed almost all industrial and human capital and political understanding - a degree of economic devastation not even remotely equaled in WW II. Paranoid suspicions of the West still widely distort political perceptions in Russia. However, Russia must ultimately realize that her economic future rests with Europe if she is to successfully overcome her many economic problems.

  Still, beyond reason, Russia continues to experience reasonably free elections and avoids utter economic disaster and political disintegration. But success is still a long shot. Russia is still "anarchic, corrupt and oligarchic." The world has a vast stake in the successful establishment of a reasonably peaceful, prosperous and civic minded Russia.

The West

Authoritative myths:

 

 

 

 

&

  Old discredited authoritative myths long since abandoned by serious scholars still influence the thoughts of credulous intellectuals and even occasionally have noxious impacts on policy. Conquest cites:

  • All encompassing theories of history and social change;

  • pseudo scientific pretensions for economics or politics (or even sociology);

  • continued belief in the "perfectibility" of man;

  • discounting the role of the middle class in the achievement of broad prosperity; and,

  • gender roles viewed as mere "social constructs."

The propaganda myths of various ideological movements are not just widely uncritically accepted but actually invoked to influence policy.

  Such propaganda myths are no longer considered authoritative except within their sects of true believers. Unfortunately, such sects pervade "the less scholarly quarters of academe."

  "The statistical basis of much social and economic argument is now known to be defective. And as to policy, it is now seen that, as Peter Drucker has remarked, no single piece of macroeconomic advice given by experts to their government has ever had the results predicted."

  Good intentions are no substitute for real understanding. Conquest deplores the extent to which the propaganda myths of various ideological movements are not just widely uncritically accepted but actually invoked to influence policy. He points to current reductions in the physical requirements for infantry and fire departments so women can be accommodated - the strange current notion that capitalism is responsible for pollution although the worst polluters are always found in non capitalist economic systems - the credulous admiration during the Cold War for such bloody despots as Stalin, Mao and Castro, predominantly because they opposed capitalism.
  &
  The "victimization" propaganda ploy
is especially widespread today. It is used in efforts to raid Western treasuries in the guise of "reparations" for slavery and colonialism, and to gain domestic legal advantages. (Will poverty stricken descendants of East African slave traders be asked to pay reparations to middle class African-Americans living in Chevy Chase?) Efforts to block fanaticisms, encourage liberties, and make aid dependent on positive economic policies are frequently opposed by obviously inapt - indeed, irrational - references to "imperialism" and "colonialism."
  &

Governance:

 

 

 

&

  The dangers of "big government" - both with respect to its smothering bureaucracies and economic burdens - are emphasized by Conquest. Government must remain reasonably "limited," and must not absorb much more than 30% of GNP, he insists. (Then we are already lost - and have been for some time.)

  "What is clear is that the state, in most Western countries, has intervened both expensively and unsuccessfully in various social areas, under the political pressure of simplistic or erroneous notions."

  While this is obviously true, there is a natural if rough political check on these tendencies. Whenever these burdens become sufficient to materially retard the economy, the natural political reaction will be to "kick the bastards out," as happened in 1932 and 1980 and in recent times with increasing frequency both at state and federal levels. The speed with which state political leaders - including California governor Gray Davis - have recently cleared previously insurmountable regulatory barriers and facilitated the construction of electric power plants indicates that this mechanism remains in good working order. All politicians understand that economic decline is the primary threat to their incumbencies.
  &
  Here is one of the places where Conquest is much too pessimistic and thus grossly overstates his case. He also grossly understates the extent to which the success of the U.S. capitalist profit driven market directed commercial system is reliant on good governance practices developed from often painful experience in the past century.

The process that is due has been elaborated to the point where it has become interminable and unaffordable.

    The politicization of the judiciary - the profusion of incomprehensible laws and regulations - and the spreading litigiousness encouraged by the U.S. legal system - constitute another problem area. The process that is due has been elaborated to the point where it has become interminable and unaffordable.

  These are obvious truths, but totally lacking in context. Many of the problems thrust upon the courts are very real and not simple to deal with. A whole host of balances have to be struck and constantly adjusted - an inexact art at best.

  Efforts at "perfecting democracy" - such as with proportional representation - and modern liberal efforts at social engineering are rightly scorned by Conquest. One need only look at the dismal history of such efforts to readily reject them.
  &

Corporatism and corporate subsidies of various kinds waste billions and cause multiple economic, international and political injuries.

  Various forms of active government intervention in private activities receive Conquest's criticism.
  &
  Corporatism and corporate subsidies
of various kinds waste billions and cause multiple economic, international and political injuries.
  &
  Conquest fears economic and political combinations that are too big for human control. These "juggernauts of impersonal power" are "the greatest threat to our present-day world." This arises from the overlap "of the private and the public high bureaucracies." The democratic polity and entrepreneurial economy must be protected from rising "corporatist" tendencies that protect major vested interests and ensconce the status quo.

  As we can see from such problems in Japan - and to a somewhat lesser extent in Europe - this is a very real threat. However, the continuous rise and fall of even the mightiest corporate giants indicates that competition and the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well in the U.S., and corporatism has not yet gotten out of hand.

  Support for art that is devoid of any artistry and totally fails to communicate has encouraged the wasting of two generations of artistic effort. Political and business entities go along with this stupidity for fear "of being thought backward or philistine." However, Conquest recognizes that quality in the arts is apparently surviving while momentary fads disappear.

  Even public radio seldom bothers with discordant atonal "modern classical" music any more. Modern poetry is eminently forgettable and widely ignored. Artistry that communicates with the public - that exhibits both considerable talent and extensive development of artistic skills - is making an encouraging comeback and remains widely appreciated by the public, if not by the critics.

Education:

 

Too often, education "implicitly discourages critical thought and explicitly conspires to inculcate the uncritical fashions of the moment."

 Miseducation is widespread at all levels. Formulaic thinking frequently takes over whole academic departments. Too often, education "implicitly discourages critical thought and explicitly conspires to inculcate the uncritical fashions of the moment." (The widespread triumph of Keynesian stupidity misdirected generations of students and had disastrous consequences in the 1970s for the nation's economic policies. Fads and fashions in politics and sociology periodically sweep academic circles.)

  "The humanities, in their university context, have to a considerable degree come under the influence of Ideas disconnected from education in the sense of extending our knowledge and improving judgment. That is, we often see the semblance rather than the substance of education."

There is widespread misuse of "scientific" and especially mathematical forms of analysis where professionalism and professional opinions should be sought.

  Conquest deplores academics "whose political and general judgment was negligible [but who] were able to build reputations as experts by minor studies and then be consulted as to broader matters in which they had little competence, though much to say." With the death of socialist and command economic theory, a wide variety of anti capitalist intellectuals and academics rattle around without any theoretical home, but still continue in frenetic efforts to discredit all aspects of western culture and civilization.

  The vast majority of the public blissfully ignores such efforts, and the perpetrators themselves can frequently be heard deploring the lack of political response from their students.

  He deplores the efforts to reduce the humanities to pseudo sciences. There is widespread misuse of "scientific" and especially mathematical forms of analysis where professionalism and professional opinions should be sought. "The price you pay for precision is inability to deal with real world questions."

  "[T]he scientism of supposed experts on political, politico-economic and human themes is also associated - - - with an excess of tatiste intervention with untested, unproven and often dangerous remedies."
  &
  The quintessential practitioner of such pseudo scientific approaches was Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara. Without understanding either war or his enemy, he applied a "systems analysis" approach to warfare. He thus threw away tens of thousands of lives, wasted vast sums, and dangerously undermined the nation's ability to fight the Cold War. Later, he did the same thing as head of the World Bank, where he slavishly applied Keynesian stupidity and thus presided over a bankrupting of a large part of the third world that still causes vast human miseries to this day.

Many educators routinely abuse the young - indoctrinating them instead of educating them - and enlisting them as ideological storm troopers and cannon fodder.

  Conquest (like FUTURECASTS) blasts the advocacy scholars who have done so much damage in such fields as psychology, anthropology, history and politics. He deplores the abuse of the young as the ideological storm troopers and cannon fodder for every faddish Idea. He deplores propagandistic fear mongering. He deplores the professional "jargons" that all too often hide gross incompetence. (Mathematical reasoning - used inappropriately in such fields as sociology and macro economics - is another form of such professional "jargon.")

  "Fads and fashions rise and subside in the fields of literary, social and political study. They have two destructive features: first, they are narrow, reductive, dogmatic; second, their adepts form sects and work together, even if not in a technically conspiratorial way, to take over or at least permeate major university departments."

  Many students are not academically oriented and waste their time taking advanced academic courses. (Unfortunately, many have to attend at least some college to get the basic literacy and numeracy they should have obtained from their public education.) Accommodating them dumbs down the academic experience for the academically inclined. He points out that only 12% of Swiss students go to university. The others go to various vocational instruction.

  Aside from such things as basic literacy and numeracy, the vast majority of Americans still get almost all of their practical education from on the job training and learning. Thus, the capitalist system - in education as elsewhere - makes up for many of the limitations of government.

The rewards of virtue:

  About his bleak views, Conquest concedes: "I have painted a black picture - - -, I have painted a blacker picture than the full story merits. But not much."
  &

  Here, FUTURECASTS begs to differ. The lack of balance and context is in some places fairly extreme.
  &
  Conquest certainly knows what is wrong - covering much of the same ground as FUTURECASTS, which is thus prone to receive this material with favor. However, there is no sign of understanding about what is right with the U.S. and the rest of the West.
  &
  The U.S. (with its allies) has triumphed in three great worldwide conflicts and finished the 20th century with the most vibrant, flexible, strongest economic system - worldwide cultural leadership - and a political system that quickly (sometimes too quickly) punishes political leadership that appears to have screwed up economic or other major policy responsibilities. It enjoys the world's leading universities, and a legal system that is still geared predominantly to the facilitation of commerce.
  &
  The U.S. actively benefits from many expensive lessons learned during the past century. There are the continuing efforts to expand world trade and maintain budgetary and monetary discipline that have permitted the great surge of prosperity in the last decade of the 20th century. There are a wide array of good governance features that facilitate profit driven, market directed commerce.
  &
  The U.S. continues to successfully - if still somewhat reluctantly - exercise world leadership in a wide variety of arenas. Its magnanimity towards defeated opponents has been one of the most successful approaches to grand strategy in the history of the world. Its military containment strategy has had a string of major successes and only a few failures.
  &
  Certainly, we periodically suffer greatly for sins of omission and commission. However, thank goodness that the Lord is not so mean that he would require anything near perfection of his children - feet made of mortal clay - before bestowing on them a cornucopia of benefits in return for their very modest virtues.

Europe:

 The "European Idea" is viewed critically by Conquest. As just an economic union, the EU is theoretically helpful, but only "if it does not become a protectionist zone against the rest of the world."
  &

Britain must not subject itself to the more rigorous restraints of European civil code legal systems because the British are used to obeying the law and would be far more constrained than continental peoples who are used to finding means of avoidance.

  However, he fears that the EU is evolving into a highly bureaucratized, statist, protectionist, anti American form that rejects Anglo-American concepts of law and liberty in favor of rigidly codified but poorly enforced legal systems and broad dependency on government. He argues that Britain must not subject itself to the more rigorous restraints of European civil code legal systems because the British obey the law and would be far more constrained than continental peoples who are used to finding means of avoidance.
  &
  He thus is highly critical of idealistic efforts to establish a politically united Europe along lines that are economically protectionist, highly regulated and bureaucratic, secretive and undemocratic. (Mainland Europeans themselves are increasingly rejecting such strengthening of Brussels governance.) He prefers that Britain seek closer ties with common law nations instead of with the civil code, highly bureaucratized and statist nations of the EU.
  &
  At first, these ties might amount to just a loosely defined "association" that would be more than an alliance but less than a federation. At first it might be "coordination and cooperation to the extent that is not so much ideal as necessary" - "not a solution so much as a direction" - but hopefully without the bureaucratization and regulation of the EU, and with a true "subsidiarity" to assure local governance of local affairs.
  &

World governance:

Too strong a devotion to the UN encourages acceptance of majority decision by dubious regimes of a type indefensible in principle.

  The United Nations might be useful for particular purposes, but it is fatally flawed as a mechanism for world governance. "It may be argued that too strong a devotion to the United Nations encourages acceptance of majority decision by dubious regimes of a type indefensible in principle."

  Much of the current agitation in favor of strengthening UN governance is just a poorly disguised effort to raid Western treasuries and tax Western commerce by nations unwilling to establish functioning capitalist market economies.

  The unity of successful multinational governance associations, like the EU and the British Commonwealth, depends on that governance remaining "loose." (Indeed, efforts at stronger centralized multinational governance must fail on the basis of rising particular resentments.) Conquest hopes for the evolution of a pluralist "civic type of order" around the world.

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Copyright 2001 Dan Blatt