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    The butter’s spread too thick!

    If you read Instapundit, surely you saw this post, with Glenn Reynolds’s comment, “Communists are as bad as Nazis, and their defenders and apologists are as bad as Nazis’ defenders, but far more common. When you meet them, show them no respect. They’re evil, stupid, and dishonest. They should not enjoy the consequences of their behavior.”

    This is not a popular position, and he quickly received a response that went, in part, like this:

    As someone who works in academia, I run into my fair share of Marxists. While I disagree with their politics, many of them are decent non-evil people most certainly deserving of respect. There is, to my mind, a big difference between communism and Nazism: it is possible to be a communist with the “good will,” i.e. to sincerely wish the best most prosperous future for everyone. I think it’s pretty obvious that communism is not the way towards that goal, but intelligent people can disagree. Nazism, on the other hand, is fundamentally impossible to commit one’s self to with a good will. It is inherently racist, hateful, and concerned with elevating particular groups of people on the basis of the subjugation and dehumanization of others.

    These people’s whole job as scholars is the unflinching pursuit of truth no matter where it may lead, and we’re supposed to credit them for their “good will” when they trumpet an abstract ideology while discreetly skating over what happens every time it’s implemented? I find myself unwilling to concede that. It’s like crediting the walrus with more compassion than the carpenter because he made a histrionic show of concern for the oysters before yum-yumming them down.

    Of course, it might be said that Reynolds’s correspondent’s colleagues are, assuming they’ve been presented accurately, at least willing to argue Marxism on the merits. The people I find most appalling, and who in my experience are equally numerous, are those who counter any discussion of communist regimes with the statement that first-world Westerners have no grounds for criticizing them at all.

    Two weeks ago, there was an Asia Society screening of a UN documentary about the trial of Comrade Duch, who ran one of the Khmer Rouge’s most infamous political prisons. Two women became upset during the Q&A session (about 37:00 into the linked video) that all this talk about torture and killing fields and retribution and memories of the dead had not been presented “in context.” You can guess what they meant, can’t you? That’s right: Big, Bad America had been an enabler for Pol Pot and his fellow-travelers, and apparently that was what we should have been getting worked up about. After all, Indochinese peoples are peaceable, guileless, grudge-free aspiring-Buddha types, so all that unpleasant torturing and executing isn’t the real story, and even if it were, we’d be in no moral position to criticize the Khmer Rouge. Yes, I’m caricaturing the view presented, but not by much. The response from the panel—pointing out that, among other things, the United States and Canada were among only five countries to condemn Cambodia’s human-rights abuses while they were happening—follows.

    I wasn’t present at the Asia Society event for this discussion of Barbara Demick’s book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea , but I looked it up after my beau left his book-club copy lying around. It follows the lives of six people who defected from an industrial city in the northeastern DPRK and ended up in Seoul. They were all teenagers or adults in the late ’90s and thus lived through and vividly remember the famine.

    Demick is not a conspicuously talented prose writer, but she has a great ear for an involving story; and yet, after finishing the book, I was most struck by how depressingly familiar it all was. Demick’s informants spoke of tight controls on travel and information. They spoke of indoctrination sessions. They spoke of a shrewd blending of communist ideology with national traditions to tighten the grip of the power elite—Kim Il-sung was presented as the nation’s patriarch, to which it owed absolute filial obedience according to Korean Confucianism. They spoke of the persecution or denigration of out-of-favor ethnic or clan groups, in this case Chinese and South Korean. They spoke of a rigid system of class privilege determined by membership in (or closeness to) the ruling party, from which flowed access to better housing, food, education, jobs, and purchasing power. They spoke of patent lies about industrial and agricultural productivity, with the black and grey markets flourishing as the government ceased to be able to provide for citizens’ basic needs.

    All of which is to say that, if you hadn’t been paying attention to the names and dates, you could have found yourself forgetting exactly which communist hellhole you were reading about. North Korea’s an extreme example, certainly, but somehow they all seem to end up with shortages for the masses and relative plenty for the shrinking elite.

    But of course, we must not characterize such regimes as evil. About 47:00 into the Asia Society video, a questioner complains that everything she’s heard this evening adheres to the “dominant narrative” about the famine and has not taken into account yucky weather, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the sanctions of baddies such as the United States. All this finger-pointing is a threat to national sovereignty, you see.

    Naturally, Demick couldn’t say, “Listen, sugarpie—that narrative’s dominant because it’s true!” Instead, she gently reminded her interlocutor of the US’s offers of food aid, before falling all over herself to assure everyone that she’d been at pains to make her book “apolitical.” Would a journalist who’d written about Chileans who suffered under Pinochet have been so fastidiously non-polemical? I couldn’t help wondering.

    Glenn Reynolds was talking about avowed Marxists, and it’s important to note here that none of the three questioners at these events defended the Khmer Rouge or the KWP. But then, they didn’t have to. The effect of arguing that communist regimes wouldn’t get into the trouble they do without the machinations of the West (especially America), and that therefore we have no grounds for condemning them, is to place them above reproach.

    But they’re not above reproach. No one denies that all human systems are flawed, and that no one has yet devised a political system under which innocents never suffer. The question is which systems do best for the largest proportion of the population in a way that is self-correcting and (to appropriate a term) sustainable. The empirical answer is those with the rule of law and capitalism, and everyone knows it. You don’t hear about anyone’s, including Terry Eagleton’s, desperately floating on an innertube to Cuba or wading through the icy Tumen River to escape to North Korea. As Eric says, academic Marxists often play the “McCarthyism!” card to make themselves sound like brave dissenters, when they’re actually just peddling a fantasy whose real-world repercussions they’ll never have to live through. What’s respect-worthy about that?

    Added on 22 December: Good morning, everyone! Sometimes, apparently, you wake up to find that Instapundit has linked you, a bajillion people have left comments in good faith, and your comment filter is waiting for you to approve all of them. Sorry! They should all be visible now. Thanks to Instapundit for the link, and thanks to everyone for commenting.

    51 Responses to “The butter’s spread too thick!”

    1. Kate says:

      Absolutely nothing is respect-worthy about people who claim that good intentions excuse their horrific results, especially not when it doesn’t take much of a thought experiment to realize that Marx’s ideals could never be translated to reality without either massive compromise (turning the ideals into something more like… oh, market-driven democratic capitalism) or massive slaughter.

      Communism’s apologists are praying that their deity will answer their prayers this time, even though every other time anyone has tried to live their faith it’s been a horrible failure – and they’re such wusses they’re not prepared to take themselves to the nearest People’s Paradise. The fact that if they did they wouldn’t be privileged surely has nothing to do with their reluctance to move.

      I’ll put the sarcasm shovel away now.

    2. Julie says:

      I remember being at a philosophy forum and the guy presenting was one of these academic Marxists (Slavoj Zizek), and Albert Borgmann asked him some question that noted, as if in passing, that Marxism is a really, most sincerely failed system. And the Marxist (and those in the audience as well) just went into complete denial–“it’s not failed, it’s just been corrupted every single time it’s been tried”…that kind of thing. You know the story. It’s utterly baffling how they can do that. Famine, schmamine–we have theories!

      Academics seem to be able to justify any theoretical position no matter what it’s like in the real world. I’ve heard academic feminists compare–apparently seriously–the treatment of women in Afghanistan to “the patriarchy,” um, here in America. And I’ve thought that they can’t possibly be serious, right? Right?

    3. PB says:

      Do hippies count? Seriously. I am admittedly Mr. Semantics, but I wonder if the world has ever seen true communism. If communism is equated with Marxism, that’s a pretty bad start. In Marx’s times, the terrorists of the day were the anarchists, mostly left-leaning libertarians who were pretty fed up with things the way they are and thought blowing people and things up might get their point across. That kind of thinking was actually pretty popular; Marx was big on it too.

      The apologists may have a point from a purely philosophical view. Marx made some good observations about distributive justice, but missed the mark by assuming the State was the mechanism to remedy inequality. Of course, it didn’t take would-be dictators who sensed opportunity in the building societal pressures long to figure out that if “the people” could me themselves, then “communism” was a good thing.

      Communes, such as the “hippy communes” of the sixties, are fundamentally different in that they absolutely respect libertarian principals, but approach property rights from a more egalitarian approach. Forward thinkers have attempted such “just free societies” since the days of Marx, but few have stood the test of time. Well, not true. Farming cooperatives are perhaps the best form of “communism” practiced in the US today, but since the word is somehow reserved for dictatorships, I guess we can’t call it that.

      I’ve spent years in China, and from what I’ve seen, there isn’t much left that is communist about the CCP, though as the largest extant “communist” organization, they reserve the right to define the term. Socialist, definitely, but not really communist anymore.

      I absolutely agree with your disdain for those who would excuse abominable acts by megalomaniacs for any reason. There are many who believe that distributive justice is only possible at the cost of libertarian rights, and many of them see communism as a viable candidate for such a system. Such reasoning is indeed unfortunate, as left libertarianism offers a far more reasonable alternative.

    4. hitnrun says:

      “These people’s whole job as scholars is the unflinching pursuit of truth no matter where it may lead–”

      That’s a naive, capitalist truth that can be construed in a way that would hinder the advocacy of good ideas.

      And by the time they take their seats, modern Marxists find nothing insane or illogical about my previous sentence.

    5. Nony Mouse says:

      For me, the big thing about blanket statements like “Communists are as evil as Nazis” is that it ignores that there is a difference between small-scale communists and Marxist fascism on the state level. Are the Israeli Kibbutzim evil? What about the actual communes that exist in America? You’ve got your non-religious ones. And then there are those monasteries and convents around. Is everyone who would choose to enter a small-scale commune evil? Well, I’d argue not.
      But I’d also say that there’s a very big difference with the philosophy of the small-scale commune, where there is the freedom of the individual (or maybe for the community to look at a freeloader and as a group) to say ‘the heck with this,’ and state run communism/socialism which runs very quickly to the ‘you can never leave’ quota-filling starvation side of things. Socialism I can grant is more evil than Nazism, just on the body count alone.

    6. gullybog says:

      I am guessing there were also plenty of “good people” manning guard towers at the concentration camps. Just because they were Nazis doesn’t mean they were evil, right? And hey, lots of good Nazis were busy building the autobahns, starting up the Volkswagen company, making Beyer aspirin, etc. I mean really, just because they were Nazis, we should condemn them?

    7. PacRim Jim says:

      Marx wrote Das Kapital at the British Museum, while his wife struggled at home, wondering how to pay the bills.
      THAT should tell you of the priorities of Communists.
      The 20th century will principally be remembered not for the World Wars, but the killing by Communists of over 100 million, many of them supporters of Communists.

    8. Multitude says:

      There’s remarkable projection occurring in the approximation of the idealistic center of the Marxist as well as the imputed evil of the “Nazi” — a strange sort of Otherization that functions not against a distant stranger, but a first cousin one rejects out of the closeness of form.

      Academics irrationally reject the Nazi, to a degree that suggests a deeper recognition of an problematic inherent within their own viewpoint. Any credible evaluation through theory will identify national socialism and progressive liberalism as remarkably undifferentiated — akin to arguing how Sarah Palin is different from Glenn Beck in the grand scheme. That progressives gave rise to the Reich through their theory and communication arts (aka propaganda theory) is discomforting, as is their continued orientation in pure concurrence to the German party’s view on state ownership of property, union alliance with the state, surveillance of deviant others, etc.

      But per the overall orientation and rationalization of these academics, the most effective technique I’ve located is to call out their anti-American hatred as the metaphysic it is. They’re centered in hatred and opposition — a position as problematic as that of the “white pride” southerners or the Aryan order arising in 1930s Germany. They privilege the speech of teleprompter-Obama, worshiping the message he delivers as unquestionable, while targeting the 49% of the nation that works hard and pays the taxes that allow it to survive.

      Expose the fascism inherent within academia. Foucault, Deleuze and other world-changing theorists would demand this at the least. Illuminate the fascists masquerading as liberals and out them in their academic community. Progressives should be called by their proper name: Adapted National Socialists.

    9. Scott B says:

      When one of them cries “McCarthyism”, remind them that the Verona papers proved him correct.

    10. Milhouse says:

      By saying that good intentions don’t make things better, you’re conceding to them that at least communists do have that advantage over nazis; you just don’t think the advantage is worth as much as they do. But the fact is that they don’t have that advantage at all, because the obvious truth is that Nazis had good intentions too. The Nazi ideology is every bit as idealistic as the Marxist one. Sure, its ideals are slightly different; so what? What makes the Marxists’ ideals so good? Most people who joined the Nazi Party did so because they thought it was the right thing to do, just like those who joined the Communist Party. Naive Americans who joined the CPUSA were no better and no worse than those who joined the Bund. And those in the inner circle of each were every bit as evil-intentioned. So no, they have no advantage.

    11. Beldar says:

      What you’re calling “butter” is something we have a different euphemism for in Texas — one involving bovine excrement, to use more polite and less expressive words. I *like* butter.

    12. Frederick Santal says:

      What we’re dealing with here really is the worship of the idol called the ‘noble savage.’ Leftists worship this idol with an un-self-reflective, un-self-aware degree not seen in any pagan religion on the face of the Earth.

    13. Sardondi says:

      Egad! I haven’t seen the hoary old communism-hasn’t-ever-really-been-tried-because-it’s-always-been-perverted used by anyone over the age of 18. It’s literally an adolescent argument. I can hardly believe anyone claiming to be an adult could intellectually sink to using it. Hilarious.

      Sorry, but I see no difference between Communism and Nazism. Except that maybe Nazism wasn’t quite as brutal to its own supporters as Communism is.

    14. Estragon says:

      Does anyone doubt that many or most of the Nazis thought they were doing the right thing?

      No, “Marxists” do not deserve any credit for good intentions. Every atrocity, every crushed freedom had a “good intention.” The biggest lie is – stop me if you’ve heard this one 100 times – “communism has NOT failed because ‘true’ communism was never tried!”

      What unadulterated hooey! A system which is designed to control society from the top down is a dictatorship, and dictatorships work mainly for the benefit of the dictator and his cronies.

      The real crime is that people who believe in such demonstrated evil are allowed on college campuses at all. Ever wonder why colleges have “speech codes”? It’s the first step toward totalitarian control. They limit what is taught to their perverse ideology, and limit any criticism of their world view. This is different from Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot only because campus communists don’t have control of the armed forces and police yet.

    15. Sean M. says:

      Academics seem to be able to justify any theoretical position no matter what it’s like in the real world.

      Well, there’s no tenure in the “real world,” is there?

      Any snark aside, I can’t recommend this book highly enough:


      Famine and cannibalism seem to follow communism around the globe for some reason.

    16. Denver says:

      So. Because Mao had “good intentions”, his genocide was (more moral?) better than Adolf’s?

      I reject the notion that Marxists have “good will”, or differs in type, or kind, from National Socialism. Evil has many faces.

    17. FB says:

      Julie hits the nail on the head. Marxists think that communism would work out fine, if only we had The Right People in Charge. Ah, if only their hero Lenin had lived longer! My son has already been exposed to the “Lenin good, Stalin bad” theory by one of his high school teachers, and I quickly disabused him of the notion. Of course, many parents will never hear about it, or will not know enough history to contradict it, and it’s obviously much worse in college.

    18. buddy larsen says:

      “… academic Marxists often play the “McCarthyism!” card to make themselves sound like brave dissenters, when they’re actually just peddling a fantasy whose real-world repercussions they’ll never have to live through.”

      –as the thorn and not the rose, one wonders why they would so pose —

    19. Jeff H says:

      Can’t we just float all these moronic Commie pinko f–; oops, sorry, didn’t mean to be politically incorrect–Commie pinko “gays” over to the “regime” of their choice in an inner tube?
      I’d gladly pay more taxes if most of the increase would be spent on that project.

    20. ameryx says:

      International Socialism and National Socialism are both based on the concept that mankind can perfect itself. They both start out with lofty ideals and soft words, claiming to serve either the Proletariat or the Volk. They both encounter the unavoidable frustration that mankind cannot perfect itself. They both respond by driving out, and eventually killing, the groups they believe are preventing perfection.

      They differ only in whom they kill.

    21. egoist says:

      Communists, Nazis… they, and some others, make a mistake about the nature of man – that he’s indistinguishable from the collective and not an individual. How evil & dreadful their policies finally end up is simply a matter of how seriously they take their [anti-man] ideas. The more consistent they are, the fewer people survive their wake.

    22. Mike says:

      Nothing is worse than stupid or evil people hiding behind the supposed patina of academia. University Marxists are both. You may notice college tuitions are skyrocketing to pay the inflated salaries of these “egalitarians”. They believe you and I should be constrained by Marxist theory but they should be allowed to manipulate Capitolism to it’s unexpurgated, criminal levels. Their GREED and their GREED ALONE are responsible for college costing up to 50K a year. These limo Marxist need to be bitch slapped and put into stocks on the campus green!

    23. Mark says:

      Well done. Welcome the coming Instalanche!

    24. S. Weasel says:

      Communism has got — what? — seven or eight times the body count of Nazism. Conservative estimate. When the state controls everything, force and famine are inevitable.

    25. Richard Aubrey says:

      They are serious.
      Academics, who are not in labs making stuff that works or fails, seem to find it easier to adjust facts than theories.

    26. […] the hell out of me.  Excellent points at The White Peril.   Juicy part: If you read Instapundit, surely you saw this post, with Glenn Reynolds’s […]

    27. Jeff Burton says:

      “It is inherently racist, hateful, and concerned with elevating particular groups of people on the basis of the subjugation and dehumanization of others”

      Has this person never heard of class struggle? Dictatorship of the Proletariat? Sorry. Marxists are morally equivalent to Fascists. There were a lot of mild-mannered Nazis of good will pottering about German universities. Doesn’t change the equation one bit.

    28. […] the US’s fault that communism is always a brutal failure! No, really, that’s their go-to […]

    29. Pat Dissent says:

      The road to hell is paved with… what again? I keep forgetting.

      This gets my vote as best blog post of 2010. Hands down.

    30. Shannon Love says:

      Leftism is driven by the hubris and narcissism of leftists. In any discussion about any subject, leftists have to bend the discussion around to one that points out how great and wonderful leftists are and therefore why they should be dominate over all the rest of us.

      Having no other ground to stand upon, leftists have anointed themselves the role of civilization’s conscience. In order for leftists to make every discussion about themselves, they have to make every discussion about moral failures of Western entities of some kind.

      The two women who were upset about the lack of “context” weren’t upset about the historical record, they were upset that the discussion couldn’t be turned into a criticism of America and therefore by inference turned into discussion about why leftists are all so great and wonderful and should be in charge of everything.

      This strange little emotional dynamic is why leftists always end up making the bad guys argument in any conflict between a liberal-democracy and some autocrat. They usually don’t give a damn about the beliefs, values or actions of the autocrat, they just want to inject themselves into events in which they actually have no valid role.

      If a leftists woke up one morning to see flying saucers shooting disintegrator rays at American cities, their first thought would be, “What did those idiot non-leftists do to provoke this?” Then they would run out and explain to everyone that this was all “our” fault and that everything would have been fine if we just hadn’t done whatever it was to give the aliens such a grievance.

      For all that leftists pat themselves on the back for being so intelligent and moral, their core behaviors are driven by petty, selfish emotional needs. The next time you here a demand for “context” just substitute, “Hey! Look at me! Look at me!”

    31. Pat Dissent says:

      @PB : Re: “I’ve spent years in China, and from what I’ve seen, there isn’t much left that is communist about the CCP”

      Really? Then I take it you have not witnessed the boxcars packed like sardines with souls bound for execution. That sure looked like communism to me.

    32. tsj017 says:

      Wow. This post and the comments are brilliant. It’s nice to know that there are people who get it.

      The one thing that communists/Marxists hate most of all is anyone who calls them what they really are. Calls them by their true name, so to speak. This is a very consistent rule. Just start with McCarthy and go from there.

    33. A. Reasoner says:

      “From those according to their ability, to those self-appointed elite according to their connections and fidelity to an oppressive state.”

      That is the truth of Marxism.

      Let’s face it: any form of democracy places the primacy in the individual over the primacy of the group.

      Any form of Marism/socialism uses honey-dipped words to suggest the primacy of the group, but it too ends up being the primacy of the select individuals who never, ever would play by the rules they set for the proles.

      All that “group sacrifice for group gain” is just a ruse to effect the ends that some groups are going to be sacrificed: the ones that are most in dissent or troublesome to their totalitarian ways. Ergo, Marxism/socialism is inherently anti-human and eventually anti-humane.

    34. tom scott says:

      Very interesting post and comments. Glad that Instapundit linked it.

    35. Bonfire of the Idiocies says:

      The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The history of Marxism and communism is full of good intentions and chock full of hells. Thus it was, is and ever shall be, regardless of the constant efforts of useful idiots to pretend otherwise.

    36. Mo says:

      Someone above brought up the kibbutzim as an example of communism.

      Communism can work on a very small scale with very committed individuals. But here’s the HUGE difference between a kibbutz and N. Korea or any other communist country; a kibbutz is a choice. One chooses to live there and abide by the rules, or one may easily pick up and MOVE OFF THE KIBBUTZ. There is no societal, widespread coercion. One must obey the rules of the kibbutz is one chooses to live there, and one can be kicked OFF the kibbutz, but no one is forced to stay at the point of a gun.

      Also, the kibbutzim have in the main figured out that a pure communist model doesn’t work so well. While most have retained some communist elements, the majority have relaxed the rules or had to even make new rules in order to survive. I read a paper not long ago about Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea; it seems the inhabitants were leaving their air conditioners on all day, even when they left (and yes, it’s hot year-round). Some folks were basically loafing instead of working. And others were bringing in outside friends for “free” meals at the communal table.

      Strangely (!), the kibbutz was running out of money. So they imposed new rules that forced anyone but the elderly or truly infirm to FIND SOMETHING TO DO that was productive, imposed rules that the inhabitants would have to pay for their own electricity…amazingly, of course, everyone figured out that they should turn off their ac’s when they left for work and turn ’em back on when they came home…and courtesy meals for guests were limited too.

      The kibbutzim, too, are almost never self-reliant. We just stayed on one in the Galilee region which has a beautiful hotel. That is only one of their ways of earning cash…but earn cash they must, via the capitalist economy, in order to be able to live their communist vision in the kibbutz together.

      But my main point is that kibbutzim….like small coop farms here in the States…did not share the coercion problem that ultimately must be a part of a national/state-run socialism. As shown by Hayek, centrally controlled socialist regimes would always end up controlling the economy at the end of the barrel of a gun. But one can move on the kibbutz, and one can move off the kibbutz. And the kibbutzim have never been but a very small portion of the Israeli population, even if they’ve been an outsize influence on the psyche of and history of modern-day Israel.

    37. lunacy says:

      Shannon Love wrote:

      “If a leftists woke up one morning to see flying saucers shooting disintegrator rays at American cities, their first thought would be, “What did those idiot non-leftists do to provoke this?” Then they would run out and explain to everyone that this was all “our” fault and that everything would have been fine if we just hadn’t done whatever it was to give the aliens such a grievance. ”

      This scenario reminds me of domestic abuse apologia. If only she’d kept her mouth shut she wouldn’t have gotten a fat lip.

    38. Eric Scheie says:

      A great post, Sean! And so are the comments.

      I’m honored by the link.

    39. John Pepple says:

      I consider myself a leftist, but I’ll gladly attack the communists. I confess I was once a fellow traveler, but I’ve left all that behind. These days I demand that leftists be self-critical, and this means (among other things) having uniform and consistent judgments about regimes. It’s perfectly obvious that if the killing fields of Cambodia had been done by libertarians, it would be regarded by leftists as right up there with the Holocaust. Having uniform and consistent judgments means condemning Pol Pot as much as Hitler.

      Also, I now regard most of leftism as what I call Rich People’s Leftism. It is leftism whose prime goal is to cater to the feelings of guilt harbored by wealthy leftists. Helping the poor is a secondary goal that doesn’t matter so much. The important thing is to help those who are wealthy and concerned about the poor deal with their guilty feelings without actually making them sacrifice very much, if at all.

      I could talk a lot about how I developed my views, but why not just come over to my blog where I’ve talked about it? It’s called I Want a New Left.


    40. Ever since I can remember in all my 47 years, I’ve absolutely detested Commies. They are not satisfied with merely murdering people; they simply must destroy their minds as well. As far as I am concerned, the only solution to Communism is total extermination of all Commies, everywhere. It’s just what they deserve, to get exactly what they like to dish out.

      As for the vermin who mewl that this puts me on a moral par with those I decry, this is total bullshit. That’s the sort of ineffably stupid mentality that will mewl that killing a mugger, BOOM BOOM, must be morally exactly the same as mugging someone with which to begin.

    41. TB says:

      You can tell when a Marxist apologist is on his last legs when they bring up kibbutzim or hippie communes.

      The moral code of what one poster called “distributive justice” is “You have more than I do. I think I need it more than you do. So I get to take it away from you.”

      “Distributive justice” is just one of countless political and social-science euphemisms for this basic idea.

      You might have noticed that it’s the same moral code used by the guy who holds you up at the ATM machine.

    42. David Perry says:

      “a questioner complains that everything she’s heard this evening adheres to the “dominant narrative” about the famine and has not taken into account yucky weather,”

      Funny, we have droughts all the time in this country and somehow manage to avoid mass starvation.

      “the collapse of the Soviet Union,”

      Because, of course, the fact that Country A can only survive by being totally subsidized by Country B says *nothing* whatsoever about the efficacy of Country A’s political-economic system.

      “and the sanctions of baddies such as the United States.”

      I love the fact that the people who think American capitalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be are the same people who think that no one can possibly survive being denied access to American markets; see Cuba. All of this ignores, of course, the fact that the entire point of the “juche” principle is to avoid relying on other countries as much as possible–even other Commmunist ones. They can hardly blame us if they’re isolated economically.

      The great irony of this, of course, is that if there ever was a perfect example of the relative merits of capitalism (even a heavily adulterated capitalism) vs. communism, it’s Korea. The division of the country left the North with the vast majority of the industry, non-organic natural resources, and energy supplies, whereas the South got the lion’s share of the good agricultural land. Fifty-five years later, the South has become one of the world’s great industrial powers. The North, on the other hand, has not yet figured out how to feed itself consistently.

    43. David Perry says:

      To generalize Mo’s point about the kibbutzim, absent coercion, even in a society which was made up entirely of communes which internally lived a socialistic lifestyle, sooner or later, inter-communal relations would soon be established as an essentially capitalistic system. It might be based on exchange of labor rather than money, but the principles would essentially be the same.

      Also like the kibbutzim, all communes have to support themselves from outside somehow. Religious communities are either subsidized by the church, which comes out of donations of money earned in the–you guessed it–capitalistic system, or else they sell beer or cognac or something. :-) The hippie communes were often supported initially by the money the members brought with them from Mommy and Daddy, and they usually subsist by selling something to the outside world.

      Furthermore, commune living generally requires a lowering of living standards. For instance, even if monks and nuns were interested in living in expensive condos and driving Mercedes, they could never afford such a lifestyle. In most hippie communes, people live much more simply than the rest of us. They mostly don’t have a problem with that–it’s usually the point of the exercise, after all–but let’s not pretend that there isn’t a trade-off.

    44. jackburton says:

      “But they’re not above reproach. No one denies that all human systems are flawed, and that no one has yet devised a political system under which innocents NEVER suffer. The question is which systems do BEST for the largest proportion of the population in a way that is self-correcting and (to appropriate a term) sustainable. The empirical answer is those with the rule of law and capitalism, and everyone knows it.” BRAVO! good on you mate!

    45. flataffect says:

      There is no economic system on earth without some shortcomings. They all permit greed, for example. They all permit a small number of people to accumulate more than their fair share of power and wealth.

      But the extent to which they deny or restrict personal freedom, property rights and the right to an effective say in the government defines their venality. Some restraints are desirable for the health and protection of society, but there is an evil streak in many men that loves power and wealth. Marxism and other “progressive” ideologies rationalize centralizing power, but if you think they won’t lead to oppression, you’re lying to yourself.

    46. […] night, Glenn Reynolds linked a must-read post on the latter example of lefties who want to blame the U.S. for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge: Two weeks ago, there was an Asia Society screening of a UN documentary about the trial of Comrade […]

    47. submandave says:

      PB & Nony Mouse: Perhaps it was the placement of the word at the head of the sentence that obscured the significance of the capital “C,” but I believe the criticism was leveled at “Communists” and not communes. There is a vast difference between a group of individuals coming together and deciding to collectively share their labor and fruits and having a government knock on your door and force you to share your labor and fruits.

    48. Sean says:

      Other people have already given good answers to the questions that have been raised, so I’ll just thank everyone for staying civil on a very thorny topic and add a few things:

      I agree that right of exit is one of the most important issues here. Little communities—communes, kibbutzim, even gated towns with persnickety zoning boards—may have obnoxious rules, but if people want to enforce them among themselves, that’s their lookout…as long as people can leave. When the state festoons the border with razor wire and has a major say in what stratum you belong to, what job you’ll do, where you’ll live, and what you’ll think, we are no longer talking about a contract freely entered.

      As for whether true communism’s ever been tried, it’s been years since I’ve read Marx, but my understanding is that the revolution is supposed to lead to socialism, and then that’s supposed to lead to communism. How’s that working out? Of all the socialist revolutions, has there been even one in which the dictatorship of the proletariat morphed into a stateless, classless people’s paradise? Has there been even one in which things moved identifiably in that direction? If communists expect their policy prescriptions to be taken seriously, they can’t keep claiming they’d work just fine if only there were no droughts, flooding, ethnic tensions, huge populations, sprawling territories, borders with hostile countries, or rotten apples in the bureaucracy. An ideology that can only be implemented on Tahiti is not of much use.

      As for the good intentions of hippies…well, they remind me of the dons in gangster movies, who are able to dress impeccably and dote on their tomato and orchid plants because there are other people doing the scut work to keep their world going. Without textile workers like my grandfather, steelworkers like my father, and long-distance truckers like my uncle, there would have been no manufacturing and distribution system from which the hippies could have played at dropping out of society while retaining access to vans, guitars, clothes, and microphones. I’m all for recognition that money and status don’t buy happiness, but unless you’ve worked out how you can get back to nature without regressing into barbarism, I question your goodwill and, for that matter, your antiestablishmentism.

    49. b5blue says:

      For leftists who still try to defend the utter rot of their ideas, it’s a matter of omitting the perspective of the competing structures.

      Leftists point out the millions of low income people in capitalism whose station in life is not as good as others in that system yet is the envy of most of the third world. Yet, leftists want to gloss over the hundreds of millions of people starved, tortured and murdered under their system. These tens of millions of victims would have given anything to be poverty stricken in the U.S.

      It’s about perspective and power. Take the facts and beat the willfully ignorant leftist about the head and shoulders every chance you get. They deserve it.

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