Friday, March 18, 2016

Such a Grand Departure from Basic Human Nature

No one's expecting a world that runs on justice
No one is waiting for such a grand departure
From basic human nature

Ginger Wildheart

Sarah Bakewell:

Alongside the internationalists and the pro-Americans, a third group in postwar Western Europe favored putting their hope in the Soviet Union. This was, after all, the one major nation on earth that had actually tried to put into effect the great Communist ideal for humanity — the prospect that (at some far-off point when all the cleaning up work was done) human beings would banish poverty, hunger, inequality, war, exploitation, fascism and other evils from existence forever, simply by an act of rational management. It was the most ambitious attempt to change the human condition ever attempted. If it failed the first time, it might never be tried again, so it seemed worth defending at all costs.

We are here talking about the events of just seven decades ago — a modest human lifespan — yet it has already become difficult to think ourselves sufficiently into that time to understand how this ideal swayed so many intelligent, sophisticated people in the West. Now, the conventional wisdom has become that Communism would never have worked in any possible world, and therefore that those who failed to see it as futile from the start were fools. Yet, to people who had been through the hardships of the 1930s and the Second World War, it could seem an idea worth believing in despite its acknowledged unlikeliness. People did not see it as a mere dream, of the kind you wake from with a vague impression that you've seen something marvelous but impossible. They thought it a practical goal, albeit one to which the path would be long and difficult, with many pitfalls along the way.

Yuval Levin, in his excellent Tyranny of Reason, made a similar generous point. Given the astounding successes of the natural sciences in the wake of Newton, it was perfectly reasonable to hope, or even assume, that a similar science of man and society could be developed and implemented. What's unforgivable is that there are still so many people today who have a historical record to reflect upon, yet still refuse to learn from it.