New York magazine has produced a list of the “best books to understand socialism” that is so stupefyingly inane that you wonder if this is intended as satire or a really big put on. But no—they are quite earnest about this list, because it was curated by “experts.”
Among the best books to understand socialism, according to NY mag, are several by Marx himself (fair enough, if you really want to slog through Capital, Vol. 1), and Vivian Gornick’s The Romance of American Communism, which is not great but has some useable material. But the list also includes not one, but two books by . . . Angela Davis: The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues, and Women, Race, & Class. Seriously? Michael Harrington rounds out the list with Socialism: Past and Future. By now you practically need carbon-dating to get a time fix on Michael Harrington he is such a forgotten fossil.
I can only assume they dug up their “experts” at some kind of retirement village for red diaper babies suffering dementia somewhere in the Balkans, since most of these titles are really old and out of date. What would we do without “experts”?
If you really want to learn about socialism or Marxism, how about listing Thomas Sowell’s book on the subject by the simple title Marxism? It is short and holds up very well. Also The Black Book of Communism is indispensable.
But if you really want a serious education in Marxism and socialism, there is no substitute for Leszek Kolakowski’s three-volume magnum opus, Main Currents of Marxism. If you read through all three magnificent and detailed volumes you’ll know more about Marxism and socialism than you’ll ever want or need to know, and certainly more than today’s flippant socialists.
The three volumes proceed soberly and methodically through the development of Marxism and socialism starting with Hegel and other antecedents that Marx drew heavily upon. But then you finally reach the epilogue of volume three, which opens thus:
Marxism has been the greatest fantasy of our century. It was a dream offering the prospect of a society of perfect unity, in which all human aspirations would be fulfilled and all values reconciled. . . Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects: for it is a certainty not based on any empirical premises or supposed ‘historical laws,’ but simply on the psychological need for certainty. In this sense, Marxism performs the function of a religion, and its efficacy is of a religious character.
That’s just a tiny sample of this great work that, although published in 1978, holds up extremely well, for Kolakowski goes well beyond just Marxism to take in and smack around its many offshoots that remain alive on college campuses and in Democratic Party caucus rooms today.