CRB: A kinder, gentler Gulag

The Claremont Review of Books is of course the flagship publication of the Claremont Institute. I find in every issue an education in the true understanding of politics, public policy, and statesmanship. It is my favorite magazine. Purchase an annual subscription here for $19.95 and get immediate online access to the whole thing.

The Spring 2019 issue of the CRB has just been placed in the mail. The editors have given me a free run through the galley proof to let me select essays and reviews with which to preview the issue for Power Line readers. I have selected not three, not four, but five of the issue’s essays and reviews to bring to your attention. Indecision has its uses so long as the editors indulge me.

At 114 pages, I believe this is the longest issue of the CRB to date. Like the Winter issue, it provides something like a graduate education in the political arts. We will have a big, beautiful share of the intellectual heart and soul of this issue.

If Dracula were immortal, he might be a good metaphor for the socialist idea. And if socialism is back in fashion, we may have to relearn some old lessons and master some old arguments. Bill Voegeli is the senior editor of the CRB and one of my favorite essayists. In “A kinder, gentler Gulag,” he reviews The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality, by one Bhaskar Sunkara. It is a book for this season and one hopes not much more. Bill writes:

The lessons [Sunkara] takes away from 20th-century socialism, as practiced, include “the difficulties of central planning,” the dangers of “authoritarian collectivism,” and the need to avoid “crippling bureaucratization.” But after the scales have fallen from his eyes, the entirety of the enlightenment Sunkara draws on these points is that planning, collectivism, and bureaucratization can be done badly, so future socialists should try really hard to do them well.

The possibility that such problems are inherent in the socialist enterprise does not occur to him….when all the individual elements of the economic equation are also dynamic—as consumer preferences, technologies, and the availability of raw materials change constantly—coordinating all this activity is overwhelming, and the temptation to start commanding and controlling people becomes irresistible for even the most humane socialist official.

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We may be living in an but era of “extreme inequality,” as Sunkara’s subtitle asserts, but also in one of steadily rising living standards. Those realities recommend keeping and improving capitalism more forcefully than they do supplanting it with a system that has never succeeded anywhere and no one has intelligibly described.

Please read the whole thing.

In this valuable review, Bill draws on Socialism: The Failed Idea that Never Dies, by Kristian Niemietz of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a libertarian British think tank. It appears actually to be a book worth reading.