Over at The American Conservative, my friend Helen Andrews has an absolutely fascinating, one-in-a-million piece about “Red Nostalgia” in the former Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain fell in 1991—and, according to Helen, lots of folks want it back.
Much of this nostalgia can be explained by economic factors. Apparently, post-Soviet nations have seen a fall in GDP, a spike in mortality rates, and a decline in fertility. But economics can explain so much. Quoth Mrs. Andrews:
The same 2006 poll showed that fewer than 40 percent said the political situation in their country had improved since the transition. Only 15 percent said there was less corruption. In Poland, when asked “when was life easier for you,” almost twice as many people said “before 1989” as “at present.” The bellwether survey question, “Would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people,” measures the overall trust levels in a society, which has seen a massive drop from two-thirds before 1989 to one-third in 2006.
Read the whole thing. This is such an important piece. It implicitly proves three points that reactionaries like myself have been making for centuries.
1) We can’t measure happiness in terms of material wealth. Not as individuals, nor even as societies.
This point seems to contradict the data, which says that Eastern Europe enjoyed a higher GDP under communism. But GDP doesn’t tell us very much. Reaganites would probably point out that Eastern Europeans can now eat McDonald’s cheeseburgers when once they could only nibble stale, moldy bread from a Stalinist breadline. Still man doesn’t live on bread alone.
I hope it goes without saying, but my argument isn’t that Eastern Europe was better off under communism. Rather, it’s that the eradication of communism as an ideology would be guaranteed to cause a certain amount of misery—as would the eradication of any prevailing ideology.
Communism gave the peoples of Eastern Europe three things that Western-style, post-Christian, late-capitalist liberalism cannot. It gave them: (A) a sense of purpose, both as individuals and as a nation; (B) a sense of stability, security, and belonging that comes from belonging to an immutable hierarchy; and (C) a coherent narrative by which they could understand the workings of the cosmos and their own role therein.
Again, the West can offer none of these things. Just the opposite, in fact. For, you see…
2) Western liberalism is a purely corrosive force. Sometimes, it corrodes the right things, like Stalinist dictatorships. But that’s purely incidental. Acid can remove rust from your car or flesh from your bones. That’s just acid being acid.
After all, when the U.S. and its Allies finally helped topple communism, what did we offer the peoples of Eastern Europe in its place? Political, economic, and moral anarchy. Again, you might prefer anarchy to Stalinism. But many may not.
Put it this way. Those of us “on the Right” resist left-wing programs like abortion-on-demand, the LGBT lobby, etc. We believe that (aside from being evil) those things compromise the social order. And it’s true: they do. But even if you could get on the pro-choice/pro-LGBT bus, the means by which these errors are brought into practice must be incredibly damaging.
For example, even if you conclude that abortion is morally licit (as many communist countries did), predicating pro-choice laws on a fictional “right to privacy” is madness. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg though Roe v. Wade was a bad decision—not because she opposed abortion (she was fiercely pro-choice), but because its reasoning was totally incoherent.
This is what politics has become in the West. It’s not predicated on any coherent worldview, be it Christianity or communism or what have you. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything our governments do.
Whether you happen to be left-wing or right-wing, you can’t help but be unsettled by the knowledge that America isn’t ruled by laws, or ideologies, or even men. We’re ruled by venal politicians and their lackeys in the judicial bureaucracy catering to the fickle whims of an overstimulated, uninformed electorate—an electorate that has come to look on politics more as a blood sport and the media as “the current-events arm of the entertainment industry,” as a wise man once said.
When he ran for mayor of New York, William F. Buckley promised voters “the internal composure that comes of knowing there are rational limits to politics.” Now, I’m not a fan of WFB, precisely because his particular blend of libertarianism and neoconservatism destroyed any semblance of a rational limit to our politics. But the idea itself is quite sound, and goes some way towards explaining why so many Eastern Europeans pine for the Soviet Union.
3) The shallow anticommunism upon which the modern “Right” is based is totally bankrupt. Again, not because it’s opposed to communism. That’s a good thing. The problem, rather, is that it didn’t go far enough. It rejected communism’s means but agreed with its ends. As Whittaker Chambers once said, “The West believes its destiny is prosperity and an abundance of goods. So does the Politburo.”
Indeed. The communists of the 1910s and the anticommunists of the 1990s were both driven by the same materialist impulse. But right-materialism is not an acceptable alternative to left-materialism. The only reasonable solution, it seems to me, is a rejection of materialism and a return to a society organized around spiritual values.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: this is why I feel the word “reactionary” is so important. Replacing liberal capitalism with communism (or vice-versa) is not a real solution. The answer to the capitalist revolution Henry VIII is not the Communist Revolution of Vladimir Lenin, or vice-versa. The answer is counter-revolution.