A lot of good books came out in the last few months about politics and economics. This article starts a new type of article on The Conservative Critique: the book review. In the past, there have been reviews of several books on certain topics but those weren’t time relevant i.e. they weren’t new. For this new type of article, all books review are current and creating a buzz.
The first book in this new series is The Case Against Socialism by Senator Rand Paul. As one can infer from the title, Senator Paul is no fan of socialism. He’s made this very clear before. Technically, he is a Republican but it would be more appropriate to call him a libertarian considering his staunch anti-war, pro-drug legalization and radically anti-surveillance views. He is harder on big government than almost all republicans, which makes him perfect to take on the ultimate incarnation of big government: socialism. The Case Against Socialism is him doing just that.
Right at the outset, one has to understand what this book is and what it isn’t. Senator Paul is a statesmen and a physician by trade. While he certainly knows what he’s talking about, he isn’t a professor of economics or political philosophy. The Case Against Socialism is not intended to be a revolutionary debunking of socialism like Mises’s Socialism: an Economic and Sociological Analysis or Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Paul’s book does not slam the door on the socialist mentality and it’s not trying to. Instead, it is a distillation of the arguments of socialism’s opponents from the past into an easily readable form. Not many people will pick up a 500 page Mises treatise laden with German words and jargon but a fair bit more will pick up a simpler book with the same ideas in it. Inevitably, The Case Against Socialism will have an easier time reaching the general public than the more substantial books on the subject but the former will not be remembered like the latter.
First, the structure of the book. This is a very non-threatening volume, as in it’s not hard to read. It is about 300 pages long, the print is decent sized and there is comfortable line spacing. For those not economically inclined, this is a good way to learn about the complex ideas surrounding socialism because it is explained without jargon. The book is divided up into six parts and just shy of 40 chapters with each chapter being like a talking point. Some examples of his chapter headings are, “Interfering with free markets causes shortages,” “Bernie Sanders is too liberal to get elected in Denmark,” “Socialism becomes authoritarianism” and so on. Senator Paul could’ve done better in making the book contiguous in theme. He skips around a lot talking about the Nazis and socialism in one chapter, fundamental principles of socialism in the next and the “green new deal” in the one after. He would have done better to lump all of the theoretical objections to socialism into one part instead of spreading them out over all of them with case studies intermixed. His rough chapter to chapter flow is a bit distracting but it is not a major issue.
The reader will find his case studies very relevant. Everyone who follows international politics is familiar with the socialism caused catastrophe in Venezuela. Since it is an ongoing event, the analyses of it are still lacking. This commentary will not take the place of the exhaustive volumes certain to be written on it in the future but for the purposes of illustration, it is useful. Senator Paul makes frequent reference to the situation on the ground and how it connects back to the wider debate on socialism. To get a sense of the devastation, he shares some statistics in chapters one and two:
- Due to the economic collapse and the scarcity of food that resulted from it, 75% of the country’s population has lost an average of 19 pounds.
- 87% of Venezuelan households were impoverished as of 2017.
- More than half a million have fled the collapsing socialist state.
- Billions in public funds have been diverted to foreign bank accounts for the personal use of Maduro and his cronies.
These sobering numbers make the humanitarian plea for the end of the madness that created the infernal situation in the first place. Enemies of socialism traditionally trot out the lessons of history when discussing the matter and this is just the latest lesson. Perhaps the most famous use of the lessons of history attack on socialism is the Black Book of Communism. That volume amounts to a 900 page catalog of atrocities that reads like: “then 5,000 were shot here, then 10,000 were sent to gulags in Kolyma and then 750 were tortured in unspeakable ways…” Venezuela comes in front of a long line of socialistic failures that stretched the world from Havana to Budapest to Moscow to Beijing and Phnom Penh. Just like in those regimes, veritable parades of misery from Venezuela in the form of statistics, firsthand accounts and photos can be cited to decry that which made millions suffer.
Following in this tradition, Rand Paul does not content himself with unbreathing, uncaring numbers. He uses many firsthand accounts of the collapse to bring the numbers to life. Some of his quotations go as follows:
- “Venezuelans today cannot eat. You see people eating from the garbage.”
–Margarita Lopez Maya, professor at the Central University of Venezuela
- “People are hunting dogs and cats in the streets and pigeons in the plazas to eat.”
–Mayor of Chacao, a suburb of the capital Caracas
- “We have no food. They are cutting power four hours a day. Crime is soaring.”
–Roberto Sanchez, unemployed construction worker in La Victoria
There is something powerful that comes from personal testimony of suffering. That something cannot be captured in numbers and the inclusion of quotations to this effect humanize the deeply impersonal nature of raw stats. The only thing he could have done more would be to add pictures of the political unrest, abject poverty and borderline starvation in the country but alas, he did not.
Rand Paul covered a lot of ground in his book. Because of this and the small scope of book reviews in general, nowhere near all of his material can be touched on here. For case studies, he also discusses Sweden and its economic history in great detail. He also touched on that Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Nazi Germany and others.
Since this is not exclusively a history book or one of theory, Senator Paul covers a few bits of political and economic theory too. Consider Part III of his book titled, “A boot stamping on the human face forever –socialism and authoritarianism.” Opening with a clear nod to the INGSOC tyrants of 1984, Paul makes the point that socialism is intertwined with authoritarianism (as can be inferred from the title). His wording on the opening page of Part III indicts the whole history of socialist experiments:
“Socialists want to argue that each case from Zimbabwe to Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea to North Korea is an anomaly or that none of these historical examples are ‘real’ socialism. And yet the ‘liberators’ time and time again call themselves socialists.”-Rand Paul, The Case Against Socialism
The point he makes is that socialism inevitably devolves into tyranny or collapses. This is not a new argument either. Von Hayek articulated this argument best in The Road to Serfdom where he called it “the worst ris[ing] to the top.” In the coming chapters, Rand Paul combines a simplified form of Von Hayek’s theoretical criticisms and case studies of Nazi Germany and Maoist China where those criticisms played out like a symphony orchestra.
The Case Against Socialism in the end does what it’s intended to do: give a simplified version of complex ideas and a primer on the history of socialist experiments. It is clearly not meant to be a slam dunk discussion ender like Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism and it doesn’t have to be in order to be a worthwhile read. History won’t remember Rand Paul as master-scholar who wrote a landmark book on the subject of socialism. But it surely will remember him as a principled right leaning libertarian who made a difference in American politics time and again.
Photo credit: “Sen. Rand Paul: We Must Restore Congressional Authority on Declaring War” via TIME
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