Thomas Sowell

Socialism is a wonderful idea. It is only as a reality that it has been disastrous. Among people of every race, color, and creed, all around the world, socialism has led to hunger in countries that used to have surplus food to export.

Its economic disasters have afflicted virtually every industry. In its Communist version, it killed far more innocent civilians in peacetime than Hitler killed in his death camps during World War II.

Nevertheless, for many of those who deal primarily in ideas, socialism remains an attractive idea -- in fact, seductive. Its every failure is explained away as due to the inadequacies of particular leaders.

Many of the intelligentsia remain convinced that if only there had been better leaders -- people like themselves, for example -- it would all have worked out fine, according to plan.

A remarkable new book makes the history of socialism come alive. Its title is " Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism". Its author, Joshua Muravchik, is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a leading think tank in Washington. It is hard to find a book on the history of socialism that is either readable or accurate, so it is especially remarkable to find one that is both. The story told in "Heaven on Earth" is so dramatic and compelling that the author finds no need to gild the lily with rhetoric or hype. It is a great read.

This history of socialism begins more than two centuries ago, at the time of the French Revolution, with the radical conspirator Babeuf, who wanted to carry the revolutionary ideas of the times even farther, to a communist society.

It ends with current British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who brought the Labour Party back to power by dropping the core of its socialist agenda and putting distance between himself and previous Labour Party governments, whose socialist policies had so backfired that the party lost four consecutive national elections.

In between, there are stories of small communal societies, such as that founded in the 19th century by Robert Owen, the man who coined the word "socialism," as well as stories of huge nations like China and the empire that was known as the Soviet Union.

In all these very different societies around the world, the story of socialism has been a story of high hopes and bitter disappointments. Attempts to redistribute wealth repeatedly led to the redistribution of poverty.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate