Joshua Muravchik’s book Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (Encounter Books, 2002) has been selected as a finalist for the 2003 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
Socialism was man’s most ambitious attempt to supplant religion with a doctrine claiming to be rational and “scientific.” In the century following its birth in the French Revolution, socialism was propounded by writers and organizers until it became the fastest-growing idea in Europe. Then Lenin showed that it could be spread better by the sword than by the word, and soon it spanned the globe. No other political idea, indeed no religion, ever traveled so far so fast.
The search for the Promised Land took socialists in diverse directions: revolution, communes and kibbutzim, social democracy, communism, fascism, Third Worldism. But none of these paths led to the prophesied utopia. Nowhere did socialists succeed in creating societies of easy abundance or in midwifing the birth of a “New Man,” as their theory promised. Some socialist governments abandoned their grandiose goals and satisfied themselves with making slight modifications to capitalism, while others plowed ahead doggedly, often inducing staggering human catastrophes. Then, after two hundred years of wishful thinking and fitful governance, socialism suddenly imploded in the 1990s in a fin du siecle drama of falling walls, collapsing regimes and frantic revisions of doctrine.
In Heaven on Earth, Joshua Muravchik traces this fiery trajectory through portraits of the thinkers and leaders who developed the theory of socialism, led it to power and presided over its collapse. We see such dreamers and doers as the French revolutionary Gracchus Babeuf whose “Conspiracy of Equals” was the first to try to outlaw private property; Robert Owen, who hoped to plant a model socialist utopia in the United States; Friedrich Engels, who created the cult of Karl Marx and “scientific” socialism; Benito Mussolini, self-proclaimed socialist heretic and inventor of fascism; Clement Attlee, who rejected the fanatics and set out to build socialism democratically in Britain; Julius Nyerere, who merged social democracy and communism in the hope of making Tanzania a model for the developing world; and Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xiaoping and Tony Blair, who became socialism’s inadvertent undertakers.
Heaven on Earth is narrative history at its best. Joshua Muravchik’s accomplishment in this book is to tell a story filled with character and event while at the same time giving us an epic chronicle of a movement that tried to turn the world upside down–and for a time succeeded.
(This review courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute)