The Skatalites: Simmer Down

Sunday Night Journal — April 29, 2012

Dialogue and Motive

A few days ago in a comment thread Paul linked to this interesting report on a study which claims to find that conservatives understand the views of liberals better than liberals understand the views of conservatives. I take Studies of this sort in general with a pretty big dose of skepticism—after all, hardly a week seems to pass that someone doesn’t produce a Study purporting to prove that conservatives are fundamentally stupid, etc. This one is intriguing partly because the results actually go counter to the self-admitted bias of the liberal psychology professor who did it, and partly because, for what it’s worth, my personal experience supports the conclusion.

As far as I can remember I have never encountered, either in person or in print, a liberal who was able and/or willing to understand conservative arguments on their own terms—that is, to address what the conservative says he intends, and the arguments with which he supports that intention, rather than what the liberal assumes he intends. For instance, on the question of our responsibility toward the poor: if a conservative agrees that there is such a responsibility, but that there are better ways to meet it than the federal programs beloved of liberals, the liberal generally does not acknowledge that this is a disagreement about means and not ends. Instead, he concludes that the conservative doesn’t care about the poor, is a social Darwinist, etc. There simply doesn’t seem to be any willingness or ability on the part of liberals to believe that conservatives actually have the common good at heart, but differ about how to achieve it.

I don’t say that conservatives don’t often fall into the same way of thinking. But the study indicates that there are more exceptions to the tendency on the conservative than on the liberal side.

The liberal response seems always to assume that opposition to a particular approach toward solving a problem is opposition to solving the problem at all. In other words, the liberal is incapable of believing, or at least disinclined to believe, that any approach to a problem other than the liberal one can be reasonable and sincere. If you oppose affirmative action, you must favor racism. If you oppose giving more money to any and all government educational agencies, you must want children to be ignorant. (The teachers’ union in my state has been doing this for decades, pretty effectively: any opposition to anything it wants is deemed opposition to education, period.) If you think our programs for the elderly are unsustainable, you must want to push an old lady in a wheelchair over a cliff, as Congressman Paul Ryan was depicted doing in an ad attacking his proposals for Social Security and Medicare reform.

(I always feel obliged to insert this disclaimer: yes, I am mindful of the inadequacy of terms like “liberal,” “conservative,” “left,” and “right,” especially in the American context, but that doesn’t mean the parties don’t exist.)

Ryan, Rand, and Georgetown

Speaking of Paul Ryan: I have long wondered how it is that Christian admirers of Ayn Rand reconcile Rand’s ideas with their faith. At the level of fundamental metaphysics, the two simply cannot be reconciled. Rand’s philosophy as a whole can fairly be described as satanic, except that Satan does not share her foolish belief that there is no such thing as spiritual reality. I’ve suspected that what they, the Christians, do is to separate Rand’s economic ideas from her metaphysics. They read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead and are thrilled by the achievements of the heroes, and filled with indignation toward their malicious collectivist enemies. They either miss or mostly ignore the materialist and atheist foundations of Rand’s didactic stories; what they see is an inspiring story of individual heroism against collective stupidity and venality. It wouldn’t be so hard to do that if one only read Atlas, which is the only work of any length by Rand that I’ve read; perhaps the same is true of The Fountainhead.

And they aren’t totally off base, at least if we ignore the question of literary judgment—I thought Atlas was bad to the point of being funny. Her opposition to collectivism was the one thing that Rand got mostly right. Her family’s pharmacy was confiscated by the early Soviet government, so she had direct experience of what happens when a government decides to confiscate private property, ostensibly for the benefit of the people but in practice for the benefit of those who run the government, either directly or indirectly. It doesn’t seem to be recognized by the most vociferous denouncers of Rand’s ideas that what disgusted her most (at least on the evidence of Atlas Shrugged) was not so much government itself as crony capitalism, the appropriation of government’s power by private interests. The most loathsome characters in Atlas are those who can’t compete with the genius of the heroes and therefore use the power of government to rig the game in their favor, like a football team that bribes the officials.

And she’s half-right about individual achievement. It’s a fine thing when a gifted person exercises those gifts, and a shabby one when the envious scheme to bring him down. Anyone can cheer the one and boo the other, just as audiences cheer and boo the heroes and villains of any melodrama. She was only half-right, because her gifted heroes are grotesquely egotistical, and risibly enchanted with their own (highly implausible) superiority, like characters in some cartoon version of Nietzsche.

Paul Ryan, a Catholic, is somewhat notorious for acknowledging Rand’s influence on him, while simultaneously claiming that his economic vision is compatible with Catholic social teaching. In the past week or so he has made some remarks distancing himself from Rand, and has been accused of lying about his earlier enthusiasm, as expressed in remarks such as “I give outAtlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well... I try to make my interns read it.” (This remark is usually paraphrased as something like “forces his staff to read Atlas Shrugged,” which is not exactly the same thing, and lacks the light tone of the actual words. The primary source and context for this remark seems to be a 2003 article in the Weekly Standard which is available only to subscribers.)

I don’t think there is necessarily any contradiction between Ryan's past and current views (which is not to say that they are entirely coherent). In fact they are what I would expect to hear from the sort of Christian I was wondering about. Every admiring word about Rand that I’ve heard attributed to Ryan has been in the context of economics, and he seems offended that people would think this makes him a full-fledged metaphysical Randian. This doesn’t say much for his intellectual consistency, but it doesn’t surprise me very much.

At any rate, I think there are a lot of good things in his address he gave at Georgetown last week, which you can read here. Some of the Georgetown faculty are up in arms about him, in particular accusing him of being insufficiently orthodox, which is pretty funny coming from them. (Nor do those who signed the letter of protest—theology professors and others—seem likely to have much knowledge of economic reality). But—in line with the study I referred to earlier—they don’t seem even to attempt to meet the argument that his proposals will actually preserve the essentials of the social safety net they advocate. They assume that his disagreement with their means is a disagreement about the end. I am certainly willing to believe that he needs to keep working at the project of basing his economic views less on Ayn Rand and more on the teachings of the Church, but I’m not convinced that he deserves their wholesale condemnation, and I think his ideas deserve an open and charitable debate.

I don’t want to take a position on Ryan’s budget proposal (apart from the fact that I think it should include defense cuts, which it reportedly does not). These things have gotten so vastly complicated that it’s almost impossible for an ordinary person to grasp what a plan like this really contains and what its significance really is. And that in itself is a symptom of something gone badly wrong. What we need are honest and disinterested experts to study it and explain it to the rest of us. But most of the people who have the time for that sort of thing are highly partisan and can be expected to slant things their way, usually in the most hyperbolic way possible. I admit that I tend to dismiss liberal rhetoric about “gutting” social programs, because they say that about any attempt whatsoever to constrain the growth of their favored programs.

I do, however, take Ryan at his word that he believes his plan would be the best thing for the country as a whole, and is not just a cover for his desire to push somebody off a cliff. As he says,

Serious problems like those we face today require charitable conversation. Civil public dialogue goes to the heart of solidarity, the virtue that does not divide society into classes and groups but builds up the common good of all.

But you can’t have a civil dialogue when one side assumes that anything said by the other is only meant to divert attention from an evil conspiracy.


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Very good. I don't have time to write anything serious at the moment, so I will say that I think it's atrocious from a slightly dyslexic point of view that one must deal with Rand Paul and Paul Ryan in the same month--not to mention Ron Paul and Ayn Rand.


I never thought about it before, but considering how popular Ayn Rand's books are, I'm a little surprised that there aren't more people named Ayn.

Probably the people who really admire her don't want to be weighed down with children.

And it's a good thing there aren't, because nobody pronounces it correctly.

I never noticed before I wrote the above that both Ayn and Rand have three letters that are in Ryan. Of course, nobody else would probably notice that.


Probably so. I've always heard it pronounced pretty much like the German "ein."

That's part of why there's the dyslexic effect.

Oh, for me that's entirely why. It's really the only dyslexic problem I have. It's also fun because it's like a game, and probably the reason I'm good at word games.


I feel like I ought to be good at word games, but I'm not, especially. And I'm terrible if they require quickness, like Boggle. I hate Boggle. My wife destroys me at it.

I think that that is because it's more than having a good vocabulary and spelling and things like that. It's seeing "ate" and immediately thinking, "eat", "tea" and "eta." Or meeting your daughters in-laws, Randy and Verna and immediately thinking, "Oh, they have three of the same letters in their names and that 'y' and 'v' look a lot alike." And talking backwards sometimes for the heck of it.


Yeah, it's almost a more visual than verbal thing. Or as much, anyway.

My take on Rand's newfound love of St Thomas and distance from Rand:

See, I'm not the only one that gets confused.


Heh. I didn't even notice it till you mentioned it.

>>"I’ve suspected that what they, the Christians, do is to separate Rand’s economic ideas from her metaphysics."

More or less what Christian socialists do with Marx. It's not impossible, but it's dangerous.

I think there are a number of parallels between Rand and Marx and between Randians and Marxists.

You're right, Mac.

There is, first, and most obviously, the hellish anarchy of objectivism and its mirror image, the hellish statism of communism.

There is, secondly, the evangelical zeal that characterizes adherents to both philosophies. This is less true of communism now, almost 150 years after its proclamation and in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, than it is of objectivism, which is barely 60 years old and -- unlike communism -- still untainted by any empirical failures on a national scale. It's difficult to find an intellectually committed Marxist nowadays outside of certain Ivy League faculty lounges. And it's equally difficult to find a self-contained economy whose members would be willing, on a majority basis, to adopt Rand's "virtue of selfishness" as a guiding civic value. (Perhaps if Malibu or the Hamptons could secede from the Union, we might get a test case.)

Either way, both these visions of human society exhibit the cultic power of utopianism -- communism because (in the eyes if its adherents) it has never been given a realistic chance; objectivism because it has never (yet) been given any chance at all. As is the case among all "true believers" -- Marxists and Randians alike -- hope springs eternal, regardless of what real life tells us is true.

The difference is that Marxism is arguably a distortion of certain Christian ideas: radical equality, the common destination of goods, hope for a perfect world. Objectivism, on the other hand, is nothing but a rejection and negation of Christ and all he taught. And enough of this nonsense about somehow separating her economics from her so-called philosophy ("philosophy" means love of wisdom, and Rand had neither love nor wisdom). Her economics flow directly from her antichrist ethics: the "virtues" of greed and selfishness, the rejection of the "inferior" and exaltation of the "superior" man, whom most of us would call a predator and oppressor.

Jeff, I think that Communism is growing. There are a couple of generations that don't remember anything about the cold war and what little they have been taught in history classes, doesn't say anything about the evils of Communism. I think the fact that those OW demonstrations took place on May 1 is huge. And there are also Marxists in Protestant seminaries, and I don't think it's just Ivy League colleges.

Daniel, I'm wondering if a distortion of the real thing is not sometimes worse than something outside that rises in opposition. And truly I mean that I'm wondering; I'm not stating that as a fact. Of course, I agree about Objectivism. I horrifies me when someone whom I know to be a committed Catholic recommends her books.


"enough of this nonsense"

Always a good way to advance the discussion.

I really want to like Paul Ryan, but frankly I don't know what to think. Here's another clip of him gushing over Rand, in which, among other things, he does say her books are "required reading" for his staff (ignore the sensationalist presentation of it--for instance, I don't believe he's a literal atheist, and it's not a "secret" recording at all):

He most assuredly was a disciple of hers. He never qualified any of his statements in the least. I really hope he's seeing the light now. I'm thinking maybe (hopefully) he didn't quite understand the full implications of her philosophy, as you suggested. Hopefully he's beginning to truly understand what it means to be Catholic. (That might sound bad...I just don't know how anyone could admire her to the extent that he did/does and pretend to also be Catholic.)

"both these visions of human society exhibit the cultic power of utopianism"

Yes, and also of a certain misplaced hyper-rationalism. I think true orthodox Marxists and true orthodox Randians probably have a lot of psychological similarities: they have the purely rational solution, and all that remains is to implement it. Some Thomists have a streak of that.

There don't seem to be as many true orthodox Marxists as t.o. Objectivists. If that's correct, I think there are a couple of reasons, one big one the historical record of Marxism. It seems to me--emphasis on "seems," because I don't know for sure--that t.o. Marxism has suffered a fate similar to that of Sauron. The evil is no longer concentrated and focused, but has been diffused. Part of that is the actual disaster of the Communist nations, part the easy-livin' developments in capitalist (or dem. socialist) countries which fused Marxist impulses with vague and dreamy counterculture/new-age/hippie utopianism. So people who would never accept the rigidity and discipline of old-line Communism nevertheless have a broadly similar view of how the world works and where it's (supposedly) going.

I see that clip is 7 minutes, Noah, so, as I'm at work, I'll have to wait till later to watch it. I believe this must be the talk I've seen referred to in several things about him.

I ended up having to take sort of a quick lunch, so I don't have time to say much, but I did watch it. Brief reaction: definitely a disciple, not just a casual fan. But it's all politics and economics, which *might* support my conjectures. I recognized several snippets which have been quoted elsewhere. Interesting to hear them in context.

The discussion is not advanced by saying that someone's criticism does not advance the discussion, either. Rather more helpful would be an attempt to point all the good points in Rand's economic thought.
But you can't, because there are none. Her whole approach begins with the fallacy that wealthy entepreneurs are the "producers", when of course without labor to make the goods or provide the service the man with the idea and the cash remains impotent. Her economic thought begins with a hostility to solidarity, which is the fundamental principle of a just social order. Might is right in Rand's world, and the poor and needy are to be despised as worthless.
I am pretty broadminded, willing to sift through a lot of error in search of the truth, but I see none in Rand. It is like saying that one must glean the wisdom in the thought of Anton LeVay of the Church of Satan (whose thought is identical to Rand's, except LeVay chose to use Satan as a symbol of his selfish ethos). Or saying that one can find truths amid the error in Alistair Crowley or Adolf Hitler.

But if I am missing something please enlighten me.

And if Ryan is honest in claiming Thomas, that is a profound conversion. If that has occured I am waiting for the fruits.

I think that one of the things that draws people to Rand (and believe me, I am in no way one of these people) is the idea that government does not have any business taxing the rich to give to the poor. And while Thomas does say, and I believe that our excess belongs to the poor, I don't think he would say that government should effect the transfer of this excess.

I may be wrong about this, but I do know that I can see that the more the government takes over the welfare of the poor, the more this eviscerates the Church. Christians, seeing that the poor are receiving help from the government, cease to give the help. Christians who want to help the poor have less to give because taxes are higher. Laws make it more difficult for churches to give help to the poor. And charity becomes cold and faceless, or if their is a face, it's bored and rude and contemptuous. I know this from experience.

So, I'm not saying that Rand is good in any way, I'm just saying that this may explain what some people see in her "philosophy."


"There" not "their" darn it.

Anyway, just anecdotally, the person in our parish who most tries to live his faith, as far as I can see, and who has instigated several charitable endeavors, really likes Rand. I don't get it, but I also don't doubt that this man is trying to live a Catholic life.

And, if you want to read an amusing take on Ayn Rand, you might try Tobias Wolfe's Old School, but I have to warn you that Robert Frost doesn't come off too well either.


Daniel, why should I respond to someone who has just said he's had enough of my nonsense?

I usually have the feeling when we try to discuss topics like this that you're responding to something that's a bit off to one side of what I actually meant. Whether this is my fault or yours or some of both, I don't know, but I see that happening here.

My main point is not to defend Rand but to try to understand what people like the person Janet mentions (and Paul Ryan, assuming he's sincere) see in her, and why they don't see the contradiction between Rand's ideas and their own Christian beliefs. My point is not that Rand's economic ideas can logically be separated from her philosophy, but that people do in fact seem to separate them.

One reason that you are so outraged by that is that you're actually making Rand worse than she really is, and God knows she's bad enough. As I've mentioned, Atlas Shrugged is the only big work of hers I've read. If we take it as definitive of her thought, her foundational economic principle is not rapacity but rather a sort of extremely pure abstract justice, in which each person gets *exactly* what he or she has worked for. The villains are not the workers or the poor, but those who take others' work by force. Never mind incompatibility with Christianity, this isn't even a viable worldly principle in the pure form that she wants it to be. But it's not what you seem to think it is.

Well, there are Communists and Communists:

And of course, there's also xkcd: (the roll-over text, not the cartoon itself).

"My point is not that Rand's economic ideas can logically be separated from her philosophy, but that people do in fact seem to separate them."

One can say the same thing about Mises, actually, but Rand is much worse -- like Mises on steroids. The only thing "good" in Rand is her critique of statism, but considering that there are other equally good critiques of statism out there I don't see the need for any Christian to bother with Rand.

Certainly not. Come to that, there's no need for anybody to bother with her, but they do, and I think that's interesting as well as alarming. I wonder--does she have many fans outside the US?

That xkcd is a gem (cartoon and all), Paul. Thanks. And as for those church-protecting communists--ah, well, it's Russia.

The problem is that Rand, and the libertarians, do not just critique Statism, which the Church also rejects. They reject the State, and see it as an evil, even if the more moderate see it as a necessary evil. To the Church the State,is, of course, like the family, a natural human institution. That many states have been evil proves no more than the fact that many families have been evil.
And Thomas presents the universal destination of goods as a matter of justice, as do many of the Fathers (St John Chrysostom was particularly radical). And as Thomas saw the State as an arbiter of justice it is hard to argue that he objected to taxing the rich. There is nothing immoral about progressive taxation, and when you add in the fact that much (most?) wealth in the modern capitalist economy is created not by producing a useful good or service, but by manipulating money and markets in ways that are rapacious, taxing those who earn such profits it utterly a matter of distributive justice.
And Mac, it really is hard to exaggerate Rand's evil. She was a wicked woman who lived her life in accordance with her sick principles. And she created an economics to match.

I've only ever heard her mentioned in American contexts. But there are still those crazy Russians.

Of which Rand herself was one. Wonder how many compatriots this guy has. It really would sort of make sense if Randism caught on there. Auden once said that the US and Russia were more like each other than either was like England.

That Paul Ryan could be so enamored of Ayn Rand is very troubling. But then Dorothy Day, a deeply religious Catholic, praised Lenin in her youth and failed to condemn Stalin and Castro later in life.

Interesting, especially the latter. If the praise of Lenin was early enough, it would be forgivable, especially if it was before her conversion. Failure to see Stalin especially for what he was is much more culpable.

"it really is hard to exaggerate Rand's evil."

Then I think congratulations are in order. :-)

And what part of what I said do you consider an exaggeration? Seriously.

To go into that in detail would take more time than I have, and I really don't think you would accept it anyway. We've touched on it in this exchange. I don't think your description of her beliefs is entirely accurate. Like I said above, she doesn't applaud rapacity and oppression, as you seem to be saying. She seems to enrage you, which I can understand, but I don't think you're being entirely fair to her. And I'm not defending her, I just want to be accurate. She is a rather sensational case, to be sure, thanks to her popular success and self-promotion, but really she's not fundamentally any worse, either in her beliefs or in her life, than any of thousands of intellectuals of modern times--except that she has more influence, so in that respect you could say she's worse. But then Randism is responsible for no mass murders, concentration camps, etc., such as have been produced by self-professed lovers of mankind. And now I'm *really* out of time.

Chiming in from Canada --I think Rand is a mostly an American thing. I grew up in/spent alot of time around some pretty libertarian folks up here and she never really came up. Our current government, which by Canadian standards is fairly free market, is very open about its debt to Hayek. Hayek's not nearly as obnoxious as Rand, mostly just a classical liberal on steroids, though he still doesn't leave much for the poor, weak, or unborn.

Really Marianne, you think "men so dominated by ideas that they sacrificed to them countless millions of human beings" (from The Long Loneliness) carries no hint of condemnation?

"Rand is mostly an American thing"

I've thought that might be the case. There is certainly a huge area of sympathy between her notions and a lot of traditional American ones. She herself was wildly enthusiastic about America.

Do you have any doubt that a Randian social order would not lead to the sorts of evils that you cite? Whittiker Chambers said of Objectivism that it leads to the gas chamber. If an ideology that hopes for justice and equality can lead to terror, what sort of evils would one bring that is committed to greed, selfishness, and scorn for the weak?

And citing Dorothy Day's alleged failure to denounce Stalin is a cheap trick. I have personally never denounced in writing Kim Il Jong, have you? So after I am dead is this failure going to be cited as some sort of proof of my moral hypocrisy? Dorothy Day's whole movement was contrary to collectivism as well as individualism. If she did not denounce Marxism to your satisfaction, perhaps she had no desire to join in the general fearmongering that fueled the Cold War and justified militarism.

That a Randian social order would lead to evils, I agree. However, I think they would be considerably less than those of a Marxian order have in fact proven to be. The USA of the early 20th century is probably not too far from the kind of society Rand envisioned. Hardly hell on earth.

That isn't exactly what Chambers said, and anyway I think he was a little off base in that particular remark, to the extent that it suggests that her ideas actually suggest gas chambers, though I understand what he saw in AS that made him say it.

"If an ideology that hopes for justice and equality can lead to terror..."

See, this is where I think the grand fallacy of sympathy for Marxism lies. I think it's a very serious mistake to take the putative goals of an atheistic materialistic philosophy at face value, whether Rand's or Marx's. Jim's description of Hayek as "classical liberalism on steroids" really could be applied to Rand. Or "classical liberalism with a mean streak," maybe. But her ethics, when you peel away the rhetoric and clanky philosophizing, can be boiled down to "live and let live", and I'd much rather take my chances with that than with those who would turn absolute power loose on the project of creating a new man. Rand vs. Marx is essentially libertarianism vs. communism, and while both are wrong the latter has certainly proven more harmful in earthly terms.

Only because there has never been a Randian social order. The early 20th century still possessed a strong remnant of Christian assumptions. Besides the beginning of Catholic social teaching there was a strong Wesleyan Protestant social ethic; hardly anyone outside the industrialists would endorse anything like Rand's selfism, which I would term rather "live and let die".

Marxism has proven more harmful only because it possessed the power to do the damage. God help us if radical libertarianism ever siezes political power.

"only because it possessed the power to do the damage"

Well, yeah, the seizure of that power is half the point. The other half is what it intends to do with it. Radical libertarianism denies the legitimacy of that power and repudiates it.

Paul, I don’t have a copy of The Long Loneliness, so can’t look up that "men so dominated by ideas that they sacrificed to them countless millions of human beings," but I wonder if it was directed explicitly at Stalin, or if it was instead a condemnation of all those who caused the carnage of World War II? I ask only because I know Day was a pacifist and opposed U.S. entry into the war.

Daniel, I really didn’t mean to pull a “cheap trick” in bringing up Day’s liking of Lenin and lack of condemnation of Stalin and Castro, but simply to respond to Maclin’s point about trying to understand how people like Paul Ryan “don't see the contradiction between Rand's ideas and their own Christian beliefs.” I thought that same contradiction applied in Day’s case, and so perhaps we should think twice before calling Ryan dishonest , or even worse.

I wondered if there was some particular context you were thinking of, where DD was given the opportunity to condemn Stalin but didn't, or hedged or something.

The only thing I can point to is a piece of hers in The Catholic Worker from 1956, which I find unsettling because it was written long after the world knew what Stalin was. To me, these two paragraphs just scream moral equivalency; plus, the first one seems inappropriately light-hearted:

“There will no longer be any official, good natured stories about Stalin. And I might have believed that the present era of self criticism was a sincere attempts to admit past mistakes, past sins, and gigantic ones at that, if it were not for the latest news story yesterday which stated that Stalin was suspected of murdering his second wife, and keeping a harem of young girls! Now everything has said that can be said! If the murder charge won’t stick, then ridicule may do the trick. An old politician becoming senile, with not one "Peaches Browning" with whom to relax after a long day of sentencing old Bolsheviks to be tortured, executed or sent to Siberian wastes (which are no longer wastes, of course) but a harem of them. A touch of the East here, the Oriental despot motif.

I want to take a longer view of history. When Fritz Eichenberg started the job of illustrating The Idiot last year, he found in a second hand store a wonderful book of travel, illustrated, about a journalist’s trip through the Siberian prison camps, and what had started out as a white wash (else it would not have been permitted) turned out to be a damning and terrible indictment of the cruelty of the prison system under the Czar. I want to remember the history of the French revolution, and the revolution of 1848 and the uprisings after the Franco Prussian war, and the more recent persecution of the Church in France in 1905 when again religious orders were suppressed. And I want too, to study more intensively the history of my own country with its glories and its crimes, its ideal and its failures, its virtues and its sins. Newspapers disclose to us the temper of the day, the mind of the day, but the story played up on the front page one morning is often denied on the back page on the next morning.”

The first of those paragraphs just says that "Destalinization" was a manoeuvre in internal Soviet politics, not a genuine attempt by the Communist Party "to admit past mistakes, past sins, and gigantic ones at that". It may be light-hearted, but there was something ludicrous about the way the Soviets blackwashed Stalin from 1956 (rather like the way "the Gang of Four" got the blame for everything in Deng Xiaoping's China). Is the problem that she's blaming the gigantic sins on the Soviet Communists in general, rather than on Stalin individually?

In the second paragraph she speaks of both the history of oppression in pre-Soviet Russia and the history of persecution by pre-Leninist revolutionary movements. Both are undeniable, and relevant. That isn't really what I would understand as "moral equivalence".

She mentions Stalin by name in that passage from The Long Loneliness, along with Trotsky and Lenin, as well as the leaders of the major powers in World War II. I don't think it's a way out to say "She only condemned Stalin alongside other leading Soviets and contemporary war leaders, she didn't single him out for specific and individual condemnation." She still condemned him as a mass murderer, even if only in a list of others.

Just a quick note, as I only have a minute: that passage doesn't strike me as going all the way to moral equivalence, though it does seem maybe a little reluctant or restrained.

But in any case there is certainly no lack of instances of people who should know better sympathizing with communism, theory and practice.

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