The principal lesson of the past century is that the free markets are good for humanity, whereas the socialist utopian vision creates nothing but misery. But guess who hasn’t learned this yet?
In the end, a “millennium” is too big a concept for the imagination. A thousand years equals 30 generations, a duration that has no flesh and blood dimension. Half a millennium ago, Columbus had just landed in the Western hemisphere; half that again, America had not yet been born.
But a century has resonance for us, spanning the two or three lifetimes that we have touched. For example, I can trace my own grandparents’ path back to Moravia and the Ukraine, though I can’t go any further back than that. My grandparents were married just before the turn of the last century, and their children’s lives began with it. Brief as this interval is in the overall span of time, three generations is probably enough to understand ourselves as human beings.
Looking behind us, this century of ours was mostly a stage for the destructive dramas of a secular religious faith called “socialism.” It is a faith inspired by the dream of a social redemption realized through human rather than divine power, through the force of politics and the state. In its communist form, the efforts of this faith ruined whole continents and destroyed a world of human lives. Have we learned from these disasters, or will the passions of this faith follow us into the century to come?
That is my millennium question.
For an answer, I turned to the pages of the Nation, an institution of the left that participated in these dramas across the entire century, and whose editorial stances on each defining moment of the communist project have been utterly refuted by historical events. The editors of the Nation supported the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist collectivization, the infamous purge trials and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe and the Maoist tyranny in China, the communist conquest of South Vietnam and Pol Pot’s genocidal revolution and, of course, Castro’s long-lived dictatorship in Cuba.
During the Cold War to contain the expansion of the Soviet empire, the editors of the Nation opposed the Truman Doctrine, the formation of NATO and SEATO, and the efforts of western military and intelligence organizations generally to stem the Soviet tide.
Over five decades, the editors of the Nation waged journalistic war against the defenders of freedom in the West, against America’s “cold warrior” presidents Truman and Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan. At the same time the Nation was the defender of Soviet shills and Soviet spies like Harry Dexter White, Owen Lattimore, John Stewart Service and the Rosenbergs. As recently as this month — the last of the century — its editor was still defending Alger Hiss.
Like the Bourbons of old, the editors of the Nation seem to have learned nothing essential and forgotten nothing as well. During the slow unfolding of the Marxist collapse, the socialist movement they foster as a faith was often fragmented and surreptitious. Now, at this turn of a century, the movement itself is more influential in American political and cultural life than it has been at any time in the American past. Its adherents reach into the White House and the Congress; they are the sitting leadership of the AFL-CIO and of the principal academic, professional, and arts associations, and of many of the most important media institutions as well.