World in the Grip of an Idea: 26. The Cold War: The Spread of Communism


In this series, Dr. Carson examines the connection between ideology and the revolutions of our time and traces the Impact on several major countries and the spread of the ideas and practices around the world.

Gradualism is a power theory, too, as communism is. That is, it is a theory for the gaining and exercising of power. It is a theory of gaining power by the use of the force of government to redistribute the wealth and establish substantive equality. It is a theory of holding and exercising power by continually promising more and more benefits and ever extending the sway of government.

Gradualism does not, of course, ordinarily adopt the guise of a power theory. Indeed, we are enjoined from recognizing it as a power theory by a prevailing intellectual temper which disdains theory. It operates under the guise of benevolence. In countries where socialism is an acceptable goal, it claims that goal and purports to be doing what is good for society. Where socialism is not generally recognized as a good, gradualism claims to be acting pragmatically for the common good.

Yet, gradualism is a power theory; socialism is a power theory; and pragmatism is a power theory. It is only by grasping it as a power theory that we can understand its character, its mode of operation, and the manner of its success. This may become clear when we look at the matter this way. Socialism is a failure in every respect, save one. It fails in its tacit promise to lead us toward utopia. It fails to provide a bounty of goods. It fails to distribute wealth either justly or equally. It fails to fulfill its promises. In one respect only does it succeed. It succeeds in gaining, holding, and exercising power. It succeeds, by its very success, in transforming all political parties which contend with it into facsimiles of itself.

Ideas have consequences which follow from the essence of the idea. Theories produce results in accord with the theory, whether the theory is explicitly stated or not. The one tangible result of socialism is power, power concentrated and extensively employed. It may well be that most of those who embrace socialism are not aware that they are embracing a power theory. Certainly, most of those who vote for the measures of gradualist socialism are not informed that they are placing vast power in the hands of those over them. Yet that is what they do. Because power is the fruit of gradualism, its necessary antecedent is a power theory. The theory is here stated as the belief in the use of government to transform society.

Distributing the Benefits

Gradualism differs from communism in practice in this way. Communism is spread and its grip fastened upon a people by the use of terror. Gradualism, by contrast, fastens its grip upon a people by providing unearned benefits to some or all of the people at the expense of some or all of the people.

Virtually the whole appeal of this notion is that those who receive the benefits are either not taxed to pay for them, or taxed much less than the sum of the benefits received. The graduated income tax and corporation taxes are essential to bolstering this belief. (If wealthy stockholders and corporations did not exist, gradualists would have to invent them. Indeed, in those countries where they do not exist, governments convey benefits derived from them by way of foreign loans and other sorts of aids.)

There is an even more clever device for hiding the taxation by which wealth is acquired to pay for the unearned benefits. It is inflation, i.e., the increasing of the money supply by government. Gradualist governments everywhere use this covert means of raising money. It is, of course, a form of taxation, for the value of the money thus raised is taken from the money which people hold or have owed to them. The effect is experienced as rising prices. In gradualist countries, which is to say, in effect, in all noncommunist countries, a continual struggle goes on between groups to get the largest share of unearned benefits and to pay the smallest portion of the costs. It is a struggle in which the apparent winners are often the biggest losers, for the benefits carry a price tag. Those who receive them pay by loss of independence. Those who rule thus increase their power over the people. The power thus gained by government is used to shape the populace according to its will.

A Single Government

Gradualist socialism is a power theory, too, in that its eventual aim is to have all force in the world monopolized by a single government. No such aim is generally avowed, of course, but it is nonetheless the tacit logic of the position. The idea that has the world in its grip requires the eventual concerting of all human effort to achieve felicity on earth. Moreover, the position sometimes gets explicit, albeit tentative, statement. Here is such a statement in the mysticized evolutionary language of Teilhard de Chardin. He leads into it by way of the discussion of the future necessity of applying eugenics to individuals. Then, he says:

Eugenics applied to individuals leads to eugenics applied to society. . . . Points involved are: the distribution of the resources of the globe; the control of the trek towards unpopulated areas; the optimum use of the power set free by mechanisation; the physiology of nations and races; geo-economy, geo-politics, geo-demography; the organisation of research developing into a reasoned organisation of the earth. Whether we like it or not, all the signs and all our needs converge in the same direction. We need and are irresistibly being led to create, by means of and beyond all physics, all biology and all psychology, a science of human energetics.’

If we strip away the prophetic mysticism in which his thought is cast, Chardin is saying that what is needed is a science of concerting human energy, and one is emerging. Government is, of course, the approved instrument for accomplishing the concerting of human energy.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., put the case for world government more prosaically a few years back:

Yet world government, in a sense, cannot emerge too soon; for the people of the world cannot long afford to expend their energies in squabbling with each other. The human race may shortly be confronted by an entirely new range of problems—problems of naked subsistence whose solution will require the combined efforts of all people if the race is to survive. . . . The results of industrialization and introduction of public health standards in Asia, for example, may well be calamitous, unless they are accompanied by vigorous birth-control policies and by expanded programs of land care and conservation?

The time was not yet right for it, however, he pointed out. "When Russia loosens the totalitarian grip, then the noble dream of world government will begin to make some contact with reality. . . . In the meantime, we had better do what we can to foster community where we can, through regional federations and through the United Nations. . ."3 Schlesinger was stating the gradualist position in contrast with that of the enthusiasts for immediate world government.

Effective world government can only emerge, then, on this view, when all the nations of the earth have come under the sway of democratic socialism. If this gradualist vision be thought of as a timetable—a term that is only apt if it be understood as a figure of speech—the stages of progression are roughly these. First, socialism must come to power within nations. When several nations which have common bonds are socialized, they can form regional unions. Eventually, these can be linked together in a world government. Before that can happen, however, all cultural, religious, racial, and social differences from people to people and nation to nation will have to be blurred or obliterated. In short, the very transformation and homogenization toward which socialism tends must have taken place.

But the process does not occur in timetable fashion. It goes on simultaneously at many different levels. It proceeds at any time and place when collective decision making and action is substituted for individual decision and acting. Thus, the United Nations Organization, which is already in existence, might eventually become the world government. But whether it does or not, the yielding to it of any power of decision and action is a step in the direction of world government within the socialist eschatology. But so is the decision of some local government to fluoridate the water supply, for that, too, is a step toward total collectivization. My point is that the process may go on simultaneously at many different levels, that gradualists have no precise blueprint or plan, but that they understand themselves to be proceeding toward the goal wherever decisions are being collectively made that were formerly made by individuals.

The Spread of Democracy

The spread of gradualism proceeds, then, by the spread of the collectivizing of decision making and action. Gradualism is a power theory, a theory for eventually consolidating all power in a single world government, but it does not necessarily proceed by the direct exercise of power. And it certainly does not rely on terror for its spread.

Its chosen instrument is democracy, although there is no necessary aversion to autocratic methods so long as there is a general framework of democracy. In the world today the spread of gradualism is a concomitant of the spread of democracy.

Anyone who undertakes to tell the story of the spread of gradualism around the world in the mid-twentieth century has set himself a formidable, if not impossible, task. The task does not simply arise because the world is a large and diverse complex of nations, though it is. The problem is more fundamental than that. It arises from the very nature of gradualist or evolutionary socialism. The very idea is that the movement toward socialism must be by gradual, and often imperceptible, steps. Usually, gradualists operate within the received framework of institutions.

Often enough, those who advance gradualist measures do not proclaim themselves as socialists. Journalists usually confuse the issues. Headlines do not announce that a gradualist regime has come to power in some land. (If they did, it would probably mean that some communist had seized the government.) The world of scholarship provides no greater aid. There are no textbooks on the spread of gradualism in the world. Such references as are usually made by writers to such matters are apt to describe a regime as "moderate" or "left wing" or "right wing," terms which may provide a better indication of the predilections of the classifier than about the tendency of the government.

In truth, the spread of gradualism is largely unreported, though it is surely one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century. If gradualism were a fact, I think it would have been reported. But it is not a fact; it is a theory. It is a theory that if you begin at one point with certain sorts of measures and advance them relentlessly and successfully, you will eventually end up at your destination. Gradualism is also a tendency, a movement, a direction, and an ideology. As a tendency, when it is recognized, a great many facts may be accounted for by it. More, it is surreptitious movement, operating under cover of other names quite often, and moving toward its eventual goal slowly and by indirection.

Destination Unknown

The problem of the historian in dealing with gradualism may be illustrated by analogy with describing a man on a journey whose destination is uncertain. Let us suppose that the man begins his journey at Dallas, Texas. Amongst friends and those with whom he is comfortable he has often talked of going to New York City to settle there. He has even discussed on several occasions the ways and means of getting there. For purposes of the analogy, we will equate New York City with socialism. But when he sets out from Dallas, he buys a ticket to go only to Longview. From Longview, he travels to Texarkana, thence to Little Rock, then on to Memphis, then, unaccountably, to Muscogee, Oklahoma. From Muscogee, he proceeds to Birmingham, and then north once again to Chattanooga.

Let us interrupt his journey at Chattanooga, with the observation that he has only got that far to date. Is he going to New York? From the information available to us, we do not know. There is some evidence that he might be. There is a pattern to his travels, thus far, if the tacking to and fro is discounted, which could eventually get him to New York. He could, however, travel next to Atlanta instead, and wind up in Miami. The only substantial clue we have is that he had talked as if he were going to New York.

There are, however, some pieces of missing information. We have not been told in what sort of vehicle he is traveling, nor do we yet know how its intermediate destinations are determined. Let us say, somewhat playfully, that he is traveling by a sail-driven wind-propelled prairie schooner. Its intermediate directions are determined by two variables, each more or less independent of the other, and neither of which is predictable in advance. One factor is that the passengers vote before they set out from a city, and the majority decide which city they will go to next. The other factor is what they may be driven off course, even to different destinations, by strong wind currents. There is another factor, however, which makes their eventual arrival in the vicinity of New York fairly certain, if they stay on the journey long enough. The prevailing winds in the United States blow in an easterly direction. Indeed, those from the southwest, Dallas, for example, blow in a northeasterly direction, i.e., toward New York.

With this information, the analogy becomes very nearly a paradigm. The traveler is the nations of the world. The vehicle is democracy. The course is gradualism. The prevailing winds are the intellectual climate, driving toward the eventual destination of socialism. The tacking to and fro is occasioned by the shifting currents of popular opinion.

Bent Toward Collectivism

This provides us an analytical tool, of sorts, with which to discern the mode, methods, and extent of the spread of gradualism. The spread of democracy in the twentieth century is more or less coextensive with the spread of gradualism. On the face of it, there is no reason why this should be true. Political democracy could be, perhaps should be, ideologically neutral. It may have been at one time, but it is not in the twentieth century. Democracy is now ideologically loaded and bent toward collectivism. What makes this so is the intellectual climate.

A major change in what is called democracy—more properly, representative government—occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Democracy emerged in modern times as a means of controlling government, of limiting and restraining those who govern. Representative government was earliest and firmest established in England following the Glorious Revolution. Its most prominent task was to control and limit the exercise of power by the monarch. The control over the purse—over revenues—was reckoned to be the most crucial power for exercising that control. That was the reason for vesting the authority for initiating appropriations in the United States House of Representatives—the most democratic branch of the Congress—to keep the power over the purse nearest to the people.

The major change referred to above occurred when the emphasis shifted from the people controlling government to the government controlling the people. What occurred, let me reiterate, was a shift in emphasis, not some absolute change.

There never was a time, of course, when government did not exercise some control over the people. Moreover, as long as people vote in contested elections, they exercise some control over government. It is a matter of degree and emphasis.

Attempts to Limit Government

Anyone who will study in depth English history in the seventeenth century will surely discover that much of the great effort going on was to discover means of controlling government. In like manner, the documents of the American Revolution are replete with evidence of concern for limiting and restraining government. Placing basic powers in the elective legislatures was one of the important devices by which the founders hoped to accomplish this.

In like manner, it should be clear that governments in more recent times have shifted toward more and more control over the people. That is not the way those who favor the controls describe them, of course. They talk of planning economies, of controlling business, of controlling prices and wages, of providing social security, of setting standards for this or that or the other, and so on. But they are always using power upon and controlling people, and not just some of the people either, but all of them. As has been shown in this work, the control over business is a means for reaching through to and controlling all who work for or trade with it. Compulsory school attendance, compulsory retirement "contributions," building codes, "check off" payment of labor union dues, tax payments to subsidize undertakings, fair employment practices acts, and so on, are people control.

The "have-nots," the "have-littles," the "ne’er-do-wells," the uneducated, the old, the young, minorities, industrial workers, tenant farmers, working mothers—whatever disfurnished classification that can be conceived—are essential to gradualist socialism. Their condition provides the grist for the program mills of gradualism. The emphasis shifted from controlling government to controlling people in conjunction with the thrust toward universal suffrage. The tie between democracy and gradualism was knotted with this development. The enfranchisement of those who hope to gain by weight of numbers what they had not achieved by their efforts is the basic political, or power, technique of gradualism.

But the impetus toward socialism does not arise from those who can in one way or another be described as disfurnished. They could no more provide the continuous impetus for such a movement than they could effectively direct the development of great corporations. Nor does the impetus come from politicians primarily, though politicians do much of the work of arousing the populace and the enactment of programs.

The Intellectual Drive

The impetus toward socialism comes from what Russell Kirk refers to as the "clerisy," or what are more commonly called intellectuals. "Clerisy" may be the better term, however, for it suggests the pseudo-clerical character of the undertaking. The impetus toward socialism is provided by secular clergymen, so to speak, by those who have taken up the mission of transforming man and society by the use of force. The natural habitat of these secular clergymen is the modern college and university. But they are almost equally at home amongst the regular clergy, as journalists, as writers, and in any one of the hundreds of intellectual pursuits. Whatever their vocation, their avocation is transformation. They are the makers and purveyors of intellectual fashion, or, more pointedly, they make gradualist socialism fashionable under whatever guises it adopts at the moment. They create and spread the intellectual climate which propels us toward socialism.

Gradualist socialism advances under many guises, but there is one that is very nearly constant in the world today. It is democracy. "Democracy" is the code word for gradualist socialism. The situation is somewhat confused, however, because communists also use it as a code word. Thus, it is not always immediately clear when we are informed by the great news media of the world that democracy has triumphed somewhere or other whether communism or gradualism has come to power. But it does usually eventually get straightened out. If one-party rule is tyrannically imposed, and if close relations with one or more of the great communist powers are established, a country will likely be recognized as communistic, not "democratic." (There is yet another element in the confusion—the Third World. That will have to be discussed in its own place, however.)

The spread of gradualism, then, can be very nearly equated with the spread of democracy. There are other ways of saying much the same thing. In those countries of the world in which the influence of the United States and Western Europe is predominant, gradualist socialism is generally well established. More bluntly, it is that portion of the world tied either directly or indirectly to the inflationary spiral of the dollar. However, this last formulation better describes the predicament of much of gradualism than it does the extent of the sway.

At any rate, the geopolitics of the West has been deeply intertwined with gradualism since World War II.

Much of the Western influence on the rest of the world had been wielded by way of colonies prior to World War II. Every major (world?) European war since the beginning of the eighteenth century had embroiled colonies and entailed reshuffling of colonial possessions. World War II marked a major break with the past. Theretofore, colonies had been sought mainly, though not exclusively, in order to gain dominant trading positions in other parts of the world. The diminution of military power in Western Europe in the course of the war, plus ideological pressure, resulted in the release of colonial possessions, many of them within a decade after the war. With the release of colonial possessions went also the loss of European hegemony in many parts of the world.

The Cold War

The quest for favorable trading positions, and the conflicts that were engendered by it, was transformed into an ideological conflict. The general name for that conflict, of course, has been the Cold War. The expansive pressure of communism provoked resistance to it which was centered in the United States. Whatever the interest of those who opposed communism, this conflict became mainly a contest between revolutionary and evolutionary socialism, as I pointed out earlier.

The answer to communism, many claimed, was democracy. Hence, much of the influence of the West and a considerable amount of the wealth and know-how of the United States was put into establishing and bolstering democratic regimes which, according to theory, might be able to defend themselves from communism and maintain their own independence. The result was the spread of democratic socialism where it was successful. Where it failed, which was in most places, it set the stage for some nationalistic and autocratic socialist regime.

It is certainly simplistic and probably untrue to explain the failure of these regimes on the grounds that the people are unprepared for democracy. If by being "prepared" for democracy is meant the willingness and readiness of peoples to go to the polls and vote themselves a share of the wealth, most peoples of the world are probably well prepared. The problem lies elsewhere. They don’t have the wealth to distribute!

Democratic, or evolutionary, or gradualist, socialism is a product of industrially and agriculturally advanced nations. It succeeds in holding power only in these nations, if it is not massively aided from other sources. There is no mystery about why this is so.

Democratic socialism is a parasite on the back of capitalism. It is a theory of gaining and exercising power by controlling and distributing the wealth produced by tools, techniques, and sophisticated business organizations. It can succeed, so far as it succeeds, only in such countries as Sweden, the United States, England, Canada, Japan, and Germany—in those countries in which capital has already been employed so as to produce great wealth. It can only hold power elsewhere by massive transfusions of wealth from those nations in which capital was earlier sufficiently free and the incentives were there for producing wealth.

Dispensing False Cures

After World War II, many of the peoples of the world came to the West asking for bread and we gave them stones instead. More specifically, they came to the colleges and universities of Europe and America seeking to learn the sources of our wealth and prosperity. We gave them instead the power theories of democracy laced with pallid socialism.

True, they sometimes learned how to operate our machines, but they learned little of how they are to be acquired and less about how they may be effectively used. From our histories they learned of the horrors of the industrial revolution, how businessmen were rapacious and greedy, and what great evils attended the growth of great corporations. In economics they learned macro-economics, which is, in effect, distributionist economics. They went back to their native lands well instructed about how to distribute wealth but largely ignorant of how to produce it. Or worse, they had been indoctrinated against the most effective means of achieving prosperity.

Even so, the spread of gradualism around the world has been impressive indeed. From tiny beginnings in the minds of a few men, mainly in England and Germany, it is now firmly established in every advanced industrial country in the world. It was once said that the sun never set on the British Empire. It is equally true today that the sun never sets on gradualism. Of course, gradualism has spread to every non-communist country in Europe, to the United States, to Japan, to Australia, to Canada, to New Zealand, to the Philippines, to South Korea, and so on. It has also spread to many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Oceania.

Indeed, there is hardly a petty dictator in the world who cannot point with pride to the accoutrements of gradualism he has introduced in his country: medical clinics, free schools, subsidized housing, land reclamation and redistribution programs, minimum wages, empowered trade unions, and so forth. Few countries in the world are so backward that they cannot boast a parliament, the emblem of democracy, which has not busied itself in the not too distant past in confiscating foreign assets in order to redistribute them according to such lights as it has. In short, the outward forms of democracy and the inward thrust of gradualism have been introduced in states around the world.

Westernization evinces itself in our time as the spread of gradualism around the world. The technology which resulted from invention, saving, investment, efficient management of great enterprises which were concentrations of capital has been used to give universal sway to intellectual fashion. More specifically, intellectuals can now utilize high-speed planes, fast automobiles, telephones, television, and radio to see to it that intellectual fashion prevails.

Collectivized Decisions

Intellectual fashion prescribes the collectivization of decision making and action. It prescribes a collectivized democracy within each land, one whose government shows its good faith by passing socialist measures. It requires that governments negotiate and come to terms with all radical and socialistically inclined groups within their borders. Intellectual fashion proclaims the desirability of free speech and a free press in all lands, but does not require it in order to extend respectability to communist regimes.

Intellectual fashion not only prescribes the collectivizing of decisions within countries but also in international relations. Intellectual fashion is gradualist, and gradualists no more want independent nations than they want independent individuals. They want nations to negotiate with one another, to form regional associations with one another, and to act collectively in all matters.

A nation today, particularly a non-communist nation, which makes a unilateral decision, i.e., acts on its own in its own interest, may expect to be denounced and to be subject to every sort of pressure that the makers of intellectual fashion can mount.

The United States intervention in Vietnam is a case in point. Communists and gradualists united in condemning this action, communists for obvious reasons and gradualists mainly because the action was unilateral. (In Korea, gradualists had been hoist by their own collectivist petard, for the United States intervention there was approved by a United Nations Resolution.)

Rhodesia has suffered the calumny of the intellectual community for several years for the determination of its government to go it alone.

A Possible Exception

Israel confounded intellectual fashion by making successful war against the Arabs on its own, confounded, I say, for the Western intellectual community, at least much of it, had long had its sympathies bound up with the fate of Israel and for a while the juices of collectivism had to be held in abeyance. But they were only in abeyance—after all, gradualists are gradualists, not insisters that everything be done at once—for it now appears that Israel has finally been brought to the negotiation table, and eventually the collectivist mode may regain its sway in that corner of the world.

Gradualists have a goal. It is to socialize the whole world and bring it under one all-embracing government. They have a faith, too. It is that they are moving toward that goal, however slowly and gradually, whenever any decision is made collectively. Indeed, it sometimes appears that the manner of the making of the decision is more important than the decision reached, and that may well be the case for any particular decision. John Dewey put the premises of the faith this way. You cannot separate means from ends, for the means that you employ will eventually determine the ends you will achieve.

Gradualists believe, then, that so long as more and more decisions are being collectively made they are moving toward their goal. That accounts for their commitment to democracy, for by their understanding it is a means of collectivizing decision making. That accounts for the pressures they continually mount to have decisions by nations negotiated, mediated, and made collectively.

In large, then, gradualism was spread within an intellectual atmosphere arising from Western intelligentsia and propagated as intellectual fashion. This fashion is expressed as a pressure to collectivization. It is advanced as democracy. Within the Cold War framework it was supposed to be democracy versus communism. The welfare, government planning, and distributionist schemes were advanced both as an antidote to communism and as substantive requirements of democracy. The programs of gradualism, however, were devised in the advanced industrial and agricultural countries of the West where the technology for producing wealth already existed. Industrially backward countries frequently had little wealth to distribute, and gradualist measures could have little attraction. Therefore, the spread of gradualism had to be subsidized. For that part of the story, it will be necessary to examine the foreign aid programs.

Next: 27. The Cold War: Foreign Aid.



‘Franklin L. Baumer, ed., Main Currents of Western Thought (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967), p. 736.

2Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), p. 240.

³lbid., pp. 239-40.



Ideas Determine Actions

The intellectual leaders of the peoples have produced and propagated the fallacies which are on the point of destroying liberty and Western civilization. The intellectuals alone are responsible for the mass slaughters which are the characteristic mark of our century. They alone can reverse the trend and pave the way for a resurrection of freedom.

Not mythical "material productive forces," but reason and ideas determine the course of human affairs. What is needed to stop the trend toward socialism and despotism is common-sense and moral courage.



February 1979

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December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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