All Commentary
Wednesday, March 1, 1961

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1961/3


It seems to be an article of faith that we, as a nation, should always stand ready to “negotiate” with Communists provided they show evidence of acting in good faith toward us. But the Marxist-Lenin­ist conception of morality—that anything is “right” just so long as it furthers the Bolshevik aim of the “Party” to establish a world dictatorship of the proletariat—would seem to rule out the initial possibility that Communists can ever negotiate in good faith with anyone.

There is, of course, the possibil­ity, as expressed by Cyrus Eaton, that the Communists don’t “believe their own bunk” about world revo­lution. But this raises another question: how can one comfortably accept an agreement, or a treaty, signed with professional cynics? We have had “scraps of paper” be­fore.

In his The Moulding of Com­munists: the Training of the Com­munist Cadre (Harcourt, Brace, 214 pp., $5.00), Frank S. Meyer pays Communists the tribute of thinking them sincere in their abiding hostility toward the “bour­geois” world. Agreements with them would, of necessity, be highly provisional, subject to secret sabo­tage on their part in times of a “popular front” line and to open abrogation when “hard” considera­tions take over. An agreement with Communists would signify nothing more than the fact that they considered they were getting the better of a provisional deal. True, they could be wrong in their estimation of the temporary bal­ance of benefits. Nevertheless, Communists can be most danger­ous when they are seemingly the most amiable.

Professional Revolutionaries

F. Scott Fitzgerald once com­plained to Ernest Hemingway that the rich are different from the poor. But rich and poor alike, the West seems not to understand that the hard core Communist is his own special type of being. He is sincere in his implacable insincer­ity when dealing with those who do not accept the aims of the Marxist revolution. How he gets that way is a study in a special type of indoctrination and contin­ued supervision in action. Ex-Com­munists, such as Koestler and Whittaker Chambers, have emerged from the shadows of a tortured “breaking” period to warn us that the indoctrination, save in margin­al instances that have no effect on “cadre Communist” decisions, is for keeps. But Mr. Meyer’s book is the first to offer a systematized explanation of the making of the hard core communist man.

As refined and defined by Lenin, Marxism calls for the creation of a group of “inner circle” profes­sional revolutionaries who will break completely with the past. God is rejected and History is put in his place. This new secular god of History has decreed its own ultimate end: a world in which the community will “own” the means of production. Since this is “pre­destined” by History’s inner dia­lectic, nobody, presumably, has to work for it. But History uses hu­man beings to express its decrees. The professional revolutionary is the one who has been elected to be the agent of predestination. Like Calvinism, Marxism-Leninism im­parts a terrific sense of importance to the man who is the godhead’s chosen vessel. The single human being’s will becomes ferocious in the effort to get forward with an impersonally willed program.

Being a “chosen vessel” de­mands an apparatus for deciding just who is fit to serve the new Historical godhead. It demands agents and standards of recruit­ment. And it must prescribe the pressures which are necessary to bring the recruited “chosen vessel” to a continuing realization of His­tory’s demands.

The “Horse’s Mouth”

Mr. Meyer’s book takes the agents and the standards for granted: after all, the politburo of the Soviet Union is a going politi­cal fact, and the standards which it enjoins are to be found in the great Marxist texts. But taking off from what is granted, Mr. Meyer proceeds to break new ground. The first part of his book analyzes the philosophical, psychological, and bureaucratic pressures that are brought to bear upon the young communist recruit to break down his personality and make it over in accordance with an idealized type that will be prepared to do anything and suffer anything to promote the “line” of the Marxist revolution. The second part deals with the men and groups on whom the fearsome pressures are con­tinuously exerted.

Because he was himself a Com­munist of more than a decade’s ex­perience (he worked for the Party both in England and in America during the thirties and escaped only after a prolonged period of stocktaking while a member of the U. S. armed forces during the war), Mr. Meyer is in a position to illustrate his points from a widely varied personal background. But the development of his expo­sition, while it is pleasantly anec­dotal at times, is not in the least “subjective,” to use a favorite communist word.

Mr. Meyer’s stuff comes from the “horse’s mouth,” but it has been carefully related to the ex­perience of all the other horses, from Marx, Lenin, and Stalin on down to the newest hawker of communist leaflets or minor trade union functionary who has been recruited as a borer-from-within. Lead horse and wheel horse, Mr. Meyer has anatomized their words and words-in-action to build up his patient picture.

Controlling the Universe

And what a picture of Lucifer­ian debasement it is! The very word “moulding” in Mr. Meyer’s title has a special connotation: Communists remould people by a Procrustean process of hacking off whatever is extraneous to their rigidly canalized needs. Mr. Meyer makes much of the Communist’s insistence that Marxism is “ra­tional,” that it believes in science not as a formulation of expected regularities but as something known as “science in control.” To achieve the sublime sense of cer­tainty that the universe is “lim­ited and knowable”—and there­fore “controllable”—the Commu­nist has to accept the “thing in it­self” as interchangeable with “the thing to us.” But to achieve this easy identity, the Communist has to reject what Mr. Meyer calls “the glorious human fate of living with mystery.” To the Communist, there is nothing beyond the “ma­terial.” And when it comes to en­gineering the “material,” opera­tions on protoplasm are not to be distinguished from operations on metals and rock.

Communist rationality rejects all the mysterious yearnings of man, his desire for goodness and ideal justice, his hope of trans­cendent meaning, his feelings of tenderness. Lenin, tempted to play with cats or to listen to Beethoven, has to put aside his innate desires for pets and music as remnants of “rotten” bourgeois training. To the Communist, “enjoyment, the satisfaction of curiosity, medita­tion, intellectual achievement, art, and certainly all spiritual aware­ness,” says Mr. Meyer, “are empty except insofar as they derive a secondary meaning, positive or negative, from the essential reality of human existence regarded as control of the universe.”

Means to an End

The sort of “rationality” that can regard the mysterious as non­existent does obvious violence to the nature of man. To feel truly human, man must regard his own life as an end in itself. Politics and economics are the secondary con­siderations: one must work and one must establish certain political relations with one’s fellows in or­der to have the time, the substance and the energy needed to satisfy the more mysterious primary needs of the human personality. If one can enjoy oneself in one’s work, so much the better. But en­joyment in work is a spiritual, not a strictly economic, matter. Eco­nomics and politics are wholly within the realm of means. And man should live by means, not for them.

The Communist, seeking re­cruits to mould (or to hack), is faced with a job: he has to turn the natural order of things upside down. The recruit, if he is to satis­fy Party criteria, must submit to an expansive course in depersonal­ization. If his family gets in the way of his activity as a Commu­nist, he must be prepared to put aside his wife or to refrain from having children or to let his indi­gent uncle starve to death while he contributes his own funds to save the revolution in Indo-China. Sex is permissible, but it must not get in the way of Party duty. To the Communist, it is not immoral to take Trotsky’s secretary as one’s mistress in order to get suf­ficiently close to the Great Rene­gade to poleax him to death. But it is immoral to remain true to your wife if it entails absence from agitational work or a four-hour unit meeting.

“Reductionism”

The aridity of the communist approach to life is summed up by Mr. Meyer in one word: “reduc­tionism.” Like Freudianism, which regards “the most delicate con­structions of reason and of spiri­tual insight” as “nothing but” the play of libido, Marxism regards “the most complex reaches of the imaginative mind” as “nothing but” the play of class interests. To “reduce himself” to communist cadre material, the recruit to com­munism must accept the criticism of his peers and superiors in the movement without anger. Further­more, he must pile “self-criticism” on top of the criticism. He can have no individual pride of au­thorship, pride of workmanship, or pride of decision. Pride must be limited to a feeling of satisfaction in having served the god of His­tory. Of course, the dictatorship at the top of it all is permitted to change the line. But the rank and file and the cadres just above the rank and file have no business questioning the top decrees once they are made. History speaks through revelation to the big bosses in Moscow.

The Communist might, of course, try to answer Mr. Meyer by say­ing that once the classless society has been achieved there will be plenty of time for art, for the satisfaction of curiosity, for medi­tation, and for play. Pie in the sky! On Mr. Meyer’s incontrovert­ible evidence the “moulding” of Communists would, by the time the classless society is finally achieved, have so debased the hu­man race that it would never re­cover. Anyway, since no two hu­man beings are precisely alike, differentiation must persist—and with the differentiation there will, inevitably, be classes. (This does not mean that a certain number of human beings are destined always to starve.) So let us take comfort in the certainty that the Commu­nists can’t mould everybody to their desires. Human nature, in most humans, will out.

If it doesn’t, then to the devil with History. To cooperate with the Marxian idea of predestination is to cooperate with a Future thatisn’t worth having, even if it is foreordained to happen. If the Fu­ture is synonymous with the de­based world of the Marxist texts, then let us die fighting it. As Camus has said, it is sometimes man’s greatest glory that he can battle against Fate itself.

4 The Cost Of Freedom: A New Look At Capitalism by Henry C. Wallich. Harper. 178 pp. $3.75

Reviewed by Edwin McDowell

The anomaly of this book, by a former Yale professor now with the Council of Economic Advisers, is that he presents the libertarian case for economic freedom as co­gently as do its most ardent sup­porters—and then he retreats to an ideological middle ground mid­way between Hayek and Keynes. Again and again, author Wallich points out the advantages of eco­nomic freedom, yet he nevertheless places himself in the position of en­dorsing measures which smack of compulsion. For instance, whereas he deprecates forced economic growth as “an attractive new label to paste on an old package of big deficit spending, and easy money proposals,” he believes that full-employment policies—which can only be effected by government in­tervention in the market economy—are essential to the health of the free enterprise system.

It’s ironic, the author notes, that at a time when capitalism is per­forming better than ever before, it is also being challenged more seriously. The challenge emanates from those who argue that free­dom from arbitrary government is not enough; man, they say, also needs financial independence in order to be free. Instead of the traditional “freedom from,” this “new freedom” is a “freedom to”—a freedom, observes the author, which “points fatally toward col­lectivism.”

The reason freedom has been losing is because its defenders’ vigilance too often stops where their pocketbooks begin. The busi­nessman persuasively defends freedom in one breath and demands a “subsidy” in the next; the labor leader declares himself in favor of freedom and then pro­ceeds to use coercive union prac­tices; the intellectual, whom the author calls “the number one bene­ficiary of a free system,” sees no connection between liberties of the mind and freedom of choice in the marketplace.

Professor Wallich believes capi­talism is not necessarily the most efficient system, but because it places the highest evaluation on individual free choice, it is the one we should wholeheartedly sup­port. The cost of freedom, he main­tains, is free enterprise’s lack ofefficiency vis-a-vis collectivism. He cites the Soviet Union as an ex­ample of an efficient collectivist society which has made great eco­nomic strides, yet he underesti­mates the advantages the Soviets have been accorded by the free world’s technological and scien­tific advances. Russia has been able to pluck the fruits of the American industrial revolution, and yet—by every reliable eco­nomic yardstick—is still woefully behind the United States.

On many subjects, Professor Wallich’s conclusions are irrefut­able, particularly when he argues that private property is the back­stop of free enterprise, providing protection against omnipotent gov­ernment, and when he states that the rise of egalitarianism senti­ment threatens to remove the stamp of approval to financial suc­cess. On these, libertarians have no quarrel, but they can and should quarrel with others of his conclu­sions.

4 What Is Political Philos­ophy? And Other Studies by Leo Strauss, Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1959. 315 pp. $6.00.

Reviewed by Jerzy Hauptmann

Leo Strauss is professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and the author of several influential books on Thomas Hobbes, on natural law, and kin­dred matters. The present volume contains ten previously published essays and sixteen brief reviews.

The essays attempt to establish a place for political philosophy on the contemporary scene. Strauss, like many observers, is keenly aware of a decline in political phi­losophy; political science and po­litical philosophy parted long ago. It is his contention that, by losing contact with philosophy, political science has lost its basis.

Political philosophy, for Strauss, is an attempt to know the nature of political things, an attempt to replace opinions by knowledge. To know the nature of political things, one needs a basis for reference, a standard of value. The love of truth and the search for the best political order provide Strauss with such a standard.

He looks to the answers given by such men as Plato, Aristotle, and the medieval writers who dealt with this problem, without refer­ence to historical developments, by appealing to the prehistoric “natu­ral consciousness.”

This method in political philos­ophy is now under attack, if it has not disappeared already. The attackers are guilty, Strauss would argue, of scientism—the notion that the methods of the physical scientist are generally applicable to all subjects; and historicism—the notion that the facts of history generate theories on their own. We agree with this diagnosis by Strauss. We do need standards of value for politics which can be pro­vided only by a sound political philosophy. We also recognize that many of the answers given by classical political philosophers have timeless value and that the scien­tistic and historicist criticism of political philosophy is largely in­valid.

It seems to us, however, that Strauss creates an unnecessary gulf between political philosophy and political science. He agrees that political scientists do useful work in collecting data, but he ob­jects to their aspirations toward “scientific” political science. Most political scientists will agree with Strauss that complete objectivity is impossible, but would contend that their efforts to attain it are nonetheless valuable.

Political scientists frequently look down on philosophers, but the decline of political philosophy is not due entirely to the onslaught of “scientific” politics. Internal de­cay, loss of values, and slips into historicism, are also causes of the decline. If philosophers and scien­tists work together, perhaps polit­ical philosophy may be revived and political science spared many errors.


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.