Totaled Utopia

My Correct Views on Everything
by Leszek Kolakowski

reviewed by Thomas C. Reeves

For the utopian, heaven on earth seems only a leader or an idea away, but, alas, there is always some sort of religious or reactionary obstacle to overcome. On the totalitarian Left, such obstacles have been left to the firing squads. Communists killed more than 100 million people in the twentieth century to create a Marxist heaven on earth.

But the goal remains elusive. Today, apostles of this faith continue to call for an end to capitalism, war, guns, economic and sexual differences, and laws prohibiting free sex and drugs, including those against abortion. Something seems always to stand in the way of progress, and the utopians are, as always, angry and frustrated.

Utopian Delusions

Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, a former Marxist, understands the utopian delusion better than most. His superb book My Correct Views on Everything is a collection of often scholarly articles focusing upon the widespread aspirations, held and asserted with religious conviction, that have led so many secularists to devote their lives to the creation of a world of peace, freedom, equality, and joy.

He is not a reactionary; indeed, he continues to favor socialist aspirations in general. But he knows where these efforts usually lead and why they fail. As one who studied Marx intensely and lived under Soviet tyranny, he is especially qualified to write about the barbarism, moral chaos, and dictatorship that have accompanied utopianism when utopians had the power to pursue their dreams in practice.

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Kolakowski points out that modern totalitarianism, as seen in Russia, China, and fascist Germany and Italy, “is inseparably linked with the history of socialist ideas and movements.” These totalitarian regimes are “bastard offshoots of the socialist tradition.” This accounts for much of the enthusiasm of intellectuals throughout the West for the Soviet Union and China. Stalinism, for example,

exploited all the ideological instruments of the socialist, humanist, internationalist, universalist tradition. It never preached conquest, only liberation from oppression; it never extolled the state as a value in itself, only stressed the necessity of reinforcing the state as an indispensable lever to destroy the enemies of freedom; and it promised, in conformity with Marxist doctrine, the abolition of the state in the perfect world of communism.

Rather than perfection, of course, communism led to dictatorship and slavery.

Thomas C. Reeves is a retired history professor who lives with his wife Kathleen in the Wisconsin countryside. Among his numerous books are biographies of John F. Kennedy and Fulton J. Sheen. His latest book is Distinguished Service: The Life and Times of Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. (Marquette University Press).

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