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Daniel Davies: New Ideas From Dead Political Systems

Daniel Davies:

New Ideas From Dead Political Systems — Crooked Timber: Back in the days before I had realised that a guy who takes five years to deliver a simple book review probably ought to rein in the ambition a bit when it comes to larger-scale projects, I occasionally pitched an idea to publishers of management books. It was going to be called Great Ideas From Failed Companies, the idea being that when you have the perspective of the entire history of a corporate story, you’re probably going to get a more honest appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses, and that although companies like Enron, Northern Rock and Atari clearly had major problems, they quite likely also had some good points too, or how did they ever get so big in the first place?

Obviously, carrying out a similar exercise on failed social and political systems is a bit of a minefield, since most social and political systems which have been tried and failed have tended to take down a hell of a lot of innocent lives with them as they did so. I don’t think anyone but the most studiedly mindless (and tasteless) contrarian would bother to ask the question “but what did the Nazis get right?” at any great length[1]. But there’s always a temptation to do so with Soviet communism[2]….

[1] At short length, the answer is “monetary policy”. The rather embarrassing introduction to the first German-language edition of the General Theory is quite thoroughgoing in its endorsement of Hitler and Schacht’s adoption of broadly Keynesian policies. So now you know.

[2] The exercise is probably best carried out by someone who, like Francis Spufford, has never been a Communist themselves. As Mark Steel notes in his autobiography “Reasons to be Cheerful”, on the subject of old Stalinists constantly finding themselves post-1989 in conversations where they ended up backsliding into wondering whether there weren’t a few progressive elements, Communism is like smoking in this way, you’ve really just got to give it up cold turkey.