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Book Review: The Flight from Truth

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The Flight from Truth: The Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information by Jean-Francois Revel (New York: Random House, 1991); 408 pages; $25.

When Jean-Francois Revel published How Democracies Perish in the early 1980s, he wanted to deliver a warning to the nations of the West that the Soviet Union was being allowed to win the Cold War. This threatened victory of communism, he argued, was not due to any inherent superiority in the Soviet model. Rather, it was coming about due to weakness in the democratic West. As a conservative, Mr. Revel was worried about a failure of will by the Western nations to stand up militarily to the perceived Soviet threat. But the core of his argument was an ideological one: the West had surrendered its vision and its understanding of why a free, open, market-oriented society was both moral and prosperous. Western intellectuals had accepted the premises of socialism and welfare statism. And as a consequence, the war of ideas and ideology around the world was being won by the Soviet Union.

Now, in the early 1990s, socialism in the form of the Soviet threat is gone. Communism has collapsed in the country in which it was first implemented because of its own internal weaknesses and contradictions. But the West, unfortunately, still suffers from the same ideological problems that Mr. Revel wrote about ten years ago. And this is the theme of his new book, The Flight from Truth: The Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information.

Every one of the premises of the Left has been refuted by the failure of the socialist experiment. Socialism brought neither freedom, justice nor prosperity. Rather, socialism produced cruel despotisms, privilege and corruption, and economic distortion and poverty. But this is a reality that is too disturbing for many on the Left to accept. To admit the truth would shatter their beliefs, dreams and desires.

So, instead of accepting the truth, the Left has continued to construct deceptions and distortions of reality to protect and guard their most cherished premises. Mr. Revel explains that the heart of these deceptions has revolved around the attempt to prevent discussions of human-rights abuses and economic stagnation in socialist states and to limit all such discussions to “right-wing” dictatorships or Western nations. The standard reply to criticisms of socialism has not been a straight answer to meet the charges. Instead, the critic has been accused of ignoring equal or even greater abuses in capitalist countries and being so paranoid about communism that he is blind to the ever-threatening resurgence of fascism. Hence, the critic has been sidetracked into a debate over the possible revival of fascist dictatorships and away from the reality of the socialist experiment.

The second line of defense, Mr. Revel argues, is the use by the Left of the charge of racism. Insisting that there is no greater evil and danger in the world than racism and racial discrimination, the Left reduces all social and cultural tensions between people to one dimension: race. In discussions about the Third World, the only human-rights abuses of significance to the Left are those in South Africa under apartheid — and for the Left, apartheid is nothing more than a degenerate form of capitalism. That millions have died from socialist-produced famines in black-ruled African countries — that Marxist regimes in black Africa have tortured and murdered tens of thousands of their own people — does not even go down an Orwellian memory-hole; for to be erased from the record would imply that these events in Africa were reported in the press, when, in fact, they occurred in an informational void, ignored by most of the press in the West.

When the Left has been challenged about socialist tyranny in Africa, the response has often been that freedom without development is meaningless. As @&. Revel says, “I was under the impression that freedom was good in itself, independent of the standard of living of the population…. In reality, if democracy without development was meaningless, then neither the French or the American revolution nor the British reform movement should have been undertaken.” And he asks, “[Wlho would be qualified to fix the degree of development above which a democracy ceases to be ‘nothing’ and becomes ‘something’?”

All of dim tendencies in evading the truth of the socialist experience and fabricating smoke screens in reality’s place, Mr. Revel argues, have been bolstered by a journalistic community that views itself as an advocate of “good causes,” rather than as reporters of events; by an academic community that views its task as one to remold the minds of the youth in their charge; by an intellectual community that has nothing but ridicule and hate for their own society. The perspective from which most of the members of these communities approach their duties is moderate to extreme Leftism.

And even now in a post-communist era, the lies and flights from truth will continue to persist. Why? Because what many of these people really want is not so much the success of socialism as the destruction of capitalism. Their hatred, fear and contempt of human freedom and the market economy will survive the demise of a thousand socialist experiments. And that is the real face of the enemy.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).