One of the most startling features of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, a book that examines the killing fields that Stalin and Hitler created in the lands between Germany and Russia proper, is the way in which these socialist leaders were so willing to kill people in the millions to make reality accord with their theories. This chasm between ideas and reality was most obvious in the Soviet Union.
Soviet leaders could not account for the fact that, contrary to Marx’s predictions, the first socialist revolution occurred in an agrarian, almost feudal economy, rather than in a totally industrialized economy. Obviously, reasoned the Soviet theorists, theirs was an incomplete revolution. To be complete, the Soviet Union would have to be industrialized, and then the Soviet workers would cheerfully unite behind a socialist government, rather than hoarding food and trying to live out their lives as individuals.
Stalin, imbued by faith in his theory, and with no regard whatsoever for the sanctity of human life, decided to “industrialize” the Ukraine by getting rid of the small farms that dotted that verdant breadbasket. He would create vast, government-controlled collectives, complete with Soviet-made tractors, that would stun the Western world.
Indeed, if Walter Duranty hadn’t been a profoundly evil man who shilled for a murderous regime, the world would have been stunned. It would have been stunned because it would have seen kulaks (small landowners) and peasants relocated, shot, and starved in the millions over about five or seven years. In this way, Stalin advanced socialist theory over the factually dead bodies of his own people. At the end of it all, of course, the collectives were much less effective than a market economy would have been.
I see theory over fact regularly in the liberal world I inhabit. One of my favorites is the liberal who refused to believe that a drop of sugared tea can create a sticky spot on the floor or counter. “There’s too little sugar,” she said, “for any stickiness to result from a single drop.” The fact that I could show her sticky spots was irrelevant. Her theory said there couldn’t be spots, and therefore there weren’t — actual sticky spots notwithstanding.
Likewise, when I was packing some boxes alongside a liberal, I asked for directions about what should be put in one of the boxes.
“Put these six items in the box,” the liberal told me.
I did. The box was very, very heavy.
“What did you put in there?” asked the liberal. “It’s way too heavy.”
“The six things you told me to put in there,” I replied.
“No,” said the liberal, “you couldn’t have. Those six things are not that heavy.”
“But they are,” said I, “pointing to the box.”
“No, they’re not,” said the liberal, completely ignoring the reality in the box at his feet.
Obama, of course, is a purely theoretical leader. Barring a short stint in private practice when, as a junior associate, he would have had minimal responsibilities, Obama has always worked in the worlds of academia and community organizing. In the latter role, every one of his initiatives failed. In the former role, of course, he had no initiatives. He could immerse himself in theory without ever cross-checking those theories against the real world.
Now that Obama has taken on the hard task of governing, it’s really no surprise that he clings to his theories. They’re so much nicer than dirty, messy facts, governed by real world principles such as supply and demand, good guys and bad guys, weather, etc. How much nicer to simply announce that what is is, because the theorist says that it is.
Romney, by contrast, has worked and governed. He may be a little too inclined to abandon conservative principles for political advantage, but that may be due to his essential pragmatism. He will do what works. He’s had to. That’s how he made his fortune.
I’d like to think that Romney’s pragmatism involves understanding that the private sector is always more efficient than the government (“Your government — applying yesterday’s solutions today”). Even if he does deviate from a principled understanding, though, I know Romney will never get caught up in what should be, rather than what is.
And now that I’ve opined about the dangers of theory, let me hand the microphone over to Bill Whittle, who says everything I was thinking, only he does it better: