Raymond Aron (1955): Nations and Ideologies: Weekend Reading

This is the best expression of the end-of-ideology “managerialism” theses of the Great Post-WWII Keynesian Boom—Les Trente Glorieuses. It is remarkably early: 1955. And it is 100% correct that those who tried to apply a pre-WWI socialist or a Leninist frame to the state of the world after World War II were hopelessly wrong, and would up naked on the moon. And that is if they were lucky. Aron, of course, took the defeat of fascism as the Red Army turned Hitler’s Berlin into rubble in 1945 as permanent. And Aron mistook the Eisenhower wing of the Republican Party for the beast. And maybe he would have been right if not for Goldwater:

Il Quarto Stato

Raymond Aron (1955): Nations and Ideologies: “WE are becoming ever more aware that the political categories of the last century—Left and Right, liberal and socialist, traditionalist and revolutionary-have lost their relevance. They imply the existence of conflicts which experience has since reconciled, and they lump together ideas and men whom the course of history has drawn into opposing camps. How can one describe as “extreme Left” the Soviet regime which identifies society with the state? Is it possible to see it as a continuation of the struggle against arbitrary rule, or as favouring individual freedom and the control of government by the governed? Or again, when a parliament of “Pashas” is dissolved by a group of army officers sincerely concerned for national independence and economic progress, who then establish a military dictatorship, what is the correct word to describe their regime?…

…Is it accurate to describe as “liberal” Dr. Erhard’s policy in Western Germany, or as “socialist” the policy of Mr. Gaitskell under the late Labour Government? And from which doctrine should the present practice of Mr. Butler be derived?

I do not believe it is impossible to bring order into this ideological chaos, but it is essential first to recognise how controversies change their significance from one country to another. The same words are used, but the realities to which they refer are different.


1. The Debate in Britain

TWO facts dominate the British situation: first, the prevailing democratic institutions are unchallenged, and second, socialism (which in Britain has never been doctrinaire or Marxist) represents the present rather than the future, is a fact rather than a programme. Party conflicts and intellectual differences neither are, nor even appear to be, of truly vital concern to any section of the community. Whatever view the nation may finally adopt, no one will have to sacrifice any value he deems essential. Agreement upon the general lines of foreign policy and upon the community’s fundamental “way of life” is almost unanimous. If and when the British are in error, they err resolutely and all, or nearly all, together.

The limitations and drawbacks of the experiment once known by the name of socialism were gradually revealed by experience. Socialists were disappointed, and their opponents were relieved, when their dream (or their nightmare) came true; and passion on both sides died away. “So that’s all it amounts to,” they said with a sigh—in the one case of regret, in the other of relief.

The economic potential left untapped by the former regime was not such that full employment could suddenly release a flood of unparalleled wealth. But neither Conservatives nor Socialists would tolerate a return to the stagnation and unemployment of the years between the wars. Moreover, they know, or think they know, how to control the trade cycle—atleast sufficiently to avoid the ravages of a major depression. The techniques of economic stability and expansion are no longer the patent of one party or one doctrine; they have quite lost their ideological colouring.

Nationalisation of the means of production has been followed neither by miraculous benefits nor by disaster. In itself, it has had little effect upon the workers’ conditions or upon industrial relations. It is not free from certain of the disadvantages of private trusts and monopolies; and while it dearly abolishes the political influence formerly available to the magnates of industry, it still allows the directors of public enterprises the chance to obtain certain privileges for themselves or, more especially, for their undertakings.

REDISTRIBUTION of wealth in Britain has succeeded in reducing the highest incomes and eliminating cases of extreme poverty. But in the long run a family of modest means loses as much or more through crushing taxation as it gains in free social benefits. The victims of Labour’s revolution have been, above all, the salaried middle class and its intellectuals, upon whom cultural continuity and scientific progress depend.

People do not argue any longer for or against state interference in economic affairs, but only about the most effective form of such interference and how to adapt administrative decisions to the mechanism of the markets. Practical experience of planning has induced a good many economists to moderate the hopes they placed in it, has taught the all-out supporters of full employment the difficulty of combining this with stable prices, and has led many Keynesians to prefer indirect financial and budgetary controls to direct methods. These controversies evoke no heat, even among specialists. But there are intellectuals who seek to raise the temperature. Death duties amounting to confiscation are called for in the name of equality; and a few voices are raised for further nationalisation—either to facilitate planning or to give the workers a greater interest in the control of industry. But these specifics, which are to be found in the New Fabian Essays, have little appeal for the people, or even for political leaders. It is more or less confusedly realised by leaders and people alike that the real historical problem is a different one: namely, how can society combine a fair distribution of income and security for the individual with the incentives which are necessary if wealth is to be increased? The problems raised in England by the Labour experiment are related philosophically and historically to the antinomy between contented security and adventure for gain, between equalitarian justice and the justice of rewards—an antinomy whose resolution calls for a reasonable compromise and not a clear-cut choice.

For the time being, a non-millennial socialism and a non-reactionary conservatism offer England a peaceful government and a peaceful opposition. When Sir Winston used a version (somewhat simplified) of the argument of Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, as ammunition in the 1945 election, his allusions to Mr. Attlee’s “Gestapo” merely provoked laughter. Theorists may insist that Labour will end, however unintentionally, by creating a totalitarian state, but the British are not inclined to worry about the day after tomorrow; and today Mr. Bevan is a pillar of parliamentarianism. No “leftist” sees any merit in Communism as far as Britain is concerned. The Bevanites, more insular than anybody, believe that the Labour Party should be the model for the whole world, though they concede that Communism may be “progressive” for Asia, for Africa, and even perhaps—who knows?—for France.

Controversy in Britain does become heated when it touches upon the United States and the U.S.S.IR. and the case for or against a capitalist or Soviet regime. Left-wing intellectuals in Britain are as ready as those on the Continen tto denounce American “materialism,” “ineptitude,” or “bellicosity.” Like their Parisian friends of Les Temps Modernes and l’Observateur, they play down the military threat of Communism and emphasise the danger of its political influence; they pin all their hopes to an unlimited application of Point Four and are indulgent to the cruelties of Russia while implacably condemning any error or folly or infraction of liberty in the United States. Their No. 1 target is McCarthy and not the MVD, and their tears are for Alger Hiss and not the victims in concentration camps. Yet these intellectuals remain firmly fixed, in practice if not in theory, within the framework of British society. In France, the popular front, in China, Stalinism, maybe the way of salvation—but for Britain, Queen and Parliament suffice. In all countries, nationalism works strange paradoxeis in the soul of the intellectual.


2. The Debate in France

FOR twenty-five years, a vast literature has been accumulating around the political, economic, and social aspects of the Third and Fourth Republics. The voting habits of the different regions, the constitution of the political parties, and the workings of parliament have all been studied. Demographers have analysed the causes and effects of a reduced birth rate and economists have done the same for a retarded economic development. Much still remains to be known, but the general outline of France’s contemporary problem has been clearly established: weakness of the executive, insufficient economic dynamic, extreme diversity of agriculture from region to region, fiscal and customs legislation favouring the survival of too many small-scale businesses, excessive growth of the tertiary sector of the economy, an unrationalised distributive system, and so on. Foreign criticisms of France rely for all their ideas, facts, and statistics upon French books, including official publications. Never has a nation known so well what was wrong with it.

According to Marx, the concentration of capital would proceed to its extreme limit—but we find French socialists and trade unionists lamenting an insufficient concentration of French capital. It require sa lot of dialectical imagination as well as considerable ignorance to attribute the survival of a decentralised productive system to the machinations of “the Trusts.” The anomaly to be explained might be called “the retarded economic progress of a Western society” or “the tendency of a petit-bourgeois society to stagnate.”

Thisproblem is recognised by sociologists and economists, and not completely ignored by men of letters. But the latter are generally more concerned to replace the specific national problem by what appears to be a universal one, and they achieve this by transposing the real data of the situation into Marxist terms. You may find side by side, in the same work, an empirical study of the French working class and a quasi-metaphysical speculation upon the historical mission of the Proletariat. The former will be prosaic and accurate, the latter inspirational and, in most cases, meaningless.

Consider the periodicals in which the Existentialists, “progressives,” and left-Chririans write. They are full of para-Marxist notions like the revolution, the recognition of Man by Man,and the Meaning of History. Just as the intellectuals of Germany around 1930 wereelaborating the millennial Marxist themes with variations from Kant and Hegel and Heidegger, our French intellectuals today are re-vamping them in the Sartrian or the Christian mode.

IS FRANCE going through a crisis comparable to that of Germany in the years before Hitler came to power? There are certainly some analogies, but there are also fundamental differences. French intellectuals feel humiliated, deep down, by their country’s fall; and their reaction to this unacknowledged shame is to rebel against the world around them, assisted by escapist ideologies with universal and millenial pretensions. But the social situation in France today is quite different from that in Germany in 1930. There are no millions of unemployed nor uprooted masses ready to follow any adventurer. Discontent is widespread and endemic, but does not exclude an unexpressed wish to safeguard a familiar way of life. It does not imply a desire for change at all costs.

It is true that a great many French workers, perhaps the majority, vote for the Communist Party; but the Communist infiltration into the working-class industrial and political movement is of more help to conservatism than to radicalism. It is easy to rally the moderates in all classes against a party directed from abroad. The adherence of a large part of the French working-class to Communism presents left-wing intellectuals with an agonising choice. As anti-Communists, are they not the enemies of the Proletariat? (Sartre dixit: “To oppose the Proletariat is to become the enemy of mankind and of oneself.”) As Communists, will they not have retroactively to ratify the Hitler-Stalin pact as a step towards the liberation of humanity, denounce Beria as a capitalist agent, and accept dialectical materialism as the final achievement of philosophy? At odds with their country, which they believe is sinking into mediocrity, allied to the Proletariat whose historic mission they acknowledge, recalcitrant to Communist discipline, they give vent to their frustrations by vituperating the United State and the Atlantic Pact.

The controversies of French intellectuals gain in resonance as they move further from reality. It is the French who provide the left intelligentsia all over the world with the arguments and ideas that throw a cloak of philosophic respectability over le double refus. The means for speeding up France’s economic progress interest only the specialists; the intellectuals are interested in the debate on “Revolt” and “Revolution.” So vague are its concepts and so noble the words that clothe them, so ill-defined is the subject of debate, that even the Japanese, oblivious of crude reality, have seen in them the reflection of their own preoccupations.

The subject of the debate in Britain is technical; in France it is ideological. In the first case, all are agreed about fundamentals and the discussion is about questions of degree and the efficaciousness of methods; in the second, the facts are forgotten and an attempt is made to force into a framework, derived from Marxism, a historical situation which could easily be understood, on the simple condition of not approaching it with out-of-date concepts.

In politics, action is more likely to succeed when thought corresponds to fact; and in France the two are out of step. Yet, in the intellectual sphere, the effort and the reward are less disproportionate. The discussion is sterile when it concerns ill-defined notions (for example: Is the Soviet Union the embodiment of the revolutionary cause?) or false ones (the absurd belief that a property system, as such, can be responsible for a nation’s wealth or poverty). poverty). But, if the French debate often loses itself in abstractions and anachronisms, it sometimes touches the essential. A radical questioning of industrial civilisation or of working-class reformism goes deeper than a reasonable discussion of the Welfare State or of economic incentives—though these latter considerations certainly have more bearing upon the prosperity of nations.


3. The United States and Germany

BRITAIN and France, respectively, represent the extremes of relevanceand irrelevance between a nation’s real situation and its social-economic ideologies. Most of the European nations can easily be identified with one or other of these types: the Scandinavian nations and Holland with the British, Italy with the French. Belgium, although so much exposed to French influence, shows in politics an increasing resemblance to the British type: its Communist party has continuously declined ever since the first elections after the war, and the leftism of its “progressives” appears more and more as a fashion imported from Paris.

It is possible to adumbrate a sociological or historical explanation of these two contrasted types. Countries of the first type have a relatively high standard of living and have experienced no recent revolutionary upheavals. In all of them (except Belgium) the Protestant reformation won the day; they belong to the sea-faring and merchant-city zone of European civilisation; and they have developed moderate socialist movements which by-pass the dilemma of status quo vs. revolution. France and Italy, on the other hand, are Catholic countries in which the permanent the Church inevitably assumes a political complexion. In both countries, economic progress and higher living standards for the workers have been retarded through the survival of under-developed areas. And both have, by virtue of their large Communist movements, suffered a seccessio plebis.

Germany and the United States will not fit into either of these categories. If we accepted the current language of social-economic controversy, we should be in danger of seeing Germany, less than ten years after Hitler’s death, as the fatherland of “social liberalism” (soziale Marktwirtschaft), while the United States would seem to have been saved in the nick of time, by the Republican victory of 1952, from a socialist invasion led by the Democrats. But once again the facts are quite different.

As regards Western Germany, the decisive fact appears to be the complete collapse of the two German ideologies—Marxism and Nazism—which aimed at the conquest of the world. The Germans have lived the nationalist frenzy through to its bitter end, and their experience of the Soviet regime is incomparably more direct than that of any other West European people. For the present, they are immune to certain arguments and certain illusions. An orator, even if he were a French philosopher, who tried to explain to German workmen that the prohibition of strikes and the suppression of free unions is legitimate in Russia because the workers are in power there, would not be allowed to finish his speech. Unlike the French philosophers, the German workers know what life under the Communist Party is like. The majority of them continue to vote socialist, but all the evidence shows that they no longer subscribe to Marxist ideas. They refuse to listen to the once-classic themes of Class Struggle and Revolution. They have become as reasonable and empirical as the British workers, though with this difference—that they have lived through the messianic temptation, while the British ignored it. Purged by catastrophe—for the time being, at least—Germany prides itself on reviving the pure liberal doctrine.

It is a pious claim which cannot be said to be completely fulfilled. The entrepreneurs or managers in the Ruhr still possess exorbitant power, and the structure’ and functioning of the economy are far from conforming to the classic liberal model. It is true that Chancellor Adenauer’s government allows freer markets than are to be found in other countries. But the foundation of Western Germany’s spectacular recovery has been hard work,the volume of investment and construction, and the moderation and discipline of the workers—all of which have perhaps been encouraged, but certainly not created, by Dr. Erhard’s policies. The Federal Republic’s climate is conservative, bourgeois, and nationalist in the style of Kaiser Wilhelm’s bourgeoisie, but worlds away from that of the Nazi desperadoes.The overriding preoccupation is economic and not ideological. Communism and Russia are identified, and equally hated; American productivity is admired; and there is no remaining trace of that blend of philosophy with politics which characterised the Weimar period and is today so attractive to the French intelligentsia.

In the United States there appears to be a passionate political and ideological controversy all the time. The violence of the language suggests that fundamental issues are involved; but in reality little more is at stake than in Britain. The polemical vehemence of the daily and weekly press is a part of the country’s political style; but it is also a result of the incongruity between the party ideologies and the changing realities of the last twenty-five years.

Many Republicans still hate Roosevelt as they hate their country’s enemies—Roosevelt who brought socialism to America, Roosevelt who created the Leviathan State. The old American society, as the typical Republican imagines it, was a model of liberalism. Its prosperity grew from individual initiative; it prevented the growth of the federal budget and federal taxation; it tolerated no meddling in the nation’s economy by government officials; it eschewed wholesale social services. An individualistic society like this probably never existed except in theory, and in any case could not now be revived. When the Republicans returned to power after twenty years, they laboured to reduce taxation by a few billions, dismissed some tens of thousands of officials, and tightened the control of credit, but they left the essential work of the Democrats untouched. Social services will continue to expand, agricultural prices will be maintained, and national prosperity will still be the Government’s responsibility. In case of economic crisis, or the threat of crisis, the Republican method of intervention will perhaps be slightly different from the Democratic. Republicans prefer tax relief and Democrats public spending; the former are more afraid of inflation, the latter of deflation. Their differences are at bottom much the same as those between Conservatives and socialistsin Britain.

The Republicans try to make their audience’s flesh creep by the same methods as Sir Winston Churchill in the 1945 election. TVA, they howl, is the thin end of the Gestapo’s wedge. Socialised medicine and a low interest-rate are denounced in the United States as though they must inevitably lead to the MVD. It would be a mistake to regard such accusations as a mere electoral ruse. They are, on the whole, sincere; and, although those who make them may not have read Hayek and Mises, they have instinctively developed the same mentality. They attribute a sort of absolute value to free markets and regard any manipulation of prices by the government as a profanation. Private initiative is regarded as intrinsically good and the development of governmental activity as intrinsically bad. And in the end these reasonable preferences become fanatical. In a sense, the fanaticism of leftist doctrinaires is really less unreasonable, because the champions of socialism think they possess the secret of salvation. But liberals, who put their faith in men’s natural instincts, ought not to be surprised if the individual fails to see a competitive economy as the supreme goal. They should remember that although “May the best man win” is a popular slogan in sport, there are not so many people who accept it as a rule for life.

The superficial violence of dispute by no means precludes a proud sense of American uniqueness when compared with Europe, and enlightened opinion is implicitly or even explicitly unanimous upon a fundamental point, “The American Way of Life.” No one judges the European (and especially the French) industrialist more severely than his American counterpart. When the members of the National Association of Manufacturers denounce the “feudalism” and the greed for high profits from small transactions of their European counterparts, they are indulging a repressed desire to see themselves as “progressives.”But is it a true description to say that the American economy is alertly competitive, and that the European ones are stagnating under cartels and controls? What appears to me incontestable is that any “competitiveness” in the American economy is not due to its structure but to the spirit that animates it. The structure cannot be called liberal in contradistinction to a socialist structure in France or Britain, for it is exposed to much the same sort of “socialist” intervention as European economies are accused of. Such competition as there is can often be described as “oligopolistic” rather than classically liberal. Geography, history, and social climate changes as you cross the Atlantic, as they do between Germany and Britain; and these national contrasts have not much connection with what are called ideological differences.

Opinion in the United States almost unanimously accepts the present system. No alternative is apparent either to the intellectual or to the man in the street, and, in effect, there is none. Should a crisis comparable to that of 1929 occur—which I do not think likely—it would be met by some form of planning (which would nevertheless be claimed as liberalism). The present regime has created immense wealth and distributed it among the people. Inequality has diminished proportionately with the rising standard of life. The approach of the United States to these objectives—which were and are also those of the European Left has been empirical. What motive is there for resisting the process? For the sake of what could a revolution be made?

But there is still much to criticise, and especially the tendency to conformism which results from the loss of messianic hope. Even the war of the American Left against the trusts and the concentration of economic power is losing its point. American thinkingis in need of “dissidents,” but there is a danger that dissent will adopt out-of-date ideologies instead of pin-pointing the problems and injustices which official optimism tends to gloss over.

At the moment the two great current controversies are those about McCarthyism and about the correct policy towards Communism in Asia and Europe. McCarthyism raises the question of civil liberties and of what measures a free society is justified in taking against conspiracy and infiltration. Unfortunately, the debate remains confused because both sides resort to “amalgams”; both “McCarthyism” and “Communism”become in the minds of their adversaries a sort of huge morass with no firm outline. As regards Communism, American scholarly literature seems to me the best available in the Western world. On the other hand, current controversy confuses two questions which a realistic approach would separate: namely, what should our opinion be about this or that aspect of Communism in China, Poland, etc., and what should or can be our action in regard to Soviet power in Europe and Asia? Condemnation of Communism too often becomes a sort of refusal to look at the unclean thing or even to admit its existence.

Once again, as in Britain though in a different way, the ideological dispute is concerned less with the country’s internal affairs than with foreign affairs. In the long run, there is really no controversy in America except about Communism, which nevertheless all are touchingly unanimous in condemning.


4. Outside the Western World

France and Italy have large Communist parties, and the other Western countries have small ones which are centres for espionage and conspiracy rather than proper political organisations. In both cases, Communism is a serious problem of internal or foreign policy, but in neither is it a serious intellectual problem.

Roughly speaking, there are two ways of adhering to Communism. The militant Communist accepts the world-view and the changing interpretations of history imposed upon him by authority ; the intellectual, on the other hand, takes the official doctrine with a grain of salt but accepts Communism as the best regime for industrialising under-developed countries, as the “inevitable” outcome of Europe’s decline, and so on. If an important number of intellectuals accepted the orthodox doctrine, Communism would be an essential element of Western intellectual life. But such is not the case.

Orthodox Communism consists in forcing events totally unlike those foreseen by Marx into the millenary Marxist scheme. For it, the capture of power in Russia by the Bolshevik party was the first stage of the historic mission attributed by Marx to the Proletariat. Having baptised the Party as “vanguard of the Proletariat,” it equates all its victories with Proletarian victories. Wherever Stalin or Malenkov reign, the Proletariat is mystically liberated. It follows that the old familiar practices of despotism, furbished with modern techniques, become the embodiment of “socialism.” Every revolution engineered by the Red Army in Europe and every revolution organised by the Communist Party in Asia, controlled by intellectuals who manipulate the peasant masses, will be called socialist and will claim the author of Das Kapital as its founder.

This is a paranoiac interpretation of history. WhatMarx hoped was that the victory of the working class would lead to a universal distribution of the profits from highly developed productive forces, profits which—so he thought—would be restricted under capitalism to the few and would produce increasing poverty for the masses. But the Communist revolutions are imposed before the productive forces have been developed, while the Western countries are distributing ever more widely the profits accruing from technical progress. Soviet regimes certainly develop the means of production, but they sacrifice very much more to what Marx called “accumulation” than capitalist society ever did.

I am not here concerned to discuss the merits or demerits of the Soviet regime, either in Russia or China. It is unnecessary to make it the incarnation of Evil or a unique event in the annals of crime. There are enough facts accepted by critics and supporters alike to enable us to place the regime in history, as one among others. If liberty and equality are the test of socialism, no regime could be less socialist than that of the U.S.S.R. It has restored a rigid hierarchy, with a new ruling class; factory discipline is stricter than in capitalist countries; poweris in the hands of a small group which took possession of the state by violence, and is kept in power by police and propaganda. Admittedly, it has built up an immense heavy industry and given the country an unprecedented war potential. Let us pay tribute to the organising power which carried through this vast industrialisation.

But why should we do what has never before been done in history—why should we regard the builders of empires or pyramids or marble underground stations as benefactors of humanity? To what extent is the Soviet type of overall planning an efficient one? There is no answer to this question that would be accepted by all economists. But no serious economist would maintain that an industrial society must inevitably resort in the end to planning of the Soviet type; nor is there one who believes that the American or British economic systems must lead to poverty for the masses and economic stagnation. Most economists, even those who sympathise with Communism, consider the present Soviet regime a prelude to the Western type of economy rather than a postscript to it. Or again they may expect a gradual rapprochement of the two worlds, through liberalisation in Russia and intensified planning in the West.

Marx’s philosophy and theory provide no firmer ground than does his economic analysis for the Communist interpretation of contemporary history. There is no Western philosopher who takes dialectical materialism for anything more than an ideology of a state or a secular theology; and even socialist- minded economists reject the Labour theory of value. Someone may detect in Das Kapital a foreshadowing of Keynesian ideas; but a serious intellectual who calls himself a Marxist accepts neither Stalin’s philosophy nor the theories of Das Kapital. It is not impossible that the Soviet Union, fortified by the revolutions in Asia, and possessor by conquest of Eastern Europe, may succeed a few years or a few decades from now, in destroying Western society; but this does not mean that Communism is a serious intellectual movement. A few hundred divisions and an ideology for the use of semi-intellectuals are enough to create a menace.

Those who join the Party without accepting the official doctrine are numerous, and it is easy to explain their actions. It is necessary and sufficient in each case to discover why the peasant, worker, or intellectual feels himself aggrieved and alienated from his own country, why he expects nothing from reform and places all his hopes in the Fatherland of the Revolution. Nevertheless, the fact that the Soviet Union, which is in reality so Russian, attracts the rebels of the whole world through an ideology borrowed from the West, has important political consequences.

COMMUNISM’S attractive power is strongest where it can justify itself realistically (speeding-up of industrialisation) and ideologically (the Party as “vanguard of the Proletariat” with its historic mission). In a sense, this is the case in France, whose polytechniciens are irritated by her tardy economic progress. It is even more so in the under-developed countries where the scope and significance of ideologies from Europe and America are distorted by the historical background.

In Europe, a political and economic ideology is concerned with the no-man’s-land which is at stake in party struggles. It ignores the family and everyday life, and all the ideas and habits inherited from pre-industrial times. The controversy between conservatism and progress is fruitful because tradition is not seen as an obstacle to economic progress, which is itself a development from the traditional past which it is desired to conserve or extend. In the Far East, on the other hand, the controversy is between the West on the one hand and Chinese, or Japanese, or Indian cultures on the other; and on the social-economic plane this controversy is bound to end in favour of the West, for all nations aspire to the wealth and power derived from machines and technical prowess.

The East has had to create what was “given” for the West. In the 19th century, there were discussions in the West about the source of legitimate power and the forms of authority; but economic progress was equally compatible, in bourgeois France for example, with constitutional or with absolute monarchy, with caesarism or with a republic. In China, however, the first condition of economic progress may well have been a modification of the family structure and the creation of a Western type of bureaucracy. European political ideologies take on a new colour when it is a question of bringing into existence new familial and state institutions which the Western doctrines do not mention because they take them for granted.

Since progress in the social-economic sphere is almost unanimously accepted as an imperative (the ruling class and the intellectuals in Asia and Africa are now practically without a trace of Gandhi’s hostility to the machine), the real choice is between reforms and revolution; and this is easily translated into European terms as Socialism or Communism. But the terms thus translated disguise the enormous difference between the Indian and the British situations, or between the Russian and the Chinese.

India may provide a minimum wage, guarantees against arbitrary dismissal, and social regulations in industry; but these measures do nothing to eliminate the causes of extreme poverty. All they do is give an additional advantage to those lucky enough to have jobs in factories over the countless unemployed in town and country alike. To give priority to fair shares and individual security is really impracticable in conditions of famine when the first essential is to produce as much as possible.

Indian intellectuals, like those of Oxford and Cambridge, believe in parliamentary methods; they are generally “pinks” of the same shade as the New Statesman. The difference is that, instead of governing 50 million Britons who respect their Queen and Parliament and have enough to eat, they have to govern 365 million Indians, 85 per cent of them illiterate, who have been accustomed for centuries to obey their masters and to have no say either in affairs of State or in their own. Can the place of an emperor, whether Mogul or British, be taken by a political class playing the parliamentary game?

As for China, she is beginning her Soviet experiment with even scantier resources in technicians and machinery than the Russia of 1913; but in spite of this, her imitation of the Russian model is less awkward than India’s attempt to copy Britain. A tyranny can effect changes more easily than a democracy, and Russia’s technique of forced saving under the control of Party and police is an easy one to export.

In Japan, the old ruling class of pre-industrial times was able by itself to Westernise the state and property institutions, the industrial and educational systems, while maintaining the country’s independence. Today, after the imperialist adventure and defeat, the intelectuals are suffering from this national humiliation and are contemplating the drab future which opens before themselves and their countrymen. Japan is the most highly industrialised country of Asia, with the highest living standards; but its intellectuals, like those of France, feel alienated because they have lost their old gods and are intensely aware of the discrepancy between their wishful dreams and the reality they have to face. One finds among the Left in Japan the same frustration and nostalgias as in France, and the same camouflage of authentic experience and conflict under a more or less vulgarised Marxism.

In China, a Communist party of the Soviet type which breaks up the traditional structure of the family, purges the classic culture, and constructs a planningState; in Japan, intellectuals who feel half-estranged from their stricken country and borrow their anti-Americanism and their Leftism from the French intelligentsia; in India, intellectuals with democratic values acquired from Britain but governing in a totally different situation…

The Soviet Union, France, and Britain provide the models, but what are such models worth in Asia?Is not the true issue, hidden behind social-economic controversies, the clash between the West and the national cultures of the East?


5. Conclusion

In most Western societies, ideological controversy is dying down because experience has shown that divergent demands can be reconciled, and has refuted the exaggerated hopes placed in Revolution. There is no incompatibility between political liberty and wealth, or between free markets and a higher standard of life. Indeed, the highest living standards have been attained in democratic countries with a relatively free economy.

As industrial civilisation develops, tensions arise between the concern for equality and individual security and the concern for increased production. With full employment and the danger of inflation, there is a struggle to maintain freedom of wage agreements. The limits of possible redistribution of income are revealed, and also the effects of excessive taxation upon savings and upon the financing of capital goods. There is no final solution to these dilemmas, but the reasonable anxieties they evoke do not give rise to any fundamental conflict. Indeed, it is precisely over degrees and methods of compromise that the political parties carry on their debate.

The apparent ideological chaos is due to a misinterpretation of the interaction of disparate events; the crises taking place in some Western societies, the African and Asian revolt against the West, and the attraction of the Soviet Union (which is derived less from what it is than from what it claims to be). In reality, the alienation of the intellectuals and the grievances of the workers in France are due to the specific conditions of French society; similarly, the action of the Communist party machine, and its organisation of the peasant masses, can also be specifically explained, but not in terms of capitalism or socialism.

I am not here concerned to discuss how the Asian and African independence movements can be weaned from totalitarian methods, or how countries that have achieved independence, but are still weak, can be protected from sovietisation. But one thing is certain: the West should begin by getting rid of its inferiority complex before the idea of “Revolution”. Some revolutions have been sterile, and others fruitful. Some have replaced the old elite by a more efficient one, swept away petrified institutions, and opened the way for new initiatives. But the revolutions of the 20th century have settled down into long-term despotism, prolonging for decadesthe phenomena of terrorism which used to be characteristic of the first revolutionary frenzy. The Soviet phenomena, therefore, need neither perplex nor fascinate Western intellectuals, provided only they consent to open their eyes and refrain from seeking an impossible perfection in human society.

Moreover, revolutionary ardour has cooled down in the last twenty-five years. Yesterday, the French intellectual who symbolised revolution was Malraux—a fighter in China and Spain, author of La Condition Humaine and L’Espoir. Today, the revolutionary activity of Sartre fizzles out in interminable essays about the Proletariat. As Marx said, we live twice through the same events, first tragically and then comically.

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