City Journal must-reads

Communism’s Nuremberg
The crimes of the Khmer Rouge are inextricable from Marxist/Leninist ideology.

What the Khmer Rouge brought to Cambodia was in fact real Communism. There was no radical distinction, either conceptually or concretely, between the rule of the Khmer Rouge and that of Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, or the North Korean regime. All Communist regimes follow strangely similar trajectories, barely colored by local traditions. In every case, these regimes seek to make a blank slate of the past and to forge a new humanity. In every case, the “rich,” intellectuals, and skeptics wind up exterminated. The Khmer Rouge rounded up urban and rural populations in agricultural communities based on precedents both Russian (the Kolkhozy) and Chinese (the popular communes), and they acted for the same ideological reasons and with the same result: famine. There is no such thing as real Communism without massacre, torture, concentration camps, gulags, or laogai. And if there has never been any such thing, then we must conclude that there could be no other outcome: Communist ideology leads necessarily to mass violence, because the masses do not want real Communism. This is as true in the rice fields of Cambodia as in the plains of Ukraine or under Cuban palms.

Policies Based on Illusion
The West fails to imagine that its adversaries might have different values.

The great historian of Soviet Russia, Robert Conquest, once wrote something about the dangers of naïve diplomacy that I’m reminded of daily. “We are still faced with the absolutely crucial problem of making the intellectual and imaginative effort not to project our ideas of common sense or natural motivation onto the products of totally different cultures,” Conquest observed. “The central point is less that people misunderstand other people, or that cultures misunderstand other cultures, than that they have no notion that this may be the case. They assume that the light of their own parochial common sense is enough. And they frame policies based on illusions. Yet how profound is this difference between political psychologies and between the motivations of different political traditions, and how deep-set and how persistent these attitudes are!”

America’s 30-year struggle with Islamic jihad has been defined by just this sort of failure of imagination. Yet the diplomatic pathology has much deeper roots, and reflects a larger set of assumptions about human and state behavior going back to the Enlightenment—what we can call utopian universalism. In this view, all peoples are essentially rational and want the same political and social goods, particularly personal freedom and material prosperity. If they behave irrationally or destructively in seeking other goods, blame this on the fact that they have not yet been educated to their true interests. They remain mired in ancient superstitions, particularly those of religion, ethnic loyalties, and nationalism. Yet in time, the progress of knowledge, technology, and global trade will sweep away these impediments to happiness.

This vision of human identity lies behind the idealistic internationalism that dominates inter-state relations in the West.

Charlie Chan Captured
A new study of the Asian shamus finally gets him right.