The main idea of this book is to demonstrate not just close resemblance, but actually common features of East European Communism / Socialism of XX century and West European Liberal Democracy. Most importantly this includes similar objective – to improve world for people by building completely new society and destroying traditional society in the process. The key to common approach of both Communists and Liberal Democrats is attitude to people as abstractions that should be led if necessary by force, to better live whether they want to go there or not. Obviously it is done without real understanding and even interest in lives of real human beings. Consequently this inevitably led to totalitarian inclinations of both systems clearly expressed by their intolerance and hostility to individual freedoms and non-conformist opinions. One of the most consequential results of this similarity in countries of former Eastern block like Poland was easiness with which former communist bosses accommodated to transfer of their countries into Liberal democracies, often taking powerful positions in the new system with huge support of Western Liberal Democrats, while former freedom fighters and dissidents found themselves in somewhat hostile environment due to their adherence to individual freedoms and religious views.
Here author refers to his experience as dissident in communist Poland and member of Solidarity movement who lived through the struggle and societal change to demonstrate his deep familiarity with both Communist / Socialist system and Liberal Democracy in order to validate veracity of his comparative evaluation of the two systems.
CHAPTER I History
In this chapter author looks at historical commonality of two movements: they both are based on idea of inevitable linear progress of society from lower to higher forms of organization. They both linked to Marxist ideology, one openly and assertively relying on totalitarian violence, while another somewhat more softly and mainly relying on democratic process. Both systems aspire to take over all societal functions and both perceive themselves as the final stop in historical development. Author discusses in details notion of discontinuity of the new system from previous history of a given society, when the new system not just ignores, but also actively rejects it. Author also discusses anthropological minimalism as the key to understanding of liberal democracy and entertainment and education as main tools used to form a new either communist or liberal democrat man who overcomes human nature as it was developed through history in order to fit into the new society.
CHAPTER II Utopia
Here author makes point that both Communism and Liberal Democracy are utopian ideologies and looks at their similarities. After that he looks at democracy that is promoted by adherents of both ideologies, but with different levels of hypocrisy. Communists support democracy only until the moment they take power, after which they extinguish it completely, leaving only formal shell such as one party-one candidate elections, while liberal democrats typically not able to achieve complete control of society and tend to loose elections to their opponents after liberal policies cause some economic and/or political disaster. After that author analyses workings of democracy, providing an interesting take on reasoning supporting this form of political organization:
At the end of chapter he provides somewhat funny, but way too real method of Liberal Democracy actions of “coercion to freedom”, which is typical currently in Europe and elsewhere in any area of societal activities that fall under its control: education, entertainment, and mass media.
CHAPTER III Politics
The discussion of politics points another common feature of Communism and Liberal Democracy: both promise to reduce role of politics, but in reality dramatically increase this role. Author discusses it as a paradox present in each of ideologies albeit somewhat differently. Communism is much more coercive and mainly satisfied with external and formal expression of loyalty with winning minds and hearts of people being secondary objective. Liberal Democracy works much harder and much more successfully on winning hearts and minds using coercion on much smaller scale, however this scale is growing consistently with increase of popular support. This discussion is going into great details of situation in Europe and political developments in EU.
CHAPTER IV. Ideology
This is discussion of ideological similarities between these two. The both see development as teleological process with progress being inevitable. They both see themselves as one and only true ideology and therefore anybody who does not agree with them is under influence of false consciousness. The difference however is that Communism openly accepts this approach, while Liberal Democracy pretends of being non-ideological, just following common sense. Historically Liberal democracy is much more successful than Communism in coercing people to comply with its ideology leading to some very funny examples like white individuals developing black racist attitudes or male developing radical feminist views. Another important point in this discussion is that both ideologies distract people from reality and trying to substitute it with some ideological constructs. Based on his experience author stresses that Communism was eventually destroyed not by challenge from Liberal Democracy, but by more traditional set of views like patriotism, religion, traditions, and strive for freedom. In these terms Liberal Democracy much more powerful mainly because it acts much more slowly, resorting to coercion only after it obtained majority support among influencers if not among general population.
CHAPTER V Religion
This chapter is pretty much application of general approach to struggle of these two ideologies against religion, especially Christianity and how representative of these religions respond. Once again direct coercive nature of Communism led sometimes to strong resistance, especially when supported coreligionists from countries outside of Communist control. However within Communist countries and later within Liberal Democratic world official religious structure typically vacillate between conciliatory and capitulatory approaches, both eventually leading to elimination of religion from human live.
Here author discusses not just affinities between Communism and Liberal Democracy, but their impact on culture and general condition of society. He referrers to his experience in Poland where Communism came in one of the most cruel forms of Soviet occupation that followed after another extremely cruel form of socialism – Nazi occupation. The resulting destruction of culture and tradition turned out to be persistent and individuals formed by the Communism ideology turned out to be perfectly fit into Liberal Democracy as it substituted Communism after it fall. The contemporary result of both and any of these two ideologies is a vulgar and primitive individual who rejected history, traditions, and religion of his ancestors and busy accommodating to whatever current fissionable turn of ideology would provide most reliable access to goods, services, and power. Author can see one of two future outcomes: either the new human being produced by ideology is in reality true human nature and will permanently exist in world of vulgarity and mediocrity, or true human nature is different and would eventually lead to rejection of ideology and return to freedom and aspiration to live a wonderful live.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Since I have similar background it seems to be easy for me to understand where author is coming from. His comparison of these two ideologies is right on target and his characterization of Liberal Democracy as softer, more human, but consequently more dangerous relative of Communism is exactly right. The significant point I think is missing here is that both these ideologies have strong deleterious character for economical as well as cultural development of society. This comes from the key feature of both these ideologies: the strong believe in top down management and control of society by experts, whether these experts are members of Politburo of Communist party or Harvard PhDs. History demonstrated that human society overall and economics specifically are way too complicated for such approach to work. In short both ideologies severely impede human pursuit of happiness to the extent they are implemented, inevitably cause deterioration in production of goods and services, and consequently could not possibly be stable on the long run. The seemingly more powerful ability of Liberal Democracy to convince people in its validity is illusory because a relatively peaceful development and ascent to power of Liberal Democracy, unlike Communism, initially keeps in place market economy that provides satisfactory amounts and quality of goods and services. However with increase in power Liberal Democracy obtains more control over all areas of live leading to top down control that fails produce effective results inevitably leading to its rejection. The question is obviously what comes next, but it is outside of the scope of this discussion.