La Grande Parade examines the Left's refusal to take responsibility for the atrocities of communism, and the route of denial that leftists took after the implosion of the Soviet Empire. Although mainly dealing with the 1990s, the work is prophetic in highlighting the continued support of genocidal movements by segments of Western intelligentsia. A note on semantics: Revel's use of the words "liberal" and "liberalism" refer to classical liberalism as practiced by politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher or promoted by political philosophers like Friedrich Hayek; in other words, the opposite of what "liberalism" means in 21st century America.
Classical liberalism was revived a decade before the collapse of communism with Thatcher's election victory in 1979 followed by that of Reagan the next year. Even under conservative governments the United Kingdom had remained a stagnant, union-dominated, state-smothered bureaucracy that led to serious economic decline throughout the 1970s. The effects of the Reagan/Thatcher revolution swept the globe in the 1980s when deregulation and privatization became popular policies worldwide. In France, Mitterrand made a U-turn from his disastrous statism as support for the Socialist & Communist Parties plummeted. A landmark was reached in 1984 when he jettisoned his government education plan.
So by the mid-1980s France's leftist parties had failed while in Britain the Labour Party and in (then) West Germany the Social Democrats had to spend a long, long time on the opposition benches. To top it off, the "model" welfare state of Sweden experienced spluttering growth and eventual stagnation. Yet for the most part the French intelligentsia blindly clung to socialism. Leftist ideologues everywhere resisted the resurgence of classical liberalism by resorting to crude propaganda and demonization at which they've always excelled. Due to the French mainstream media buying into this narrative, the French Right was afraid to propose bold reform with the result that the status quo continued as it did in most of Europe where only hesitant reform took place. By 1996, the average state share of (western) European national product was almost 46%.
Eastern Europe threw off its shackles in a series of "velvet revolutions" during 1989 as the Soviet Union started crumbling. For a while, even the leftist media acknowledged reality by rejecting collectivism. A consensus emerged that the Marxist catastrophe had proved the classical liberal formula as the only viable solution despite its flaws. But soon after the 1991 demise of the USSR, leftist politicians and intellectuals launched a vigorous counteroffensive with the aim of erasing the clear conclusions of the collapse and the evidence of Marxist evil. Revel dissects their motives, arguments, strategy, tactics and success in selling this deception.
As the decade progressed, the project grew in intensity and scope. Instead of choosing intellectual honesty and admitting their complicity in perpetuating the misery of millions of people, these leftists took refuge in obscurantist utopianism. Of course, they said, communism had not been implemented 'properly' in the Soviet Empire. And despite its manifest failure, it was a 'noble ideal', they insisted. Released from reality by events, the true believers returned to the roots of their obsession by restoring socialism to the realm of fantasy. Without the existence of the Berlin Wall and the slave societies of Eastern Europe, utopianism could be embraced and the self-righteous fury of its devotees could be unleashed on the imperfections of the free society, the USA being the scapegoat and globalization the major crime.
Revel considers the reception of the 1997 publication The Black Book of Communism by many French intellectuals as a significant turning point. This thoroughly researched exhibition of communist atrocities around the globe was greeted with rage, especially by the apologists of dictators like Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin. They avoided honest debate by stressing the "good intentions" of these mass murderers. Revel observes that Utopia is exempt from any obligation to produce results, that its only function is to permit its champions to condemn that which exists in the name of that which does not. He sees two sources for this utopian lust: Rousseau's doctrine that man was inherently good and society bad. Thus reforming society would reveal mankind's essential goodness. The other source, he argues, is the Catholic doctrine of good intentions.
By exposing the far left's protectionism and xenophobia, Revel shows how closely it resembles the far right, with reference to National Socialism and Karl Marx's antisemitism and racism. He subjects to scrutiny the practice, intellectual dishonesty and deception of the ideology as well as the psychological needs of its followers. Years ago he had already concluded that the totalitarian temptation is incomprehensible without considering the possibility that some influential groups in all societies contain people who desire tyranny - some yearning to exercise it and some longing to submit to it. Revel explains the strange attraction between radical Leftists and Islamists as a shared "excommunication of modernity," a characteristic of the Left derived from the primitivist writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Revel who passed away in 2006 will in time be recognized as one of the greatest political philosophers of the later 20th century. His countryman Alain Besançon was another giant amongst French defenders of freedom; I highly recommend his classic work A Century of Horrors. And as soul mates of Revel we are fortunate to have André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Levy and Chantal Delsol, all of whom are making major contributions to the philosophy of liberty. Delsol's Icarus Fallen and Levy's Left in Dark Times are essential reads for those concerned about the challenges facing Western civilization.