How We Got Here: The Rise of the Modern Order

Foreign Affairs, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

How We Got Here: The Rise of the Modern Order


What follows are selections from our archives that tell the story of the ideological battles of the past century and the emergence of the modern order. To make the package as a whole coherent and accessible, we have included only the most relevant parts of articles directly related to this theme and presented the articles in substantive, rather than strictly chronological, order. The contents of each article have not been rearranged, however, and all elisions have been clearly marked. The full text of all the articles in the package, and more, can be found in the accompanying e-book, The Clash of Ideas, available at ForeignAffairs.com.

THE EDITORS

Lenin and Mussolini

Harold J. Laski

September 1923

Harold J. Laski, Professor in the London School of Economics and Political Science.

. . . The mass of men has now been entrusted with political power; and the governments of the modern state must discover ways and means of translating the will of an electorate . . . into terms of statutes. It is possible that so long as the process of legislation can offer . . . solid benefit the transition to a new social order will be accomplished in peace. But . . . the benefits must affect those who feel that they have now too small a stake in the present order to make its preservation a matter of urgency to themselves.

Such an attitude is the more important because the desirability of social peace has recently been attacked from what, at first sight, might seem two opposite directions. In Russia, a revolution made in the name of the workers has enthroned in authority men whose boast it is that they hold power without regard to the will of their subjects. In Italy, there developed alongside the constitutional government an extra-legal organization to which, at the first definite challenge, the former was compelled to yield. . . . It is common to both movements that their power is built upon the force they can command. It is common to them, also, that they have rigorously suppressed all opposition to themselves and dismissed as unimportant the forms of constitutionalism. Each has exalted the end it has in view as superior to all problems implied in the means that have been used. Each has declared its own will so clearly identical with the good of the community as to make invalid, on a priori grounds, the notion of its critical analysis. . . .

A revolution in Russia was doubtless implied in the logic of events. No government which is vicious in principle and corrupt in practice can hope, particularly in the atmosphere of military defeat, to retain the allegiance of those who do not share in the benefits of its dishonesty. But the Russian Revolution differs from all its predecessors in that it came in the name of a consistent system of doctrine; and it was largely made by men to whom that system contained the quintessence of social truth. . . . Lenin and his disciples came to do battle in the name of a social philosophy each item of which was built upon historic interpretation. Accident might have defeated their effort, Kerensky might have been a strong man; the Allies might have had a definite policy; the nation might not have been welded into unity by external invasion. But granted that the opportunity was given, Lenin was the first author of an attempt to translate the Marxian creed into the institutions of a state. His was a root-and-branch challenge to western civilization. It was not merely a rejection of social reform; it was not merely an insistence on the over-whelming superiority of communism. It was pre-eminently the argument that communism is so obviously desirable that the cost of its establishment must not be counted; and the methods to that end were drawn from the system inherited by Lenin from Marx.

The theses upon which Lenin has proceeded have at any rate the merit of comparative simplicity. The political institutions of society, he argues, are merely a facade to conceal the real nature of the state's organization.

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