Sorel on Totalitarian Political Entrepreneurs
By Bryan Caplan
Years ago, I thought about writing a piece called “Totalitarian Political Entrepreneurship.” The premise: While guys like Lenin, Hitler, and Mao were hopelessly deluded about many things, their beliefs about how to win and hold power were probably correct. After all, these totalitarian political entrepreneurs managed to pull themselves from obscurity to absolute power – no easy feat.
I never got around to writing the article. But in the process of moving to my new office (just down the hall from my old office), I found a quote from Sorel‘s Reflections on Violence that I intended to use as the springboard for the totalitarian political entrepreneur essay. Here it is:
We have to question men who take a very active part in the real revolutionary movement amidst the proletariat, men who do not aspire to climb into the middle class and whose mind is not dominated by corporative prejudices. These men may be deceived about an infinite number of political, economical, or moral questions; but their testimony is decisive, sovereign, and irrefutable when it is a question of knowing what are the ideas which most powerfully move them and their comrades, which most appeal to them as being identical with their socialistic conceptions, and thanks to which their reason, their hopes, and their way of looking at particular facts seem to make one indivisible unity.
The deeper point: Successful politicians – totalitarian, authoritarian, or democratic – can be quite irrational about the effects of policies as long as they are rational about how to win and hold power. If I had to spend a day studying Barack Obama Thought, I’d focus on his political strategizing. After all, that’s the main area where he clearly has a lot to teach me.