Books Catholics Should Read: “Communism: A History”

July 17, 2011

“If America is a democracy, why don’t we have more Communism or socialism in this country?  Why do we instinctively discredit them and fear their ideas?  If democracy is about free and fair speech, why don’t we give more voice to Communism?”

This has been one of the most disturbing questions I have heard posed — and who would have thought that this came from a professor of Notre Dame?

His was a scary thought because, in my mind, the professor misunderstood the very nature of democracy.  One of the best things of having a free democracy is that we are open to new ideas because we are constantly finding the best way to achieve a good, just, and free society.  The beauty of the democratic process, though, lies in the fact that bad ideas are eventually rooted out.  We may be open to those ideas, and those ideas may find a following in certain groups.  But if they’re bad — as Communism has shown itself to be — they are discredited.  We move on to the next new idea, stick with what works, or find something in between.

Is Communism really so bad, though?  They say that Communism is a nice ideal that has merely been botched by those trying to achieve it.  However, in Communism: A History, Harvard Professor Richard Pipes argues that Communism has not just been botched; at it’s root, it is inherently flawed.

It is a remarkably brief and readable history that is eye-opening and blood-stirring (or, more accurately, blood-freezing).  Pipes’ main points, which I think deserve mention here, are as follows:

  • Communism seeks equality and freedom.  But to achieve that, it needs an elite class to oversee society — which usually means suppressing  society.  Thus, in seeking equality and freedom, Communism compromises them.
  • Communism fails because familial, national, and religious ties are stronger than class ties.
  • Communism causes economic stagnation because centrally-controlled economies do not innovate or respond to people’s needs as capitalism does.
  • The above flaws show why Communism doesn’t work.  But the reason that Communism leads to so much evil is the hubris of science, on which Communism bases its claims.  Because science must be correct, any failures are seen as “roadblocks”; therefore, instead of relenting, Communist leaders intensify their efforts — using whatever means (read: human lives) necessary.

This is an essential book for Catholics to read because Communism is a rival in winning over souls.  They say that Catholic teaching and Communist ideals can be compatible.  However, Communism and Catholicism are rooted in very different views of human nature.  While the Catholic Church believes in the primacy of every person’s dignity, Communism readily sacrifices the dignity of the many for the dignity of the few.


Content: A short survey of Communism, from its idealistic roots in Plato and Hesiod to the failed implementation of Communist programs in the Third World.  At its heart the book is a history of the mistakes and misjudgments of the Soviet Union.
Brief and readable chapters.  I typically skip over block quotes, but Pipes’ selection of them is so compelling that I found myself reading through everything.
Catholic?:  Not an official Catholic perspective, but it certainly shares Catholic sentiments.  Also pays due respect to St. Augustine, probably the earliest Christian who officially denounced the practicality of an earthly utopia.

Overall: 5/5