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BOOK REVIEW

Modern Times

A Masterful Combination of Fact and Anecdote

MAY 01, 1996 by MATTHEW CAROLAN

Mr. Carolan is Executive Editor of National Review.

“By the 1980s, state action had been responsible for the violent or unnatural deaths of over 100 million people, more perhaps than it had hitherto succeeded in destroying during the whole of human history up to 1900.”

This one statement has remained with me, and has influenced me more than any other statement I have ever read. It is from Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, a history of the twentieth century—a book which I received as a Christmas gift some years ago. It helped me then, as a young college student, to understand with chilling clarity the world into which I was born.

With a masterful combination of fact and anecdote, Johnson chronicles the century of “social engineering,” which turned both ideas and persons into mere clay for the political class. He shows us the awful hubris of men like Stalin, and Hitler, and Mao, among others, and explains their kind of thought, which is unfortunately still with us. Johnson offers no bright vision of the future, but does us a service nevertheless by reminding us of the errors, and evils of the past.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

May 1996

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Around the world, people are struggling to throw off authoritarianism, with deeply mixed results. From Egypt to Venezuela, determined people build networks to overthrow their regimes, but as yet we have not learned to live without Leviathan. In this issue, Michael Malice and Gary Dudney discuss their glimpses inside totalitarian regimes, while Sarah Skwire and Michael Nolan look at how totalitarian regimes grind down the individual--and how individuals fight back. Plus, Jeffrey Tucker identifies a strain in libertarianism that, left unchecked, could reduce even our vibrant movement to something that is analogous to the grim aesthetic of architectural brutalism. The struggle for our lives and freedom is a struggle for beauty; it begins inside each of us.
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