Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Devoted as it is to the study of socialism—from its early intimations in the nineteenth century to its decline in the twentieth, Heaven on Earth analyzes the morality and feasibility of utopian state-building projects in general.
In many ways, the master scaffolding of the modern socialist political state was built upon a foundation of murder and blood, and Muravchik does a good job examining this seemingly contradictory relationship—between utopia and suffering—throughout. The appeal of socialist government came in part from its quasi-divinity and the ability for people to speak about and make decisions on it as a matter of faith. In his Prologue, for example, Muravchik says that socialism:
is the story of man's most ambitious attempt to supplant religion with a doctrine about how life ought to be lived that claimed grounding in science rather than revelation.
As such, socialism predicated its otherwise otherworldly, future-looking promises of social egalitarianism in a justificatory rhetoric that touched upon the most influential paradigms of the nineteenth century.
It was an ideology that sought to employ the basic assumptions of scientific rationalism in order to legitimize its most fundamental principles, which exalted a promise that was familiar and desired by all: a better tomorrow. In other words, socialism was able to take the underlying message of hope that defined the Judeo-Christian worldview and express it in the language of empirical absolutism in a very convincing fashion.
A further analytical theme of Muravchik's book is the potential for certain "great men" to exercise a profound influence over patterns of thinking and the evolution of politics. Heaven on Earth fixates on the lives and contributions of the primary contributors to socialist thought and action: Gracchus Babeuf, Robert Owen, Karl Marx, and so on. Thus, the book's central argument articulates the belief that the success of socialism was directly related to the activities of certain exceptional individuals.
Take the case of Vladimir Lenin, for example. Lenin, who had lived much of his early life in exile, saw first-hand the destruction that the First World War (which he associated with capitalist exploitation) wrought on European culture and society. His observations of the war—combined with the execution of his brother at an early age—ignited a fiery acrimony in him against both the destructive tendencies of capitalistic expansion and the corruption of imperial rule. Lenin put this passion into a well-articulated personal philosophy, which he was subsequently able to use to convince other Russians of the supremacy of the socialist style of government.
The success of the Bolsheviks in Russia would likely have been unimaginable without the powerful influence of Lenin's voice, his fierce intelligence, and his inexhaustible willpower.