Heaven on Earth

by Joshua Muravchik

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Heaven on Earth utilizes the life stories and accomplishments of several influential individuals to track the evolution of socialism and socialist thought in Europe and America. As such, it may be helpful to use quotes from these people themselves, which Muravchik has selectively provided, in order to gain a better understanding of some of the central arguments that Muravchik is trying to make.

Gracchus Babeuf represented the first of a long line of revolutionary activists, and his arguments concerning the origins and causes of the French Revolution often relied upon socialist definitions of inequality. Much of Heaven on Earth concerns itself with the violent character that socialist activism and government took on, and we can very clearly see this in Babeuf's defense of Maximilien Robespierre, architect of the French revolutionary Insurrectionary Committee:

I freely confess today that I am vexed with myself for having formerly taken an unfavorable view of the Revolutionary Government . . . [T]heir dictatorial government was a devilish good idea . . . I will not enter into an inquiry as to whether Hérbert and Chaumette were innocent. Even if that were the case, I should still justify Robespierre, for it was he who might justly pride himself upon being the only man capable of guiding the chariot of the Revolution to its true goal . . . The salvation of 25,000,000 men cannot be weighed in the balance against consideration for a few shady individuals. A regenerator . . . must mow down all that impedes him . . . all that might hinder his safe arrival at the goal he has set before him . . . Robespierre knew all this . . . This is what makes me see in him the genius in whom resides truly regenerative ideas! (ch. 1)

This quote is significant because the reader will recognize early on just what lengths socialist revolutionaries were willing to go to in order to achieve their goals.

Robespierre's regime was known for its interminable bloodshed and the execution of thousands of innocent people. For Babeuf, an early proponent of socialist thought, this shameless support of Robespierre's actions indicates a kind of moral insensitivity to the destruction that radical manifestations of ideology might possess. Babeuf demonstrates the violent nature of socialist thinking, and his words serve as an omen to what was to occur once socialist regimes actually came to power, such as in Lenin's Russia.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, which occurred during the decline of socialism in Europe and America, certain activists directly objected to what they saw as the corrupting potential of radical ideology. Samuel Gompers, for example, witnessed a political demonstration in 1873 by the Committee of Public Safety, which ironically borrowed its name from one of the most violent revolutionary groups of the French Revolution: the Jacobins. The demonstration attracted the most radical ideologues of the American labor movement, convincing Gompers of the necessity of labor itself—not choleric political radicalism—to improve the lot of working men and women. He said:

I saw how professions of radicalism and sensationalism concentrated all the forces of organized society against a labor movement . . . I saw that leadership in the labor movement could be safely entrusted only to those into whose hearts and minds had been woven the experiences of earning their bread by daily labor. I saw that betterment for workingmen must come primarily through workingmen. I saw the danger of entangling alliances with intellectuals who did not understand that to experiment the labor movement was to experiment with human life. (ch. 9)

Gompers subsequently abandoned his previous support of socialism for what he deemed a "bread and butter" approach to unionism. The "intellectuals" he mentions included in their numbers socialist radicals, and Gompers had seen how closely the destruction that radical manifestations of socialist ideology could have for the labor movement.

Thus, these two quotes express polarized opinions on essentially the same issue: how justifiable was it to employ violence in order to achieve socialist goals? Babeuf, Gompers, and the other characters of Muravchik's work demonstrate that socialist thought was never static, but instead was constantly evolving and responding to the historical circumstances of the day.

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