Milos Forman: Obama’s No Iron-Curtain Socialist and Socialism Has No Human Face

Writing in The New York
, the Czech film director Milos Forman (One Flew Over
the Cuckoo’s Nest
, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry
, etc.) makes some
salient points about politics:

I hear the word “socialist” being tossed around by the likes
of Rick
, Rick
, Sean
, Rush
 and others. President Obama, they warn, is a
socialist. The critics cry, “Obamacare is socialism!” They falsely
equate Western European-style socialism, and its government
provision of social insurance and health care, with
Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the
experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under
brutal forms of socialism….

Marx believed that we could wipe out social inequities and Lenin
tested those ideas on the Soviet Union. It was his dream to create
a classless society. But reality set in, as it always does. And the
results were devastating. Blood flowed through Russia’s streets.
The Soviet elite usurped all privileges; sycophants were allowed
some and the plebes none. The entire Eastern bloc, including
Czechoslovakia, followed miserably.

I’m not sure Americans today appreciate quite how predatory
socialism was. It was not — as Mr. Obama’s detractors suggest —
merely a government so centralized and bloated that it hobbled
private enterprise: it was a spoils system that killed off
everything, all in the name of “social justice.”

parents were killed at Auschwitz, that crucible of national
socialism, so he knows right-wing and left-wing forms of socialism
with a terrifying intimacy. I think he’s right to draw a
distinction between Soviet-style communism (still around in some
parts of the world) and social-democratic governments that prevail
in many parts of old and new Europe and elsewhere. And I think he’s
empirically right that “perfect social justice” can never be
attained and that “social harmony” is the best we should hope for.
Social harmony – I assume he means peaceful coexistence, the sort
of tolerance and pluralism that we hold up as an ideal at
Reason – is not simply a more attainable goal, it’s a
better one precisely because it allows for differences of opinion
and lifestyle.

And I suspect that many of Forman’s liberal and progressive
readers will simply gloss over this point he makes:

It’s fair to question whether the federal government should have
expanded powers: America, to its credit, has debated this since its

Or put another way: Obama (or Nixon or Bush or whomever) doesn’t
have to be the worst ruler in the history of the world in order for
you to take issue with their vision of the good society.

I’m less taken by Forman’s orchestra metaphor: 

In an orchestra, the different players and instruments perform
together, in support of an overall melody.

Today, our democracy, a miraculous gathering of diverse players,
desperately needs such unity. If all participants play fair and
strive for the common good, we can achieve a harmony that eluded
the doctrinaire socialist projects. But if just one section, or
even one player, is out of tune, the music will disintegrate into

It seems to me that’s
what’s always been relatively remarkable about the United States,
especially since the end of World War II and the Cold War, is that
we don’t feel a need to be part of an orchestra. Walt Whitman
memorably heard America singing “varied carols“; there’s
simply no need to be reading the same sheet of music. For all the
rancor and worries about gridlock and the lack of ability to get
shit done, the 21st century has seen massive undertakings such as
the creation of two new major health-care entitlements, two
decades-long wars, the passage of terribly transformative
legislation such as The Patriot Act, and on.

Like culture in general – which has benefited from a
technological and attitudinal deregulation – political battles and
elections are more hard-fought because more not fewer people can
get in the game now. In this sense, the passion of contemporary
politics (remarkably non-violent, too, despite all those
phoney-baloney warnings about tea party mobs and all that) is a
sign that Americans are still making glorious, discordant, woefully
off-key music.