Just three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, socialist political activism has undergone a remarkable rehabilitation. Survey data show the label’s growing popularity among college students, while Karl Marx holds the title of the most frequently assigned author from the philosophical canon in American university classrooms. Far from bearing the stigma one might reasonably expect to accompany a movement that killed 100 million people in the 20th century, socialist ideology retains a position of high esteem in elite academic, journalistic, and intellectual circles.

One recurring source of the problem is the intentional cultivation of a definitional fluidity that operates at the convenience of socialism’s adherents. Modern politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez euphemize the term by prefixing it with the label “democratic” (it strains credulity to imagine that fascism, for example, would ever be afforded similar leeway in rebranding itself). Meanwhile, failing socialist experiments such as the Maduro regime in Venezuela — extolled among leftist intellectuals as a modern socialist success story only a few years ago — are brushed aside with the familiar refrain that they never achieved “real socialism.” The practical result of these ubiquitous word games is a political climate in which socialists never quite reckon with their own track record.

In The Case against Socialism, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) sets out to critique the resurgent fashionability of socialist philosophy and, in so doing, hold it to historical account. Written in a conversational style, the book is organized into six thematic investigations. He begins with the Venezuelan fiasco, then turns to modern progressive themes such as the alarmism over inequality presented in Thomas Piketty’s work, which he correctly dubs “a misdirection campaign” serving as an umbrella justification for far-left policies.

Paul dissects the confused attempts to rebrand the Scandinavian welfare state as “democratic socialism” by pointing to the unambiguous retreat of Scandinavian countries from their fiscally unsustainable and stagnating mid-20th-century government bloat. He then surveys historical atrocities carried out under socialist governments, assesses the promises and claims of socialist activists against evidence, and concludes with a discussion of modern expressions of socialism in American politics, such as the proposed Green New Deal.
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