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The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin

The Socialist Tradition:  Moses to Lenin

Alexander Gray (1882–1968) was a British economist with a particularly keen appreciation of the Austrian contribution to the history of ideas. As with others of his generation, he was super well-educated and an outstanding stylist of the English language. Even by standards of his time, Professor Gray excelled in depth of research and clarity of prose, and his classic treatise on the history of ideas is a prime example: it is a real page turner from first to last.

It was also Rothbard's own favorite book on socialism, next to Mises's own.

"Alexander Gray is my favorite historian of economic thought," wrote Rothbard. "Gray's demolition of socialist writers was apt and devastating. Gray was also a poet and a translator of poetry into the Scottish language; and we find that his translations into broad Scots of European ballads and of Heine were sensitive and much admired."

Gray's work is as learned as it is charming, a romp through intellectual history with a particularly British flare for the ironic turn of phrase. This book is smart, witty, and penetrating on every page.

Excerpts from the Preface:

"I make no apology for writing this book. . . . It ought to be possible to write of socialism without the underlying assumption that socialists alone are right and righteous — that they alone are the true crusaders against the powers of darkness. Equally, of course, it ought to be possible to write of socialism without assuming that all socialists are fundamentally dishonest, and that socialism attracts exclusively the world's incompetents and the world's failures. And of this second view, there are also some glaring examples."

"Not that any one in these matters can be expected to write without bias: if such a miracle were possible, the result would probably not be worth reading. There is, however, an obvious duty resting on an expositor to try to understand a point of view, even when he disagrees with it. In the present case, my bias — some may say my "prejudice" — is doubtless sufficiently apparent. I shall be told that I am not sympathetic to Marx and the Marxian tradition. In a preface, an author, having rigorously eschewed the first person singular throughout eighteen chapters, may be allowed to talk somewhat more informally to his readers; and accordingly I am prepared to acknowledge that I do not like Marx, and that I do not like Lassalle — just as further back I do not like Rousseau. And though one may admit on high principle that one ought not to allow a small matter of likes and dislikes to influence judgment, those of us who are honest with ourselves will admit that in general it does for all that! It is difficult to imagine any normal person wishing to meet Marx for a third time."

"While I am thus prepared to acknowledge that I have my likes and dislikes among the team here assembled, and while this may have made me in some cases more sympathetic than elsewhere, I do not think that I have anywhere been "unfair." At least, within the space available, I have tried to allow my witnesses to say all that they have to say, and to say it in their own words. As a final contribution to "impartiality," I have, after searching my heart, confessed herewith that, should we all hereafter forgather in an Elysium, devised by Mr. Eric Linklater, it is only with Marx, Lassalle, and Rousseau that I shall hope to avoid being on visiting terms. Having warned the reader of this, my possible bias, he may make the desired correction in the other sense."

Publication Information Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1945
Updated 5/14/2010