Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
Random header image... Refresh for more!
Make a blogger happy, come back. Sign up for email post alerts!

Socialism Explained

The June 3rd issue of National Review, Against Socialism, is excellent in all respects. What compelled us to write about it here was John O’Sullivan’s essay, Of Socialism and Human Nature. In it he cites Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings.

It is a poem forgotten by some and never read by most under the age of 60. It is for others to explain aging socialist Bernie Sanders.

While the poem stands on its own merits, the context in which it was written has been obscured by the march of history and culture. It helps to understand what a Copybook is, for intstance:

The “copybook headings” to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling age old wisdom – virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students’ special notebooks, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page.


This practice of inculcating the youth with positive principles of behavior and character bears some consideration that is outside of the realm of this post, but a few quick observations occurred to this reader.

  1. A society functions best when its members are “on the same page” with respect to first principles. The copybook practice was a method of civilizing the youth and providing that starting point. This is something that has been alternately known and forgotten since antiquity – from the Bible: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it – Proverbs 22:6, and from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: …virtues arise in us neither by nature nor contrary to nature; but by our nature we can receive them and perfect them by habituation. – (1103a)
  2. A society begins to decay when the majority of its members can’t find agreement on first principles and when its institutions are actively seeking to destroy rather than support those pillars of agreement, this decay is hastened. Compare Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States with Noah Webster’s Reader. The former is designed to denigrate and latter ‘designed to uplift the mind and “diffuse the principles of virtue and patriotism.1‘”

Kipling used the concept of Copybook Headings as a the vehicle for his poem which is reprinted below along with some of O’Sullivan’s topical categorizations.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings  

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.

Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

 We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn

That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:

But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,

So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

 We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,

Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place;

But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its ice-field, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

 With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.

They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.

They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.

So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

“On national security, for instance:”

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.

They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.

But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

“Or on religion and family policy.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life

(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)

Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

“Kipling was writing in 1919, at the dawn of the age of socialism … before the barbarism of the Left seemingly combined to give him a piercing vision of the worse things that were to come from that direction…” 

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

“Under socialism, moreover, working is not enough. As Trotsky helpfully pointed out, you also have to conform. And obey. And applaud. And sometimes you die anyway. Some socialists in the Soviet Union were killed while still applauding.” 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,

And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true

That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more….

There is a lot in this poem. One can read an indictment against consumerism/materialism as well as one against denigration of morality. O’Sullivan observes that human nature is a constant and that no system is immune to its influences. The promise of perfection is promulgated by the socialist and this is a big reason for its pernicious effect on society – it’s based on a false premise from the start. Perfect utopia is not attainable, therefore it is quite possible that the ends are much worse than the means of trying to attain it.

O’Sullivan explains the malignant pairing of this desire for perfection (devoid of moral constraint) with the way socialism harnesses envy:

Socialism is a powerful temptation to commit the worst of crimes partially because it also appeals to our compassion and desire for social improvement. It gives us a strong excuse to impose our will on others unlawfully, and even murderously.

The promise of eventual “abundance for all” has been used to justify numerous atrocities. Under socialism, envy is not only justified, it’s encouraged.

If greed is supposedly the characteristic capitalistic vice, envy is the typical socialist one. Envy, indeed, has the most unpleasant consequences of capitalism — it is socially divisive, productive of conflict, encouraging of hostility towards those envied, and discouraging of everyone else’s improving of their lives and status — without the saving grace of greed, which leads to work, saving and investment. Compare the relative damage to society caused by the crimes of socialism and capitalism. Both impoverish their victims, but crimes of envy can kill them too and spread disabling fear throughout society.

Further amplification is not practical herein, except to suggest that those of college age be required to copy the poem, in its entirety, multiple times. For extra credit, perhaps they could also read O’Sullivan’s article.

In any case, make haste to purchase the June 3 issue of National Review. You will be glad you did.

1Cited in Wikipidedia –Warfel, Harry Redcay (1966). Noah Webster, schoolmaster to America. New York: Octagon. p. 86.


There are no comments yet...

Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment