In 1891 Russia experienced a drought that led to famine. Russian government policies made the problems worse. Below is an excerpt from Orlando Figes Revolutionary Russia 1891-1991: A History:
Unable to cope with the situation, the government called on the public to help. It was to prove a historic moment, for it opened the door to a powerful new wave of public activity and debate which the government could not control and which quickly turned from the philanthropic to the political.
The public response was tremendous. Hundreds of committees were formed by 'public men' to raise money for the starving peasants. Thousands of well-meaning citizens joined the relief teams organized by the zemstvos-district councils dominated by the liberal gentry which had done 'good works' for the rural population (building schools and hospitals, providing agronomic help and credit, gathering statistics about peasant life) since their establishment in 1864. Famous writers such as Tolstoy and Chekhov (who was also a doctor) put aside their writing to join the relief campaign. Tolstoy blamed the famine on the social order, the Orthodox Church and the government: 'Everything has happened because of our own sins. We have cut ourselves off from our own brothers, and there is only one remedy--to repent, change our lives, and destroy the walls between us and the people.' His message struck a deep chord in the moral conscience of the liberal public, plagued as it was both by feelings of alienation from the peasantry and by guilt on account of its privileges.
There's a lot to be learned here: government control can divide the people, causing feeling of alienation -- when people voluntarily work together they can solve social problems -- government interventionism usually makes social problems worse in the long run. Unfortunately, there were no liberals in Russia who could articulate the principles of a free market and limited government, but Trotsky could articulate the virtues of socialism. Eventually there was Revolution and the Bolsheviks prevailed. As a result of going from one form of statism to another, Russia suffered even greater under Lenin and Stalin.
Why did Germans choose the Nazis? They could've chosen economic liberty and limited government. The Germans chose Nazis, as Mises tells us in Omnipotent Government, because Nazis made the best case and did what they said they would do -- they acted decisively and made things better for a short while. This is what's wrong with pragmatism and utilitarianism, and it's what happens when thinkers don't promote and uphold principles.
We have the advantage of learning from the Russian and German examples, yet, in 2008 our nation chose progressivism. Why? Free marketers and constitutionalists didn't make the case. No one stood on principles or used reason to persuade low-information voters. It's incredible that history has clearly shown us the disasters caused by greater and greater government interventions, yet Americans still choose greater intervention. Public education has failed. Government has failed. It's time to turn to the private sector -- to each other. A language of liberty and limits must be revived so that all can understand.