Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why Not Socialism?

Tibor R. Machan

It is no scare tactic to raise the specter of a socialist America these days. First, it was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton whose candidacy promised to take socialism front and center as America’s official ideology. Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village (Simon & Schuster, 1996), unabashedly affirms the socialist ideal, arguing that individualism must be rejected in favor of collectivism, wherein all of us are part of one social whole, exactly as Karl Marx had argued in several of his works. (See, most accessibly, Marx’s posthumously published Grundrisse for a very clear example.)

Senator Barack Obama, too, clearly shows a preference for the socialist system, as in his exchange with Joe the Plumber where he made it crystal clear that he wants to spread the wealth no matter whose wealth it is (certainly not his own) and in his life long association with socialist groups and projects.

Senator Joe Biden, too, has his socialist credentials. During the hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the nomination to the U. S. Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas, Senator Biden openly ridiculed the ideas of those who champion the right to private property. He held up Professor Richard Epstein’s book, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain (Harvard University Press, 1985), which affirms that principle, in order to openly reject its ideas. (It was Marx and Engels, in their Communist Manifesto, who made it abundantly clear that to advance toward socialism and, in time, communism, the principle of the right to private property must be abolished!)

Variations of socialism have, of course, managed to get established in different societies without any violent revolution--just consider how National Socialism triumphed in Germany’s Weimar Republic, ushering in Hitler’s regime, and how Hugo Chavez got elected in Venezuela and promptly installed his version of fascistic socialism. Marx himself pointed this out in a speech he gave in Holland in 1983, arguing that in more or less democratic countries the revolution can be achieved via the ballot box.

The notion that it cannot happen here is completely silly. Yes, America has a pretty good constitution and its Bill of Rights would seem to be a good defense against establishing a socialist or fascist regime. In fact, however, no written constitution alone can fend off such a development, not without the beliefs of the bulk of the citizenry backing up the ideas and ideals of that anti-socialist constitution. Given how powerful the temptation is to seek the help of an all powerful government to promote one’s economic agenda of taking from Peter to provide for Paul--the central element of Senator Clinton’s and now Obama’s health care proposal and, of course, of the idea of "spreading the wealth" and given how weak is the conviction in America of the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence--all that stuff about everyone having unalienable rights to one’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness--the prospect of real socialism in the U. S. A. is no longer a version of McCarthyism.

Of course many Americans would be shocked to learn that they are being complicit in ushering in socialism in their country. They only want moderate wealth redistribution--they want to spread the wealth but within limits; they want their children to be socialized, along lines spelled out in Senator Clinton’s book, but only to a point. In short, most Americans believe in what political theorists now call market socialism--a kind of impossible combination of socialism and the free market. They want a robust welfare state.

Trouble is there is no coherent idea of market socialism or even the welfare state that provides solid limits to the power of government and secures an individual's rights to life and liberty, let alone property. The pursuit of the public interest, the common good, the welfare of society as a whole, necessarily amounts to pursuing the good of just some members of society as understood by a few of those members. The only valid public interest is what the American Founders identified, namely, securing everyone’s basic, individual rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Every other idea of the welfare of society or the public or some such notion amounts to handing power to some few members who will then wield it without a clue as to what else to aim for but their own agenda. There is, in other words, no valid socialist idea, no valid welfare of the state, nada! It all comes down to the dictatorship of a few, just as it did in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, Cuba, North Korea, China, and now Venezuela. The rest is all some feeble attempt to square the circle.

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