Who is Near Socialism Now?
Tibor R. Machan
Nearly all people who believe in a pro-active government--one that doesn’t merely make sure the rule of law by which individual rights are protected is followed but gets in there picking winners and losers--have a good deal in common with socialists. They are more or less avid statists. This includes monarchists, fascists, communists (with some peculiarities though), welfare statists, modern liberals, many conservatives and so on. Only classical liberals and libertarians are exceptions. They either adhere to a very limited role for the government--they are, in short, minarchists; or they may even embrace a kind of anarchism.
In America there are very few thinkers who come right out a identify themselves as socialists but quite a few are clearly statists. They believe government ought to make large contribution to the way the society and culture shapes up, from education, economics, science, all the way to the arts. Only religion and the press are excluded, mainly because the framers of the US Constitution to explicit and firm objection to government involvement in religion and journalism.
But there is a good test for telling if an American statists is in fact nearly a socialist, even a socialist of the Marxist variety. This is to see if he or she holds that people’s labor belongs to the society or to them--is one’s labor private or public property? The recent controversy about President Obama’s health care policy, one feature of which is that government is authorized to force citizens to purchase health insurance, is a kind of litmus test. This policy involves the government coercing people to engage in a certain kind of labor, even if only the labor of purchasing health insurance. Citizens, just for being citizens, are deemed subject to being forced to do something they may very well not choose to do, namely, to expand their labor and resources in ways they may believe is wrong.
Yes, this is not a Draconian measure for sure. And there are some other similar measures already on America’s law books, so it isn’t even entirely exceptional. But it is rather blatant and unabashed. Forcing people to get a license to work in some profession is similar but one might chalk that up to an overly zealous concern with safety, not to making people purchase what they do not want. The idea that a citizen’s labor belongs to the government to manage, to give direction to, is not just statist but indeed part and parcel of Marxian socialism.
Here is the late Professor Robert Heilbroner, famous mainly for writing The Worldly Philosophers (Simon & Schuster, 1961, a history of economic thought nearly all students are assigned upon entering college), spelling out the point in his less well know book, Marxism: For and Against (W. W. Norton, 1980):
“Indeed, the creation of socialism … requires the curtailment of the central economic freedom of bourgeois society, namely, the right of individuals to own, and therefore to withhold if they wish, the means of production, including their own labor. The full preservation of this bourgeois freedom would place the attainment of socialism at the mercy of property owners who could threaten to deny their services to society—and again I refer to their labor, not just to material resources—if their terms were not met…” (p. 157, my emphasis)
That is the crux of the issue: Not just private property but the private control or freedom of one’s labor is abolished under socialism; the state in that system (which is to say the group people in government) knows best what citizens need to do and have the legal authority, even duty, to make citizens comply for the good of society.
Is this what is involved in Obamacare? To a certain extent it is and if it is an intricate aspect of Mr. Obama and his supporters’ public philosophy, it signals that they are moving toward socialism, the state’s rule over the population of the society. (It bears out F. A. Hayek’s warning issued back in the 1940s about the heavy handed welfare state, in his The Road to Serfdom [Routledge & Sons, 1944]!)
And that means that all those who have made the charge that Obamacare is socialist have been on target and not engaging merely in badmouthing, besmirching the president’s efforts to solve an important social problem. And why protest the charge anyway? Why don’t Mr. Obama and his supporters admit outright that they want a socialist health care system and maybe even a socialist political economy in America? If such honestly were to obtain, we could start a real argument instead of engaging mostly in name-calling.