Political socialism is anti-social. Retweet
By Perry Willis
Socialism is a tricky word used by tricky people. For one thing, the word never seems to mean the same thing from one moment to the next. Originally…
Socialism meant that some (or most) “possessions” would be owned in common, especially the means of production (factories). Later forms of socialism focused mainly on common ownership of the means of production and extensive welfare programs. Marx and Lenin later promoted the word communism as a synonym for socialism. But as communism gained power in various places and the evils of communism became more apparent, people who wanted to describe themselves as socialists tried to separate the two words.
These days, if you equate socialism with communism the self-described socialist will object and try to redefine socialism as merely favoring a more robust social safety net. But that would make the United States a socialist system too, and socialists don’t like that. They view the U.S. as a capitalist system, which they consider a bad thing (though their understanding of capitalism is extremely poor). So…
What is it exactly that so-called socialists want?
If a safety net isn’t enough to create a socialist society, then what would be enough? When you can get socialists to describe their desires specifically, the list almost always includes…
- Free education for everyone, pre-school through university
- A basic income for everyone
- Free healthcare for everyone
- And many still argue for worker-owned enterprises or state-controlled businesses (which used to be called fascism)
Does the word “free” mean that no one will pay for the things provided?
No. It means that The State will pay.
Where will The State get the money?
Through taxation, borrowing, or printing additional currency, but especially by taxing the rich so heavily that there are no rich people left, and everyone has basically the same living standard.
There’s another demand that seems to be universal to all self-proclaimed socialists…
- Everyone must participate in their schemes for education, income distribution, healthcare, worker-controlled businesses, etc.
- The agencies that perform these tasks must operate from the highest level of The State.
In other words…
Socialists want The State to totally control all these areas and have the entire population participate. This means that all socialist “safety net” programs must actually be dragnets that capture everyone, not just those in extreme need.
Of course, the more things you place totally in the hands of The State, the closer you get to the communism that self-proclaimed socialists deny they desire. Indeed, the focus on the concept of “total participation” and “total control” managed from the top down suggests another word — totalitarian. This implies one additional feature that’s also consistent with the historical practice of socialism/communism…
Every socialist, communist, or other totalitarian state takes the same approach…
“What’s that you say? You don’t want to participate in or pay for our programs? Too bad. You have no choice!”
“What’s that you say? You won’t comply? How cute. Keep that up and men with guns will come to arrest you.”
“What’s that you say? You’ll resist arrest because we have no moral right to compel your compliance? Well, our good intentions matter more than your rights, and we can’t have you setting a bad example, so we’ll kill you if you resist arrest.”
There it is in a nutshell. All totalizing systems, such as socialism and communism, rely on violence, with murder as their final resort to force submission. This helps to explain why socialism/communism murdered upwards of 100 million people during the 20th Century. But all of this begs a question…
How can any of these socialist attributes be viewed as having anything to do with society?
The socialist will claim that The State and society are the same thing. The communist will claim that The State and the community are the same thing. But they’re not. Societies and communities continue to exist even when a particular form of The State disappears. For instance…
- Russian society continued even when the Soviet Union did not.
- Munich was still a community even after the Nazi state disappeared.
This is a crucial distinction that both left-statists and right-statists consistently get wrong.
- The country is not The State
- Society is not The State
- Community is not The State
- The State isn’t even a form of cooperation!
The State is merely an institution, a fractional part of that greater whole we call community, society, or country.
So what justification remains for so-called socialists to equate their violence-based system with society itself? The answer is NONE.
The word socialism, as currently defined, is a total fraud. What so-called socialists actually advocate is highly anti-social. True socialism would only use good means to pursue its good intentions. That means…
- Persuasion instead of violence
- Voluntary cooperation instead of coerced participation
- Charity rather than violence-based taxation
This approach is summed up by the voluntaryist Zero Aggression Principle…
Don’t aggress against others, personally or politically.
Only one system obeys the Zero Aggression Principle and has all the above features….
The libertarian free market.
The logical conclusion is both obvious and stunning…
- So-called socialism is anti-social, and therefore unworthy to use the word “social” in its name
- The libertarian free market is the only system truly worthy of the name socialism.
If you haven’t yet joined the Zero Aggression Project, I hope you’ll do so now using the subscription form on this page.
I almost totally agree with your article here except the following:
“There’s another demand that seems to be universal to all self-proclaimed socialists…
Everyone must participate in their schemes for education, income distribution, healthcare, worker-controlled businesses, etc.”
Part of how you know that actually applied ‘socialism’ is about control, not fairness, or a moral point of view, is the fact that the people in charge of implementing it always seem to exempt themselves from having to abide by their own rules or go through the systems they have implemented.
A clear example of this is how the heads of the Communist party is the Soviet Union got preferential treatment in many matters, and how the US congress is exempt from paying into (but not receiving) social security or having to abide by Obamacare.
I agree J.J. Grey. Good observation.
Socialism, like many viewpoints, is something that has a scale from extreme to minimalistic. When speaking of it, one must be very careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater by using glittering generalities.
You start by attempting to describe a few examples of socialism that probably cannot be applied in any useful manner, and then try to tie in communism. All that does is add confusion. They are not the same, and if they are not, then why the association?
You then use your definition of a so-called socialist as the target of your article. This is the very definition of a straw-man argument.
You go on to state that these straw-men “….redefine socialism as merely favoring a more robust social safety net. But that would make the United States a socialist system too, and socialists don’t like that”, but fail to point out that a social safety net is not necessarily a bad thing.
I quote also, “Does the word “free” mean that no one will pay for the things provided?
No. It means that The State will pay.” Actually, no; not necessarily. That is an unfounded leap of illogic.
Throughout your article is a tendency to go to extremes when extremes should never be discussed as good examples or bad; they are always bad. In reality, all points of view may have a place in the whole. To make things worse, you jumped into the concept of things being “free”. Where did that come from, and who suggested that? Obviously everything has its cost.
To be clear, perhaps you should just state that you do not want any mechanism that will force you to be part of the whole or do your fair share to support the whole monetarily in any manner equal to any other person. The difference between being forced to do something and just doing something voluntarily can often be just a state of mind.
Let me also quote you; “…, but especially by taxing the rich so heavily that there are no rich people left, and everyone has basically the same living standard.” What? Where does that idea come from? Many people who would consider themselves of a socialist bent have no problem with each person making as much money as they like as long as each person pays the same fair percentage of their increase toward the whole. In that case there will always be rich and poor, but no one will be destitute.
When it comes to the economics of a society, would you have a problem with living in an economy as portrayed in fictional Star Trek? Everyone pursues their favorite personal endeavors and do not have to worry about cost of living. Isn’t something like that close to ideal? Isn’t that sort of arrangement a reasonable goal?
Each situation may be different when each type of “ism” is applied in different ways. For instance, Mussolini came to power and created a common understanding of Fascism. But our current president is clearly also a fascist, but will not be able to create the same situation because of our constitution and our system of checks and balances. These varying examples of the same ideology shows the extremely different outcomes to the same thing.
Some have pointed out correctly that we need a modicum of socialism in certain parts of our economy if it is to be fair for all. Only a fool would want to allow everyone to do anything they wish. We are all in this together and our brother’s welfare is the concern of all of us.
By the way, I wish you had explained “political socialism” as found in the title. I still don’t know what you meant by that. And at the end of the day, I am really not interested in state or government or country, but rather how our ideas can affect our shared society and the monetary support of its maintenance.
Thanks for your comment Michael.
You accuse me of erecting a strawman — a socialism that exists only in my mind. And yet, my descriptions come from historical sources that are linked in the article.
You later give somewhat your own description of socialism, which complies perfectly with the totalizing description I provide in the article.
You assert that I used the term “political socialism” in my title, and then fault me for failing to define it. Look again. I do NOT use that phrase in the title. But I can define it. Political socialism is the desire to impose personal preferences on unwilling people using violence.
I think your comments perfectly illustrate the first sentence of my article — “Socialism is a tricky word used by tricky people.”
I fear Michael in his comment, “In reality, all points of view may have a place in the whole,” is advocating a key point of atheistic humanism, that there’re no moral absolutes, everything is relative. But I always ask, relative to what?
He also ignores historical reality that as you point out, for socialism to work, all must participate and therefore force is always a consequence. That’s due to our nature as humans.
Furthermore, he’s attempting to equate libertarianism with pure anarchy in the good sense of the word, a society, if it could be called that, where all cooperation is voluntary and there’s no government apparatus, working in perfect harmony. Never in history has such a system worked.
But all of his arguments fail to recognize one essential fact, humankind is flawed, i.e., from a Christian viewpoint, fallen. The Scriptures state that God gave us government because of the fact of our fallen nature. The problems really begin when we mortals try to play god.
One thing that I have a problem with is trying to make the point of the reality of the existence of a Sovereign God who operates from a character of love and concern, as opposed to a devil that is out to destroy us. Perry is an atheist and, as such, our argument has no validity.
Therefore, my argument does not leave out God so much as it refutes the other options presented. Whether or not God exists does not negate the fact that the perfect solution requires flawed people to care for one another, and that is something that will not happen without outside intervention.
In our society, we call that outside intervention “force”. We fail to realize that it can be lovingly applied or brutal. That is our choice. But there can be no such successful system without rules and guidelines, and if there are such, there must be consequences for breaking those rules.
In some cases we may simply ostracize people from our society. But a society without force, however gentle it may be, will never, and can never, work.
Until Libertarians understand this, their good ideas can never move forward.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
From your web page:
“Political socialism is anti-social. Retweet
By Perry Willis”
Looks like a title to me.
Also, you misunderstand. I will try to be more clear. Your strawman is the use of something that has not the intent you give it, but is used as a target to misdirect the real intentions of the argument. In your case, it would appear that you take the concept of socialism out of context and then stand it up to use as a target.
Your first paragraph describes the subject matter, but your second paragraph begins to go wrong because you start giving your interpretation of what your subject as proof of your position, even though it is easy for one to argue that such interpretations are not valid.
For instance, regarding your link; you use Robert Owen as an example of socialism, but I find little wrong with his concept if socialism is a bad concept. Are we really talking about the same thing? You seem to get the idea that socialism is primarily about common ownership. It is not. Owen’s ideas go so much further. In taking some small part of a concept out of context you have created your strawman.
Further, “ Marx and Lenin later promoted the word communism as a synonym for socialism” is hardly a good reason for interjecting the word communism when speaking about socialism. In the USA that is a very loaded word. And why all the negativism? Why not speak of the “blessings of communism”?
Also, I want you to know that socialism is a word used by non-tricky people too, so the first impression you give is that you imply that only tricky people are proponents of socialism. That is an unfounded generality, and I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it.
I should go further and point out that many people may confuse the communist society with the communist state, but they are different. Note the following comments.
The term “communist society” should be distinguished from the Western concept of the “communist state”, the latter referring to a state ruled by a party which professes a variation of Marxism–Leninism
So what is the intent of socialism?
From Wilczynski, J. (2008). The Economics of Socialism after World War Two: 1945-1990:
“Contrary to Western usage, these countries describe themselves as ‘Socialist’ (not ‘Communist’). The second stage (Marx’s ‘higher phase’), or ‘Communism’ is to be marked by an age of plenty, distribution according to needs (not work), the absence of money and the market mechanism, the disappearance of the last vestiges of capitalism and the ultimate ‘whithering away of the state.”
In this we can see that the intent is good. It is not a question if the idea will work, but rather if the idea is a good one; which it is. It is the State that is bad. Both communism and socialism can have their place in the whole.
We must be specific in what we describe or discuss. Maybe its me, and you threw too many concepts at us all at once, but I am not convinced of your point in all of it. It seems to me that this is an extremely broad subject and it entails many related viewpoints. But let’s look at it this way.
All systems require members to adhere to higher standards of some sort; from the harmonists to Fourierism to Owenite communities to the Shakers. That seems to me to be the primary part of socialistic endeavors. Many attempts at finding or building utopia are reasonable in that it is laudable that people want to better their society. However, there is a fundamental difference between these and the Libertarian idea of letting everyone go their own way, meaning we can’t kick the bad apples out of our society if they don’t fit in.
At the end, we must simply decide which set of standards are best for all people. Libertarianism does not hold all the answers.
By the way, to continue the discussion some items came to mind: Is an organization the State? How about an agency? Or a cooperative? When does the State cease to be and another organization become something better to take its place? Is something better the same thing with just a different name? I believe that people need to simplify the discussion by understanding the difference between wrong and right, between sovereign rights and government granted permissions.
Is common ownership good or bad? Isn’t the idea of a society one in which the citizens commonly “own” similar ideas and ideals? Is the physical any less important than the social? Can we not share ownership of our factory in much the same way we share “ownership” in the ideals of a free market or ownership of our fire department?
And, while we are close to the subject, what about free trade? Do we not have to put in place some mechanism to create a fair and level playing field so that a worker’s value is the same everywhere on that field? Of course this has to do with similar goods, such as a bag of rice. The rice must be compared as being the same in quality, quantity, variety and even as to each society’s workers’ benefits as having to do with standard of living.
The ideals one may wish to live under can be applied locally or globally or in some in-between. While speaking about a national viewpoint of Libertarianism, it might be well to explain that many practical applications of various isms have never been applied on a national level. Even on a community level, they may or may not have succeeded because of misapplication or lack of will and cooperation.
I believe it is evident that there are simply too many variables to take the position you have.
Hi Michael. Thanks for clearing up the confusion about the title. What you understandably saw as the title of the piece is actually a tweet intended to promote the piece. Notice the Retweet link to the right of it. I can understand the confusion because the author byline comes right after it. Even so, whether it’s the title or not…
The definition you asked me to give of political socialism remains the same — political socialism is something that one group forces on others using threats of violence. If you want to create systems of common ownership without using threats of violence then that would be non-political socialism. I’m all for it, and good luck to you. But, to the extent that you want to pass laws to compel everyone to live in such a system, whether they consent to it or not, then I am totally opposed. In fact, I would view such an approach as criminal.