We are told today that more and more young people in America think highly of socialism. They believe it superior to capitalism or other forms of economy and government. They say that socialism is the wave of the future. That it will let us solve all the problems we face in society – and even the world – today.
Really? Let’s take a look. A simple look. We shall see: liberty wins.
The headline is exaggerated, of course. There really aren’t 39 different flavors – that’s just good marketing. But just as it is a bit hard to distinguish between chocolate and “Dutch” chocolate, it can be hard to distinguish the different kinds of socialism.
But there still are quite a few distinctive types. The Oxford dictionaries define socialism thus: “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” Here are some of the synonyms: “leftism, welfarism, progressivism, social democracy, communism, and Marxism.”
Despite the many problems with this definition, let’s use it.
This dictionary definition varies a whole lot from what we hear from many today. For example, we are told that the Fifty States – individually and together – are NOT socialist. Because there is no “public ownership” of the means of production. The “socialism” advocated by so many today is not like the “old socialism,” they say. Because “modern socialism” wouldn’t take away private ownership of the means of production, distribution, etc. Again, I see this as marketing – or bluntly, propaganda. What is important isn’t “ownership,” but “control.” Once they were linked, but often are no more. Government controls more and more of the means of production and distribution, to say nothing of education, medical care, and financial activity.
I’ve always thought that it made sense to divide up socialism (as defined by Oxford) into broad categories based on how large the scope of its activities and influence is, and how it wants the world to be organized.
We see this in “national socialism” (flavors include the German, Italian, Spanish, and Argentinian versions). Their scope was national. Germany and Italy, for instance, were not trying to export socialism to the nations they conquered and ruled. At least it was not a primary purpose of their invasion. (I’m staying away from using the word “fascism” for many reasons. However, Nazi (National Socialism) could be a more generic term that we think of it now.) Usually there was private ownership but government (“public”) control.
“International socialism” is better known as Communism. Its scope was international: it wanted to get more and more nations’ society and economy to adopt socialism – even at the point of a gun. But although Moscow or Beijing exercised some control and persuasion (always with a handy gun), they did not try to merge the various nations into a unified whole. Cuba was still Cuba, Vietnam still Vietnam. And presumably, the USSA would have still been “America.” This version had direct government ownership and control, at least initially. (Modern “Chinese Communism” is actually closer to the Nazi model.)
And so we come to the third type: transnational socialism. Hence its name (as coined by several science fiction writers): Tranzi. The Tranzis do want a one-world system, in which the nations are all merged more and more into a single mass, both socially and politically. So that we have the European Union, and concepts of other entities, ultimately making the “United Nations” into the “United Nation.” Either of the ownership-control models are likely. But again, the essential nature is government control of economic activity.
Let’s not forget one other kind. “Voluntary,” “local,” “utopian” socialism. Where, at least theoretically, people join the socialist society of their own free will – and can also leave it of their own choice. Like the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony. Or the various religious and quasi-religious communes in history. These are sometimes claimed to be based on the early New Testament church. In this version (and its various flavors), there is “common” ownership. While there is sometimes less central control (the various managers often have considerable autonomy), there still is. Ultimately the Prophet or the Bishop or the Council of Elders or whatever really still pulls the strings.
It is important to note that most such volutary socialism survive only a short time: a few years or perhaps a generation. The possible exception to this are monastic communities, both in the West (predominantly Roman Catholic and Orthodox), and the East (Buddhism and similar traditions). Perhaps it is their religious orientation and the relatively strong hierarchy outside the communities?
Not that the mandatory versions of socialism seem to be particularly long-lived. The Soviets hung on for only about 70 years. (Although Chinese now claims 70 years, what they have now is NOT what Mao instituted.) Mixed societies and states with strong socialist elements may survive longer, aided by remnants of the free market. Perhaps the various Scandinavian versions can claim a century, though with a few “breaks in service.” But purer socialim, especially in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, is ephemeral. History shows that to have been the case in the later Roman Empire, Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere.
Worse, socialism is always accompanied by economic, social, and personal distress. Even the voluntary type. We virtually always see reduced prosperity, and often starvation, poverty, high levels of social unrest and crime, corruption. And domination by a self-declared “elite” (whether it is a priesthood, a bureaucratic deep state, the party, or whatever). In some cases (like monastic vows of poverty), these things are a feature, intentionally and publicly developed. Usually, they just contrast socialism from liberty even more.
What is clear is that there is no way that socialism can provide the freedom, peace, and prosperity, much less the opportunity, of societies which have free markets both economically and socially. Utopia? Of course not, but thousands of years of history show that liberty IS the best way for humans to live.
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You seem to have left out one form of socialism, unless you consider it too minor a form of voluntary/local/utopian socialism: The institution commonly known as “the family.”
I did indeed. Great point. I tend to classify families as different from human governments. Of course, many (too many?) of them fail to last very long, do they? And by their very nature, “nuclear families” at least are fairly short-lived, though nothing like the utopian socialist experiments.
I’ve been planning to do some studying of the “nuclear family.” My impression is that it’s mostly a fairly recent innovation, and one largely having to do with freedom — specifically, the freedom to move.
As far as nuclear families, probably definitely a minority until the last century or so, but remember how many families moving west on the Oregon and California Trails, and for that matter Irish, German, and even English immigrants who left their families in the Old Country in the 1800s. I’m really interested in your study, as it is a fascinating question and important in understanding how freedom in the fundamental unit of society has worked and changed. I know many people who are and have been integral parts of what the Ahkota (Sioux) call Tiospaye – extended families who live together and usually do similar work. It is a concept found in many of the AmerInd. In some, like the Ahkota (or at least the Lakota), private property is very carefully preserved, but in others (like the Dineh (Navajo) and Numu (Ute), virtually nothing is private property – exactly what you are talking about.
“but remember how many families moving west on the Oregon and California Trails, and for that matter Irish, German, and even English immigrants who left their families in the Old Country in the 1800s”
That’s kind of the hypothesis I’m going on: Europe was ossified for centuries through the Middle Ages. Serfs bound to the land and unable to move without permission, near-universal poverty, etc. — so the extended family in one household was a natural outcome.
Then America opened up and it was possible for a person, or a couple, to pack up what little junk they had and head head west with a real likelihood of never seeing their parents or siblings again. So the family started nuclearizing — mom, dad, kids (LOTS of kids among farmers, because hands were needed to work the large amounts of land available; even circa the 1930s, my mom was part of a double-digit family), but when the kids grew up, most of them struck out and set up house on their own, even if they did so nearby.