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Socialism Will Always Destroy Democracy

A poll [1] taken in February by Public Opinion Strategies [2] found that a full 77 percent of Democrats felt the country would be “better off” if it were “more socialist.” “Democratic support for socialism appears deep,” Paul Bedard wrote in a piece for the Washington Examiner. “[Eighty] percent of ‘strong Democrats,’” he said, “believe the country would be better off politically and economically if it were more socialist.”

What accounts for this dramatic shift in a party whose leadership made every effort to distance itself from open socialism only a few short years ago? Has adding the qualifier “democratic” really made socialism palatable, or is something more fundamental at work?

In his 1961 inaugural address, President Kennedy—whose positions once represented the Democratic Party mainstream—called on the new post-colonial nations of the Third World to resist the temptation to adopt Marxism and avoid the self-destruction that system always brings. “Remember,” he declared to these “new states” among the “ranks of the free,” “in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

Yet increasingly, Kennedy’s commonsense wisdom has fallen by the wayside. It must certainly be one of the great ironies of American history that socialism has risen to its current prominence amid an historically strong economy and the highest living standards in modern history.

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What are the other forces besides material desperation, then, that are fueling the popularity of socialism today?

Last September, Politico published an article [3] titled, “What would a Socialist America Look Like?” The magazine interviewed “a group of socialist writers, policy wonks and politicians (and a few critics)”—including then-congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib—in search of an answer. The responses ranged from “Democratic socialism means democratic ownership over the economy” to “Forget social democracy. America is ready for actual socialism” to “Socialism would remedy the systemic deprivation of people of color.”

Tlaib’s forthright answer was: “Socialism, to me, means ensuring that our government policy puts human needs before corporate greed and that we build communities where everyone has a chance to thrive.”

The rise of socialism is being driven by a shift in civic attitudes, that—at first slowly, and now in a crescendo—has overtaken much of post-industrial American society. The political results of that change, it seems, have finally begun to surface.

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In 1961, when Kennedy gave his address, it was a truism in American politics, borne out by the history of the preceding half-century, that the philosophy underpinning socialism and communism brought conflict wherever it spread its influence, no matter how innocuous it might have seemed when first introduced. Alongside the miseries caused by the socialist system itself, political domination from the Party Politburo in Moscow was the price many Marxist countries were forced to pay in exchange for being shepherded towards “utopia.” From Stalin’s purges to the recriminations and violent vendettas that consumed dozens of communist countries during the mid-20th century, the true colors of the socialist tiger—promising “freedom” before devouring its handlers—were plain for all to see. Socialist, communist, or otherwise, the principle undergirding state-enforced social equality remains the same however—and to whatever degree—it is put into practice. Just because “democratic socialism” appears less extreme than baldfaced Marxism does not mean that the principle underlying it is any less unjust or detrimental to human dignity.

And what, exactly, is the character of this principle?

In Volume I, Chapter III of Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

There is, in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality which excites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which compels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.

The rise of this former “passion,” to use Tocqueville’s word, is—if the sentiments in Politico’s September article are at all representative of wider opinion—what is undergirding the rise of political socialism in America today. While it might be impossible to completely understand why one view of equality eventually takes precedence over another, we can certainly trace the outlines of the phenomenon—and observe the results.

The great tragedy in all this is that when the idea of equality becomes destructive rather than constructive, and free enterprise is sacrificed in pursuit of enforced material equality for everyone, the truly destitute and downtrodden often suffer the worst betrayal of all.

The tax dollars allocated for what are ultimately non-essential social programs would, certainly, be better used on those who are sincerely struggling with the basic needs of life. Yet at the risk of falling into a false dichotomy, one feels compelled to ask whether free college for every American is, really, a better investment than fighting narcotics, funding dilapidated primary schools in inner-city America, or securing the border—all causes that the Democratic Party, incidentally, has firmly committed itself to in years past.

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Karl Marx himself rejected “bourgeois democracy”—meaning, more or less, representative government—based as it was, he argued, on the idea of human rights, which he attacked as an aberration influenced by “bourgeois” capitalist society. Marx believed that true “democracy” would occur only after the “dictatorship of the proletariat” had established itself and prepared the way for a materialist, communist utopia.

Friedrich Engels declared [4] in 1872: “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is,” and that a socialist party ought to maintain its rule “by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.”

It should therefore be little surprise to anyone that Marxian socialism inevitably turns against and devours representative government—or Christian or Western government of whatever historical variety. Even those who sincerely, if misguidedly, support the more “mild” au courant form of democratic socialism—“power to the people”—merely achieve in practice the increase of government power over the lives of private citizens. Senator Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congresswoman Tlaib, and their political followers have thus forsaken the honorable tradition of their own party. They have forgotten that state-enforced equality of the type they advocate undermines the private citizen, because the very core of that political program makes the state unduly responsible for the wellbeing of its citizenry, thereby making the citizenry dependent upon it and ultimately subservient to it.

Even the vaunted “Nordic model” has had this effect. As Rainer Zitelmann wrote [5] in Barron’s this April:

In 1960, for every 100 “market-financed” Swedes (i.e. those who derived their income predominantly from private enterprise), there were 38 who were “tax-financed” (i.e. dependent on the public sector for their income, whether as civil servants or as recipients of payments from the state). Thirty years later, that number had risen to 151—in other words, there were significantly more people living off of the state than paying into the system. This reflects Sweden’s move away from a capitalist free-market economy to a socialist model. …The economic situation in Sweden deteriorated as a direct result of extreme labor market regulation and the constant expansion of the role of the state, which led to massive dissatisfaction among the population.

Pushback against these socialist ideas gathered momentum, and by the 1990s there was a comprehensive counter-movement that—without fundamentally questioning the Swedish model of high taxes and comprehensive welfare benefits—nevertheless eliminated many of its excesses.

Never in history has socialism been introduced without a weakening of individual agency, as the dirigisme of the state replaces the organic social relationships that are the very basis of civil society. Centralization and statism are at the core of socialism—whether in the form of Leninist Vanguardism or ostensibly more “democratic” iterations.

In his 1987 classic The Closing of the American Mind [6], Allan Bloom wrote: “The deepest intellectual weakness of democracy is its lack of taste or gift for the theoretical life. …The issue is not whether we possess intelligence but whether we are adept at reflection of the broadest and deepest kind.”

While socialism might seem superficially “intelligent,” an apparent solution to the ills of post-industrial America, it cannot withstand serious intellectual reflection or review of experiential evidence. If America—and particularly, the still-moderate elements within the Democratic Party—is to overcome the current infatuation with socialism, it must learn also to overcome the psychological weaknesses of modern, democratic society, and familiarize itself once again with the wellsprings of theoretical life provided by the pre-Marxist, Western, Christian philosophical tradition. It should look to the same sources that the founders of the American nation consulted in their own struggle against imprudent state control more than two centuries ago.

Jack H. Burke has contributed to National Review. He is also a former White House intern and served as a U.S. congressional staff member.

62 Comments (Open | Close)

62 Comments To "Socialism Will Always Destroy Democracy"

#1 Comment By Daniel Good On June 9, 2019 @ 12:17 pm

Excellent comments here! Hopefully the author will read them and reflect on how, perhaps, views are changing. In any case to have a doctrinaire phobia of a word is not going to advance debate.

#2 Comment By blackhorse On June 9, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

“Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy” . Again, the straw man. Even Sanders is closer to Denmark’s welfare model than nationalism and planning.

By the way, the author quotes Kennedy on the Marxism. Confusing post-colonial revolts with a generic Marxist threat he blundered into the Bay of Pigs and Viet Nam.

#3 Comment By Socrates On June 9, 2019 @ 10:32 pm

“Well — only in America, as they say. Only here is the word “socialism” freighted with so much perceived menace. I take this to be a symptom of our unique national genius for stupidity. In every other free society with a functioning market economy, socialism is an ordinary, rather general term for sane and compassionate governance of the public purse for the purpose of promoting general welfare and a more widespread share in national prosperity.”

[7]

#4 Comment By jwm On June 10, 2019 @ 5:04 am

a clearer statement would be;

Socialism (Death, Slavery, Pursuit of Misery) aka AntiCapitalism (Anti [Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness]) Is Antithetical To Democracy

#5 Comment By JeffK On June 10, 2019 @ 9:30 am

@Connecticut Farmer says:
June 8, 2019 at 11:54 am

“Comparing the Scandanavian countries to the United States-a nation of over 330 million people spread over an area of 3.6 million square miles is like comparing Harvard to a community college.”

Oh, sure it is. In all things. Nothing to be learned from those commies.

#6 Comment By Mark B. On June 10, 2019 @ 10:36 am

@ Jim in Eugene

“I say the pre-Christian Greeks are a place to start.”

Sparta? 300 against the SJW-hordes? Oh Yeah!

#7 Comment By John Scott On June 10, 2019 @ 8:39 pm

JFK, like all US Presidents of the modern era, denounced ‘socialism’ because his job was to keep people from making trouble for US corporations. If he or his successors had any interest in ‘freedom’ they wouldn’t have propped up crummy dictators around the world; current example, Saudi monarchy.Clean up your own backyard before you lecture other people; my son (27) won’t visit the US because his friends who have done so are shocked by the poverty, the down-at-heel public squalor, the violence, and particularly the rudeness and arrogance of customs officials who shout and scream at people and seem to think the US is doing them a big favour by allowing them in.Get wise to yourselves; if US capitalism is so great, why are 50% of the population poor?

#8 Comment By Shawn On June 11, 2019 @ 12:34 am

Mr. Good states that having, “…a doctrinaire phobia of a word…” won’t advance debate.

How about history? Of which a great many of those with so-called changed views have obviously not been exposed.

#9 Comment By john On June 11, 2019 @ 3:46 am

This article is total nonsense. Conservatives are comfortable when there is socialism for the wealthy in the form of bailouts and quantitative easing, where billionaires are given interest-free money to participate in the Wall Street gambling casinos with the knowledge that all losses will be socialized and all gains privatized.AOC is correct. The wealthy get interest-free loans for stock buybacks while the poor get payday loans at five-hundred percent interest. If socialism for the poor is bad, it is worse when there is socialism for the rich. It is especially onerous when socialism comes in the form of supporting the Military Industrial complex by supporting perpetual wars that the children of the poor and Middle Class have to fight.

#10 Comment By Keith On June 11, 2019 @ 6:23 pm

Let’s stop publicly financing “the means of production” (ballparks) for billionaire team owners, and apply antitrust laws to the leagues. End Sports Socialism.

#11 Comment By Neil Horn On June 12, 2019 @ 1:49 am

Socialism is a metaphor for human envy of privilege and wealth that serves as a distraction while fascism, the state owned by the corporation, takes control of our daily lives.

Meanwhile, giant corporations, whose shares are traded on Wall Street, have monopolies over communications and propaganda and the power to decide who gets to speak and who is silenced.

#12 Comment By Dan Green On June 12, 2019 @ 7:27 am

Bernies model is understandably enticing, especially with run away healthcare cost, and financing an education. Lawmakers like that of Sanders, have faith the government can manage society. There in, is Bernies biggest road block, as Americans have traditionally been fearful of big government, even though the government is enormous, and involved in every aspect of our lives.