Flat White

Socialism might seem sexy, but beware Bernie or a Corbyn catastrophe

12 December 2019

5:00 AM

12 December 2019

5:00 AM

Wherever you look, socialism is sexy again. Today, in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn is seeking election as prime minister on a proudly socialist platform. 

In the United States, socialist Bernie Sanders is making a second run for President, and he has the endorsement of the Squad”—a group of socialist Congresswomen which includes the famous firebrand freshman AOC. 

If the word socialism is new to you, its basically the idea that societys wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone. (Be sure to do your own research to fill out this definition).  

Socialism arose in the nineteenth as a reaction to capitalismour western economic system built on the idea of free trade, private ownership and entrepreneurship. 

Both capitalism and socialism have their pros and cons. No system can generate wealth like capitalism can. But unrestrained, capitalism can lead to inequality and injustice. 

Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to address these problems of inequality and injustice. But in order to achieve this effectively, socialist states require more and more power.  

History has shown that socialism tends towards totalitarianism, corruption, and poverty. The Soviet Union is the most notorious example of thisand Venezuela the most recent. 

For all of these reasons, modern western nations have wisely decided to remain capitalist, albeit with a range of moderate socialist tweaks. 

Australia, for example, has a capitalist economy. But we have a universal healthcare system called Medicare, for which Im very grateful. I have also benefitted from an interest-free student loan provided by our government, and a modest student income during the years I was at university.  

In simple terms, the last hundred years of western politics has been a game of tug-of-war between those who want less of these socialist tweaks(conservatives and classical liberals on the right) and those who want more (social democrats and other the left). This is, and always will be, an important debate to have.  

But something has started to shift in the last few years. Until recently, political parties that were openly socialistand cheering for the overthrow of capitalismremained on the fringe. 

But socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream. In a recent poll, for example, 53 per cent of millennials said they view socialism favourably. Given socialisms diabolical track record, this should concern all of us. 

Socialism is seductive. It has gained in popularity, but for all the wrong reasons. Here are six of them.  

Socialism strokes our ego

As humans, were drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves. There is a certain compliment that socialism pays us that helps explain why it is so attractive, especially to young people. 

The compliment is this: we humans are inherently good. The idea that we are ultimately perfectible is a fixed assumption underlying the socialist worldview. 

Socialism assumes that the reason people dont work is because they can’tbecause of some impossible setback or systemic injustice. 

While these are genuine reasons that some people dont work, there is also the reality of human laziness and entitlement. Socialism fails to account for these vices. It is blind to the inherent selfishness of humanityand this is a dangerous mistake to make. 

The reality is that if our collective wealth is redistributedif the fruit of my labour is given to people who havent worked for itthen a big motivation for me to hold down a job or climb the career ladder is taken away. 

Capitalism has worked for hundreds of years precisely because it accounts for this. Under the capitalist system, I am motivated to work because I will receive the reward that I deserve for my labour. 

This system isnt perfect, and as weve discovered, it needs checks and balances, like collective bargaining. But the capitalist systems we live under work because they account for both human vice and human virtue. 

Socialism only assumes that humans are good. This is a nice compliment, and its optimism is attractive. But its a deeply unstable belief on which to to build a society. 

Socialism asks little and promises much

Socialism is often promoted by the well-educated and powerful. But it seeks its broad supporter base among those who feel disenfranchised. 

I am a millennial. My generation came of age during the Great Recession, the global financial crisis that made us fear for our futures. We are the generation that, through no real fault of our own, are largely locked out of the real estate market. For better or worse, much later into life than previous generations, we have remained financially dependent on our parents. 

Of course, these are generalisations, but all of these factors make millennials far more attracted to socialism.  

Like our parentspocketbook, socialism seems to guarantee us ongoing prosperity while hiding the cost from us. It appeals to our fears and our financial dependenceour sense that we may never make it on our own. Socialism is a system that asks little of us and promises much. 

In blunter terms, socialism is the politics of envy. It secretly appeals to our laziness and our sense of entitlement. 

But history shows that while socialism is good at redistributing wealth, it has never been good at producing wealth. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Socialism spreads when history is forgotten

Today, we have the worlds knowledge quite literally at our fingertips. Through our smartphones alone, we can access all the breaking news from around the planet, and the wisdom of every civilisation. 

We are the most educated people in history. Its ironic then that we are so ignorant of history. 

I went to school for thirteen years, but during all that time I learnt nothing of the 20 million people killed under Russias socialist republic. Or the 60 million lives that socialism claimed in China. Or the millions more who fell victim to socialist projects in lands as diverse as Vietnam, Romania, and Cuba. 

In fact, estimates of the twentieth centurys Socialist/Communist body count range from 100150 million. 

It is chilling to consider that socialism thrived in these places precisely because history was erased by their governments or forgotten by their people. 

If we are serious about preserving our liberty for generations to come, we would do well to heed the words of Edmund Burke, who said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia. This is a personal responsibility for each of us. But it also highlights the need for reformation in our institutions. 

Identity politics has overrun too many of our schools, universities and media outlets. They stoke the rage of rival disenfranchised groups while ignoring the historic dangers in doing so. 

Todays downtrodden need a voice, to be sure. But their voice must be balanced with the cries of those from history who were crushed under the iron first of socialist empires. 

Until then, socialism will retain its seductive allure.  

Socialism appeals to the soft-hearted

Research shows that those who lean right tend to place more value on personal responsibility, while those who lean left are more prone to empathy. 

Indeed, because of socialisms emphasis on justice and practical aid for the poor and marginalised, a growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism. I have often heard Christians make the case for socialism based on Acts 2:44-45. “All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”

I dont doubt for a second the sincerity of believers who see parallels between socialism and Christian concern for the least of these. 

But in this parallel is a glaring omission. The early church wasnt forming a governmentat most, they were arranging a commune. In other words, it was a contract that the faithful entered into voluntarily. 

Socialism, by contrast, is a political system that people are born into and cannot escape unless they emigrate. (And it is noteworthy that while people often try to flee socialist governments, the most desirable destinations for refugees seem to be capitalist countries). 

No matter who you aregiver or recipient, religious or otherwisecompassion and generosity are always good for societies. 

But compassion and generosity are, by their very definition, voluntary. The moment that kindnessis enforced by government redistribution programs, it is at best high taxes. At worst, its extortion. 

Socialism seems compassionate but in truth, it is a pale substitute for compassion. Far better is a robust democracy where the typically progressive value of empathy is driven (and balanced) by the typically conservative value of personal responsibility.  

Socialism is seen as above critique

To summarise so far, socialism tells us what we want to hear about ourselves; it requires little from us while promising the world, and it is uniquely depicted as the politics of compassion. 

For all of these reasons, in the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism. The more of it we have, the better. 

Obviously, not all progressives believe this. But its certainly the dominant narrative in the mainstream media. Whether its expanded healthcare programs or open borders or a bigger welfare net or free university education, its almost like the skys the limit. 

Lets have a conversation about each of these. But lets balance it with the reality that money has to come from somewhere. Inevitably, it wont just be the rich who foot the ever-growing bill, but the middle class too. 

Lets also keep in view the fact that government services can breed generational dependence that ends up hurting the very communities they are seeking to help. Self-reliancewhatever that looks likeis important not just for material needs, but for peoples sense of dignity and purpose.  

Socialism provides meaning in a post-Christian world

We all need something to live for. Though not all westerners through history were Christians, Christianity provided us with a collective sense of ultimate meaning and purpose. 

In the West, as we become increasingly post-Christian, we are experiencing a vacuum of meaning. Many things have rushed into the void, and undoubtedly one of those is socialism: the dogma that the government can solve all of our problems. 

In the name of a thousand different causes, people now give their energies to this commitment with religious fanaticism. 

And as misdirected as this is, it makes sense. In our subconscious, we know instinctively that something should rule over us. The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.

It is no coincidence that socialism and atheism have historically had a strong connection. The bigger a government gets, the more it tends to act like God. 

Socialist states end up replacing God by seeking to provide everything, protect us from everything, and police everything. But as Thomas Jefferson warned, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

The founding fathers of western nations like America understood this in ways we have forgotten. Jefferson also warned that, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

Today, people are quick to put Christians in their place and tell them to keep their religion out of politics. But this would have been news to our forebears. Religion is what helped us keep a healthy perspective on politics. 

William Penn wrote, “Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” Patrick Henry’s warning was even more chilling: “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take God over totalitarianism any day of the week.

Lets keep talking about the role government should play in our lives, about the tweaks that capitalism needs to root out injustice. But please, can we steer clear of socialism? 

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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