Sorry! I Can’t Relax About Socialism
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We have another Christian thinker extolling the “virtues” of socialism.
While Obery M. Hendricks Jr. lavished outright praise on the “biblical values” of democratic socialism in an article published at Sojourners, David Bentley Hart takes a different tact in an op-ed published by the New York Times. He employs a combination of snark and utilitarian algebra to brush aside those who balk at the growing march toward socialism in the United States, asking the question, “Can we please relax about ‘socialism.’”
Hart takes issue with those who claim socialism will eventually lead to totalitarianism. He recounts a recent wait in an airport boarding area where he was subjected to the pontifications of conservative commentator Ben Stein. As Hart tells it, Stein hovered over him “like some grim heathen god exuding all the effervescent charm of a despondent tree sloth, glumly wobbling his jowls and opining that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez espouses a political philosophy that in the past led to the rise of Hitler and Stalin.”
In Hart’s view, this goes beyond absurd.
After all, Hart insists, the kind of socialism promoted by Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez obviously takes on a different form than the socialism of Venezuela and the Soviet Union. American democratic socialists mean to impose a kinder, gentler system that promotes social justice and provides healthcare for all. Hart goes to great lengths to expound on the successes of socialism in Europe and Canada. How could anybody oppose such a virtuous program? And yet, some Neanderthals just don’t get it, as Stein’s droning voice in that airport waiting-area painfully reminded him. Many Americans, as Hart put it, “truly believe that, say, a higher marginal tax rate or a public subsidy for poor children’s dentistry is only a step away from the gulags.”
To argue that embracing Ocasio-Cortez’s “Medicare for All” program might start America down a primrose path toward labor camps certainly sounds like hyperbole.
But is it?
After all, benign-sounding Ocasio-Cortez style democratic socialism rests on the same foundation as Soviet-style socialism with its secret police and gulags – violence, force and coercion.
Democratic socialists like Hart and Hendricks sell their program based on its supposed moral superiority. As Hart describes it, “Democratic socialism is, briefly put, a noble tradition of civic conscientiousness that was historically — to a far greater degree than either its champions or detractors today often care to acknowledge — grounded in deep Christian convictions.”
“I know too that those systems usually make possible something closer to a just and charitable society than ours has ever been.”
And democratic socialism is democratic. A totalitarian strong-man doesn’t impose it from on high. The army doesn’t implement it. The people vote for it. The majority clamor for it. Who can oppose that?
But some people will oppose it.
And that leads to the question Hart and his fellow democratic socialists don’t want to reckon with. What happens to those people who won’t get with the program?
Ultimately, they will get with the program.
The system won’t work if everybody doesn’t participate. Those who don’t buy in will be forced to participate anyway.
Of crouse, it won’t start with gulags. They’ll start with persuasion. They will turn to ridicule, as Hart did in his NYT op-ed. They will try to marginalize and alienate dissenters. But failing that, they will turn to the last tool in their toolbox – brute force.
Cages, clubs and guns.
Ultimately, if I refuse to submit and give up the fruits of my labor for their political program, they will make me. And if I continue to refuse, they will lock me in a cage. And if I resist, they will kill me.
Socialism requires individuals to submit their will to the collective. Politicians with “cleverness, charisma and moral vitality,” to use Hart’s description of Ocasio-Cortez, can often mold the public will and convince majorities to embrace their programs. But there will always remain individuals who refuse to submit and become a gear in society’s engine. Those people must be dealt with. Socialism cannot operate with dissenters. The cogs must mesh seamlessly.
In his seminal work Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek mapped out the pathway that socialism must, by its very nature, walk down.
“Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes which horrify us follow of necessity. From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal suppression of dissent, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual, are essential and unavoidable consequences of this basic premise, and the collectivist can admit this and at the same time claim that his system is superior to one in which the ‘selfish’ interests of the individual are allowed to obstruct the full realization of the ends the community pursues.”
Socialism, democratic or otherwise, rides on the back of government force and violence. You can wrap it up in platitudes about a just and charitable society. You can sell it with promises of healthcare for all and social justice. You can promote it through pretty politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or grandfatherly figures like Bernie Sanders. But when they step aside and drop the veil, you will find a government agent pointing a gun at your head demanding obedience.
Just a hint of its power will usually keep the populace in line — a uniformed agent barking orders at us as we stand in our socks at a TSA checkpoint or the clang of an iron door as it slams in the face of a man guilty of possessing a plant. But if enough people protest, the mask will come off. The power will rush out of the shadows swinging batons and firing bullets. Just ask the Yellow Vests marching through clouds of teargas in France’s socialist dreamland.
Hart can quibble about the definitions and conceptual distinctions of various brands of socialism all he wants. When you strip away the rhetoric, you find a distinction without a difference. It will take raw force to create his utopia just like it took raw force to create the Soviet utopia; just like it took raw force to create the Venezuelan utopia.
Hart calls democratic socialism “a noble tradition of civic conscientiousness … grounded in deep Christian convictions.” That may or may not be. But forcing that noble tradition on society through violence, force and coercion is anything but Christian.
No. I’m sorry Mr. Hart. I can’t relax about socialism. I just can’t be at ease with a gun pointed in my face.