Do Americans Actually Know What Socialism Is?
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Michael Davis, writing at the Imaginative Conservative website. Mr. Davis, we all know what socialism is. We know it when we see it. All you’ve got to do is go to Facebook on any given day. The word is probably used 15 million times, usually by people on the “conservative” side of the argument. They think traffic cameras are socialist. They’re not; they’re totalitarian.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Recently Matt Bruenig wrote an article in The Week called “Why U.S. conservatives should embrace socialist, European-style economics,” subtitled, “The benefits to the traditional family are clear.” His arguments are not easy to dismiss, and I think it’s about time that someone made this case—not that I would necessarily agree that he is right.
In fact, Mr. Bruenig starts getting it wrong by the sixth word. Like most Americans, he has no idea what Socialism is.
Mike: Michael Davis, writing at the Imaginative Conservative website. Mr. Davis, we all know what socialism is. We know it when we see it. All you’ve got to do is go to Facebook on any given day. The word is probably used 15 million times, usually by people on the “conservative” side of the argument. They think traffic cameras are socialist. They’re not; they’re totalitarian.
The brunt of his argument rests in the second to last paragraph in which he writes:
“Consider Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. Speaking broadly, women tend to work less, if at all, while men are the primary breadwinners. According to Lane Kenworthy, these countries have the lowest numbers of hours worked per working-age adult in the developed world. The proximate causes of this are very strong unions that push for more vacation, shorter work weeks, and earlier retirement. Additionally, their dominant Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties construct welfare states that dwarf our own, and include generous paid maternity leave as well as robust public health insurance systems.”
Are those positive ends? Yes. Are they socialist means? No.
For most of American history—maybe until the First World War or thereabouts—it would be difficult to allocate an ideological tether to America’s political parties. Mostly they were an assortment of regional or trade interests. Some
candidates appealed to the South, or to agrarians; others appealed to the North, to industrialists and merchants. And there is some virtue in being largely innocent of ideological warfare. I am not inclined to heckle the folks who think our politics should be pragmatic rather than ideological, un-pragmatic as I think that wish is in the modern world.
But one significant detriment we have suffered for it is that, as a country, we are politically illiterate.
For Americans, “Conservatism” means small government and/or big business, which is labelled “corporatism”; some Conservatives are also very fond of Jesus. Liberalism, Progressivism, and Socialism are all synonymous terms that mean big government and abortion. The rest of the world looks at that and scratches its head.
Now I am not a Europhile like some folks in the Democratic National Committee; “But Europe does it!” is not a sound argument in my book. Yet I do think we stand to benefit from brushing up on our terminology. So let us consider this:
Liberalism is a political philosophy that emphasizes individual liberty.
Mike: Again, folks, I talked about this earlier in the show, about how our language has become so dumbed down, so perverted, and so unmoored from its Latin roots, and then from the proper and long-form use of words that it would be unrecognizable to many people that used to use what used to be called the King’s English. I’m sure that I slander the King’s English on a daily basis here. I am a product of being educated under the aegis of a society that no longer cherishes tradition, custom or language. I noted that while I was in Scotland, when some of the females that we had met on our trip, when we were sitting down having drinks or snacks with them or what have you, when they got up to leave the table, I stood up. In one instance, I was ordered to cease by one damsel, and by another I was complimented on it and told: Please, continue. It’s very charming. There was a 50/50 split on the deference to the female as the fairer, more tender, more beautiful of the genders. I was acknowledging that by being courteous and standing up from the table, just an old manner that has been totally demolished. I got tired of my daughter telling me: You need to stop. I told her: You just need to get used to it because it’s going to happen, so just stop it. And she did. Back to the story:
Economic Liberalism or Classical Liberalism is a variant of Liberalism that believes the Liberal objective is best served through free international trade, free domestic markets, and a minimal or non-existent welfare state.
Social Liberalism is also a variant of Liberalism that believes the Liberal objective is best served through robust social welfare measures, examples being public education, old age pensions, unemployment benefits, and universal access to healthcare. Social Liberalism does not necessarily have to do with “social issues” as we understand them, like same-sex marriage.
Neoliberalism is, depending on whom you ask, either the same as Classical Liberalism, as Social Liberalism, or sort of a middling-ground.
Socialism is an unrelated economic philosophy that strives towards a cooperative or collective ownership of the means of production by the working class or a worker-dominated State.
With our mini-dictionary at hand, we should square a few things away:
(1) “Obamacare” and other state-provided healthcare measures, have nothing necessarily to do with Socialism, [Mike: Folks, this is a point that I have made on this show dozens and dozens of times.] because there is really no such thing as a “means of production” in healthcare. No doubt many or most Socialists do support nationalized healthcare; but Obamacare and European nationalized health services are a variant of Social Liberalism, and have been embraced by right-wing Capitalist parties such as the UK’s Conservative Party, Canada’s Conservative Party, and Australia’s Liberal Party (very aptly named).
(2) Trade unionism in the West is very rarely a strictly Socialist enterprise. The Republican Party as late as the 1970s had factions we would otherwise call “Conservative” that maintained strong ties to trade unions, precisely because of the benefits to working families outlined in Mr. Bruenig’s article.
Mike: Folks, I would also say, and I believe we had a call or two on this over the course of the last year or so, that it would have been the conservative position back in the day to support and advocate membership in what used to be called a guild. I bet we have a listener or two listening right now that is a member of a guild. What was a guild? A guild was an early form of a labor union. To get into a guild, you basically had to demonstrate that you had acquired the knowledge and skillset to consider yourself a journeyman horseshoer or farrier, for example, or maybe a plumber or a stevedore or whatever the case may have been. There were guilds for accountants. A guild is simply a group of people that work inside of a particular industry or field of industry and choose to form a union to say: We have standards, and if you’re a member of the guild, then someone can rely upon the fact that the guild has approved you.
There are going to be those Hayekian and Mises people that say [mocking] “That’s socialism!” If it’s voluntary, then it’s not. It is simply entering into an alliance of sorts. There is a benefit to the consumer. The consumer can choose: I don’t use guild labor because it’s expensive. I use non-guild labor. Someone else may say: I use guild labor because I can rely on it. That does not mean that the guild has to go all political and demand minimum wages and healthcare benefits and all these other things. The guild would then exist for the benefit of its members and for the benefit of those who use the member services. In my estimation, that’s a very republican and conservative position, but I think most would say, [mocking] “That’s a labor union! We hate labor unions! We’re opposed to labor unions, Mr. Church!” As I have just explained, a guild is nothing of the sort. Yet try and get a hearing for that in a “conservative” political movement and see how long you last. Then Davis goes into some of the history of the uses of the term. Let’s skip to the end.
So we are, indeed, all some variant of Liberal now. And what do we do about that?
Firstly, we need to stop making a bogeyman out of Liberalism. There are only a handful of Conservative economic schemes that entirely predate Liberalism. Traditional Mercantilism is one, as is Tory Corporatism, but those do not appear on the American register. Distributism may be another, but its ties are so close with the Liberal tradition that it is difficult to say the break is clean.
Secondly, we need to begin approaching ideas rather than labels. This should not be too hard for Imaginative Conservatives, who know that Conservatism inherently transcends ideologism. But where we rightfully oppose Marxism for adopting a soullessly ideological worldview, we should be careful to note that Liberalism, though as dangerous as any other ideology when adopted with fanaticism, is also too close to home for us to dismiss in the same way. [Mike: Then he gets into a little more of what he thinks can be done.]
Armed with Russell Kirk’s Ten Principles, Edmund Burke’s Reflections, and T.S. Eliot’s Idea of a Christian Society, we should be neither partisans of Statist Social Liberalism nor of pure Classical Liberalism. If the answer happens to lie in
one camp or the other, so be it!
Mike: I’ve talked about this over and over and over again about being cosmopolitan, Christian citizens of our respective republics, to ditch the labels, to ditch the arrogance, to ditch the American exceptionalism garbage and the conceit that goes along with it. Instead, look at the idea, look at what is being proposed, consider it based on its merits or its shortcomings, and then act accordingly. But, because we have to have these labels — and why do we have the labels? Because it’s good for big government. Why is it good for big government? Because big government is promoted by what? Big media. So labels are great for big media. You don’t have to be a genius, you don’t have to study your craft, you barely have to be literate to be a member — I digress here, and if you want to include me in this number, feel free to do so — of that establishment called the media. You don’t have to be smart. All you have to do is be able to attach labels and scream at people basically. And if you’re mildly funny or entertaining, bammo, you’re some sort of an expert. Are you really? Did you actually study the material other than being able to recite some statistics that came to you from some university study, a litany of statistics? What are you actually sharing with the audience? Then he makes this point, which I wholeheartedly agree with and have talked about other dozens of times:
Thirdly, I think we should indeed begin taking a look at marginalized philosophies. Dr. Ralph Ancil’s writings in this journal on Wilhelm Röpke’s work in drawing out the market economy’s dependence on a humane, ethical social order are a great place to begin.
Mike: Folks, I have recommended reading Wilhelm Roepke dozens and dozens of times. The book Toward a Human Economy is a wonderful read, absolutely wonderful. Roepke, unlike any, was a contemporary of Mises. For those of you that are devotees of Mises, Roepke and Mises swam in the same waters. Where Mises was secular about his theories and the things he advocated, Roepke was not. Roepke said: Theories and all that stuff is great and fine, but we have to apply it to our lives and to our pursuit, as good Christians, in seeking, in all things, sanctifying grace. Some of the things that are advocated as capitalists will not allow you, or in fact are perversions, the antithesis of seeking sanctifying grace. In other words, trying to make your soul as pure as you can make it here in this life so that it can enjoy the fruits of the kingdom of heaven in the next.
This is the difference between Roepke and Mises. I’m not knocking Mises. Please do not send me hate mail. I do not want to read your hate mail today. That is not a bash of Mises. I read Mises, too, but I prefer Roepke. I’m glad that he pointed this out.
The point of this all being, we need to wash off all the nasty connotations associated with the L-word. None of us really exists outside of it. Most of us are far more Liberal than we think. And that is a good thing: Liberalism began simply as a rejection of arbitrary state power, as an exposition of human liberty. Nor does it mean we cannot be “Conservative” as well: We are only, as Eliot said, conserving the right things rather than relaxing discipline. And we do not have to be revolutionary; the permanent things can—and should—come with us.
End Mike Church Show Transcript