James Otteson Author Of The End of Socialism
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Professor James Otteson, the author of The End of Socialism, which you can find at Amazon.com, is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. Socialism, according to Marx’s view anyway, Karl Marx’s view, socialism was something of a stage on life’s way to communism. Socialism was the stage you needed to have when the authorities and the government took control, forcible control of the entire society. All the economic decisions, all the personal, moral decisions, they controlled these centrally. For people who would not go along with the program, as it were, they would be invited, that’s a nice word, but they would be invited for reeducation. ” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: People don’t associate, and I think this is the problem, Jim, they don’t associate socialism with communism, but they’re all products of the butchered, wicked thinking of Hegel, aren’t they?
James Otteson: Oh, yeah. That’s true. Socialism, according to Marx’s view anyway, Karl Marx’s view, socialism was something of a stage on life’s way to communism. Socialism was the stage you needed to have when the authorities and the government took control, forcible control of the entire society. All the economic decisions, all the personal, moral decisions, they controlled these centrally. For people who would not go along with the program, as it were, they would be invited, that’s a nice word, but they would be invited for reeducation. Once the reeducation was complete so that everybody then internalized all of the goals, including the moral goals, of socialism, then at that point, allegedly anyway, the state would wither away. There would no longer be a need for centralized, coercive authority. That’s when we would have communism.
Communism would be a kind of spontaneous harmony that would take place after the necessary but perhaps painful stage of socialism. Communism and socialism are aligned politically and morally. The only difference is that communism is that utopian state where we don’t need to have someone force us to do what the centralized authorities, what the Hegelians or the Marxists want. We would all just want to do that on our own.
Mike: That is a really good explanation. Let’s move on here and talk a little bit about some of the stuff that Brad Birzer wrote about you. “One of this book’s greatest strengths is its author’s unwillingness to counter ideology with ideology.” This is something that I think is important to explain. I attempt to do it from time to time. I use David’s – my friend David Simpson who’s here with me, David, say hello to Professor Otteson.
David Simpson: Hello, professor. How are you?
Otteson: I’m great. Nice to talk to you.
Mike: I have the book, your favorite anarchist and mine, Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs. Higgs has a whole chapter in Crisis and Leviathan where he ponders the theory, what he called the ratchet effect. He has a whole chapter in there where he discusses ideology and what is ideology. It’s a really good explanation of ideology. I don’t think people realize how dangerous ideology has become. David, this is the philosopher question to you, and you can weigh in on this at any time. Ideology is not in our five levels of thought, where we start with falsity and go to certitude. It’s not in there, is it, or would that be part of opinion?
Simpson: It might be an opinion but it’s an organized one. I think Professor Otteson might have a better answer. No, the five levels of knowledge we talk about are error, doubt, ignorance, opinion, and certitude. That’s what we call the five levels of knowledge. An ideology is more of a, I would almost call it a political action opinion. Professor, what would you say on that?
Otteson: Yeah, I think what I would say, ideology, that term comes to us from Marx. The idea is that you’ve accepted certain premises as true. Those premises that you’ve accepted as true are no longer impervious, no longer susceptible to being questioned. Empirical evidence doesn’t matter. Other people’s opinions don’t matter. You use those premises that you accepted, in the political and economic realm, to organize all of society according to those principles. If you have an ideology, at least as Marx understood it, what that means is that you have a certain vision for society. You’re absolutely confident that that vision is correct. In addition, you also think that you’re therefore justified in reorganizing all of society so that it’s consistent with that vision.
Simpson: That’s what I was going to say. Because it’s detached from reality, and because it stays strictly in the mind of the person who’s advancing the ideology, it almost always has to be accompanied with political force. Then, of course, it lacks all humility. In other words, it can become prideful because it’s egocentric. It almost always devolves into some type of – well, you talked about it earlier, the reeducation camps. There’s some kind of punishment associated with it.
Otteson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not an accident that those things go together. I have great respect for Professor Birzer, too. He’s a good friend and a great scholar, great man. What I think he has in mind when he says meeting ideology with ideology, I think what he has in mind is, the second part of my book is taking up this claim that socialists make that even if some aspects of socialism are impractical or difficult to implement in practice, nevertheless, the system of socialism is morally superior in itself if only we could live up to its ideals. What I take on in the second part of my book is that question: Is socialism really morally superior in its ideals? I look at the moral values it claims to champion and ask: Are those the right kinds of moral ideals? If so, is socialism the right way to get there? The kinds of things I look at are equality, fairness, community, the kinds of things that socialists say are the reason they want to be socialists.
I think a lot of people who are socialists or who claim, maybe they don’t call themselves this, but who support various kinds of pretty expansive government intervention into our lives, what they think they’re doing is – well, they see socialism as being something like caring for other people or sharing what you have with people who need it. Those kinds of ideals, I argue in the book anyway, if you take the socialist position seriously, what that means is that you’re not actually respecting those ideals. You’re not actually respecting equality in the way that matters, a kind of moral equality. Sharing and caring for other people, those aren’t things that the government has to do. Those are things, at least from my perspective, and I’ll speak just from my own philosophical and religious perspective, caring for other people is a personal duty. That’s something that I’m called to do. I don’t think we get any moral credit, any credit as a virtuous person if I’m forced to do something for somebody else.
Simpson: I would have to agree with that one. Forced charity, nothing like it.
Mike: My how non-egalitarian of you guys. Don’t you care for your fellow man?
Otteson: That’s the kind of question that I get asked: Do you not care about other people? There is where I can say it’s not just a moral question. Let’s also look at reality. You don’t have to look at the Soviet Union – you were talking about the Soviet Union earlier today. You don’t have to look at the Soviet Union, although that’s a pretty good experiment, North Korea, Cuba. Look at what’s happening in Venezuela today. Venezuela is a country that is organized on explicitly socialist principles. Look at the suffering and misery that has caused for those people. If you’re genuinely interested in – if you claim what you’re interested in is helping the least among us, or enabling the poor to rise out of poverty, or for people who don’t have many options to have more options to lead a meaningful life, socialism has a pretty miserable track record.
Mike: Professor James Otteson, the author of The End of Socialism, which you can find at Amazon.com, is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. One of the things that we find that we study in philosophy and when we study the modern philosophers, when we get to Marx, and then of course the disciples of Marx, but if we could just go to Marx, one of the things that Brother Francis taught us is that you study Marx and you find that it’s all about materialism. The whole edifice is built upon the principle that what man really needs to be happy is more stuff, or a larger share of the stuff that’s available. The stuff is what needs to be distributed. What Marx did, and, of course, he’s followed by all the other wretched Germans that came after him, including Engels and Hegel, but certainly Hegel – David, you know more about them than I do. I know two names. Who’s the guy that said God is dead?
Mike: He’s followed by all this. Americans today – those of us in the Western world, whether we like it or not, we pretty much are Marxists because we are materialists.
Simpson: That’s what I was going to ask the professor earlier. How do socialists even claim to have some sort of moral compass when their base tenet is in atheistic materialism?
Otteson: Well, that’s a bit of a difficulty for them, isn’t it?
Simpson: So I’m not crazy here, right?
Otteson: The way people perceive socialism today is, the claim is that capitalism is all about materialism and material goods; socialism is about thinking about other people and has deeper moral aspects to it. When you look at what people who are inclined in the socialist direction, when you look at the kinds of policies that they actually advocate, it does seem to be all about just providing material goods to people, as if that’s all we really are. You provide some housing or food or shelter, as necessary as those things are, but if you just give those to people, then that will enable them to lead a truly happy and truly flourishing life.
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That completely disregards, I think, the soul of humanity. Human beings are not just material creatures. We are also creatures that need to have a sense of our own moral agency. We need to feel like we are the masters of our own lives, the authors of our own destiny. We need to have earned success. We need to feel like we’re achieving something in life. Just being permanently dependent on other people, it may be – in the book I use this analogy.
If you think about animals in a zoo, you take a panther out of the wild and put it in the zoo, the panther is now comfortable and safe and maybe has food, but that panther is not really, it might be alive but it’s not really a panther anymore. It’s not living the kind of life it’s destined to live. Freedom for human beings is really about what I would the morality not of the zookeepers but the morality of the panther. Freedom does have dangers and risks and all of those things. It enables us to have a life that’s our own. That’s what really gives human beings dignity and gives them a chance to view themselves as a precious and unique creature.
Simpson: When you were saying that, professor, it brought to mind, I don’t know why, but Mother Teresa of Calcutta who talked about – she came to America and said she didn’t see any love here. When we think about where she came from, the dregs of society in India, in New Delhi –
Mike: Bangladesh. Did you see the picture of charity the way it should be that I posted? You ought to see that picture without the contrast on it and see that that kid is totally emaciated where you can see the outline of his bones that she’s feeding.
Simpson: She found love there because, like you said, even though they were in wretched poverty, there was still the human dignity and caring and loving for one another that she found completely devoid in America.
Otteson: I think that has to come from the individual person’s heart and soul. If I’m living in America and I’m told by my government that the government has responsibility to take care of our brethren who are in need, then I don’t have to do anything. I write my check to the IRS and I can forget about it. I don’t think about people as individual human beings. I just think about them as this kind of amorphous class of the poor. They’re not human beings to me anymore. They don’t call to me personally. I think that’s the wrong way to view other people. I think that’s the wrong way to view charity. Charity should be something that we do – I think it is a duty, but I think it’s a private and personal duty.
Simpson: Amen to that.
End Mike Church Show Transcript