Yesterday, while tag surfing, I read a post on some blog which basically questioned the notion that the American political system is socialist in nature. The argument offered was that under socialism, the “means of production” are owned by the state (that’s what everybody, including me, seem to have learned at school), whereas that is not the case in present day America. K.M. made a similar argument (that its not socialism) without taking recourse to the “means of production” criterion, some months back. He said-
Finally, as a tactical matter, it is incorrect and therefore damaging to label the statist and welfarist policies of most politicians today as socialist. They are not. Miller’s worldview is what socialism means. And fortunately, very few people subscribe to it. Many people share some of the moral ideals of socialism implicitly. But they also believe in personal responsibility, individual freedom and free enterprise (however inconsistent there beliefs may be. Calling them socialist when they explicitly reject socialism (as Miller’s frustration shows) is not the best way to reason with them.
Whatever the political system – socialism, fascism, communism or capitalism – it always comes down to their position on “individual rights.” And “property rights” are a necessary part of individual rights. Capitalism stands for absolute – inviolable – property rights; socialism and communism differ in degree, but their coercive form (I am not sure a non- coercive form is politically possible) – as practiced in China, USSR, India and every country in the world even today – has zero regard for property rights – all property rights exist at the pleasure of the state. Fascism as an ideology doesn’t even merit discussion in this context.
I started reading Leonard Peikoff’s book, “The Ominous Parallels”, yesterday. And in the very first chapter – “The Cause of Nazism” – he tackles the issue of “control” of property. Peikoff writes-
Collectivism is the theory that the group (the collective) has primacy over the individual. Collectivism holds that, in human affairs, the collective—society, the community, the nation, the proletariat, the race etc.—is the unit of reality and the standard of value. On this view, the individual has reality only as part of the group, and value only insofar as he serves it; on his own he has no political rights; he is to be sacrificed for the group whenever it—or its representative, the state—deems this desirable.
Fascism, said one of its leading spokesmen, Alfredo Rocco, stresses-
the necessity, for which the older doctrines make little allowance, of sacrifice, even up to the total immolation of individuals, in behalf of society…. For Liberalism [i.e., individualism], the individual is the end and society the means; nor is it conceivable that the individual, considered in the dignity of an ultimate finality, be lowered to mere instrumentality. For Fascism, society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends.
“[T]he higher interests involved in the life of the whole,” said Hitler in a 1933 speech, “must here set the limits and lay down the duties of the interests of the individual.” Men, echoed the Nazis, have to “realize that the State is more important than the individual, that individuals must be willing and ready to sacrifice themselves for Nation and Fuhrer.” The people, said the Nazis, “form a true organism,” a “living unity,” whose cells are individual persons. In reality, therefore—appearances to the contrary notwithstanding—there is no such thing as an “isolated individual” or an autonomous man.
Just as the individual is to be regarded merely as a fragment of the group, the Nazis said, so his possessions are to be regarded as a fragment of the group’s wealth.
“Private property” as conceived under the liberalistic economic order was a reversal of the true concept of property [wrote Huber]. This “private property” represented the right of the individual to manage and to speculate with inherited or acquired property, as he pleased, without regard for the general interests…. German socialism had to overcome this “private,” that is, unrestrained and irresponsible view of property. All property is common property. The owner is bound by the people and the Reich to the responsible management of his goods. His legal position is only justified when he satisfies this responsibility to the community.
Contrary to the Marxists, the Nazis did not advocate public ownership of the means of production. They did demand that the government oversee and run the nation’s economy. The issue of legal ownership, they explained, is secondary; what counts is the issue of control. Private citizens, therefore, may continue to hold titles to property—so long as the state reserves to itself the unqualified right to regulate the use of their property.
If “ownership” means the right to determine the use and disposal of material goods, then Nazism endowed the state with every real prerogative of ownership. What the individual retained was merely a formal deed, a contentless deed, which conferred no rights on its holder. Under communism, there is collective ownership of property de jure. Under Nazism, there is the same collective ownership de facto.
The Nazis called themselves socialists, and they did take over “control” of the “means of production.” The same is true in every modern “republic,” America included. While citizens (probably) won’t tolerate Jews (or any other minority) being gassed, not only do they tolerate government intervention in the market, they actually clamor for it. From zoning laws that determine how you are allowed to “use” your land, to taxation of every kind – income tax, wealth tax, inheritance tax, property tax, to “eminent domain”, to laws that lay down quantitative and qualitative limits on production, to laws that actually control or ban production of certain products – the modern state has de facto control over – ownership of – the property of its citizens. And this is without getting into the state monopoly over the “means of exchange” – money.
That’s why I don’t think there is anything wrong in referring to America, or any other country in the world for that matter, as socialist. They may not be “by the book” socialists, but the results – consequences – of their measures are the same.