December 5, 2009
Social Democrats Versus a GOP in Search of an IdeologyBy Lee Cary
In the struggle between the two major political parties, the advantage goes to the one that can articulate that for which it stands. Democrats today have the advantage.
Today's Democrats resemble the Fabian Society born in London in 1884.
William Clarke wrote the Preface and lead essay in the 1908 edition of The Fabian Essays In Socialism. He recited the group's objective:
Clarke and the Fabians believed that "social transformation must be gradual" and accomplished through a "series of reforms for effecting the gradual change of society into a really social democratic state." To symbolize their slow-but-steady plans, they chose a tortoise as their symbol.
George Bernard Shaw, perhaps the most famous Fabian, claimed the group's opponents represented "Unsocialism."
The 20th-century Progressive movement in America was a cousin of the Fabians. Their agendas were widely compatible. And although Democrats today deny it, the Democrat Party has, at least since FDR's New Deal, been incrementally morphing into the Social Democrat Party.
Meanwhile: Where is the ideological opposition? Who speaks as a political counterforce? What is the Republican rebuttal?
On balance, the weight of GOP language today leans more heavily on less government than on more freedom. Today's GOP is positioned as Shaw's "Unsocialists." To survive and thrive in the 21st Century, the GOP must claim clearly and forcibly that for which it stands, and soon.
Perhaps it might find ideas from the now-silent voice of Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (1881-1973).
In 1940, the Austrian economist von Mises lived in Switzerland in fear for his life because he was a Jew. So he immigrated to New York City, becoming a visiting professor at New York University, and from there he taught until he was 87 years old. His book, simply titled Socialism, first appeared in 1922. It's a classic manual for rebutting socialism. Portions of it read as though written to confront today's Democrat party. For example:
"Spread the wealth" is a Democrat mantra. To address that concept, von Mises wrote,
The cover of the February 16, 2009 issue of Newsweek reads, "We Are All Socialists Now." In the accompanying article, the authors (one of whom, Evan Thomas, is the grandson of the six-time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, Norman Thomas) conclude that
The Newsweek writers assume that smart socialism can succeed where dumb socialism has failed. To address that notion, in a section of Socialism entitled "The Impracticability of Socialism," von Mises wrote,
In short, socialism fails because it's a failed system.
The proponents of bailouts for banks, insurance, and auto companies argued that government ownership was necessary to make those enterprises competitive. But von Mises refuted the notion of a socialized free market.
To those who suggest that the United Auto Workers deserved a stake in the ownership of General Motors and Chrysler; von Mises called that arrangement "Syndicalism."
Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a battle of ideas. In that battle, the GOP is not well-armed, nor does it match the conviction and zeal of the Social Democrat Party. The GOP has failed to present its own clear and compelling vision of America. In short, it acts like a permanent opposition party.
Consequently, the Democrats are driving the political debate and, with their majorities among elected public officials, the votes to enact their ideology.
The second decade of the 21st Century will witness a historic battle between American political ideologies. Democrats have one already defined. Republicans will struggle to find theirs. The future profile of the nation depends on the outcome.
Meanwhile, conservative citizens -- not elected GOP officials -- are pushing the rebuttal to socialism into the arena of public discussion.