Why Socialism Will Always Be with Us

Socialism depends on three all-too-human factors: ignorance, naiveté and duplicity. The first is common if not disastrously ubiquitous, affecting large strata of any given population. The latter two pertain, in extreme measure and without the tendency to conscious self-correction, to the various ranges of the leftist elite, whom Yugoslavian dissident Milovan Djilas in his must-read The New Class called “the managerial class” -- the caste that dominates and exploits the political landscape under the pretense of far-sighted and compassionate stewardship. Obviously, no one is exempt from these character defects, but here it is a question of degree, of intensity and persistence.  Let us consider these three factors in turn.

Ignorance

A few years ago students in my home province of Quebec went on strike and closed down the colleges and universities on the assumption that they were owed free tuition, free textbooks, free transportation and in many cases free meal chits and dormitory lodging. I met with a representative group and inquired where the money would come from. The response was: “le gouvernement.” When I suggested that nothing is free and that someone has to pay for someone else’s “free stuff,” the fact simply did not register.

What I found startling was the consummate ignorance of the students and, indeed, of many people who believe “the government” actually produces wealth rather than merely administers it. Government does control the mint, but cranking out dollar bills does not create wealth; currency is only a means of facilitating exchange. The students I spoke with had no idea of so palpable a distinction. They had never heard of hyperinflation. They did not understand that money means nothing unless it is based on a sound economic foundation. Money is more likely to come from trees -- and it often does, to wit, Quebec’s maple syrup and logging companies -- than from bureaucratic shuffling and administrative directives.

Such public sycophancy as the students demonstrated springs from conceiving of government in loco parentis, a father figure that magically provides for offspring needs and demands nothing in return but love and loyalty. Anyone with a functioning cortex should know that government produces nothing tangible. The revenue it needs to operate must come from somewhere else. And that somewhere else has three major addresses: industry, commerce and taxation, in other words, from the pockets of working people. Ignorance of how a prosperous society actually works, the refusal to study the dismal history of the socialist experiment in political paternalism, is a sine qua non of the socialist hallucination. That the province’s student cohort voted as a bloc for the socialist/secessionist Parti Québécois was no accident. A sovereign Quebec would lead to a socialist utopia where the necessities of life would be available to all and everyone would be equal -- except, as Orwell pointed out, those who weren’t.

These students, of course, had no monopoly on ignorance, but they furnished a clear object lesson of its modus operandi. Ignorance derives from endemic laziness and the concomitant reluctance to examine issues which may conflict with one’s cherished beliefs and psychological investments. It is a passive state that is paradoxically willed, characterized by the happy absence of knowledge or information.

Naiveté

Political naiveté is an essential element in the socialist arsenal, an attitude associated with the passionate believers and intellectual vanguard without whom the socialist project would be stillborn. The boundary between ignorance and naiveté is obviously permeable. Naiveté, like ignorance, refuses to canvass alternatives or imagine possible flaws in its proposed systems -- or if it does, stubbornly denies the significance of countervailing data no matter how compelling. Naiveté lies to itself. But unlike ignorance, naiveté has an active component, typified by good intentions and strong theoretical convictions, and carried to extremes in order to advance a project it considers as undeniably beneficial -- compromised names like Eric Hobsbawm, Saul Alinsky, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, to mention only a few, leap immediately to mind.

Political naiveté is often maintained to the death, as in the case of the Bolsheviks who discovered they were enemies of the state and faced the firing squads or expired in the Gulags, or the Iranian leftists who ardently backed Ayatollah Khomeini’s overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy, only to find themselves rotting in Evin prison. A similar fate awaits the leftist armies of the West who make common cause with the growing Islamic insurgency, as Jamie Glazov vividly laid out in United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror. Such gullibility would be pitiable, did it not wreak so much harm.

Duplicity

The most effective attribute among the socialist elite is duplicity, which goes hand in hand with the lust for unconstrained power. Such power mongers are history’s most accomplished hypocrites, whether we are thinking of Josef Stalin keeping a lamp burning in the window of his Kremlin office to persuade a virtual slave population that he was not an abominable tyrant but a benevolent and devoted public servant, or a buffoon like Bernie Sanders promoting a freebie socialism while serving gourmet meals on his campaign jet and acquiring his third residence in the wake of conducting a national scam. One recalls the old joke about Leonid Brezhnev showing off his collection of expensive vintage cars to his old mother, who frets, “But my son, what if the communists find out?”

The list of such monstrosities is endless. These are people who, purporting to sacrifice themselves for the public good, amass obscene wealth and every possible amenity -- think of the dowager princess of Chappaqua -- while establishing totalitarian regimes that create widespread suffering and, ultimately, collapse in misery and degradation. As Thomas DiLorenzo observes in his compendious The Problem with Socialism, replete with all the corroborative data a skeptic would need, socialism “is a form of economic poison that destroys prosperity and is the biggest generator of poverty the world has known” -- from bread lines in the Soviet Union to rented coffins in Venezuela.

With regard to the economic debacle that is Venezuela, American Thinker editor Thomas Lifson remarks, “The spectacular failure of socialism there, despite the world’s largest oil reserves, is all the proof that anyone should need” to reveal the inevitable unworkability of the socialist dream world. But evidence and proof never convinced a true believer or a complicit enabler, not to mention a shallow brainpan. The hypocrites, of course, need no convincing since their primary concern is not the public weal but self-aggrandizement and the perquisites of untrammelled privilege.

The three pillars upon which socialism rests, ignorance, naiveté and duplicity, must eventually crumble in practice -- there is not a single historical instance of a socialist regime flourishing -- but they persist as the weight-bearing foundations of the theoretical structures and imaginary hypotheses of a bankrupt political construct. We must cut to the chase and be blunt, eschewing the niceties of discreet address or the complexities of scholarly dissertation. One cannot be part of the socialist rank and file unless one is ignorant; and one cannot be a member of the socialist aristocracy unless one is either permanently naïve or profoundly duplicitous.

In brief, socialism is the product of human frailty and quixotic desire laced with corruption, delusion and the insensate hunger for power. Thankfully, some of the key figures of the socialist intellectual elite do sometimes come to their senses -- David Horowitz, for example, now one of the most important conservative writers and thinkers of our time, or the later Sydney Hook, who tempered his earlier enthusiasms. Books like Horowitz’s Radical Son and Hook’s Out of Step should be required reading for any sentient person with a leaning toward the socialist reverie. But considering the heedless drift of the West toward socialist and Marxist axioms of political organization, economic levelling and statist regimentation -- and the breakdown of civil order that must at some point ensue -- the prognosis for the future is not encouraging.

Ignorance, naiveté and duplicity are formidable adversaries, especially when they are reified as principles of political organization. Socialism is strong because we are weak. That is why one form or another of this malignant fantasy will always be with us. As I speculated in a 2010 article for FrontPage Magazine, perhaps George Steiner was right when he grimly wrote in In Bluebeard’s Castle, reviving Max Weber’s notion of tiny regions of residual enlightenment, that the best we could expect was a chain of archival communities and monastic beacons where the minority of the sane might survive.

Socialism depends on three all-too-human factors: ignorance, naiveté and duplicity. The first is common if not disastrously ubiquitous, affecting large strata of any given population. The latter two pertain, in extreme measure and without the tendency to conscious self-correction, to the various ranges of the leftist elite, whom Yugoslavian dissident Milovan Djilas in his must-read The New Class called “the managerial class” -- the caste that dominates and exploits the political landscape under the pretense of far-sighted and compassionate stewardship. Obviously, no one is exempt from these character defects, but here it is a question of degree, of intensity and persistence.  Let us consider these three factors in turn.

Ignorance

A few years ago students in my home province of Quebec went on strike and closed down the colleges and universities on the assumption that they were owed free tuition, free textbooks, free transportation and in many cases free meal chits and dormitory lodging. I met with a representative group and inquired where the money would come from. The response was: “le gouvernement.” When I suggested that nothing is free and that someone has to pay for someone else’s “free stuff,” the fact simply did not register.

What I found startling was the consummate ignorance of the students and, indeed, of many people who believe “the government” actually produces wealth rather than merely administers it. Government does control the mint, but cranking out dollar bills does not create wealth; currency is only a means of facilitating exchange. The students I spoke with had no idea of so palpable a distinction. They had never heard of hyperinflation. They did not understand that money means nothing unless it is based on a sound economic foundation. Money is more likely to come from trees -- and it often does, to wit, Quebec’s maple syrup and logging companies -- than from bureaucratic shuffling and administrative directives.

Such public sycophancy as the students demonstrated springs from conceiving of government in loco parentis, a father figure that magically provides for offspring needs and demands nothing in return but love and loyalty. Anyone with a functioning cortex should know that government produces nothing tangible. The revenue it needs to operate must come from somewhere else. And that somewhere else has three major addresses: industry, commerce and taxation, in other words, from the pockets of working people. Ignorance of how a prosperous society actually works, the refusal to study the dismal history of the socialist experiment in political paternalism, is a sine qua non of the socialist hallucination. That the province’s student cohort voted as a bloc for the socialist/secessionist Parti Québécois was no accident. A sovereign Quebec would lead to a socialist utopia where the necessities of life would be available to all and everyone would be equal -- except, as Orwell pointed out, those who weren’t.

These students, of course, had no monopoly on ignorance, but they furnished a clear object lesson of its modus operandi. Ignorance derives from endemic laziness and the concomitant reluctance to examine issues which may conflict with one’s cherished beliefs and psychological investments. It is a passive state that is paradoxically willed, characterized by the happy absence of knowledge or information.

Naiveté

Political naiveté is an essential element in the socialist arsenal, an attitude associated with the passionate believers and intellectual vanguard without whom the socialist project would be stillborn. The boundary between ignorance and naiveté is obviously permeable. Naiveté, like ignorance, refuses to canvass alternatives or imagine possible flaws in its proposed systems -- or if it does, stubbornly denies the significance of countervailing data no matter how compelling. Naiveté lies to itself. But unlike ignorance, naiveté has an active component, typified by good intentions and strong theoretical convictions, and carried to extremes in order to advance a project it considers as undeniably beneficial -- compromised names like Eric Hobsbawm, Saul Alinsky, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, to mention only a few, leap immediately to mind.

Political naiveté is often maintained to the death, as in the case of the Bolsheviks who discovered they were enemies of the state and faced the firing squads or expired in the Gulags, or the Iranian leftists who ardently backed Ayatollah Khomeini’s overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy, only to find themselves rotting in Evin prison. A similar fate awaits the leftist armies of the West who make common cause with the growing Islamic insurgency, as Jamie Glazov vividly laid out in United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror. Such gullibility would be pitiable, did it not wreak so much harm.

Duplicity

The most effective attribute among the socialist elite is duplicity, which goes hand in hand with the lust for unconstrained power. Such power mongers are history’s most accomplished hypocrites, whether we are thinking of Josef Stalin keeping a lamp burning in the window of his Kremlin office to persuade a virtual slave population that he was not an abominable tyrant but a benevolent and devoted public servant, or a buffoon like Bernie Sanders promoting a freebie socialism while serving gourmet meals on his campaign jet and acquiring his third residence in the wake of conducting a national scam. One recalls the old joke about Leonid Brezhnev showing off his collection of expensive vintage cars to his old mother, who frets, “But my son, what if the communists find out?”

The list of such monstrosities is endless. These are people who, purporting to sacrifice themselves for the public good, amass obscene wealth and every possible amenity -- think of the dowager princess of Chappaqua -- while establishing totalitarian regimes that create widespread suffering and, ultimately, collapse in misery and degradation. As Thomas DiLorenzo observes in his compendious The Problem with Socialism, replete with all the corroborative data a skeptic would need, socialism “is a form of economic poison that destroys prosperity and is the biggest generator of poverty the world has known” -- from bread lines in the Soviet Union to rented coffins in Venezuela.

With regard to the economic debacle that is Venezuela, American Thinker editor Thomas Lifson remarks, “The spectacular failure of socialism there, despite the world’s largest oil reserves, is all the proof that anyone should need” to reveal the inevitable unworkability of the socialist dream world. But evidence and proof never convinced a true believer or a complicit enabler, not to mention a shallow brainpan. The hypocrites, of course, need no convincing since their primary concern is not the public weal but self-aggrandizement and the perquisites of untrammelled privilege.

The three pillars upon which socialism rests, ignorance, naiveté and duplicity, must eventually crumble in practice -- there is not a single historical instance of a socialist regime flourishing -- but they persist as the weight-bearing foundations of the theoretical structures and imaginary hypotheses of a bankrupt political construct. We must cut to the chase and be blunt, eschewing the niceties of discreet address or the complexities of scholarly dissertation. One cannot be part of the socialist rank and file unless one is ignorant; and one cannot be a member of the socialist aristocracy unless one is either permanently naïve or profoundly duplicitous.

In brief, socialism is the product of human frailty and quixotic desire laced with corruption, delusion and the insensate hunger for power. Thankfully, some of the key figures of the socialist intellectual elite do sometimes come to their senses -- David Horowitz, for example, now one of the most important conservative writers and thinkers of our time, or the later Sydney Hook, who tempered his earlier enthusiasms. Books like Horowitz’s Radical Son and Hook’s Out of Step should be required reading for any sentient person with a leaning toward the socialist reverie. But considering the heedless drift of the West toward socialist and Marxist axioms of political organization, economic levelling and statist regimentation -- and the breakdown of civil order that must at some point ensue -- the prognosis for the future is not encouraging.

Ignorance, naiveté and duplicity are formidable adversaries, especially when they are reified as principles of political organization. Socialism is strong because we are weak. That is why one form or another of this malignant fantasy will always be with us. As I speculated in a 2010 article for FrontPage Magazine, perhaps George Steiner was right when he grimly wrote in In Bluebeard’s Castle, reviving Max Weber’s notion of tiny regions of residual enlightenment, that the best we could expect was a chain of archival communities and monastic beacons where the minority of the sane might survive.