I recall a conversation I had with a young coworker in the latter weeks of Obama's campaign for president. Joe the plumber had just exposed the redistributionist bent of the candidate, and I expressed my assessment of Mr. Obama as a not-so-closeted socialist. My coworker then quite earnestly asked, "What's so wrong with socialism?"
I initially assumed he must be joking, although his face gave no indication. I stared at him dumbfounded, only later realizing I must have looked like a palsied old man -- my mouth working wordlessly, the incomprehension as evident on my face as the sincerity on his. It eventually dawned on me that he really didn't know what was wrong with socialism. I began reciting the litany of horrors: the crimes of the Holocaust, the purges of the Soviets, the thuggery and inhuman brutality of the statist regimes of the last century. The Nazis, for crissake! How could he not know about the evil of the Nazis? He listened to all of this, nodding his understanding as he recognized some of the events I described, but I could still see a question behind his eyes. While he had been taught of the existence of these atrocities, he had not been clued into the one commonality they shared. They were all perpetrated by the adherents of various forms of socialism. Indeed, such crimes were the only outcome possible.
In the late 1930s, the noted economist Friedrich Von Hayek wrote his landmark pamphlet "Road to Serfdom," laying bare the diseased skeleton of socialist/utopian thought that had permeated academia and the salons of his day. With an economy of words that showcased the significance of his conclusion, he pointed out the Achilles heel of collectivist dogma: for a planned economy to succeed, there must be central planners, who by necessity will insist on universal commitment to their plan.
How do you attain total commitment to a goal from a free people? Well, you don't. Some percentage will always disagree, even if only for the sake of being contrary or out of a desire to be left alone. When considering a program as comprehensive as a government-planned economy, there are undoubtedly countless points of contention, such as how we will choose the planners, how we will order our priorities when assigning them importance within the plan, how we will allocate resources when competing interests have legitimate claims, who will make these decisions, and perhaps more pertinent to our discussion, how those decisions will be enforced. A rift forming on even one of these issues is enough to bring the gears of this progressive endeavor grinding to a halt. This fatal flaw in the collectivist design cannot be reengineered. It is an error so critical that the entire ideology must be scrapped.
Von Hayek accurately foretold the fate that would befall dissenters from the plan. They simply could not be allowed to get in the way. Opposition would soon be treated as subversion, with debate shriveling to non-existence under the glare of the state. Those who refused compliance would first be marginalized, then dehumanized, and finally (failing re-education) eliminated. Collectivism and individualism cannot long share the same bed. They are political oil and water, and neither can compromise its position without eventually succumbing to the other. The history of the twentieth century is littered with the remains of those who became "enemies of the state" for merely drawing attention to this flaw. As Von Hayek predicted, the socialist vision would not be achieved without bloodshed.
So this is the challenge we face. My young coworker had no frame of reference by which to judge the events unfolding around him. He had been presented with only the intentions of socialism, not the inevitable results. He had been given the whitewashed fantasy of the Left, who never saw a failure that couldn't be rationalized -- or better yet, blamed on others. Our job, then, is to teach the lessons of history to those who fail to see the danger. We have to provide that all-important perspective to a generation that has been denied it. We have to do this one at a time, conversation by conversation. Tell your friends the truth; don't assume they know it. Become the person your friends and family consult when the subject turns to politics.
I successfully informed my coworker of the irreparable crack in the foundation of socialist thinking, and he is now aware of the need to burrow beneath the surface of politics to find the roots from which the tree springs. We can't wait until the tree bears fruit to determine its worth. Fruit bears seeds, and seeds scatter. Better to tear it out as a single sapling now than to hew down an entire forest of diseased wood after it has poisoned the ground.
The Left will not willingly lay claim to the true legacy of socialism, so we will have to hang it around their necks. They have grown accustomed to shedding responsibility for the damage they have done, and are adept at shifting the blame. Traditional means of holding them to account are failing. Fellow travelers in the academy and media will not challenge even their most egregious lies, so howling about bias will gain us nothing.
If you doubt the effectiveness of the Left's methods, ask any ten people under the age of forty whether Hitler and the Nazis were a product of left-wing or right-wing ideology. The obstacle we face will become painfully clear. It is not enough that you know the truth. You alone are not likely to singlehandedly shape the outcome of an election. Everyone has to know the truth. We have to reclaim our younger generations from the wolf in sheep's clothing, or it won't be long before the wolf no longer needs the disguise.