A Lesson in Socialism for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now appears ubiquitously in the news. At the end of February, she made headlines in a dispute with Ivanka Trump.
Ocasio-Cortez's professional persona is a Millennial socialist who openly advocates for socialist policies. One of these socialist policies concerns the notion of a guaranteed income and jobs for all. She says:
It's wrong that a vast majority of the country doesn't make a living wage. I think it's wrong that you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids. I think it's wrong that corporations like Walmart and Amazon can get paid by the government, essentially experience a wealth transfer from the public, for paying people less than a minimum wage.
Ivanka Trump rebutted her position with the following rejoinder:
I don't think most Americans in their heart want to be given something. I've spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last four years. People want to work for what they get, so I think this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want. They want the ability to be able to secure a job. They want the ability to live in a country where there's the potential for upward mobility.
Ocasio-Cortez responded emphatically: "I can tell you that most people want to be paid enough to live[.] ... Imagine attacking a Jobs Guarantee by saying 'people prefer to earn money'" (as quoted by Sullivan, 2019).
The important components of Ocasio-Cortez's positions, as with socialism in general, all relate to labor. To understand why socialism is so heavily concerned with labor, we have to trace modern socialism back to its philosophical origin. The source of today's socialism emanates from the work and thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Rousseau is the godfather and patron saint of liberalism. Rousseau believed in the natural goodness of Man, corrupted by society. He pontificated that "man is naturally good, and it is solely by these institutions that men become wicked." We are born naturally benevolent but are corrupted from the external forces of society, explained Rousseau.
This is the surface of his rationale. Digging deeper, we are able to learn how he arrived at this conclusion. Rousseau presumed "that there is no original perversity in the human heart."
To those conversant with the Judeo-Christian tradition, the word "original" should resonate. The word "original" is associated with the Augustinian doctrine of "Original-Sin." Original Sin is the concept from the Old Testament where Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, violating God's orders, sinning. The punishment for their sin, which was the first and original sin of Man, was expulsion from Eden, a utopia on Earth where everything was provided for them without the concepts of scarcity or labor. With their expulsion, God introduced scarcity, changed the human condition from utopian to tragic, and punished Adam and Eve with labor. Adam must labor by the sweat of his brow, and Eve must labor via childbirth.
Rousseau theorized that human beings were living in the "state of nature," a fictitious utopia. It was not until a person selfishly took private property that society began and our corruption ensued. Rousseau explained, "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine ... was the real founder of civil society."
Once society began, "equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow" (p. 27). Note Rousseau's insistence that once "property was introduced, work became indispensable." In other words, labor was not necessary prior to the first person's acquisition of private property. This substantiates Rousseau's negation of Original Sin and the belief that labor is not necessary for Man.
Rousseau's belief in the natural goodness of Man corrupted by society means that "evil derives from society rather than from [men's] sinful natures and that it may be cured or ameliorated through human ... action" (Melzer, 1990, p. 19). Because evil comes from without and not from within, "then perhaps it could be overcome by reordering society. In principle, Rousseau opens up radical new hopes for politics, utopian, messianic ... hopes that it can transform the human condition, bring secular salvation, make all men healthy and happy" (p. 23).
This is really the thrust of Ocasio-Cortez's socialist agenda: man must not labor for our sustenance, and man can change the nature of the human condition from tragic to utopian. Through governmental planning and positive legislation, Ocasio-Cortez can guarantee everyone jobs and pay people not for their labor, but for simply existing, creating universal happiness in her socialist paradise.
This is exactly what Rudyard Kipling meant in his poem "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" (1919): "And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins / When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins." So long as the socialists of today follow Rousseau's lead and invalidate Original Sin, then neither labor nor scarcity is mandatory, nor must the human condition be tragic.
As Edmund Burke, a man known as the first conservative and Rousseau's sharpest critic, understood of labor and Original-Sin:
It is the common doom of man that he must eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, that is, by the sweat of his body, or the sweat of his mind. ... Every attempt to fly from it, and to refuse the very terms of our existence, becomes much more truly a curse. (Burke, 1797, pp. 267-268)
Burke made a similar statement, albeit at an earlier date. As he told his readers:
I have sometimes been in a good deal more than Doubt, whether the Creator did ever really intend Man for a State of Happiness. He has mixed in his Cup a Number of natural Evils ... and every Endeavor which the Art and Policy of Mankind has used from the Beginning of the World to this Day, in order to alleviate, or cure them, has only served to introduce new Mischiefs, or to aggravate and inflame the old. (para. 3)
Ultimately, labor, tragedy, and scarcity are the terms of our existence. So long as socialists refuse to accept that it is the common doom of man that we must labor, socialism will always fail.
We can never eradicate scarcity; we must accept it. We can never change the human condition to utopian; we must accept its tragic nature. We can never invalidate Original Sin and its punishment, labor; we must accept that every attempt to cure it will only introduce additional miseries than had we accepted its terms from the beginning.
The next time someone advocates a living wage, guaranteed jobs, and any other socialist ideals, remember Kipling's dire warning:
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Burke, E. (1797). Letters on a regicide peace. Indianapolis, IN: The Liberty Fund.
Melzer, A. (1990). The natural goodness of men: On the system of Rousseau's thought. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.