Progressives, Thou Shalt Not Steal
As a child, I owned very little, but what I owned was mine, and what others owned was not to be stolen or even touched without their permission. Only later did I understand how important this principle of ownership was to the survival of mankind.
One of the primal human instincts is possession. From an early age, humans construct a mental world based on what is "mine" and "not mine," and much of life is devoted to amassing and enjoying — and defending — our possessions. Not just material possessions, but status, relationships, and the freedom and security that accompany affluence.
Those on the left downplay the importance of this instinct, but it is closely connected with human happiness and survival itself — far more so than any Green New Deals or fake infrastructure spending, which are simply massive thefts from taxpaying Americans to liberal politicians and their welfare and corporate clients.
People take pride in their possessions, even if those possessions are modest, because what they own separates them from want, indignity, maltreatment, sickness, and death. Earlier generations lived with the fear of being "sent to the poorhouse," and their fear was well placed: those who had lost everything often had nowhere else to go, and conditions there were grim.
Progressives are now attempting to send us all to the poorhouse. That is the effect of the socialism they wish to enact — and socialism is the end result of initiatives like Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax on top of existing marginal rates.
When the State takes all we have, or even most of what we have, we are dependent on the State, and that presents a problem. Not only does the State have an abysmal record of delivering what it calls "services," but dependency robs us of our self-assurance and sense of security. In effect, we become slaves who must bow to the wishes of the State. Marx didn't use those terms, but it was that perverse wish to enslave humanity that underlay his theories. To paraphrase Elias Canetti, the dream of every tyrannical ruler is to make himself the "last survivor." For Marx, all of humanity was expendable so long as he and his precious theories survived.
When the State seizes what you own, what is taken does not make others rich or even well off. What is seized finds its way into the pockets of the political elite and their supporters. Even if one could effectively redistribute income, the source of income would soon dry up. If a physician is taxed a marginal rate of 90%, he will no longer perform the difficult work he does. Likewise with every other highly productive individual in society. And those on the receiving end will have little incentive to work, either. As productivity implodes, inflation ensues, and no matter how many dollars are distributed, real living standards decline.
This is precisely what is happening under Biden's policies. Workers are staying home, even with 10 million job openings; productivity is falling; and shortages are appearing. Supply chain shortages have given rise to hoarding on the part of fearful consumers, and hoarding causes further shortages. And at the heart of the supply-chain crisis lies government support for those who refuse to work.
Once the State has no compunction about stealing on a massive scale, why would it hesitate to take life as well? I am haunted by those images of German Jews being marched off to their deaths, carrying at most a little suitcase or handbag. Before they were murdered by the State, they were stripped of their possessions — not just their wealth, but their synagogues, hundreds of which were burned during Kristallnacht, their schools and libraries, their places of business, and their personal freedom. Dispossession comes first, then death.
I see the same contempt for life in the demands of today's progressives. It is not just "the rich" that they wish to eliminate — it is the fundamental instinct of ownership. But to eliminate that instinct, they must eliminate life itself.
Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin's ally before he was executed by the dictator in 1938, wrote that Stalin's "unhappiness" drove him to murder so many of the Russian people, including those closest to him. In this view, Bukharin was mistaken. It was not idiosyncratic unhappiness that drove Stalin to kill 40 million of his people, but the essential characteristic of all tyrants: the wish to eliminate all but himself. Had Stalin lived another forty years, few Russians would have been left.
That same perverse instinct to survive all others is the most prominent element in Marx's writing, but rather than calling for the outright elimination of others, Marx proposed the strict rationing of all that supports life. The motive was nonetheless the same, and today's Marxists find it thrilling to contemplate a world stripped of personal possessions and private wealth. At the heart of Marxism lies the most savage of human instincts and one diametrically opposed to that of ownership: the instinct to end all life beyond their control.
Marxists harbor a form of sadism so terrifying that they must disguise it as "scientific" or "objective" economic theory. What must never be admitted, especially in democratic states such as America, is the sweeping contempt for life itself that underlies socialism. The goal is a regimented, all-powerful State in which the population, if it survives at all, is reduced to dependency. That goal is global in nature: it is the enslavement not just of America that they wish, but of the world, with all the world's people under the thumb of a despotic government intent on self-perpetuation. The Chinese Communist Party might seem today's most obvious example, but America's Democrat party is equally cunning.
What stands in the way is the right of private property. My ownership of a computer and uncensored access to the internet — now threatened by the State and its allies — guarantees me the freedom to express my views. My ownership of a house and land, no matter how humble, allows me to chart my own course. Even a small pension guarantees independence, and it's no surprise that progressives like Saule Omarova, Biden's nominee to serve as comptroller of the currency, have expressed support for government takeover of banks and pension investments. As Larry Bell points out, Omarova "proposes to move and 'fully replace' private bank deposits" and to make the Federal Reserve into "the ultimate public platform for generating, modulating, and allocating financial resources." In other words, everything.
In the end, the right of ownership is our guarantor of freedom and dignity. It assures that ordinary people can live their lives apart from state control. Progressives have attempted to undermine the sanctity of property rights by teaching that wealth is the product of immoral exploitation. If they succeed, America will descend further into anarchy, with no limits on theft, either by individuals or government, and with devastating consequences for our freedom. In the end, the progressive assault on ownership is a critical element in their plan to enslave the world's people and rule, perversely, as the ultimate survivors.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
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