Monday, April 03, 2006

Socialism is the Religion People Get When They Lose Their Religion

"Generational forgetting" is a buzzword in the sphere of drug addiction treatment. It purports to explain how drugs like heroin cycle back into vogue, as younger users do not see all the wastoids of previous generations, who ruined themselves on it during a previous wave of popularity. Absent the cautionary sight of the earlier drug casualties, young users experiment with dangerous drugs and start the tragic cycle anew.

Perhaps that's what's happening nowadays with socialism. Professor Ronald Aronson writing in The Nation says that the Left needs more socialism. It's an attempt to de-stigmatize the word "socialism"--the concept has of course never gone out of favor with the Left, instead becoming the Ideology That Dared Not Speak Its Name. Socialists have always insisted that they are different from communists, but the defeat of Soviet communism by the free, democratic, capitalist West tarred them by association anyway. Socialism retreated to the cultural front in the Nineties. Now we hear the siren song, "another world is possible", wafting our way once again, from the rocks.

Take away the contemporary references, and Professor Aronson's piece could have been written 100 years ago. Some of its more obvious refutations are almost that old, too. Too much capitalism? As G. K. Chesterton said, that doesn't mean that there are too many capitalists. It means that there are too few. Latin America doesn't need socialism; it needs a middle class. And even 100 years ago Prof. Aronson's remark about "faith in the market" would have been a fallacious cliche. As Thomas Sowell said, you don't need "faith" to believe in the benefits of the free market--the concrete proof that it works is everywhere. Humorist P. J. O'Rourke observed that the state-run agricultures of Eastern Europe were so mismanaged that he could see the boundary between capitalism and socialism from his airplane window, en route to Warsaw. But to believe in socialism, that's what takes faith.

It's faintly nauseating to read the veiled self-congratulation Prof. Aronson ladles on, in his lauding of socialism:

Socialism's values continue to nourish community life.

The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism's values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.

Socialists have conceived a society that provides for the needs of every individual, including adequate means to live a decent life and develop each person's capacities.

No. All of these virtues which are alleged for socialism are borrowed from elsewhere. The English idea of fair play; the Christian ideals of charity and compassion, the Jewish example of community, all are the true coin of which socialism is the counterfeit. Government expropriation of society's high achievers, on the presumption of their unworthiness to possess their own wealth, is no recipe for justice, never has been, and never can be. Deracinated intellectuals, as ignorant of their blessings as fish are ignorant of water, who've never lost a loved one to the gulags, never lost a livelihood to rampaging rent-a-mobs--indeed, probably never missed a meal--really have some nerve in calling for the revival of the idea that immiserated so many people in the last century, and whose remnants hold back so many today. As Jean-Francois Revel once said, so long as there is a single rock in the world's oceans without socialism, there will be boat people.

Your First Things tie-in is a gimme. Richard John Neuhaus, from 1994:

The socialist revisionists we will have always with us, for the desire becomes more demanding as the prospect of its satisfaction recedes. The idea, like a bird, escapes all the closing traps of historical fact. There must be, they insist, an alternative to this-to the paltry, striving, bourgeois, thus and so ness of democratic capitalism. There simply must be. And there is of course. But those who do not know the alternative of a new heaven and new earth of ultimate promise have no choice but to cling ever more desperately to socialism as the name of their desire.

And what the hey, since I'm blathering on at such length, have this Sidney Hook quote, too. Same low price:

I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.

Don't let me catch you waltzing with the goalposts like that, all right?

Addendum: What with the recent brouhaha about a plagiarist over at NRO, I'd better divulge that the line "socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion" is not original with me. It is of course a great quip by our fearless FT leader Richard John Neuhaus. I even used it some time back, in a post of his quotes, too lazy to look up the link, sorry.


  1. I knew that wasn't an original thought but, though not original, it's worth restating and you stated it well.

    Interesting blog. I'll be back.

    Funny, I was bored and so I clicked on the link at the header of my own blog for "next blog" and got some German guy, clicked again and there you were. I'm glad I stumbled across you. NRO could do worse, lol. :0


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