Why you should be a socialist
No, I don’t think you should be a socialist.
But over the weekend, I did finish Nathan J. Robinson’s Why You Should Be a Socialist, a book that attempts to sway moderates and conservatives to the Left.
Below, I provide my general take away from the book (Politics of Envy), followed by something that Robinson gets right… and it’s why, in all likelihood, socialism is headed for victory in the United States (Why Socialism Will Win).
Politics of Envy
Robinson argues that expropriation and redistribution leads to a more equitable society.
Of course, he doesn’t explain how this will be done, i.e., through coercion and violence. Billionaires won’t willingly give up their riches to the state. It’s why they often hide much of it offshore.
Robinson also doesn’t explain the fate of all the would-be confiscated multi-million dollar yachts — turned into housing for the homeless, I presume. (Or maybe just weekend getaways for party apparatchiks.)
Robinson is the socialist Terrible Terry Tate, office linebacker, who destroys strawmen arguments throughout the book. He’s a master of offering halfhearted rebuttals which he quickly overcomes to keep the book moving along. And it does move along.
He admits that his political ideology is based on merely a visceral, emotional reaction to inequality. There is no logic here, only state power to alleviate the pain of envy. The wealthy have multi-million dollar Manhattan apartments while children are literally starving in the streets and injured workers are begging bystanders not to call an ambulance because it’s too expensive. It’s just not fair. We can use the wealth of the rich to help the poor. Therefore, we must use state power to make things equal, he explains.
What’s worse, he makes no distinction between the American poor and the poor of China or Uganda. You, American, have a duty to the world’s poor. And in a world with no borders, you must accept millions of the world’s poor as your neighbors. (Think otherwise, comrade, and you risk the gulag.)
I finished the book with the sense that socialism is just the politics of envy shrouded by a mask of morality and justice.
Of course, there is obscene wealth inequality in this country. And that troubles me, because it drives our low intensity conflict. It ensures that the class and culture war will rage until it becomes violent. That’s what history teaches us. The culprit is not entirely the billionaire who games the system, though. The true culprit is the system itself, which is run by the same class of elites Robinson rails against. So the times require a socialist revolution. A fundamental transformation, if you will.
Robinson says he’s a “libertarian socialist” — somehow stateless socialism will work for all 320 million of us, plus the 20-30 million who live here in the shadows. We’re also led to believe that human nature can be overcome in this socialist utopia, a place where everyone gets what they want through mutual, democratic consensus.
We’re led to believe that legislation will take us to this utopia. No, this socialist revolution will require violence. This is why Robinson is so keen to discuss the ends while glossing over the means. (To be fair, the means is really outside the scope of the book, but you can’t seriously discuss the “what” without answering the “how.”)
Robinson argues that workers should be in charge of the factories and businesses in which they work because profit is exploitation. The proletariat must organize into trade unions and fight back against their oppression!
Socialists always want to take over existing profitable businesses built by capitalism, instead of starting their own re-distributive ventures. This is justified because private property is theft from the commons, he believes. It’s probably why he locks his doors at night, to keep the commons out of his kitchen. (Earlier this year Robinson, a magazine editor, fired his own employees for trying to organize a union.)
But for everything Robinson gets wrong, he does get a few things right.
Why Socialism Will Win
Robinson’s observations on the failings of conservatism are worth the read. (Just find a PDF of the book to download and read for free because private property is theft.)
Conservatism is in retreat, he says, because there are no new, big ideas. In a country where people are searching for solutions to everyday problems, conservatives have nothing new, he argues.
As many in the New Right proclaim, a focus on tax cuts are not a winning political or cultural strategy. And reducing government only sounds good if you already believe that government is the source of all problems, which younger people tend not to believe. This is a massive cultural shift that the establishment Right ignores, and it’s one reason why they’ll continue losing (Romney, McCain, et al).
And as economic and social conditions continue to deteriorate, a lion’s share of younger people don’t want the freedom to solve their own problems, they want those problems solved by the state, as evidenced by the growing popularity of socialism among Generation Z.
Younger people want what their parents have, built during a time of unparalleled economic expansion, but in a period where current economic conditions make it largely impossible (except for the debt).
Robinson argues that there is no conservative Green New Deal that promises to solve the country’s problems — only push back against the narrative that government can solve those problems. This is probably why New Right willingness to use state power to advance conservative causes is gaining popularity.
I do think over the next 20 years, if nothing knocks us off the current trajectory, the United States is likely to become authoritarian and, yes, socialist. Democratic socialism will be about as real as democracy in Venezuela or Cuba.
Even under European socialism, freedom means ridding the country of unpalatable political opinions under the threat of violence and prison. Police in the UK, for instance, scroll through social media looking for thought criminals to arrest and refer for prosecution. Real freedom, they say, is freedom from the things they dislike, freedom to act within what’s blessed by the state. This is exactly where we’re headed, in case the past 18 months have yet to convince you.
As the country grows exponentially more complex, and self-advocacy becomes more diverse, the government’s ability to manage this complexity has not kept pace. I believe the government is losing control of the country, and that means expansion of authority, not freedom (as we currently see).
Unless our trajectory is altered, socialism is likely to win. The erosion of the middle class paves the way towards a permanent underclass not as much interested in why they can’t get ahead (they’re never told the real reasons), but in how they can get ahead quickly. Solutions like universal healthcare and universal basic income seemingly offer those fixes. As long as the Right doesn’t have a competitive message, younger generations are likely to ask themselves why they shouldn’t be a socialist. - M.S.
P.S. - Many may wonder why I read books from Far Left authors. At least 75% of the news and media I consume comes from the Left because much of what we see in the mainstream today came from the fringe decades ago. It’s well worth your time, on occasion, to tune into these podcasts and websites and get a glimpse into what could be mainstream tomorrow.