Socialism American Style
Tibor R. Machan
Mr. Milos Foreman is a renowned film director but not a good political economist. This is evident in his recent New York Times op-ed defense of Barack Obama from those who charge the president with being a socialist. (See his essay, “Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close” in the July 10th issue of the paper.)
When someone on the American political landscape is accused of being a socialist, the claim has little directly to do with Stalinism, a lot more with the kind of system they had in Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and other Soviet colonies, namely the phony promise of cradle to grave security and relentless government meddling in people’s lives (goulash communism). Call it Norman Thomas style socialism, the kind that so many academic socialist in the West champion.
The brutality known as Soviet style socialism comes later. It is not the first step. But we get a good clue about its approach in America when one understands the meaning of a term like “mandate.” It means coerce, plain and simple!
In socialism mandates are everywhere–all must be forced to live the same way, pay for the same health care and insurance, fall in line with state policy in matters of nutrition, conservation, energy usage, environmental ethics, climate change, etc., etc. Clamping down on free speech is never the first step, nor is shutting down the free press and nationalizing media. Or even collectivizing, banks, factories and farms. (But check out Caesar Chavez of Venezuela and how he is imposing a near Stalinist variety of socialism.)
When governments start believing and imposing their idea of how everyone ought to live, how and when people’s resources ought to be utilized, it’s a clear move toward the harsh version of socialism but not yet the same thing; first you get the Swedish and Norwegian varieties, “socialism with a human face.” North Korea’s kind is a good ways down the road, which has a lot to do with the culture and history of the particular country involved. But socialism it is, Mr. Foreman’s sophistry to the contrary notwithstanding (this coming from a refugee from Hungarian communism/socialism, not unlike the sort Mr. Foreman left behind in Czechoslovakia).
There is variety in the different types of socialism proposed and implemented but there is a recognizable unifying central theme in every version of it that Mr. Obama and his ideological cohorts share: people are viewed as belonging to society, as part of a hive or herd that needs to be driven in one proper direction. One size fits all!
The major obstacle to it all being individualism and the free market that is its economic corollary. If you are bent on moving the country toward any kind of bona fide socialism, start with chipping away at its individualist elements, like the liberty of a citizen to purchase the health insurance he or she deems suitable! Or not to purchase any at all. (The fact that in many countries such measures are already present means only that moving away from the governmental habit is difficult, with innumerable specialist interests resisting it.)
Sure, the idea can be driven home more or less forcefully–in America it is government nudging and the oxymoronically named libertarian paternalism, that’s embraced by Mr Obama and his lieutenants, e.g., professors Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes. Theirs are the prudent, gentle approaches to socialism preferred by the likes of American socialists such as the late Norma Thomas and Michael Harrington, not the gulags or concentration camps of Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s Nazism (e.g., national socialism).