Socialism

Hello everyone

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I was working on the Society of Free People campaign: “Boycott VWAG”.

In any case I thought I would post this letter I got from a friend of mine. I had been discussing Frank Furedi with my Uncle, and he remarked that Frank had been a Trotskyite in the 1960’s. In any case my uncle coversed with his friend G about socialism, and remarked that “any version of socialism involving more than two people entails tyranny”. I asked him what he meant by that and here is his reply. Posted with permission of course.

_______________________________________________

Hi Mr. Blair: Sorry for the long delay in replying, I’m overly caught up in my technocratic corporate writing these days.

You’ve caught out my middle-aged brain. Despite the minutes-long rant that led to the punchline “any version of socialism involving more than two people entails tyranny”, I can’t for the life of me remember what the basis of my argument was.

It must have had to do with the compulsion and coerced redistributionism that socialism always involves, and this in turn was likely caused by the fact that humans, while morally equal, are simply not all the same, so that some inevitably work harder, do better or are luckier than others, so that no matter how effective you are at creating a system offering equal opportunity, you’ll never have sameness of outcomes, and if it’s sameness of outcomes that’s your objective and your gold standard, you must revert to compulsion and coercion in order to achieve it.

In addition and equally if not more powerful in practice, there’s the moralistic (not to be confused with moral) or sanctimonious/self-righteous dimension of socialists/nanny-staters. When they see their theories not working through gentle or indirect implementation, when they see ordinary humans behaving in ways other than those leading to or advancing the cause of socialism, then they conclude there’s a need for state action to force into being whatever they’re aiming for. All of this involves coercion and compulsion, since it’s aimed at remedying a contrary condition that people have freely arrived at in pursuing their own goals and desires.

The punchline was arriving at the idea that two people of good faith and deep trust might just pull off a socialist micro-economy (perhaps we could say entire families could manage this, and occasionally groups of friends who cooperate on, say, a cabin in the words).

Bye for now, G.

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7 responses to “Socialism

  1. Paul

    Interesting argument, but I have some critical points. First, “sameness of outcomes” is not and never was an objective for most socialists — this is a “straw man” argument. The objective, according to socialists, is to create a just playing field. Its the difference between all students getting A’s (equality of outcome) and all students being able to get an education by having access to decent schools (equality of opportunity). The latter is a major problem in most US cities. One can still disagree with the state promoting the equality of opportunity (since it obviously does involve some redistribution of wealth, such as using the money of rich parents to fund schools for poor kids) but it is not the same thing as equality of outcome.

    Second, the condition of our society today is NOT “a condition that people have freely arrived at in pursuing their own goals and desires.” Actually, it is the product of thousands of years of various types of coercive and often violent distribution and redistribution by a multitude of state and non-state actors. (To cite a most extreme example, let’s think about whether Native Canadians were pursuing their goals and desires when they ended up living on reservations?)

    Third, following on the above, the state is coercive by definition (see Weber on this). And that’s a good thing! Most of us (and especially the rich) depend on the state’s coercive ability to defend us from violent anarchy. Without state coercion, our “freedom” inevitably leads us not to some kind of just society but to what my man Thomas Hobbes calls the “state of nature,” where life is nasty, brutish and short. Now, it is true that states aiming to institute socialism have historically been more coercive than liberal-democratic states, but coercion of some sort is an intrinsic feature of government. The question concerns the degree of coercion and what end it should serve. Now THIS is something we can debate, but not the necessity of state coercion as such.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents. I hope this doesn’t come off as being too snooty… I’m new to the blogosphere, and I’m still learning its rules of etiquette. Thanks for an interesting post!

  2. Ray

    Paul wrote:

    First, “sameness of outcomes” is not and never was an objective for most socialists

    I beg to differ. Numerous socialists, including the most influential theoreticians among them, from Marx, to Engels, to Comte, to Chomsky, to Singer, to Dworkin, to Nagel, and so on down the line, have called for far more than equality of opportunity. It’s called Distributive Justice. It’s called socialist egalitarianism. It’s even sometimes called
    strict egalitarianism.

    You are right, though, that government by definition is an agency of force. It is a mechanism of appropriation. It is, as Ludwig von Mises said, “the negation of liberty.” You are wrong that this is a good thing.

    As Thomas Paine said:

    “In its best state, government is a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

    Politically speaking, there are at root only two possible types of government: protective government or paternal government. A paternal government acts as your parent. A protective government protects against the instigation of aggression, direct or indirect.

    The point was noted by a Nineteenth Century political philosopher named Auberon Herbert, who said:

    Nobody has the moral right to seek his own advantage by force. That is the one unalterable, inviolable condition of a true society. Whether we are many, or whether we are few, we must learn only to use the weapons of reason, discussion, and persuasion…. As long as men are willing to make use of force for their own ends, or to make use of fraud, which is only force in disguise, wearing a mask, and evading our consent, just as force with violence openly disregards it – so long, then, we must use force to restrain force. That is the one and only one right employment of force … force in the defense of the plain simple rights of property, public or private, in a world, of all the rights of self-ownership – force used defensively against force used aggressively (Auberon Herbert, The Principles of Voluntaryism, 1897).

    And the polymathic Wilhelm von Humboldt:

    Any State interference in private affairs, where there is no reference to violence done to individual rights, should be absolutely condemned…. To provide for the security of its citizens, the state must prohibit or restrict such actions, relating directly to the agents only, as imply in their consequences the infringement of others’ rights, or encroach on their freedom of property without their consent or against their will…. Beyond this every limitation of personal freedom lies outside the limits of state action (Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Limits of State Action, 1791).

  3. Hi Paul

    Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment!

    I will have to disagree with you, and agree with Ray on this one. Redistributive justice is what this is all about.

    The point that you make:

    Second, the condition of our society today is NOT “a condition that people have freely arrived at in pursuing their own goals and desires.” Actually, it is the product of thousands of years of various types of coercive and often violent distribution and redistribution by a multitude of state and non-state actors. (To cite a most extreme example, let’s think about whether Native Canadians were pursuing their goals and desires when they ended up living on reservations?)

    Is the argument that I should, or taxpaying society should compensate people today for wrongs that were committed to their forefathers long ago, because you can blame their present condition on those wrongs. I personally think that that idea is a bankrupt one and incredibly counterproductive. Instead of focusing on the injustices today, we end up bickering about who is the biggest victim. In addition, that argument negates personal responsibility for ones current state. As you well know, everyone has been oppressed by someone else, so who gets to pay for it? Who rights all the wrongs? Better to focus on the injustices today, being committed on the living.

    Regarding the native north Americans, and the concept of multigenerational debt that you used as an extreme example, here is a piece from a comment I posted on Ray Harveys website.

    And in the case of reparations how exactly would it work? Would only poor blacks recieve reparations, or rich ones as well? What of poor blacks whose families were once rich but then let themselves fall into poverty? What of people of mixed race? Would they be neutral as they are descended from both oppressor and oppressed? Would the payments be made from the tax base of the US which is comprised of millions of people who had nothing to do with slavery? Or could we track down all of the descendents of the slave owners and get them to write a cheque? The problem with persuading people to help someone else through guilt is that resentment will inevitably form and grow. Better to do it out of love. Love of freedom, liberty and justice for all.
    I have a better idea, I think everyone who is not a pure blooded Native American should immediately be expelled from the continent, and returned to their ancestral homeland. People of mixed blood would be expelled to Antarctica. As my German ancestors were expelled from eastern Europe after the second world war. That would solve everything. Actually it wouldn’t – since the Native Americans crossed over ther land bridge from Europe and were responsible for the extinction of the the north American megafauna, they should be expelled as well. Actually since humans are the only animal that can oppress another, best that we all just dissapear.

    In fact I think if you have the time you would enjoy reading this blog post and all the comments below it – it is very illuminating I think.

    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/02/how-did-slavery-ever-become-a-legal-institution/

    An example of the very dangerous nature of this concept is occouring right now in Toronto.

    An “Afro-centric” public school opened recently, and the reasoning behind it was that because of the “institutional racism” of Canadian society and western culture in general, and the “legacy” of slavery, Afro-carribean students in particular were not succeeding In School, and therefore needed their own school. Of course I highly doubt that the underperforming black students will end up there – most likely the high achieving students will be sucked out of poorer schools and placed there. Of course the only thing that this will achieve is convincing these students that racial segregation is a good thing. Are white, or Asian students allowed to go to that school? Would they go even if they could?

    I don’t think I need to tell you that this sets a very dangerous precedent. Especially in Canada and particularly in a city such as Toronto that is incredibly multicultural.

    You are an immigrant to this country, I am essentially a first generation Canadian. Neither of us could be considered culpable for any crimes against the “Afro-carribean” diasporapora, so I don’t understand why my taxes should pay for this type of restitution. I think that most Ontariens would agree, and you can see that in the way that John Tory lost the latest provincial election because he wanted to extend government funding to religious schools.

    By those standards almost any ethnic group could now claim that they require government support and taxpayer funded ethnically segregated schools to right the worngs committed in other countries, by other people, against their ancestors.

    Remember that the Afro-carribean population of Toronto only appeared in the 60’s and 70’s. And therefore most social problems that they continue to have could easily be laid at the feet of the culture they came from, not the culture they came to.

    I think anyone who comes to Canada has been given a helping hand just by virtue of their residence here. And shouldn’t expect excessive amounts of government assistance to help them succeed.

    My grandfather certainly didn’t receive any. And he taught himself English, put himself through university, became a teacher and raised 3 children. All this from a man who was raised as a peasant farmer in Hungary.

  4. Paul

    Thanks for your generous responses! I’ll just offer two points of clarification.

    First, I assumed that by the word “socialism,” the original post was referring to mainstream modern socialism, such as that of the French Socialist Party, the German SPD, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, or even Canada’s own NDP. Their brand of socialism (ie. democratic socialism or social democracy) is what most people today have in mind when they describe themselves as socialists (as opposed to communists, Maoists, Bolsheviks, etc.). BTW, I am not a socialist myself (I grew up in communist Poland!), but if we attack “socialism” we have to make sure that we’re attacking the real thing and not the Bolsheviks or some other bugbear or straw man, whom no one except for a few wacky academics takes seriously anymore. Chomsky, for example, is a fringe figure who does not in any way represent the majority of people who describe themselves as socialists. Marx’s views on the subject of distributive justice are complicated, but at any rate I don’t think it’s fair to treat Marx as the spokesman for modern socialism (just as it is unfair to attack modern psychoanalysis by taking potshots at Freud, or the modern theory of evolution by badmouthing Darwin).

    Second, I fully agree with EA Blair (wait, wasn’t Blair himself a socialist who didn’t believe in “sameness of outcome” ;-)) regarding the problems inherent in the concept of “multigenerational debt,” and the very dubious logic behind “Afro-centric” schools in Toronto. But I brought up the issue of the land taken violently from Native Canadians and Americans in order to make a broader point. The point is this: contrary to Herbert’s somewhat naive claim, in modern society there is no such thing as “plain simple property.” I’ll explain why:

    No convincing argument for a natural right to property has ever been offered. Even John Locke, the godfather of the cult of property, admitted that property rights, beyond the direct product of your own labor, are ultimately conventional rather than natural. (Not many people know this, perhaps, but it’s there: see Second Treatise, paragraphs 50&51.) In other words, the right to property is based on an agreement (social contract) reached by a particular society and NOT on some universal standard of justice.

    So, I ask again, at precisely what point, if ever, should something acquired by violence become the legitimate “property” of those who perpetrated the violent acts (or their heirs)? All societies must answer this question somehow, but there is nothing “plain and simple” about answering it – I certainly don’t claim to have an easy answer. Now, I admit that this is an extreme example. But the point it illustrates, is that the question of what constitutes legitimate property in a given society is always a matter of political conventions and arrangements, and not (as Herbert naively seems to imply) the reflection of some kind of higher justice or natural law.

    So how do modern societies actually answer this question? Through necessarily political (and politicized) processes, which are neither plain, simple, or intrinsically just. (Historically, our answers have often reflected the desire of successful robbers to legitimize and safeguard their plunder.) Therefore, unless we fall into a strict legal positivism (a dead end, philosophically), we must acknowledge that the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate property (and therefore between legitimate and illegitimate violence), is not nearly as neat as Herbert would like to have it. And if we bear this in mind, then the distinction between “protective” and “parental” states loses much of its analytical edge. The real question, IHO, concerns whose interests should the state protect and, equally important, how it should go about this. And on this question, we do indeed have many disagreements between the socialists and their critics.

    Sorry for the overly lengthy post, and thanks again for this interesting debate!

  5. Ray

    Hello Paul. Socialism is a genus under which all the forms of socialism that you mention above (and so many more) fall.

    Communism, Maoism, Bolshevism, Trotskism, Nazism, Welfare-Statism, European Socialism, Democratic Socialism — these and all the others are merely a species of socialism proper (which is itself a species of collectivism). The difference among them is not a difference of essentials but purely one of form. I mention that because it matters very little what specific form of socialism we talk about; the principle remains the exact same. That principle is this:

    The negation of private property.

    Socialism is defined — both lexically and also economically — as one thing: government or public control over the means of production — which translates into this: the abolition of private property.

    That is what unites every species of socialism, to one degree or another.

    John Locke is not the godfather of property rights — not by a long shot. In fact, he comes at the tail end, and his metaphysics and epistemology were a bloody mess. The concept of property goes back at least as far Aristotle. The Roman jurist Ulpian also discusses it. To say that no convincing argument has ever been made to the natural right to property is to say that you’re not familiar with the Spanish Scholastics, who predate John Locke by centuries, nor the Digest of Justinian, which is a codification of centuries of Roman law drawn up in the sixth century under the jurist Tribonian and rediscovered in the Latin west in the eleventh century.

    From that very Digest, we are offered this remarkable view of justice:

    Justice is a steady and enduring will to render unto everyone his right: not to harm another person, and to render to each his own

    In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, an ingenious redactor, undertook to synthesize Ulpian and Aristotle, which he stated were compatible:

    The act of justice in relation to its proper matter and object is indicated in the words, Rendering to each one his right, since as Isidore says, a man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others(Summa Theologica).

    Historically, the concept of property is related to the concept dominium, which means “ownership.” As Marsilius of Padua clarified in 1324, also centuries before John Locke: “Dominium in its strict sense is the principle power to lay claim to something rightfully acquired … that is, the power of a person who wants to allow no one else to handle that thing without his, the owner’s, express consent, while he owns it.”

    Most notably, Marsilius grounded the entire edifice of jurisdiction over resources in the world on one’s own dominium over oneself:

    Again, the term “ownership” [dominium] is used to refer to the human will or freedom in itself with its organic executive or motive power unimpeded. For it is through these that we are capable of certain acts and their opposites. It is for this reason that too that humans alone among the animals are said to have ownership or control over their acts; this control belongs to humans by nature (Marsilius quoted by Vitoria, The Rights and Obligations of Indians and Spaniards in the New World, According to Francisco de Vitoria, Salamanco, Spain).

    Obviously, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface — Pope Innocent IV was also a very important figure in the discovery of property rights, as was the Spanish Scholastic (and genius) Las Casas and the Spanish Scholastic Sepulveda — and for more on the long and complex history of right, law, and property, I refer you to Richard Tuck, Natural Right Theories: Their Origins and Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

    Herbert Spencer, who came a century after John Locke, is arguably the most important figure in the codification of individual rights.

    The right to ones own life and property — and only one’s own life and property — ARE indeed built upon a universal standard of justice. That standard is the sovereignty of each and every person. Property is an extension of person.

    The right to property is not fundamentally the right to a material object, which is secondary. The right to property is first and foremost the right to an action — specifically the right sustain one’s life. Property is the right of use and disposal.

    Paul wrote:

    No convincing argument for a natural right to property has ever been offered.

    That’s actually not true. It’s been offered many many times — it just hasn’t been heard. I’ll offer it again:

    If the right to property is not a natural right, who gives permission to those who delegate the property? And who gives permission to the people above them? And who gives permission to the people above them? By what decree, since rights do not exist naturally?

    The right to property is the right to keep, use, and dispose, and the only alternative to acting by right is acting by permission. But if we only act by permission, who gives permission to those who give us permission? And who, in turn, gives those others permission? From the beginning, as you can see, denying natural rights runs logically aground; for to say that we don’t possess our property by right is to say that we only possess it by permission.

    And who or what says that we may only act by permission and not by right? By what or whose authority?

    The only alternative to private property is public or government property, both of which amount to the same thing in the end: a bureau determining for the rest of us who gets what. But if there is no such thing as a natural right to property, how can communal or government property then be justified? By what edict? By what right?

    Ultimately, the thing in nature that gives rise to rights (which includes property rights) is the fact that humans possess a volitional consciousness. This means we live by reason and not force. It means we are each individuated and sovereign, and as such no government and no person possesses legitimate authority over any other individual’s person or property. To do so is wrong, which is not coincidentally the opposite of right.

    My thanks to you all,

    Ray

    P.S.
    I only wish Noam Chomsky were a fringe figure.

  6. Ray

    P.S.S. In her 1943 book God of the Machine, the brilliant political philosopher Isabel Paterson very succinctly presents the proper argument for natural rights:

    Persons unaccustomed to attach exact meanings to words will say that the fact that a man may be unjustly executed or imprisoned negates this proposition [of inalienable rights]. It does not. The right is with the victim nonetheless; and very literally it cannot be alienated, for alienated means passing into the possession of another. One man cannot enjoy either the life or liberty of another. If he kills ten men he will not thereby live ten lives or ten times as long; nor is he more free if he puts another man in prison. Rights are by definition inalienable: only privileges can be transferred. Even the right to own property cannot be alienated or transferred, though a given item of property can be. If one man’s rights are infringed, no other man obtains them; on the contrary, all men are thereby threatened with a similar injury.

    Boldface mine.

    What she’s saying there is that you cannot prove that government or anyone else has a right to their property but you do not have a right to yours. Rights form a unity and are indivisible.

    You must either concede that we possess our lives and therefore our property by permission only. Or that we possess it by right. Those are the only two options. And if we only possess it by permission, you must answer the following:

    Who says?

    And why?

  7. Paul

    Ray,

    Of course we can argue over definitions for ever, but I think that they should ultimately be judged by how useful they are. In this respect I think your definition is problematic because it is formalistic, ahistorical, and fails to encompass the most important political forces in the contemporary world that define themselves as “socialist.”

    As for property and natural right, the quotations you provided beg for some context. According to Aristotle and his successors (including Aquinas, Vitoria, & co.), the natural goal of the political community was the “common good” of all its members. I won’t get into what this meant (esp. since it meant somewhat different things for the ancients and the medievals), but I will say that it emphatically did NOT mean the safeguarding of each citizen’s liberty to pursue his or her own private happiness and property without regard for the good of the community as a whole. The point is that, in ancient political thought, private property was not sacrosanct but was ultimately subordinated to the notion of a higher “common good.” Further, it did not constitute a “natural right,” in the way in which it did for modern and early modern liberals. In sum, while I in no way meant to imply that ancient political philosophy and law lacked “the concept of property” (that would indeed be ridiculous!), I stick by the assertion that property only became a fetish in modern political thought, and that this was largely thanks to Locke.

    Cheers,
    Paul

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