by Joseph Sunde
In my first post at Ethika Politika, I rejected the claim that socialism would be wonderful if only it were realistically sustainable, calling it an “appalling concession” for anyone who believes that human flourishing is a worthwhile goal.
In a recent article at Forbes.com, economist Art Carden furthers this view, arguing that the socialist dream is not a “beautiful ideal that was corrupted by bad people” but an organized, “blood-soaked“ attempt to “snuff out the things that make us human.”
“Socialism didn’t fail because it is an ideal of which we aren’t worthy,” Carden explains. “Socialism failed because it is internally incoherent and structurally unsound.”
Carden focuses mostly on socialism’s “intellectual rebellion against economics,” as evidenced by Marx’s zero-sum outlook, his bizarre connecting of private property and “self-alienation,” and the numerous “promised utopias” of his devotees, the executions of which have lead to nothing more than impoverished economies, dehumanized individuals, and mountains of corpses.
(If you like extremes, China is a good place to start.)
As economist Ludwig von Mises once explained (and as cited by Carden):
The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization, it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built.
Yet although economic knowledge is crucial for the proper ordering of society, and although that subsequent order may indeed lead to moral achievements like free exchange, isn’t there something moral about the sentiments and attitudes that precede such knowledge? Isn’t there something moral about the ways we shape our perspectives about ourselves, our neighbors, and the economic systems in which we engage?
As I’ve argued previously, “We must understand that the most fundamental moral framework behind the free enterprise system is reinforced by the economic data—it is not defined by it.” There is indeed an essentiality of proper economic thinking in what Mises calls the “structure of human civilization,” but this only scratches the surface of what socialism aims to reject.
For whatever our original disposition—perfect, imperfect, or otherwise—we humans tend to thrive on freedom when we find it. If ever there was an example of this, capitalism is it. When we lose such freedom (e.g., prison), or live without it (e.g., slavery), we long for it, even if our longing is sometimes unfocused, misaligned, or just plain old difficult (e.g., the Middle East).
To escape this fundamental craving, one assumes that a different sort of rebellion needs to take place—one aimed at the control of others rather than the control of one’s self. This is why any fantasies about “realistically sustainable” socialism are problematic: They rely on a view of humanity that is unrealistic, and in turn, they promote unreal humans. Based on such premises, true utopia—the kind we might actually enjoy—is something that cannot exist, even in theory.
We can call this “idealism,” but I’m not sure it leads to ideal outcomes. We are who we are, and that is not a bad thing.
There is a certain feature of man that is evil and corrupt, as the bloodbaths of the 20th century will be quick to illustrate, yet there is another feature of man that is good and just. It is this that needs to be leveraged, channeled, and unleashed, and it is this that socialism seeks to deny, suppress, and forbid. Authentic “social harmony” is impossible without it, so in our attempts to stifle, smother, or ignore it, we should not be surprised that the world correspondingly turns into a cold cultural vacuum at best and a death-ridden Soviet gulag at worst.
Again, we are constantly told that socialism could exist if only men were angels, but the more important point appears to be whether socialism would exist if men were angels.
It seems we would do better to replace “angels” with “robots,” for that is what socialism truly reduces us to: mere material beings, doomed to be programmed and positioned according to our commissar-designated functions. For whatever it is that angels actually do, I should hope that control and puppetry are not high on their lists.
The Cold War has ended, but the resistance remains—against knowledge, against spirit, against man. We can romanticize such a rebellion by calling it “idealism,” but I suggest we romanticize truth by embracing it.
Joseph Sunde is a writer and political commentator from Minneapolis, Minnesota and a regular author at Ethika Politika. He is also the founder and primary author of Remnant Culture, and blogs regularly at AEI’s Common Sense Concept. Joseph is primarily interested in the role of economics in religion and society. Outside of writing, he is an active musician and enjoys spending the majority of his free time with his wife and child.