Socialism’s Perennial Allure

by Professor Jack

The central conceit of liberals, progressives, and, increasingly, rank and file Democrats, is that wealth is always present in the world, and the only problem is to redistribute it. To turn the words of Jesus on their head: “The rich you have always with you” (John 12:8). It is the historical calling of liberals to take wealth from the wrong people and give it to the right people. Naturally, they cast themselves as the right people, while “the rich,” “the capitalists,” “the greedy,” etc., are not merely the wrong people, but evil people as well. Liberalism is not an economic model as much as it is a moral crusade. That explains its appeal to the young, who are always easy to enlist in one crusade or another.

Bernie Sanders personifies this crusade. Like all socialists he deems it his imperative to take as much social wealth into his hands as possible and give it to those more worthy than the moral reprobates who presently hold it. Indeed, if he could take all money from everyone and put it in a giant pot, he and his gnostic elites, so he believes, would do a much better job of using it than the rest of us.

Progressives, et al., always couch their crusades in highly moralistic terms. They use such terms as universal health care, living wage, nationalizing of the means of production, social justice and a host of others, but these terms all mean the same thing. They all mean the expropriation of private wealth by a morally and intellectually superior caste and the doling of it out to those deserving of it. The recipients of this redistribution are themselves cast in moralistic terms: “the poor,” “the 99%,” “the people,” “the marginalized,” the “other,” “the oppressed,” “people of color,” etc.

Socialism of various kinds has been tried numerous times and has never succeeded in creating a self-sustaining society. It failed miserably in such places as Cuba, the old Soviet Union, and North Korea. It has failed to some degree in Canada and England. It is failing in the western European countries, where a modified socialism called Social Democracy is becoming bankrupt. Where socialism has seemed to succeed, say in Scandinavia, it no longer does. The accumulated capital of previous generations is running out, having been spent on generous welfare societies while depressing the desire of the population to replenish it.

Socialism does not only discourage personal enterprise; it undermines personal morality, teaching populations to turn to the state for their social meaning as well as their physical sustenance.

Norway is an example. Most of the people of Norway live on the distributions of the central state, which until recently has received its monies from the oil of the North Atlantic. Norway seemed for decades the perfect society. The people were heavily taxed, well over 50% of their income, but they received benefits that led to a comfortable existence. With the fall of oil prices, however, the state revenues are being depleted, and there is little spirit of private industry left to take up the slack. That’s because most Europeans, to one extent or another, have been conditioned to expect their identities, personal and social, to be conferred by the state.

Norwegians travel short distances to jobs that are often little more than sinecures, watch state produced TV programs, shop in state-approved, subsidized stores, and observe social customs that are thorough expressions of progressive correctitude. The merest hints of any judgmentalism, of any spiritual dissent, of any preference for public religious expressions, are expunged from both conversation and consciousness by an informal but effective secular politesse.

A Norwegian friend tells me that when he visits the home country he is struck by the passivity of the people. It colors everything. “The government will take care of it,” they say regarding the issues of the day. As an evangelical Christian, my friend finds this submissiveness even among the biblical churches that he visits. When his Norwegian relatives visit this country, he continues, they are unmoored by the dynamism and seeming chaos that characterizes American social processes. They look around, shrug their shoulders, and hurry home to the prescribed languor that makes up their lives.

This languor is on display in the current best-selling memoirs by Karl Ove Knausgaard, a contemporary Norwegian author known for his long, introspective examinations of the details of his daily life. So far, Knausgaard has published six volumes of such personal longueurs titled “My Struggle.” This vast expanse of tedium has caught the imagination of millions of Europeans, perhaps because it expresses their own sense of boredom and moral drift.

My Norwegian friend may overplay his country’s anomie a bit, but the fact that he picks up on the differences so readily indicates that in many ways Social Democracy has transformed the very character of the typical Norwegian. This could be said of several large, western European societies. One wonders what is going to happen now that millions of Muslims are flooding those societies.

Socialism is the illusion of rich countries conditioned to feel guilt about their prosperity and made to believe that personal and social redemption are to be had through the observance of a complex ritual of secular penitence. Multiculturalism is the engine of this penitence, while political correctness is the language in which it is couched.

Bernie Sanders, like Barack Obama before him, is the moral crusader of the moment, bringing this vision of life to America. Have we declined to the point that we will wish it upon ourselves?