"Liberal Socialism" - Another False Utopia

Authored by Richard Ebeling via The Mises Institute,

Very often bad and failed ideas do not die, they simply reappear during periods of supposed social and political crisis in slightly different intellectual garb, and offer “solutions” that would merely help to bring about some of the very types of crises for which they once again claim to have the answers. Socialism in its various “progressive” mutations represents one of the leading ones in our time.

The latest manifestation of this appeared on August 24, 2017 in the New Republic online in an article by John B. Judis on, “The Socialism America Needs Now.” He is heartened by the wide appeal, especially among younger voters, that Bernie Sanders received during the 2016 presidential contest. He thinks that this may herald a rebirth and a renewed possibility for a socialist alternative to the current American political and economic system.

Having traveled over the decades from the 1970s to the present from being a radical, revolutionary socialist to a more “moderate” one today, Mr. Judis admits that the Marxian-style socialism of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries is now long passé. The embarrassing experience of “socialism-in-practice” in the form Lenin and Stalin created in the Soviet Union or by Chairman Mao in China will not fly anymore.

From Soviet Central Planning to “Liberal Socialism”

Central planning seemed not to work too well, and the “communist” variation on the socialist theme also had a tendency to be “authoritarian” with some drawbacks for human life and liberty. (He tactfully avoids mentioning that Marxist-inspired regimes in the twentieth century murdered well over a 100 million people — with some estimates suggesting the number might have been closer to 150 million or more in the name of building the “bright, beautiful socialist future.” See my article, “The Human Cost of Socialism in Power”.)

He turns his mind and ideal to the “democratic socialist” parties and regimes in Western Europe in the post-World War II era, or as Mr. Judis prefers to call it, following John Maynard Keynes, “liberal socialism.” What makes this form of socialism “liberal”? It is belief that there can be a “socialism with a human face.” In other words, a form of “economic” socialism that leaves in place democratic politics with a respect for a broad range of personal and civil liberties.

We have heard this all so many times before. While Mr. Judis wishes to suggest that there is no real or definitive definition of “socialism” (any more than there are of “liberalism” or “democracy”), the fact is that throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, virtually all socialists condemned and called for the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, and in its place some form of socialist central planning directed by government in the name of “the people.”

Mr. Judis actually more or less admits this, and that the only great debate among socialists and communists in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries was over how the socialist utopia would be brought about – through violent revolution or through the democratic ballot box. The Russian Marxists led by Vladimir Lenin insisted that only revolution and a “dictatorship of the proletariat” could bring “the workers” to power and assure their permanent triumph over the exploitive capitalist class. The German democratic socialists opted for democratic means to power and rejected the dictatorship of Lenin and later Stalin.

But it is nonetheless the case that well into the post-World War II period this was a dispute over political means and not ideological ends, which remained for both branches of the socialist movement the abolition of capitalism and the imposition of socialist central planning. Communists wanted to bring about this transformation of society in one fell swoop through violent means and imposed dictatorship. The German Social Democrats and the “Fabian” socialists in Great Britain proposed democratic means, with socialism coming more gradually and through incremental extensions of government control and planning over more and more parts of society. But for both, the end result would be the same: centralized government direction of economic affairs and social change.

As the 1950s turned into the 1960s and 1970s, more and more “democratic” socialists in Western Europe grudgingly accepted the fact that comprehensive socialist central planning was a failure as practiced in the Moscow-dominated Soviet bloc countries; and it brought little of the prosperity that government planning promised to provide as an escape from poverty in the “third world” countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Plus, the tyranny and brutality of Soviet-style socialism made it ethically difficult to defend. So the democratic socialists turned to the interventionist-welfare state to achieve their “social justice” ends without nationalizing all the means of production or centrally planning all economic activity in society. (See my article, “Barack Obama and the Meaning of Socialism”.)

In Search of Socialist Utopias Elsewhere

But those communist regimes were not so repulsive that many, if not most, of these democratic socialists in the West would not continue to still give moral indulgence and wishful hopes that, maybe, somehow, Marxian socialism would still finally work and fulfill its promise in, first, Mao’s China, then in Castro’s Cuba, or Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, or in the Sandinista’s Nicaragua, or . . . The collectivist dream and delusion springs eternal. Plus, after all, even a rude, crude and rough Marxist regime isn’t the United States – please, please almost anything other than capitalist America!

Even today, the enlightened “progressive” can take a tour of Castro’s Cuba with the leftist magazine, The Nation. Don’t miss out! This November 2017 you can go with The Nation and, their advertisement promises, “learn about the Cuban Revolution from experts at some of its most pivotal locations, including the Moncada Barracks, the site of the first armed assault by Fidel Castro and his band of rebels on July 26, 1953.” The progressive political pilgrim to the collectivist promised land will be spending his or her “days meeting with prominent Cuban professors, government officials,” including “urban planners” and “health care workers.” Don’t miss on your chance to visit one of the remaining socialist “utopias” before global capitalism succeeds in taking it away.

No doubt, these “social justice” tourists will not be taken to La Cabana prison, where Che Guevara was assigned by Castro the role of state prosecutor against “enemies of the people,” following Fidel’s triumphant entrance into Havana and seizure of power in January 1959. In the role as unrestrained judge and jury, Che arbitrarily sent hundreds to their death, sometimes literally by his own hand.

Nor are they likely to have quoted to them Che’s words that, “My ideological training means that I am one of those people who believe that the solution to the world’s problems is to be found behind the Iron Curtain.” And that “I can’t be the friend of anyone who doesn’t share by ideas.” Or that Che was the one who in 1960 instituted communist Cuba’s system of forced labor camps. This would not fit in with the heroic face of Che on the t-shirts that, no doubt, some of these “progressive” travelers to utopia would be wearing. After all, Fidel and Che did it all for “the people,” and, well, they did have “good intentions.”

Of course, while such political pilgrims are pleased to visit these places and bask in the moral satisfaction that the few remaining communist regimes in the world are still trying to make that “better world,” even if with the heavy hand of dictatorship, censorship of art, music and political views, the imprisonment of political opponents, and torture and execution of “enemies of the people” (all of which they still mostly turn a blind eye), they prefer to live in their own Western countries and dream the “liberal socialist” dream, as clearly Mr. Judis is doing.

Liberal Socialism as the Regulatory and Redistributive State

What, precisely, is this democratic or “liberal” socialism to which Mr. Judis hopes a younger generation of Americans will turn in the years ahead? It turns out to be the same “utopia” of the interventionist-welfare state that Western countries have been following since the end of the Second World War, though, admittedly, to different degrees in different places around the world.

Mr. Judis wants the government to intensively and pervasively regulate, command, restrict and direct various aspects of the private enterprises in society, while assuring that American society can still take advantage of the self-interested incentives and innovations that can improve the material conditions of life. But the direction, form and extent to which private enterprisers shall be allowed to do those productive and innovative things with their businesses will be confined to and constrained within those avenues that serve the “higher” and “non-market” values and purposes of “society.”

Matching the regulatory and interventionist state must be the redistributive welfare state. The excessive and unnecessary income and wealth of the businessmen and private sector investors of America must be taxed, and heavily, to assure greater material egalitarianism, and to fund all the social services and government-provided safety nets, which “would bring immeasurable benefit to ordinary Americans. A good watchword is economic security – something that is very lacking to all except the wealthiest Americans.”

At this point, it might be wondered what, then, marks off Mr. Judis’ “liberal socialism” from the already existing modern American “liberal” interventionist-welfare state? It turns out that it is all a matter of intentions and the intended recipients. In Mr. Judis’ view, mainstream modern American liberals have lost their way; they too frequently sleep with the enemy (think Bill and Hillary Clinton) in the form of excessively collaborating with businessmen and bankers to the latter’s benefit; American liberals and progressives have stopped sufficiently emphasizing “economic justice” for middle America with their increasingly primary focus on “identity politics.”

Liberal Socialism and Democratic Politics Without Romance

Also, unlike the communists and many radical socialists and some progressives, Mr. Judis calls for moving towards his notion of a better socialist future through a more active participation in the Democratic Party. The task is to nudge and shove mainstream modern American liberals in the Democratic Party further to the socialist left, which in many of their hearts these people already know is right. And to use the Democratic Party as the vehicle to propagandize and persuade more in society that socialism is good and just and the best for them.

In other words, Mr. Judis calls for using the methods of the earlier German Democratic Socialists and the British Fabians, only do so in a way that does not seem to be as threatening or undermining of all the institutions of existing society as those earlier groups often did with their call for the total abolition of capitalism.

Mr. Judis’ “liberal socialism” is really just the existing interventionist-welfare state placed – “democratically” – in the “right” elected hands, so those manning and managing the machinery of government will do what he wants political authority to do, rather than what it is currently being done by Republicans and the current Democratic Party establishments.

A way for Mr. Judis to more easily defend his desire and ideal is to suggest that the existing political-economic system in America today is a free market, “neo-liberal” capitalism, rather than what the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto once more accurately labeled it: “bourgeois socialism.” That is, a system of government regulation, redistribution, favors and privileges that benefits many in the private enterprise sectors of society rather than a more “proletarian socialism” that simply would take from “the rich” to give to “the workers” and “the poor.”

What is sometimes called “crony capitalism” is just Pareto’s “bourgeois socialism.” Pareto also understood, in the 1890s, with amazing clarity one of the insights of modern Public Choice theory, that “participatory democracy” of the community as a whole is a theoretical and practical illusion in an complex society. Politics in an unrestrained democracy always becomes a contest among special interest groups capable of gaining concentrated benefits from State intervention and redistribution at the diffused expense of the rest of the society.

In democratic societies it takes the form of coalitions of special interest groups who succeed in offering campaign contributions and votes to politicians desiring elected political office, who then fulfill their campaign promises to those groups once in the actual halls of political power. In totalitarian societies such as in the former Soviet Union, it took the form of hierarchical position within the Communist Party and within the central planning bureaucracy, including the state enterprise managers, who had the decision-making power over access to and use of the socialized means of production; thus, the communist “classless society” had one of the most intricate social webs of power, privilege, favoritism and plunder ever seen in human society.

This “politics without romance,” to use Nobel Laureate, James M. Buchanan’s phase, shows why the notion of “the people” owning, controlling, regulating and overseeing the collective direction of an economy is pure illusion and deception concerning the reality of how and why political power works the way it does.

What Mr. Judis and, far too many who share his views about capitalism and some form of socialism – “liberal” or otherwise – fail to understand is that any and all forms of planning, regulation and political redistribution in fact takes power and decision-making out of the hands of the people about whom they express their concerns.

Real Participatory Liberation under Free Market Liberalism

It is the open, competitive market economy that, precisely, gives each and every individual wide latitude and liberty over his own personal affairs. It is the market that enables each of us to make his own choices concerning the profession, occupation or productive calling to pursue. It is the market that enables each and everyone of us to have the freedom to make our own choices to earn an income and spend that income as we consider best in terms of the values, beliefs, purposes and desires that we think may bring meaning and happiness to our individual lives.

It is the free society of individual liberty and voluntary association that provides truly participatory opportunities to form organizations, clubs, and groupings of almost any type to further the goals and ends outside of the narrower arena of market transactions to better our lives materially, socially, culturally and spiritually. (See my article, “Individual Liberty and Civil Society”.)

At this point, no doubt, Mr. Judis would reasonably ask, but what about those who are unable to provide for themselves, due to personal tragedy, unfortunate circumstances, or simply bad luck? Is this not the reason why enlightened and decent societies had to move “left-ward” to establish and financially provide for those unable to personally meet the essentials of everyday life and to have opportunities to fulfill their potentials as a human being? Is not the welfare state of “liberal socialism” the inescapable necessity of having a humane society?

The classical liberal responds that these very concerns can be far better and more successfully solved and served through the voluntary institutions and associations of civil society than to turn such tasks over to the government. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before the modern welfare state, all such “social problems” were handled with wide and positive affect by charities, philanthropies and for-profit organizations in places such as Great Britain and the United States. That their workings and successes are virtually unknown to most people in modern society shows the extent to which their history and social nobility has gone down a memory hole of collectivist misinterpretation and misunderstanding of what a society of liberty did and could provide. (See my article, “A World Without the Welfare State”.)

Furthermore, the transfer of such welfare responsibility to the government reduces each and every recipient to a ward of the State. It is politicians and bureaucrats who decide the education your children will receive in government schools; they are the ones who determine the retirement possibilities you will have; the healthcare to which you will have access and its type; the wages and work conditions under which you may be allowed to employed or unemployed, and the forms and types of associations you may enter into and the activities and membership you permitted.

The “liberal socialism” about which Mr. Judis dreams is not the path to liberation but a continuing servitude and obedience to the those with political power and who have the arrogance and presumption to imagine that they know better how people are to earn a living, care for their own lives and that of their families, and associate with other members of society better than those individuals deciding all of these matters for themselves. (See my article, “Democratic Socialism Means Loss of Liberty”.)

One would have thought that after more than seven decades of the interventionist-welfare state as the political left’s “liberal socialist” alternative to Marxian socialist central planning, it would be realized that it is just another constraining and corrupt manifestation of the unworkability of any collectivist system of control and command.

Mr. Judis’ program for a socialist America also shows the intellectual bankruptcy of those on “the left.” The revolutionary transformation of society, for which they yearn, ends up being nothing more than the existing interventionist-welfare state, just with the desire that people who agree with Mr. Judis should be at the helm of political power rather than those with whom he disagrees.


Creepy_Azz_Crackaah (not verified) Tue, 08/29/2017 - 12:46 Permalink

You'll sure be called a lot of names if you show them facts. When one's philosophy is based on emotions that's all they've got. Well, I based on emotions and a raw, burning, desire to have power over people's lives.

True Blue Simplifiedfrisbee Tue, 08/29/2017 - 18:40 Permalink

Wow, you truly are a pathetic little lickspittle, aren't you? Is that the best your sad, warped little mind can come up with? I am sick of my labor being stolen at gunpoint to subsidize worthless, lazy, dishonest little anal roaches and parasites like you.And if you expected to garner an emotional response to that messiah jibe -you're on the wrong tack. Sorry, I do not subscribe to any half-baked crackpot middle-eastern mythologies. Try again.

In reply to by Simplifiedfrisbee

nmewn Francis Marx Tue, 08/29/2017 - 12:57 Permalink

My personal favorite they luuuv to use is..."Are you not thy brother's keeper? "After you let the stunningly stupid false premise sink in for a second (because we are talking about leftists here) the simple answer is yes, of course...but my brother, not your brother or sister. Then we can turn to the strawman of imbedded evil in the question. God is giving Cain a chance to tell the truth. Cain was jealous and had killed his brother. Socialist government was not involved at all. It's just amazing. 

In reply to by Francis Marx

falak pema nmewn Tue, 08/29/2017 - 16:01 Permalink

You love to quote the scriptures but forget the first lesson of Jesus :christianity had as first principle : sharing; aka socialism and brotherhood, and unfailing support of the weak who would inherit the earth to the point of advocating "turn the other cheek". They had as enemy Caesar who incarnated "You are with us or against us" spouting Hegemon, aka Pontius Pilate... it led to Golgotha.Ironic... your affirmation as a speaker of gospel now is that : socialism is evil.Socialism is in essence the spirit of the Saviour, if you believe in the christian mantra!I don't believe is "socialism" of the Jacobin or Bolshevik type, as its totalitarian and anti "free will", but I don't believe in American capitalism either as its played out, as its a return to hegemony and Oligarchy of "for us or against us" geopolitical logic.You guys as deplorables are taking the USA back to 1861.

In reply to by nmewn

nmewn falak pema Tue, 08/29/2017 - 18:41 Permalink

The scripture my dear falak, is being quoted OUT OF CONTEXT BY MARXISTS. Do you agree or disagree that the scripture being quoted by them IS about TWO BROTHERS (Cain & Abel) and not two complete strangers from across town?What "I think" you are trying to describe (and doing an ridiculously awful job of) does not bring with it the FORCE OF A SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT (or any government) for disobeying that government, it is strictly VOLUNTARY. Can a socialist government force me to love a stranger as I do my own brothers? Should it even try and if so, why, to what purpose? Does love mean compassion, empathy and/or sympathy to you or is it something else? Is it a word just laying there on the floor undescribed or is it something returned to the giver? In the case of socialism WHO is the "giver"...the government or me?But you already knew all of that...because...you're a smart guy..."something" must have stolen my "love & compassion" and misrepresented it as its own, I wonder who or what that could be...not really...thats rhetorical, falak. So now the question becomes, why are you trying to perpetuate a Marxist saying (or has it become a mantra or maxim?) that is, on its face irrelevant to the discussion of governance itself and a deceptive conflation of what should always be two very separate things...that being...the state & religion?The floor is yours, make your best defense of socialism now and yes, that is my number two downie for being purposefully obtuse in conflating two very different things... 

In reply to by falak pema

taketheredpill Tue, 08/29/2017 - 12:52 Permalink

  I'd settle Capitalism with a few changes from the current format:- companies, including banks, can fail; officers of companies, including banks, can be jailed- the environment is an asset with value, not an infinite sink for pollution

falak pema Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:15 Permalink

Von Mises... stick to bad economics rather than venturing into worse political philosophy.Homo Economicus per se is not the solution and consumerism is not the be all of human experience; we do have other deeper needs. Adam Smith got it only partly right.SO your BS about perfect markets, when extrapolated into political philosophy, has the same dogma dribbling from its lips based on false premises.Your doxa is hocus pocus. There is no real or TRUE definition of conservatism nor of pursuit of happiness...so your take of liberalism and socialism is totally biased and dogmatic. You front run your putdown of adversarial ideas by pretending there is an objective truth that is visibile to your elevated mindset.Front run bias is bigotry; like making Cheguevara into bugs bunny. The symbol is a giveaway. Soft revolution-- wolf in bunny clothing-- as opposed to logical evolution...via the market !Haha! make the liberal look like Che! ...Cute!These are all relative concepts as all human logic--the better part of him-- is tainted by pathos-- by defintion a subjective vision that reveals the worse part of him when subjected to stress, which makes human aspirations a trial and error and forever changing process.  Humans stay human.Stop putting down ideas which imply that you have a better philosophy to offer. You don't. You are just preaching a new gospel of a new obscurantism : The perfect market and the perfect consumer who has no other aspiration apart from making material profit via market logic--all the time the market is a sleight of hand as run by Oligarchs since time immemorial.History has proven that in the past as today under market god the FRONTRUN greenback; that was Hayek's wet dream.

falak pema govtsucks Tue, 08/29/2017 - 17:02 Permalink

perfect front run reasoning... don't challenge the argument challenge the authenticity of he that says it, aka ad hominem.Who did I cut and paste it from? You have put NOTHING up to support the Von Mises "claptrap"... Put up or STFU, as that is what rhetoric and logic are about. Methodology not dogma.

In reply to by govtsucks

tr123 falak pema Wed, 08/30/2017 - 01:20 Permalink

Falak your problem is that you completely avoided the original arguments. That's why he thinks it's drivel. Logic can be fit based on a person's pathos, but that doesn't mean that there is no objective truth to it or that you are absolved from trying to understand or even recognize it as a topic for discussion. Then you try and play victim by saying that the other dude can only insult you.So freaking lazy, you're proving what the article has already said about its intellectually bankrupt subjects. Frankly, he's only giving back what you gave him. 

In reply to by falak pema

az_patriot (not verified) Rich Monk Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:12 Permalink

Our schools have been stuffing the heads of our kids with the ridiculous notion that the only reason Socialism and Communism has failed is because it's "never been done correctly".  Liberals are so stupid they invent lies so they can attempt to repeat the mistakes of the past!

In reply to by Rich Monk

tr123 az_patriot (not verified) Wed, 08/30/2017 - 01:26 Permalink

I don't think it's so much that they invent them, rather, they just thoughtlessly repeat them. Appeal to emotions, and the dumb will rationalize whatever they're told.Their shepards aren't that dumb. I imagine that once in power they lived like kings, right? It's disurbing how ironic it is that Communist countries are in fact the most inequal societies ever.

In reply to by az_patriot (not verified)

Hkan Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:15 Permalink

System ideologies are irrelevant. How its govern and by whom more important.Its utopia there is no common sense no humanity no democracy, no nothing but GREED.Logical madness looking around. 

BlueGreen Hkan Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:17 Permalink

You would think that would be obvious with the ridiculous number of laws we have that "control' our society/markets.  At the end of the day, clever sociopaths hide their nature behind propaganda/ lies and funnel money to themselves at other's expense....what a revelation.....we could never devise a way to control that  /sarc 

In reply to by Hkan

az_patriot (not verified) Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:08 Permalink

Socialism and Communism miserably fail because those ideologies refuse to take into account many key facts about human nature.  Most notably, humans are wired to seek reward for their work.  Socialism and Communism destroy the satisfaction of human achievement based on a fallacy that humans will be satisfied with contributing to the "greater good" and that everyone should be "equal".  In addition to this, Socialism and Communism breed nasty, authoritarian political elites that get rich of off everyone else's back.  

az_patriot (not verified) Umh Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:19 Permalink

My point is that the liberals frame their ideology as some sort of "everyone is equal, let's hold hands around the campfire" type of bullshit, but in the end they behave exactly like, if not worse than, the political elites of capitalism.  They violate the very basis of their ideology.  At least with our current system we stand some chance of throwing the assholes out.  Under Socialism or Communism, the peasants are held down with an iron grip while the liberal elites suck the life out of them like vampires.

In reply to by Umh

tr123 Umh Wed, 08/30/2017 - 01:38 Permalink

The nasty authoritarians get there because they are exactly the type of people who succeed in winning and holding on to power. In any system where immense power lays at the top, there will be vicious and often ruthless conflict on the part of these types and their sheep to get there. This is why Socialist factions always fight one another. Even if it starts off under "good stewardship" it will eventually fall to the nasty types mentioned, who then murder everybody else who could compete with them. There's only one crown.They get rich off of everyone else's back because not only is the confiscation of wealth through taxes an essential component of redistribution, but because one man simply cannot do it alone. The new dictator must somehow pay off the other powerful factions that enable his dominance and buy the loyalty of the common folk who would support him, and because he does not actually produce anything himself he must squander the resources of those that he has taken from.

In reply to by Umh