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Monday, February 16, 2009

Socialists, Socialism

There are big, long, hairy articles on socialism out there (and it doesn't hurt to read them), but I'll keep my definition of socialism brief if you'll bear in mind that it's not intended to set a standard for the ages.

Socialism might be fairly said to be liberalism run amok. The basic idea is for the community--in practical terms, the government--to either own or control the property and/or the means of production, and to distribute the proceeds thereof to the population. The idea is for this to result in equitable distribution--everyone in the community having enough. The idea has often been summarized by the phrase, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

It sounds all nice and charitable. In practice, it never works. It's never worked as intended throughout, as far as I can tell, all of human history. It doesn't work because it flies in the face of human nature and man's God-given rights--amongst which is, according to Thomas Jefferson, liberty, which surely entails liberty to own something and to dispose of it as one sees fit. Since socialism doesn't work, never works, has never worked, in practice, what actually happens is one of two things. The first is rare; people can admit that they were wrong. This is what happened with the Pilgrim community at Plymouth Rock. At first, they attempted something of a socialistic lifestyle, and the result was a disastrous aggravation of already bad conditions. The next year, they abandoned that plan and assigned each family a plot of ground and gave them the liberty to work it and to do as they would with the proceeds--which lead directly (though admittedly it was not the only factor) to a far better harvest.

The second thing that can happen--what almost always actually happens--is that this theoretically egalitarian system actually turns into a means whereby the few not only plunder the many, they lie about it and expect everyone around them to echo their lies. It turns into robbery by an oligarchy, with the added insult that those being robbed must praise the goodness of the whole system. For an excellent fictional--but very true to life--treatment, read George Orwell's Animal Farm.

When you hear people talk about how wealth is distributed (they won't say, "earned"), and almost always, these days, when you hear people talk about "fairness," or "justice," or, in one famous, recent incident, "spreading the wealth," what they are really talking about is socialism. They just don't want to use that word because they know socialism has been largely discredited in people's minds as a viable system (or possibly, they are just disturbingly ignorant). And where you hear people talk about socialism, what most of them are really talking about is robbery by means of the police power of the state, with themselves cast in the role of robber baron.

Socialism exists in varying degrees. In some countries, it's not too advanced. In others, it's far enough advanced that they are often described as "welfare states." In others, it's a hideous nightmare wherein pointing out that the system doesn't work will cost you your life.

It is possible, in my opinion, to be a Christian and a socialist. Such people would, in my opinion, be terribly misguided and misreading the Scriptures, and ignoring the nature of man and the lessons of history, but they might be educable.

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