Trying to put a name to “Whatever This Thing We’re Dealing With Is,” Rod Dreher leans toward Peggy Noonan’s suggestion that the United States isn’t getting so much socialism as something more like the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I think Dreher misses something in his ruling out of socialism:
Still, I am persuaded by some recent offline conversations that framing it as socialism obscures more than it illuminates. Two points a friend made bring this out:
- This phenomenon is not driven only by the state (and maybe not even primarily by the state), but by private actors, especially educational institutions and big corporations. How is that socialism?
- If we elected Republicans — members of the supposedly anti-socialist party — from now until forever, and if we left the free market unchanged, that would make no meaningful difference in stopping the progress of this disintegration. So how can we honestly tag this as socialism?
I find these points to be unanswerable. Maybe you disagree.
I’ve actually heard the suggestion in point 1 a few times recently, and to the extent it leads to point 2, I think it’s harmfully erroneous. While it’s true that, at the current moment, one can’t go very far with the claim that government “owns the means of production,” as socialism would require, we also shouldn’t overlook the degree to which government is creating the conditions that allow other social institutions to act in our society as the government would in socialism.
At some point, these distinctions become too fine. Naturally, we could be in transition, and some of the Congressional Democrats are clearly interested in moving toward more-traditional socialism. Even if we rest where we are, as a matter of politics and the economy, however, we should note that the distinction in the last century between socialism and national socialism, or fascism, had mainly to do with whether the portion of the ruling class managing a particular industry technically worked for the government or not.
As we watch academia and corporations take the lead in our own cultural revolution, we can’t overlook the degree to which government permits these powerful institutions all of the advantages that gain them this sort of power over us — subsidizing colleges, for example, to the extent that they can afford all the “diversity” nonsense and regulating and taxing the economy such that competitors can’t emerge to domineering, sneering companies.
In those terms, electing new leaders who voluntarily pushed this sort of power away from government would undermine the entire crony system. I’m skeptical that the Republican Party, as it comported itself over the past couple decades, can be trusted as a breeding ground for the leaders we need, but we can’t downplay the central role government plays.