As he usually does, Jonah Goldberg makes several worthy points in his most recent breezy G-File column, including some thoughts on socialism:
… “socialism” was an answer to what 19th-century intellectuals and religious leaders called “the social question.” As traditional societies succumbed to the creative destruction of the market, people started asking, “How shall we live now?” Socialism was one such answer (National Socialism, another, very similar answer), but it was only partly and not even mostly, an economic answer. It was a cultural one.
That is, “socialism” isn’t an economic system. It’s more like a godless religion whose rituals are economic in nature. What that means is that its entire way of thinking is unnatural. It’s divorced from necessary concessions to human nature, from acceptance of physical reality, and from any roots in supernatural truth. Instead, socialism is a purely man-made intellectual construct that finds its power in corrupting human tendencies, both unhealthy (envy) and healthy (charity).
Consequently, a society that takes socialism too seriously for too long winds up depriving its people of fulfillment and advancement, for reasons that branch off from this subsequent paragraph from Goldberg:
Gracchus Babeuf, arguably the first “socialist” to earn the label, wanted a “conspiracy of equals,” which would “remove from every individual the hope of ever becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by his intelligence.” In his Manifesto of the Equals, he called for the “disappearance of boundary-marks, hedges, walls, door locks, disputes, trials, thefts, murders, all crimes . . . courts, prisons, gallows, penalties . . . envy, jealousy, insatiability, pride, deception, duplicity, in short, all vices.” To fill that void, “the great principle of equality, or universal fraternity, would become the sole religion of the peoples.”
Disallowing individuals from “becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by [their] intelligence” is utter ignorant nonsense that winds up harming everybody. Take the specifics in reverse order:
- Preventing people who are especially intelligent from realizing their potential leaves us all less benefit from their unique abilities.
- Artificially depriving people of power — understood broadly as the ability to have others follow one’s instructions — leaves us all less benefit from strong leadership.
- And yes, confiscating wealth from people simply because they have more of it leaves us all poorer by the prevention of whatever their talents would have had them do with that money… or whatever talents others would have developed in order to collect it in the first place.
Playing the envy card, a socialist might insist that if we stray from a hard, unnatural, tyrannical conformity that leaves us indistinguishable from each other opens the problems of vanity, pride, and abuse, but so does the imposition of the socialistic worldview in the first place.