EDITOR'S NOTE: If you haven’t read the first part of this series, please do: We are The Planners, Not You. Government isn’t a Business Either.
Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC hits the nail on the head.
The Left & The Right As Socialists
Both Republicans and Democrats plan. Off the bat it doesn't sound like a bad thing, think “social safety net”. But the notion of planning is predicated on the idea that someone else has information you don't, moreover that they have the right to plan for you. While the former may of course be true, the information age has diluted the strength of this argument significantly. This brings us to the right to plan.
To “plan” by public sanction is to evince a value desiring the wide recognition of a social goal, think universal health care, a drug free America, a living wage, a stable and friendly Iraq, the War on Poverty, the list is endless because our potential values are endless. Hence, to enact said “plan”, through whatever political mechanism available is appropriately called - socialism.
While use of the word socialism might not be politically correct as Lawrence O’Donnell admits, its use per the definition is very much still en vogue. Considering everything is in some measure societal in nature and therefore social then anything positively enacted which diminishes someone's life, liberty or property rather than precluding encroachment upon these rights is socialism. This is how F.A. Hayek put it in The Road to Serfdom in 1944:
“…Some groups may want less socialism than others…some want socialism mainly in the interest of one group and others in that of another. The important point is that if we take the people whose views influence developments they are now in the democracies in some measure all socialists.”
F.A. Hayek was echoing a fundamental truth which gripped European politics as far back as 1888 when Sir William Harcourt announced to Britain’s House of Commons: “We are all socialists now.” Sir William found his modern voice in Republican President Richard Nixon when he proclaimed the same “We are all Keynesians now” referring to F.A. Hayek’s socialist contemporary.
The fact of the matter is every American ideological movement save one, Libertarianism, is socialist from one degree to another. In other words, while each party may espouse individual freedom in one arena or another they all require government to do their bidding regarding a small number of particular values and always at our expense. Often times we call these “special interests.” This line of reasoning may seem austere, but this merely validates my point.
The New American Century’s Enemy: Gullibility
After the fall of the Soviet Union and with it the easy to hate goose-stepping armies and the ubiquitous red flags it was hard for many of us to anticipate how our next enemy might be one of our own creation. This is not new and was not unanticipated. F.A. Hayek alluded to how Americans might succumb to similar seductions:
“It seems almost as if we did not want to understand the development which has produced totalitarianism because such an understanding might destroy some of the dearest illusions to which we are determined to cling.”
While there has been robust argument over what is more important than another thing, as O’Donnell puts it between good or bad socialism, there has been little progress in restricting the scope of government, regardless of the mountain of rhetoric piled on since the Reagan Revolution. The beast was never starved, the Keynesians and our Central Bank saw to that. If you’ve noticed our debt is higher than ever, we owe more than we’re worth.
The question then is, to what "dearest illusions" are we still holding onto? Well think of all the social ends I mentioned at the beginning of this article. All are demonstrable failures, ephemeral taglines tossed aside as easily as they are conjured in favor of more sensational and politically expedient slogans. It is all mere marketing.
It's the difference between an arrogant vanguard seeking ever-newer demons to vanquish and the chastened but vigilant guardian seeking to protect the individual so he himself may conquer, create, aid and love. As O’Donnell astutely points out, Glen Greenwald is timid to show his stripes. Like the slogans they extol the word socialist has undergone similar metamorphoses: "liberal", "progressive", "neoliberal", "labour", "neoconservative", "progressive-Republican", no doubt reaching into perpetuity awaiting a new banner to raise.
Uncomfortable in their own skin these political chameleons demagogue our fears and passions in one realm or another and they use our wealth and technology to achieve their current social goal. More often than not as it goes because it can be done means it should be done! But this is the "dearest illusion, which we are determined to cling." Again, think of the social goals I mentioned earlier as you read how F.A. Hayek felt about allowing politicians and bureaucrats to plan for us:
“They would merely make it necessary to choose between gaining a particular advantage by compulsion and not obtaining it – or, in most instances, obtaining it a little later, when further technical advance has overcome the particular difficulties. It is true that in such situations we may have to sacrifice a possible immediate gain as the price of our freedom – but we avoid, on the other hand, the necessity of making future developments dependent upon the knowledge, which particular people now possess.
By sacrificing such possible present advantages we preserve an important stimulus to further progress. Though in the short run the price we have to pay for variety and freedom of choice may sometimes be high in the long run even material progress will depend on this very variety, because we can never predict from which of the many forms in which a good or service can be provided something better may develop.”
In other words our political leaders are not seers.
NEXT: How the governments of the left and right distort reality.