Last time, I ended the article with a question: Why did American politicians during the Cold War raise perfectly valid objections to totalitarianism, which is a political system, while claiming that they were criticizing communism, which is an economic system?
To understand this trend, you must first understand libertarianism, which is an ideology that endorses democratic government and laissez-faire capitalism using the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick
Democracy is a method of group decision-making where every member of the group participates. A democratic government is a government where decisions of the state are made democratically. Of the many words I have explained in these articles, this is the only one that I think that politicians consistently use correctly, so I am not going more into democratic theory in this article.
I’ll start off with what capitalism is. It is an economic system defined by a three-step cycle. First, someone has some extra wealth, called capital. Second, this person pays other people wages in order to make a good for them. Third, this person sells this good in a market for profit. That profit then becomes capital and the whole cycle restarts. Any economy with this capital-wages-profit cycle taking place in a market is an example of capitalism. Laissez-faire capitalism is one specific type of capitalism where the sole role of the government in the economy is the enforcement of contracts.
It is important to realize that capitalism, of the laissez-faire variety or otherwise, says nothing interesting about taxes. The only economic effect taxes have is decreasing the amount of capital available at the start of the cycle. Only if the government started using taxes in some way that affected the economy will capitalism may have more to say. So why do libertarians hate taxes so violently?
The answer comes from the philosophical part of libertarianism. Mill said that the function of government is to prevent harm from happening to unconsenting citizens, which he called the harm principle. The classic example is that someone is allowed to drink alcohol to their heart’s content, but as soon as they start driving on a public road, that is the moment that the government has the right to intervene. It is important to note that the harm principle only addresses when the government can act; it says nothing about if the government should act.
Imagine an island where no one owns a gun. The probability that someone on that island is shot is zero. Now, someone moves to the island and brings a gun with them. Now the probability that someone could be shot is greater than zero. This thought experiment proves that gun ownership inherently causes harm. In philosophy, an increase in the probability that someone will be harmed is considered itself a harm. Therefore, governments have the right to enact gun control laws. However, the question of how governments should exercise this right, if they choose to do so at all, is unanswered.
Rand and Nozick propose the minimalist state, a government that exercises its rights to interfere with its citizens the least it can, is the only just government. It follows from this that collecting taxes for anything other than defensive purposes is unjust. They actually go so far as to equate the collection of taxes for welfare spending to slavery! The reason libertarians hate taxes so much is not because they are capitalists; it is because they have Randian ethics.
Perhaps the feature of Randian philosophy that is criticized the most is its support of rational egoism, which Rand describes in her essay “The Virtue of Selfishness,” as the ethical position holding, “that man must act for his own rational self-interest.” While Mill said that the moral action is the one that maximizes happiness for the most people, Rand said that the moral action is the one that maximizes happiness for the actor.
Just to review before I answer the question at the start of this article, all ideologies are made of a political part, an economic part, and a philosophical part. Stalinism is made up of totalitarianism, communism, and Marxism and was the most popular ideology in the U.S.S.R. by a wide margin; libertarianism is made up of democracy, laissez-faire capitalism, and Randian philosophy and is the most popular ideology in America by a wide margin.
American politicians had a problem during the Cold War; they needed to discredit communism because their ideology supported capitalism, but they were afraid to let anyone know what communism actually was. How does one make a persuasive argument against a position, when the audience does not know the topic under discussion?
The answer to this new question is the question at the start of this article. American politicians would make strong and compelling cases that totalitarianism is immoral, while saying that they were making strong and compelling cases that communism is immoral. This logic is only true if totalitarianism is the only political system compatible with communism, which is something clearly not true. Karl Marx himself said that a society transitioning from capitalism to communism would go through a phase, which in the worse marketing decision in history he named the dictatorship of the proletariat, which could be a democracy.
If Russian politicians had pointed out this major logical flaw in the American politicians’ argument, they would have undermined the entire foreign relations platform of the United States. So why didn’t they? The reason is simple; they were playing the same trick on their own citizens, although they were worried about democracy and attacked capitalism. Of course, it is possible for capitalism to be compatible with political systems besides democracy, an excellent example being the combination of totalitarianism and capitalism in Nazi Germany.
The Stalinists and the libertarians were in this mutually benefiting cycle of misinformation. They both wanted the general population to believe that the political and economic systems each ideology endorsed could only exist within that ideology, and so they painted each other and themselves with the same brushes, brushes so broad that eventually the general population did not know what the words meant. This pattern kept on repeating and reinforcing itself until an ultimate meaningless word was created: socialism.
According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a peer-reviewed academic resource, the term ‘socialism’ refers to both an economic system and an ideology. To make matters worse, socialism the ideology is defined as any ideology that advocates for socialism the economic system, which in turn is defined as any economic system that, “features social rather than private ownership of the means of production.” It is hard to stress just how vague these definitions are.
I want you to image three different societies. The first society has a government that owns all the raw natural resources and sells them to competing individuals, who then use the unprocessed resources as they see fit. The second society lacks the concept of ownership to such an extent that they do not even understand what sharing is, since the possibility of sharing implies the possibility of denying others access to something. In the final society, the government owns all property.
These three very different societies have little in common. Someone migrating from one of these societies to another would probably suffer such severe culture shock that they would be non-functional for quite a period of time. However, all of them are examples of socialism the economy, which means that any ideology that views any of these societies as morally acceptable is an example of socialism the ideology.
Socialism is so vague that every economic system that has existed in an industrialized nation that has not been capitalism has been some kind of socialism. Maybe you think we just hit on something here. Maybe socialism is the opposite of capitalism. Nope. Let me introduce you to the market socialist, people who support socialism and capitalism.
Socialism is a word so vague that it fails at its basic function as a word. Look at what information can be deduced from the sentence, ‘John is a socialist.’ From just this sentence, is it possible to deduce that whether John supports or fights totalitarianism? No. Can we deduce whether he is for or against anarchy? Nope. Is he democratic? Who knows!? There have been examples of socialists with every one of these six views throughout history. In theory, a socialist can support any political system imaginable because socialism is defined only in terms of economics, even though as an ideology it is composed of two other parts.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the philosophical justification of socialism. Pick a philosopher. Did they say that the only justifiable economic system is laissez-faire capitalism? If you answered no, then it is possible to use their work to support socialism.
Personally, I am just tired of economics, not to insult any economics majors reading this. Ideologies have three parts; politics, economics and philosophy. Humanity, as a collective whole, has spent the last century and a half debating and analyzing economics with an unparalleled intensity. Is it too much to ask to want to talk about politics or philosophy without the conversation veering off into economics? Can’t we just move on to the other two-thirds of what ideologies say?
It is like: “Oh yeah, look over there! In 2009, some guy named Armin Meiwes killed and ate someone, and libertarians defended him. What a refreshingly new and interesting topic! Mr. Libertarian, how do you justify this massive hole in your ideology? What was that? You would rather talk about the efficiency of free markets for the hundredth time? Do you have anything new to bring to the conversation? No, you just want to review what has been said a thousand times before in a thousand different ways by a thousand different people? You sure you want to leave the whole ‘nothing is wrong with eating someone alive’ thing hanging? I think allowing crimes against humanity, nature and basic human dignity are a deal breaker for most people, but I could be wrong. Maybe people are fine with the most disgusting act possible being not just allowed but praised.”
I really like the approach of John Rawls, a philosopher who made a career analyzing justice and fairness. He said that all social systems should be set up to be fair, where social systems refer to the economics, law, family structure, culture, artistic expression, etc. Whatever economic system the economics decides meets that criteria, he is fine with. It is like how people can have sound positions on patient rights even though they are not doctors. It is just so refreshing, so freeing. We can just talk about other the dead horse of philosophy, economics.