If one becomes aware that the original moral argument for socialism is wrong—that capitalism is actually benefiting people and serving the common good—why would one hold on to the ideology rather than abandon it? Clearly, it is difficult to abandon a lifelong ideology, especially if one considers the only available alternative to be tainted with evil. Thus socialism was for generations of socialists simply an entrenched dogma. It was possible for them to argue the finer points, but not to abandon it.
However understandable this might be, it is not praiseworthy. To hold on to a doctrine that is demonstrably false is to abandon all pretense of objectivity. If someone could demonstrate to me that free markets and private property rights lead to impoverishment, dictatorship, and the violation of human rights on a mass scale, I would think that I would have the sense and ability to concede the point and move on. In any case, socialists lacked any such intellectual humility. They clung to their faith—their false religion—as if their lives were at stake. Many continue to do so today.
Most intellectuals in the world are aware of what socialism did to Russia. And yet many still cling to the socialist ideal. The truth about Mao’s reign of terror is no longer a secret. And yet it remains intellectually fashionable to regret the advance of capitalism in China, even as the increasing freedom of the Chinese people to engage in commerce has enhanced their lives. Many Europeans are fully aware of how damaging democratic socialism has been in Germany, France, and Spain. And yet they continue to oppose the liberalization of these economies. Here in the United States, we’ve seen the failure of mass programs of redistribution and the fiscal crises to which they give rise. And yet many continue to defend and promote them.
The older socialists dreamed of a world in which all classes the world over would share in the fruits of production. Today, we see something like this as new Wal-Marts—to cite only the most conspicuous example—spring up daily in town after town worldwide. Within each of these stores is a veritable cornucopia of goods designed to improve human well-being, at prices that make them affordable for all. Here is a company that has created many millions of jobs and brought prosperity to places where it was sorely needed.
Although the free enterprise system obviously does not incorporate the old socialists’ idea of a commonality of goods, it does seem to achieve the common good as they conceived it. What then can we say of those who today remain attached to socialism as a political goal? We can say that they do not know or have not understood the economic history of the last 300 years. Or perhaps we can say that they are more attached to socialism as an ideology than they are to the professed goals of its founders.
When we speak of the common good, we need also to be clear-minded about the political and juridical institutions that are most likely to bring it about. Let me list them: private property in the means of production, stable money to serve as a means of exchange, the freedom of enterprise that allows people to start businesses, the free association of workers that permits people to choose where they would like to work and under what conditions, the enforcement of contracts that provides institutional support for the idea that people should keep their promises, and a vibrant trade within and among nations to permit the fullest possible flowering of the division of labor. These institutions must be supported by a cultural infrastructure that respects private property, regards the human person as possessing an inherent dignity, and confers its first loyalty to transcendent authority over civil authority. This is the basis of freedom, without which the common good is unreachable.
To summarize: We are all entitled to call ourselves socialist, if by the term we mean that we are devoted to the early socialist goal of the well-being of all members of society. Reason and experience make clear that the means to achieve this is not through central planning by the state, but through political and economic freedom. Thomas Aquinas had an axiom: bonum est diffusivum sui. “The good pours itself out.” The good of freedom has indeed poured itself out to the benefit of humanity.
In conclusion, I ask you, “Who did the will of the Father?”
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