Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Great Socialism Paranoia of the Right

A fellow blogger left an interesting comment on a post to The Swash Zone in which he offered an explanation as to why Americans are so quick to cry "socialism" when presented with any programs or policies that seek to provide to each according to her need. He cites one candidate's comments on a Tulsa City Council Questionnaire as indicating the core belief of those who see socialism in every social justice program or policy: 
I almost fanatically hate bullies and tyranny; I love individual liberty and the exercise of the individual human will. I am strongly opposed to any form of socialism, since all forms of socialism are based on force and the theoretical superiority of the group over the person. I strongly support the free market and the right of people to organize their own lives and make their own choices in their lives….All Government is based on force or the threat of force. The more government we have, the less liberty we enjoy. The less liberty we have, the less success we enjoy. Freedom just naturally produces success; that's what made America great. As the federal government tightens its coils around us, the nation begins to fail. 
The Tea Party is a bold manifestation of the underlying belief that individual liberties are of more significance than the good of all. The reality is that we do cede some of our individual liberties to government in order to promote a civil society in which the rights of the few are just as significant as the rights of the many. Perhaps it's time for the left to stop denying that socialism is an acceptable and even desirable element of a government by the people and for the people, if that government is to truly serve the interests of all of the people.

Social Contract theory as proposed by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau has at its core a belief that individual liberties have to be tempered by government if we are to live in an ordered society where the basic rights of all are protected. I confess that I am Hobbesian in my beliefs. Humankind in its natural state without the controls of government is selfish and each person is focused on his/her own interests. In this state of nature, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. Hobbes argues that leaving us to pursue our own individual interests would lead to a "war of all against all" and  lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." To prevent this perpetual state of war, men in the state of nature agree to a social contract and establish a civil society. (A good place to start if you are unfamiliar with social contract theory is with the Wikipedia article; it's not comprehensive but it provides a good intro.)

Where I part company with Hobbes is that he thought the most efficient government was to have an authoritarian monarchy to whom all ceded their natural rights for the sake of peace and protection. Hobbes was a true proponent of big and authoritative government. Locke proposed a more liberal monarchy and Rousseau advocated that government should be modeled on liberal republicanism (has nothing to to do with the Republican Party). I support a government that makes room for individual liberties but recognizes that those individual rights must be subsumed when they would result in the denial of basic rights to some individuals. 

The common good must exceed individual liberties. Over emphasis on individual liberties would result in the strong always being able to exploit the weak. Our government wasn't implemented to enforce the rule of the majority but to protect the rights of the minority. The Constitution that the right babbles on about incessantly has at its core the premise that the government's role is to uphold equal treatment of all under the law. Those founding fathers that Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh claim to know personally, didn't look to the Bible for guidance in determining the governing structure for this country but they did look to the work of Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes. You can hear the echoes of their various philosophical treatises on the purpose and structure of government in the Declaration and the Constitution. 

This promotion of self benefits the individual and the common good be damned. It is a philosophy that supports that if people are hungry and without shelter it's because they are lazy. It's an ideology that concludes that people remain unemployed not because they can't find a job but because they would rather not work. It is a belief that concludes that welfare recipients, the homeless, the poor, have no one but themselves to blame for their lot and it's no concern of the rest of us to do anything to provide them with the necessities of life. It is a selfishness that supports denying access to health care to those who cannot afford to pay for it. We have become a nation of nasty and brutish people, and we revel in it.

We are also a nation of hypocrites. The very people who sing the praises of individual liberty and oppose programs designed to help the underclass, deriding such programs as entitlements, also firmly assert that this is a Christian nation founded upon Christian values.  What Christianity is there in the philosophy of every person for herself? What happened to the core Christian concept of being your sister's keeper? From what I know of Christianity, Jesus definitely had socialist leanings.

The next time someone accuses me of being a socialist, my response will be, "Yes I am and proud of it."


Charlene said...

Brilliant. I agree with you, especiall the next to last paragraph. I suggested to someone who was trolling for their followers to give them gifts for the holiday "since you all read me every day" that it would be good to give gifts of half what they had spent last year for gifts, leaving half for the poor. I was told that it was smarter to do that but squirrel that half away for when "we" would need it for food. I don't know. I wanted to quote the "widow's mite" story that Jesus told. I didn't. I know it would have been just another argument.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I fear it will get worse before we finally start tackling some of the harder issues. I do wonder what happened to civility.

Sybil said...

sheira, you alwas write such wonderful words of wisdom....Thank You. proud....always proud of the title Sheria..
My way has always been led by the biblical saying of "love one Another" if we all did that and truly believed it what a wonderful world we would live in...Mind you I have to say it is a VERY hard thing to do as there are some folks who are not easy to love at all, but then we should not judge them as we know not what they may have been through..
love Sybil xx

Nance said...

Bold, Sheria, just as I have come to expect from you. Bold and full of integrity. I eagerly await your posts and I am never disappointed.

I've been ranting today on the philosophies of Ayn Rand and the folks who continually quote her to me. Maybe I could save my breath and say, "I am a socialist. And I vote."

Loulou La Poule said...

Can you post this great piece at Hen's Teeth?

Je suis un socialiste!

Yasmin said...

As always a powerful post, I have many American friends and we ponder this question all the time, well they do, and it seems that it's ok to smear one and all to serve personal agendas, I've watched Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin both and their motives are clear but it seems to me these scare tactics they use about the state of America are the very things that should frighten people and make them question what they want for their country and it certainly shouldn't be what they preach.

Alan said...

In his receint book and NPR interview Dan Buettner lists Denmark as one of the healtiest, happiest places to live BECAUSE of their Socialist system. They pay (I think he said) more than 60% of their income in taxes, but they worry about nothing. They follow their bliss rather than obsessing about making more money. I saw the same in New Zealand. Fear comes from ignorance. We should make (pay for) a year abroad (I get to choose where people go...) for every highschool graduate. They could work with and learn about other people, develope some empathy and perspective. All these problems would go away. (good thing I'm not KING...)

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I have said I am a socialist for a long time now.

You are right about the hypocrisy in this nation. It is sickening.

Love you,


Beth said...

So well said, Sheria. We need only look to Spock for words of wisdom: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Kyle said...

Nice piece Sheria. From my viewpoint most perceived personal success in our world is created from the direct exploitation of another group. The success is artificial and without merit because it is not born from skill or intellect on an even playing field. Until we as a world are all equal no one on this planet can claim any degree of personal success. In one way or another we are all just exploiting each other to different ends. We can do much better, if we ever dare to.