Art criticism with Albert Jay Nock

Conservative painter Jon McNaughton, whose painting The Forgotten Man I blogged about before, has a new piece out entitled One Country Under Socialism. You can see it here. It depicts a sinister-looking President Obama holding a burning U.S. Constitution.

As a painting, I personally think this one is poorer than his previous efforts. Setting aside my political disagreements with him, this one seems pretty unambitious to me.  What’s really interesting about this piece to me is the article he posted on his blog about the painting, wherein he says:

Our federal government has been moving in the direction of socialism for over one hundred years.  Many presidents and politicians have compromised the Constitution as we have given away our freedoms under the guise of entitlements and government intervention.

“Over one hundred years”, eh? That’s interesting; as that puts us at least back in 1912, when Taft was President. Well, no doubt McNaughton thinks the corporate income tax was a step towards socialism, so that’s one thing. Even more interesting is his next claim:

In the history of the world, never has there been a recorded example where Socialism has led to the betterment of the human condition or improved the liberty of the people.

Well, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan: “are you better off than you were 100 years ago?” If we have been trending that way this past century, than surely the remarkable progress of the U.S. is something of a point in Socialism’s favor.

Ah, but what a simplistic argument! Maybe all this has happened in spite of our Socialist tendencies.

But what is this socialism, anyway? Again, McNaughton has an answer:

Socialism uses the illusion of offering fairness and justice for everyone by redistributing the wealth of the nation; picking and choosing winners and losers.

“Redistributing the wealth of the nation”. I see. Well, then, McNaughton is understating the sheer staying power of Socialism in this country.

As I’ve said before: if a State collects taxes to provide for defense, law enforcement and a legal system, then it has already admitted that it is necessary to redistribute the wealth of its citizens for the greater good. The rest is mere detail–a question of what actually serves the greater good and what doesn’t.

This allows for all manner of variation, but, at the end of the day, is really still about socialism. Most governments in history have been socialistic by this definition, because taxation of any kind amounts to redistributing wealth. And taxation has been done for rather a long time. Think of the Biblical phrase “Render unto Caesar”, for example.

The point is that redistribution of wealth is what the State does. After that, it is all merely a question how much wealth the State shall direct and to what ends. under the McNaughton definition, all States are Socialist.

In a way, Conservatives these days sometimes seem to attack the State merely for being the State. The libertarian Albert Jay Nock wrote in the 1930s in Our Enemy, the State that “the invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another”, and gave a long history of the State which demonstrated its tendency to transfer wealth. Nock may have been a paranoid anti-government kook, but at least he understood what he was opposing, unlike today’s paranoid anti-government kooks, who think they are only opposing an ideology.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?