“The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction… The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”–George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Part 2.

Well, Darryl Campbell argues that people are getting what they already know out of reading Orwell’s books, and not in a good way. He writes:

“Never mind that, for most of his life, Orwell advocated nothing short of a socialist revolution in England! As far as these people were concerned, Orwell’s works amount to nothing more than an anti-government, anti-change screed.” 

“Orwell’s works… cannot really be understood without some semblance of historical and intellectual context.”

He argues persuasively, and I do agree that people may be reading more of libertarian philosophy into Nineteen Eighty-Four than was really Orwell’s intention. He was a bitter, disillusioned Socialist, not a Capitalist. However, I do disagree with Campbell on Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is not really political. It’s based off of the Soviet Union, but that’s just superficial. Really, it is about much deeper things than that. It is an allegory about human nature. And therefore it is, in my view, always relevant to any undertaking. Campbell argues that Orwell’s modern-day political opposites use Animal Farm‘s lines to oppose things Orwell himself would have supported. But of course! The point of Animal Farm was that even noble endeavors can go badly wrong.

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan)

One other thing that was fascinating about Robert Weissberg’s “Alien Rule” article was this passage:

“Just travel to Afghanistan and witness American military commanders’ efforts to enlist tribal elders with promises of roads, clean water, dental clinics, and all else that America can freely provide. Many of these elders probably privately prefer abject poverty to foreign occupation since it would be their poverty, run by their people, according to their sensibilities.”  

Now, I could be wrong, but in context this seems to be implying that his view of Obama is much the same. Even if Obama’s administration brought about huge improvements in our quality of life, even if it increased our national wealth, Weissberg would nonetheless object to it, preferring his own “American” way of doing things to Obama’s so-called “foreign” way. (Though, as I explained, there is nothing foreign about it. It’s just not nationalism.)

And it’s hardly a surprising concept. Nationalism and Wealth are not always in alliance with one another. Wealth has a way of destroying traditions and institutions, especially if it grows rapidly. The wealth-generating process of “Creative Destruction” that Schumpeter spoke of is in many ways a threat to the very symbols and traditions which a proud Nationalist holds dear.

When I was a Libertarian, I was forced frequently to grapple with a very similar issue, and indeed I suspect it will very soon confront Rand Paul as well. The issue is: can economic incentives (in the libertarian case, of a free-market) bring about an end to the practice of discrimination based on things like race, gender, etc?

Theoretically, no profit-seeker would engage in discrimination when hiring. He would simply want to get the best person for the job, regardless of race, gender, or the rest. Yet, this clearly does not happen. Some of this can be chalked up, as Jonah Goldberg observed, to the fact that the market itself is interfered with to maintain discriminatory practices. But this fact alone is disturbing; for it means that politicians–and presumably their constituents–were willing to forgo economic well-being in order to keep these discriminatory practices alive.

This is not, I must stress, a veiled attempt to call Weissberg a racist. He says his dislike for Obama is not based on racial grounds, and I take him at his word. Rather, it is merely an attempt to show that adherence to old customs may trump economic advantage for a long period of time. Nor do I wish to imply that all traditions are bad, as racism was, or that upsetting tradition for economic gain is always “good”. After all, who but an Objectivist would hail as “noble” someone who valued money over his own country?

No, my point is simply that Weissberg, and his audience, believe deeply in certain American values. And these values, while they may hold among them Capitalism, and free markets, and through them, promoting the general economic welfare, are not merely these things; but rather a whole collection of traditions, of institutions, of symbols which are of high importance to them. And if forced to choose between mere material Wealth and maintaining their National pride, they will undoubtedly choose the latter.

At the end of the film The Wrath of Khan, when Spock is exposing himself to deadly radiation in order to save the crew of the Enterprise, he reminds Kirk that: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.Or the one.” When I saw this, my first thought–probably because of reading Ayn Rand–was “this is a rather neat description of Socialism.” It’s the sacrifice of the individual for the collective. And it is this notion from which all the other aspects of Socialism derive.

Supposedly, this idea is alien to the United States of America, where we value individualism. Part of the idea of “American exceptionalism” is that we are more friendly to the rights of the individual than other nations; hence, Socialism is a philosophy that Americans seemingly reject.

Or do we?

In an earlier post, I said that “War is a fundamentally Socialist undertaking.” And, indeed, it is in wartime that the Socialists and anti-individualist philosophies gain the greatest acceptance in the United States of America. Witness Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War, the efforts at managing the war economy in World War I, or even the very idea of conscription. All these sacrifice the rights of individuals for the purpose of winning a war.

One of the redeeming factors of Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism is that he seems to have grasped this point. It sort of undermines his own thesis, of course, but nonetheless he figures out that the United States is, historically, susceptible to this sort of socialistic mood. Of course, Goldberg calls it “fascism”, and he may be right about that as well.

I have said in the past that “Fascism is nothing more than a particularly militaristic brand of Socialism”, and while I’m no longer sure if that’s the only difference, I think it’s clear that fascism is more militaristic than socialism. So, perhaps I should rephrase my earlier statement: war is a fundamentally socialist undertaking–and it’s called fascism. Again, Goldberg makes something of a decent case that socialism and fascism have some similarities that people don’t know about. (Of course, he seems to think they’re almost interchangeable.)

I realize this post is somewhat disjointed and confusing–it’s a combination of a post I’d been working on for a while, plus the stuff about Goldberg’s book that I was reminded of by this–but what I’m ultimately trying to do here is figure out just what the hell fascism actually is, and how it relates to socialism. Anyone care to help? So far, the best explanation I’ve read is here.

Over at Conservatives4Palin, C. Brooks Kurtz makes a good point regarding the complaints about Sarah Palin’s increased earnings since resigning the governorship. I’ve always been a little puzzled by this myself. Why does it bother people? Or, more accurately: why do the folks in the media seem to speak about it as if it should bother people?

Kurtz’s is an interesting, Francisco d’Anconia-esque piece, and well worth reading.

Jonah Goldberg has an interesting column about Financial reform. He writes:

“If by “capitalist” you mean someone who cares more about his own profit than yours; if you mean someone who cares more about providing for his family than providing for yours; if you mean someone who trusts that he is a better caretaker of his own interests and desires than a bureaucrat he’s never met… then we are all capitalists. Because, by that standard, capitalism isn’t some far-off theory about the allocation of capital; it is a commonsense description of what motivates pretty much all human beings everywhere.”

Perhaps so. And yet, not all human beings, surely. After all, if it were so for all human beings, would capitalism have such staunch opponents? If we are all supposed to be capitalists, than what is it that makes a man join the Army, where, by all accounts, bureaucrats he’s never met will make decisions on which his life depends. Or what about someone who joins the Church? How many pious Christians can claim to care more about their profit than anyone else’s?

I have to disagree with Goldberg on this point. Not all humans are capitalists, at least not by this definition. He goes on to say:

“At the end of the day, it is entirely natural for humans to work the system — any system — for their own betterment, whatever kind of system that may be.”

He’s correct here; but he would have been wrong if he had said  “it is entirely natural for all humans to work the system.” I have no idea if he intended to write that or not, but if he really did mean only some humans engage in this behavior, then he is contradicting his own previous assertion.

For there are, whether he cares to acknowledge it or no, many people who are in fact willing to abide by the rules of a system in order to preserve it. And even those who work a Socialist system are by no means the same as the enterprising Capitalists who seek to make a profit. After all, a Socialist–even a system-working one–is still dependent on the system to achieve his ends. He is not “standing on his own two feet”, as True Capitalism compels him to do.

Not that Goldberg’s column is without merit. He is quite correct in asserting that the problem with Socialist regulations is that those who are selfish–in the Randian sense–will attempt to play the system to their own personal advantage, disregarding the well-being of others. Where he goes awry is in foolishly assuming that everyone will do so.

“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.

It is common among President Obama’s critics to say that he is a Socialist. The evidence for this claim rests upon his administration’s expansion of government spending, as well as Obama’s infamous line to the so-called “Joe the Plumber” that he would like to “spread the wealth around.” This, combined with the standard Democratic party platform of welfare and general reliance on the Federal government, forms the basis for their case.

And, in the very broadest sense, they’re right. Obama’s philosophy seems to me to be, at its least redistributionist, one of Utilitarianism, which in my opinion is inevitably Socialistic in practice if not in theory. To say otherwise requires a narrow definition of Socialism. Nor does the fact that his critics themselves have in mind a particular brand of Socialism that may not in fact be Obama’s refute their basic claim.

 Now, it is true that most of the people charging this do not understand the definition under which Obama can most certainly be described as a Socialist. If they did, the charge would lose much of its sting. Indeed, much of the cries of “Socialism” seem to simultaneously suggest Obama is a Marxist or, more broadly, a Communist. But these are not the same as Socialism, and it is inaccurate to describe Obama’s policies as such.

Among Obama’s supporters, it is common to point out that expansions of the Federal government also occurred under George W.Bush, and that there were no outcries of Socialism then. This, they say, proves the case that the accusations of Socialism are in fact simply attempts to scare people. In my view, it actually shows a truth that neither side would likely care to admit: that Bush was also a socialist, though of a different flavor than Obama.

The easiest way to describe the difference between each man’s socialism is to say that Obama’s is an international Socialism, whereas Bush’s was National Socialism. Regrettably, describing it thus will inevitably lead to associations with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), often abbreviated as “Nazi”. Understand that I have absolutely no intention of describing Bush (or Obama) as a Nazi. Their brands of socialism are nothing like Nazism. A better term might be “American-exceptionalist Socialism”.

Bush’s socialism was also closely intertwined with his professed Christian faith. Much of the government’s power under Bush was focused on carrying out tasks that were associated with the Christian right. And these policies are as Socialist as any others which seek to use government power to impose a philosophy on the people of a country.

Likewise, it must also be said that while the redistribution policies may not have increased much under Bush, they did not cease altogether. Likewise, the tax-cuts he implemented notwithstanding, Bush did not fundamentally change the socialistic nature of the U.S. government, and, in his own way, enhanced it.

Finally, Bush initiated the use of military force in an effort that is, all but technically, a war. War is a fundamentally Socialist undertaking. For a successful war effort to be made, the power of the State must be increased. That Bush and his Administration appears to have been unwilling to admit this fact does not disprove it. Furthermore, Bush’s attempt at waging a “capitalistic” war through the use of private security contractors and the effort to avoid actually paying for it proves the Socialistic nature of War by its very failure. And, in what is shaping up to be the defining issue of the administration, it expanded the power of the government to encroach on what were hitherto considered rights of private citizens in the interests of defending National Security. (The “greater good” that is at the core of all Socialist thought.)

The true Capitalism, of, say, Ayn Rand, is a philosophy which tells its adherents to enrich themselves through production of goods and trade. This is a philosophy to which war is indeed alien. A successful war is waged only by making the Individual sacrifice for the sake of the Team. Similarly, no True Capitalist would engage in “faith-based initiatives” and foreign aid, as Bush did.

Hence, Bush’s brand of Socialism differed from Obama’s in that (1) It placed more emphasis on the use of governmental power for the purposes of advancing the religious beliefs prevalent in the administration and (2) it encouraged the United States to act unilaterally in advancing its interests.

Nor was Bush’s Socialism a fundamental shift in the American philosophy of government. The American government has been, at least since FDR, a socialist one. So too have been all subsequent Presidents, except perhaps Ronald Reagan. And even if Reagan was indeed a Capitalist, he did not change the nature of the government.

Now, it is true that, generally speaking, Republicans are less like stereotypical Socialists then Democrats. The Republicans obviously prefer to cut taxes, and profess to believe in smaller government, less government intervention in matters of business. On the surface, at least, it would seem that they are right to claim they are not economically socialist like the Democrats.

Yet, there are still divides in the party, even in the matter of business. Many Republicans support the criminalization of drugs such as Marijuana. This not a pro-business move. Indeed, it means the use of tax dollars to suppress a substance that people take for pleasure. One can imagine the outcry if Democrats proposed similar measures for, say, soda or alcoholic beverages. The libertarian wing of the party may object; but the fact remains that many Republicans support this anti-capitalistic behavior.

Thus, while it is justifiable to claim that Obama is a socialist, it is nonetheless very remiss to pretend that his philosophy is a “new” or “alien” one to the way America has for some time behaved. He may be more of an internationalist than has been previously seen, but this itself is an unremarkable development. The trend of globalization to some extent necessitates that existing socialistic codes evolve to account for this.

In closing, I must note that government inherently attracts Socialists to it, and the power granted to those in government must, I think, encourage the Socialistic tendencies in all people. Individualists do not seek office. “All world-improvers are Socialists” wrote Spengler. I have always interpreted this comment to mean not that all who actually do improve the world are socialists, but rather that all who believe themselves to know what is best for all people are socialists. And it is just such people, whether from the Republican party or the Democratic party, who seek office.