Through the course of this year (or to be more exact, since around sometime this past spring), there has been quite an apparent rise in public support for a far-left doctrine known as “social democracy”—or as the demagogue that many of these social democrats in our country today are rallying behind incorrectly calls it, “democratic socialism”. Such a rise, moreover, has undoubtedly caused many in the libertarian movement to find themselves having to inure the tired-out, sophomoric, smugly-held, driveled arguments that are now a good deal more ubiquitous in our society, thanks to these people (that is to say of, whenever they bother to make any kind of rhetorically substantive case for their beliefs at all). However, to put forth that that’s been the only ideology with such an extreme and explicit opposition to voluntary cooperation, free markets, and private property claiming to support the preservation of personal or “civil” liberties that has had a not-so-unsubstantial boost in popularity in these times, I would say might fall a bit short of accurate. Hence, with not just “social democracy”, but also one other proverbial twig of that general branch of the Left wing that one could call wannabe whiggist socialism, all being made mention of (albeit, for a great part indirectly), I shall proceed by taking each form of this phylum of the far-left and demonstrate how ill-conceived, specious, and counterintuitive the platforms of each of these so-called “anti-authoritarian” creeds are…starting off, of course, with what else but “social democracy” itself.
“Social democracy” is an ideological school of thought with many adherents who admittedly are, in many cases, otherwise fairly bright people. That all being said though, while they often are of the realization that the lengths to which socialism as put into practice through the early and mid 20th century was implemented were indisputably in the wrong, these people, all too often, are just too ignorant in the fields of economics and political philosophy to realize that the economic liberties they are eager to have government infringe upon are just less obvious (that is, at least to them) manifestations of the basic rights they assert themselves as guaranteeing to protect. Contrary to their view of the world, there is no real distinction between “civil” liberties or rights and economic ones. In various chapters of his much celebrated opus, Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek made a substantial amount of reference to, and moreover, did a great deal to address, many of the fallacies of such “anti-authoritarian” sects of socialism.
In the chapter “Planning and Democracy”, Hayek explains the sheer incompatibility of “central planning” (or in essence, socialist or socialist-inclined economic policy) and the democratic system, given that the latter, as he put it, “is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom” (and thus “an obstacle to the oppression of freedom”, while the former “leads to dictatorship because dictatorship is the most effective instrument of coercion [at least in comparison to something such as democracy] and the enforcement of ideals and, as such, essential if central planning on a large scale is to be possible” (i.e., depends on the very suppression of freedom). The latter (i.e., central planning) is necessarily so, he states earlier in the chapter, since
“[t]he effect of the people’s agreeing that there must be [such interventionist economic policy] without agreeing on the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they want to go: with the result that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all”,
and furthermore, as
“draw[ing] up [a comprehensive and effective government-implemented plan to mold or direct the economy in some way or another] is even less possible than…plan[ning] a military plan by democratic procedure…[and hence] it would become inevitable to delegate the task to the experts”.
Democratically-elected legislatures, whose members will invariably represent different groups of society very often with conflicting interests, values, and the like, thus “come to be regarded as ineffective ‘talking shops’ unable or incompetent to carry out the tasks for which they have been chosen”. To summarize his point on this issue, Hayek concludes that since the state’s attempt to direct the economy in such a manner is essentially “a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules”, especially if such a set of rules are a constitution that calls for a balance of power and the guaranteed protection of the personal rights of individual citizens, “[d]emocratic control may prevent power from becoming arbitrary, but does not do so by its mere existence”, and that consequently, “it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from becoming arbitrary.”
But perhaps more to the point, in another chapter, “Economic Control and Totalitarianism”, Hayek goes on to explicate how it is that the hand-in-hand claims that coercion-wielding state intervention “exercised over economic is a power over matters of second importance only” and that “giving up freedom in…[such] aspects of our lives [for the sake of] obtain[ing] greater freedom in the pursuit of higher values” are as fallacious as they are. To support this argument, Hayek further maintains that
“The authority directing all economic activity would control not merely the part of our lives which is concerned with inferior things; it would control the allocation of the limited means for all our ends. And whoever controls all economic activity controls the means for all our ends, and must therefore decide which are to be satisfied and which not. This is really the crux of the matter. Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends”.
In essence, to put some aspect of the economy that may cause some grievance for a select section of the population under conscious governmental control in a manner that would have any substantive effect on the problem further mean trying to put under control the plethora of interconnected aspects and whatnot of the market outside of that situation, which inevitably leads to the suppression of the options and opportunities open for much of the public.
Yet another point of salience he makes though is in the enticing chapter “The Great Utopia”, where he illustrates how socialism came to usurp “as the doctrine held by the great majority of progressive[-minded people and the intelligentsia]” in place of classical liberalism. Here, he speaks of how modern socialism in its earliest stage was more honest about its authoritarian nature, and points to instances in the works of early Utopian socialists such as Henri Saint-Simon, who was of the conviction that those who refused to comply with his agenda should be “treated as cattle”. It was only after the democratic-spirited revolutions of 1848, Hayek attests, that socialism began to garner support from much of what became the Left as we know it today, and that in doing such, it become advocated as promoting the “promise of a ‘new freedom’”. Namely, this was the supposed “freedom from necessity” and “release from the compulsion of the circumstances”, and not the Enlightenment concepts of “freedom from [deliberate physical] coercion, freedom from arbitrary power of other[s through the said type of coercion, and] release from the [tyrannically imposed] ties which left the individual no choice but obedience to the order of a superior to whom [that individual] was attached.”
But furthermore, to state it yet again, there is another form of leftist extremism I’ve found myself running into fairly frequently as of late, that like “social democracy”, that tries to have its cake (i.e, promise that it will preserve what its adherents call “civil” liberties) and eat it too (i.e., use governmental coercion to redistribute wealth as these Ivory Tower folk see fit—needless to say, without bothering in the least bit to inquire what that would). This political school of thought would be “libertarian socialism”, an ideology that has been greatly popularized by the extensively renowned abstract syntactician, Bosniak genocide denier, and exorbitant Mao apologist Groaning Corpseky (or is it Noam Zombie?—the name of this public figure always keeps eluding me, despite my having majored in the field that, to this day undoubtedly, he and his ideas have had quite an academic monopoly over), and that even Gene Epstein (now an economics editor at Barron’s and associated scholar at the Mises Institute), who himself came to libertarianism by having read and been inspired by some of this academic’s works, acknowledges as being “an oxymoron”.
Though it may or may not be seeing a rise in popularity like Sandersian menshevism has, one nowadays might find themselves seeing adherents of this ideology writing on libertarian posts on social media comments like, “How about we get the best of both worlds. Libertarian socialism!!!” (Yippee!)—which is enough to make an individual such as myself want to just explicitly spell out to such deluded asses why the two expressions that the name for their said school of thought constitute of are not only oxymoronic when put together, but furthermore, just do not make any real sense at all outside the parameters of whimsical wish-thinking.
Despite what the formal, prescriptive dictionary definitions of the term might be, socialism in any form—whether that be Marxist-Leninism, Maoism, or the ‘Menshevism’ mentioned in Murray Rothbard’s essay “A Strategy for the Right”—always essentially endeavors to achieve material equality among members of a given populace over everything else, with at the very best a superficial regard for the personal rights of individuals. Laissez-faire liberalism (read: classical liberalism), on the other hand, endorses the more prudent and non-coercive practice of having all institutions, parties, and persons in a given society refrain from aggressively and overbearingly interfering in the affairs of consenting adults. That is to say, it allows each individual to engage in whatever voluntary exchange or (but in many a case, and) cooperation that they please (provided it not be on false pretenses). Or rather, to put in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, “while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
Since it is much more often the case than not that such voluntary acts of cooperation result in both parties benefiting in some way or another, this gradually leads to the standard of living of everyone in a given society as a whole to improve and prosper in the long run and in the greater scheme of things. While it might not achieve or guarantee greater amounts of material equality (which by itself, needless to say, is neither good nor bad in any inherent sense) right away, a laissez-faire liberal society, unlike any form of socialism, does indeed, for one thing, genuinely revere the right of every individual from their person or property from being physically violated by some other person or party, and, for another, actually yield in an upward trend in the quality of life for everyone (or at least the majority of people) living in it.
But to put it in the most succinct terms, what both these groups of people never acknowledge (and would probably cease to be such were they to acknowledge it) is that as Milton Friedman famously phrased it in his TV series Free to Choose, “[a] society that puts [material] equality before freedom will get neither[; a] society that puts freedom before [material] equality will get a high degree of both.” Thus, if we can only get any type of wannabe whiggist socialist or soft Marxist to open their mind to the truth of how much better a society in which needed goods and services (and for that matter, even desired ones) are exchanged through maximum amounts of voluntary, un-compulsory exchange can do its job alone (if not tampered by capricious coercion), we will probably without a doubt be much less beleaguered by such benevolent, but greatly misled petitioners than we often are now.
“[T]hough Marxism-Bolshevism is gone forever, there still remains, plaguing us everywhere, its evil cousin: call it ‘soft Marxism’, ‘Marxism-Humanism’, ‘Marxism-Bernsteinism’, ‘Marxism-Trotskyism’, ‘Marxism-Freudianism’, well, let’s just call it ‘Menshevism’, or ‘social democracy’.
Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable political spectrum[…]. We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands of Marxists. It is now our task…to break those bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever.”—Murray Rothbard