Another excellent meeting that linked how we got here to where we’re going, I thought. We had 13 participants, including Moss, Linda, Ron, Carl, and Peter. Does anyone have any comment they didn’t think to make on Thursday? I’ll start us off with two things.
First, I liked Carl’s basic definition of Socialism as necessarily a two-part system. One part is some form of common ownership of the key parts of the economy. As Ron said, it doesn’t have to be the government (so many horrible experiences with that!), but it has to be collective or it’s not socialist. The second part is having a social ideal of distributing the fruits of production in some “fair” fashion, rather than let markets or cultural hierarchies decide.
Of course, outside of hunter/gatherers, I wonder if this can ever happen spontaneously in any society, or whether a big government would still be necessary to enforce collective control. In which case, we’re right back to the problem of Big Government and how to keep it from creating a “socialism for the rich,” whoever the rich are – bureaucrats and party members, a racial/ethnic elite, crony business elites, etc. Power just seems to reinforce itself, whoever has it. That basic conundrum of power, its self-reinforcing nature, is exactly what Liberalism, a.k.a., Consitutional pluralism, was designed to deal with: How to distribute power in a way that’s stable so that no one locus of it can dominate. But, what’s the fair way to do this and who decides? This, by my nefarious design, is basically next week’s topic on the social contract and Rawlsian justice.
Second, I thought Jim Z. was right on about the critical role the Cold War played in crushing American socialism. After it began in the late 1940s, but especially after the Korean War began, communism and socialism were equated in the United States and never became disentangled even though Europe was basically doing just that. Europe starting building the latter to help fight the former. We did not do so, to U.S. conservatives’ relief and some (but hardly all) liberals’ consternation. A great question is whether we would have become socialistic if the Cold War had not happened. Me, I doubt it. The other reasons we discussed would have been too powerful, in my opinion. Our uniquely racially divided working class. The economic opportunities most Americans had relative to Europeans. Etc.
Finally, here are links to some of the books we talked about on Thursday.
- A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, by Barbara Tuchman.
- To the Finland Station, by Edmund Wilson.
- Anti-intellectualism In American Life, by Hofstadter.