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Why don’t socialism or communism work?

Socialism Overview

Socialism doesn’t work because it does not reflect human nature. This unnatural state of existence, by the way, is what makes socialism an ideology – it doesn’t reflect what’s real; it only reflects what’s imagined.

Volumes have been written about what can be described in one sentence: The imagined benefits of socialism always require government coercion to force changes in human behavior. That effort has never worked in the history of mankind. If socialism’s benefits were real, little government coercion would be necessary to achieve them. Ordered liberty, or freedom, requires some government coercion. The difference between freedom and socialism is that government coercion in a free society conforms to human nature. The same is not true with socialism.

Communism Overview

Communism is an abstract idea about creating a perfect society. The words “perfect” and “society” should never be used as complements in the same sentence.

Like its cousin socialism, communism is a hope for an imagined political and economic existence outside the bounds of human nature and reality.

When leaders of the Russian Revolution conceived of their communist dream, they imagined a heaven on earth where human needs were eliminated and personal wants were fulfilled. As with every other utopian dream before it, the experiment with communism in the 20th century ended in tyranny, bloodshed and horror.

Communism doesn’t work because it is un-human.

The flaws in socialism and communism

What underlies socialism and communism? First, let’s add another “ism”: Liberalism, as an American form of progressivism, shares a common root with socialism and communism. This root is called German historicism.

In the early to mid-19th century, a few important economists contributed in planting a seed. This seed gave birth to a tree with different types of flowers, all with the same DNA. The types of flowers in this tree are (1) liberalism, (2) socialism, and (3) communism. Their DNA comprises the following components:

1. Opposition to “liberalism” (in the classical sense; pro-individual freedom) and rationalism

2. Opposition to modernity

3. Belief that the individual was morally inferior to the state

4. Belief in the organic state as the fundamental unit of society

5. Assertion that the state creates the national character

Socialism is not the same as communism, but they do have the same DNA. They are separate, but they share the same immediate ancestor. That same ancestor is shared by modern-day progressivism and fascism.

So that’s the background. Does that alone give any reason for us to assume that socialism, communism or modern-day liberalism won’t work? Well, not exactly, but let’s check it.

The fundamental flaw of the entire DNA strand lies in its premise, namely, its view of human nature. To clarify, let’s check out what the Founders had to say about human nature and contrast the two views.

The American Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” From this premise, they concluded that certain laws existed outside of man, and that those “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” demanded that they revolt from a king who claimed to have supernatural authority over other men. This so-called authority, called the “divine right of kingship,” justified all actions done by the king.

The DNA that underlies the socialist and communist views of society is itself composed of a certain view of human nature. This is the idea that progress and social evolution are the goal of any society and that to achieve those goals, individuals cannot be sovereign institutions of cooperation, but rather mechanical parts in the engine of social progress. And in order for these parts to understand how to cooperate, a certain director must guide them – a director whose vision and understanding of the social good is greater than any one of the individual parts.  The individual must understand its place in the machine, and do all it can to support the other parts of the machine to which it is attached.

How similar does this all-wise director sound to the king by divine right? Of course the director of this social progress cannot believe in any divinity whatsoever. Because to believe in a being outside of, and greater than, humanity is to understand the sovereignty of the individual.

Whether socialism or communism “works” or not depends on the ends sought by the director (or dictator). History informs, us however, that whatever the ends of the dictator, his regime is bound to fall because of two problems:

1. He establishes himself as ruler de facto; he doesn’t require governance, unlike his subordinates.  However, human nature is imperfect, and all humans make mistakes. By not allowing for a check on his decisions he is more likely to eventually make costly decisions and mistakes.

2. As mentioned with liberalism, it is impossible for one person (or group of people) to know the needs of every individual at every moment of any given day. What Friedrich Hayek calls the “knowledge problem” greatly affects socialism and communism because both systems pretend to know the needs of the citizens and falsely promise to meet those needs through government programs.

In closing, let’s address the distinction between socialism and communism in a broad and basic understanding. Socialism is a government-directed economy. Ludwig von Mises, author of Human Action, makes the argument that an “interventionist state,” or a state that intervenes but doesn’t control the economy, has a propensity to control the economy entirely. Because of the “knowledge problem” mentioned above, the government can’t meet the needs of every individual. So that creates problems in the market. But then the state asserts itself as the solution to those problems and blames the cause on something other than itself. To solve the “crisis” of that given moment, the government increases its influences, and thus its messes. As a result, the government grows and grows until it reaches full-fledged socialism or, eventually, communism.

Communism takes socialism to the next level. In socialism, there is still a sense of private ownership. Under communism, all property becomes communal. The principle becomes “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Under this system, there is no incentive for hard work or efficiency – and as a result, the quality of things produced decreases. The supply and demand model of a market economy breaks down because supply can never reach the demand, leading to a higher price for lower-quality goods and services. Eventually, the economy becomes unsustainable and crashes, as we saw with the Soviet Union in 1990.

However, remember both communism and socialism stem from German historicism. The seed of German historicism is best illustrated by an old method of wolf hunting. The indigenous tribes would stick a knife out of a block of ice, and sprinkle the blood of an animal on the blade. The wolf would smell the blood, lick the blade and lick the ice occasionally as well.  Eventually the wolf would cut his tongue, numbed by the ice, but would believe he was still licking the blood of the other animal. Obliviously continuing to cut his tongue, he would bleed to death, unaware that the delicious promise before him was a stage for ignorant death.

It’s true that sometimes people use the word “socialism” when they mean “communism.” But both come from the same family, and any form of government intervention perpetuates itself, leading to greater intervention.  Let’s be careful not to lick a savory blade and numb our tongues by failing to study the battle of ideas that lies behind our state and national politics.

Dig Deeper:     

Article: The Last Communist City: A visit to the dystopian Havana that tourists never see

Policy Paper: Understanding the Conservative Mind

Article: How Communism Works

Policy Brief:  Robert Nisbet: Sociologist, Scholar, Conservative 

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