Democratic Socialism and America
Political debate in the United States has always been a matter of constantly shifting and refining of philosophies and worldviews. From the Federalists and Anti-Federalists of the late 1700’s, to the Jefferson Democratic and Whig parties of the early 1800’s, the debate over control has constantly returned to a question of what entity is power vested in: is it a strong federal government with power over weak states, or a weak federal government controlled by strong independent states?
Today’s call by many on the left to embrace socialism and its tenants hearkens back to the age old debate of where the power is vested. Under a socialist system economic power is vested centrally in the state, or federal government. This call is tempered with the modifier of “Democratic Socialism”, where the government controls the means of production and economy, but those in the government are subject to democratic oversight. Supposedly this would mean that officials could be voted out by a democracy as the people see fit. Democratic Socialism often calls for a systematic eradication of capitalism through policy, rather than an overnight revolution where the “workers” seize control of production.
Socialism is not a new concept to the United States, and the federal government has many policies in place that could be deemed socialist in nature. Each one of these policies represent the struggle for centrality of ideas that exists in our nation. But the errors that doomed social engineering by the governments of the 20th century are not eliminated by tacking on the aura of democracy to a socialist agenda. While leaders might be be removed from office, socialist policies that don’t work are much harder to reverse. Socialism also dangerously assumes that once in place, a ruler will not abuse the power given them.
Implementing socialist policies is often a one-way street, for once a piece of economic freedom is given over to what philosopher Thomas Hobbs calls the “leviathan”, it is incredibly difficult to wrest control from it. Hobbs posited that the only way to control the problems with humanity was to subject them to an all seeing, all reaching government that controls everything and everyone. Social Security, for better or worse has become an inherent part of every American’s life. In the areas where it has succeeded, and in the areas that it has proved to be shortsighted, Social Security is not a program that can be easily changed or done away with. This is because the pursuit of socialist policy is the integration of government into citizens personal and public lives. It seeks to ultimately tame the most destructive force known to man: man himself; this through full economic control. This observation leads to the next fatal assumption: the infallibility of man.
The Nature of Man
Democratic Socialism assumes that if central economic power is vested in the state, the people would be fully able to dispose of a leader that abuses that power. However, this follows in the same progression of fallacy that Karl Marx and many others have accepted: they reject the ultimate notion that man is aggressive in his pursuit of power, always seeking to exert influence and control over others. Paul Johnson notes that “…[power]…will not disappear when one system is transformed into another, but will be enthusiastically exercised by those in charge of the new one.” This acute observation is more pertinent than ever, because this new wave of democratic socialism calls for the slow replacement of capitalism with its own socialist agenda.
Experiments with Socialism
Social experiments with the human condition have been used in the past to prove the efficiency of the socialist system. A pioneer of socialist ideals and an industrial business owner, Robert Owen theorized that he was able to improve the lives of workers, running a small industrial commune that governed every aspect of life. By regulating everyone and everything, he hoped to prove that this model would be adaptable on a larger scale. Buildings for residence, recreation, learning and production were all housed on the grounds. Individuals that were part of this experiment were under his complete control. Owen created two of these experimental utopias, one in New Lanark, Scotland, and the other in Indiana. Upon visiting the New Lanark colony in 1816, Poet Laureate Robert Southey was not impressed with the show.
Southey later remarked in his journal “Owen in reality deceives himself. He is part-owner and sole Director of a large establishment, different more in accidents than in essence from a plantation…His…nature leads him to make these human machines as he calls them (and too literally believes them to be)”. Owen then makes what Southey considered an untenable logical assumption: “He Jumps at once to the monstrous conclusion that because he can do this with 2210 persons, who are totally dependant on him- all mankind might be governed with the same facility.” Owen believed that his system was based on kindness and benevolence, that by implementing a similar apparatus the world could do away with many of the social problems it faced, such as hunger, illiteracy, homelessness, and unemployment. While observers in the 21st century might consider this experiment drastic, it is an excellent example of the ultimate ends of social control.
Socialism Denies the Nature of Man
So what makes socialism, and its younger brother, democratic socialism, so attractive? While a myriad of answers might be offered, one thing is clear: the policies start with good intentions and slowly (or very quickly in some cases) erode away individual rights. This can be explained under the umbrella of the Social Contract Theory, brought to prominence by 15th century legal scholar John Locke. The exchange of rights is a give-and-take arrangement. When personal liberty is ceded to the government, it is often done so for the sake of services or comfort. Socialism’s draw is that it gives the government sweeping power to provide comfort, stability and security, but at the price of freedom.
Melding democracy and socialism does not do away with socialism’s underlying issues, it merely puts on a facade of choice. Humanity is not infallible, and any political philosophy that denies this fact denies the nature of man.
 Johnson, Paul.The Birth of the Modern. New York: Harper-Collins Publishing, 1991) p.821
 Southey, Robert. Journal of a Tour in Scotland. P. 261-262