The socialist temptation

Marxism appeared to have suffered a knockout with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It looked at the time like the postscript to Ronald Reagan’s long struggle against Communism, the struggle Peter Schweizer called Reagan’s War.

Now in what seems like the blink of an eye, Bernie Sanders has somehow become the most popular politician in the United States. By contrast with Reagan, here is a guy who has deeply felt what Vivian Gornick called The Romance of Communism. As we all have learned, Sanders merged the personal and the political when he spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. No honeymoon in Vegas for the class warrior from Burlington by way of Brooklyn.

In a recent column of great interest Joel Kotkin purported to explain “Why socialism is back.” Kotkin offered some political advice along with his analysis. “These [leftist] economic positions could gain a majority,” Kotkin counseled, “but not if the progressives maintain their polarizing embrace of the most radical aspects of social identity and environmental policy.”

The left’s identity politics replicates Marxist class struggle with racial categories. The left’s environmental policy serves up the rationale for state control of the means of production. They are both extensions of what the late Harry Jaffa “the long arm of socialism.” Kotkin’s advice to the contrary notwithstanding, they aren’t going anywhere. Under Democratic rule we got and are destined to get the full catastrophe good and hard.

The late Harry Jaffa cogently warned that the socialist temptation would survive the fall of the Soviet Union. If anything, the fall of the Soviet Union would enhance its appeal. “The defeat of communism in the USSR and its satellite empires by no means assures its defeat in the world,” Jaffa argued. “Indeed, the release of the West from its conflict with the East emancipates utopian communism at home from the suspicion of it affinity with an external enemy. The struggle for the preservation of western civilization has entered a new—and perhaps far more deadly and dangerous—phase.”

And here we are. Kotkin raises the question for the current popularity of of socialism or socialist remedies.

Socialism has certain permanent advantages over freedom. It preys on such enduring features of our character as ignorance and envy. See, for example, Publius in Federalist 10.

But what is behind the resurgence now? According to Kotkin, “The primary driver is the global ascendency of neo-liberal capitalism, which in virtually all countries has accelerated inequality.”

Americans, however, have rarely begrudged our fellow citizens their success so long as we have had something like an equal opportunity to achieve it. It seems to me that current barriers to opportunity have much more to do with the resurgence of the appeal of socialist bromides than what Kotkin calls “neo-liberal capitalism” except insofar as “neo-liberal capitalism” has erected such barriers.

Reaganite policies fostered the fantastic economic growth of its era. Reagan prevailed politically before the fall of the Soviet Union with the great economic growth that his policies fostered. We can achieve such economic growth again if we can lighten the government’s heavy hand and continue to press the case for freedom against the claims urged on behalf of “the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it.”

NOTE: For much more on Jaffa’s contribution on the point above, see a certain new book by our own Steven Hayward.

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