Are Socialists Liberals? — OR — Is Liberalism Leftist?

August 12, 2009

Are Socialists Liberals? — OR — Is Liberalism Leftist?

A funny thing happened on the way to an argument.

I was discussing various aspects of socialism and its relationship to democracy and fascism,etc, and someone spoke to me of the writings of F A Hayek.

I’m not a big fan of those who go out of their way to prop up a kind of conservative capitalism while, at the same time, disparaging all socialism as the same thing – lumping together Trotsky, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Eugene Debs into one big socialist totalitarian stew.

At this point, the world still seemed definable into the Left/Center/Right spectrum or continuum. In my mind I sometimes pictured Hitler and Stalin holding hands at the Left and Right ends forming us all into a big circle.

So I did a little research into Hayek. Usually if Conservatives tell you about someone’s writings, they all point to the same work, seemingly unaware of the author’s other works. In this case I stumbled on to Hayek’s excellent “Why I Am Not a Conservative”.

What I came away with was an interesting mental image of the political ‘spectrum’ as a sort of isosceles triangle. With Conservatism in one corner, opposed by Socialism and Liberalism/Progressivism in the top corner. The idea was that the Progressive Liberals are always trying to pull the cart ‘forward’ while the Conservatives resist change. And the Socialists are there trying to collectivise everyone into a totalitarian state.

While reading this, I realised that Hayek, by not differentiating Socialists as Right and Left or Nationalist and Internationalists, had left the idea incomplete. Hayek of course saw all totalitarians the same and all Socialism ended up with Hitler or Stalin and it didnt really matter.

The problem with this is that it fails to recognise and inform as to how those extremes come about from fairly rational and normal populations. We must differentiate them to understand the perils of totalitarianism and we must understand them to seek out the ‘goodness’ that may reside within a movement.

What I came to see was more of a diamond shape, where Liberalism was at the top as a result of progressive interests. Socialism was at the left where social programs protected the individual and the marginalized from the exploiting classes and planted the seeds for equality and internationalism. Conservatism was at the right where the state protected the traditions and intangible ‘values’ and reinforced the ideas of patriotism and nationalism. On the bottom was totalitarianism where one could arrive by corrupting either the right or the left.

But what stared me in the face was this contradiction that only then came to me. Socialists aren’t really Liberals. ‘Liberal’ in the US is almost a negative term. It has come to mean a nebulous ideal that either at one time is anti-establishment or wants to spend all the taxes of the rich on Welfare. In a way, those are both fairly accurate descriptions of the Left and of Socialists or Communists in a capitalist state, BUT, they do not describe LIBERALS.

The real description of a Liberal is someone who wants to maximize personal freedom, personal success and what ever opportunities present themselves. That, however, does not describe Socialism.

A Socialist, at least an honest Socialist, should tell you that true and complete personal freedom comes at the expense of equality. This is not to say that Liberals or Libertarians are wrong, wronghearted or misguided. They simply see the world in more Darwinian terms and they probably enjoy some personal success which they would want to expand. American Libertarians, to me, seek their means through some Conservative routes – they would hold the Constitution or portions of it, maintain Capitalism and the overarching systems of the US. Socialists at the more extreme would arrive at their Utopia without those trappings if necessary. But it may happen through a revolution which leaves those institutions at the side of the road.

Socialists, therefore, seek to mellow this drive to universal personal freedom with a measure of equality. Ensuring universal equality is to some degree an artificial control. It requires a mechanism to ensure equality and opportunity. That mechanism doesn’t need to ensure SAMENESS, just equal opportunity. This means that mechanism or government may need to control, operate or oversee some of the services provided to the populace.

Communism may fall between Liberalism and Socialism, or it may fall between Socialism and Totalitarianism. It depends on what its specific mechanism or government looks like.

So if this is the case then, why would a Liberal want a helmet law? They wouldn’t. Each for themselves as they see fit. Although I cant see why a Socialist would need one either… Why would a Liberal want laws restricting guns or any sports? They wouldn’t. A Liberal would demand that the minority which abuses the right to own guns would be stringently punished but that the actions of a relatively small minority would not affect the rest.

A Leftist Socialist would never favor immigration laws, but what about the Liberal? The Liberal may become protective if true freedom may impact them in the negative. But ideally, why would the Liberal care who came and went, since everyone has the same opportunity.

The average person sits in the middle of the diamond – the Moderate/Centrist who wants things to continue on roughly the same. The Centrist is pulled at times by the Liberal to find more freedoms and less control, pulled by the Conservative to honor values or traditions or patriotism, pulled by the Socialist to care for their fellow man and seek equality. Allowing too much control by the statists on either the Conservative or the Socialist side can lead into the wilderness of Totalitarianism.

So we see that while the Left or the Right may have their Liberals, true Liberalism is progressive and outside of the Left/Right continuum. Complete Liberalism/Libertarianism leads to Anarchy. It could be the quite happiness of a true stateless and free society, or it could be the dark lawlessness where some have and some have not to include security and health.

Extremism at any point is excessive, it is important to continuously find the balance that maintains freedom and equality and honors traditions without xenophobia or paranoia.


The Problem with Utah’s Immigration Law

April 10, 2009

What is wrong with Utah’s new immigration law

That isn’t a question, it’s a statement that I want to explain.

Utah’s legislature passed a new law with some sweeping impacts aimed at undocumented aliens. Under this law, police jurisdictions would have to confirm the citizenship of confined foreign nationals (read that Asian or Hispanic since we assume white people are citizens). The creation and issuance of ID cards to go only to citizens and legal aliens – this includes school ids. Negotiate with the Department of Homeland Security to allow the state to enforce federal immigration and customs laws. Deny employment to undocumented aliens and provide for sanctions for companies that hire. Companies competing for government contracts would have to validate their employees. It would also prohibit local authorities from interfering with government attempts to communicate with the federal government to determine someone’s citizenship status. Also is would make it an offense to to transport or harbor an undocumented alien for commercial or private gain.

The controversy today is that some jurisdictions are refusing to enforce the law because they feel that it requires them to racially profile populations and would decrease community cooperation with law enforcement. Probably two valid points.

But I want to talk about what is essentially wrong with this law. I will shy away from what, to me, appears the obvious racial motivation for the law. People in Utah know what I mean, whether they want to admit that or not. I am also not going to dwell on the unproven economic theories that illegal aliens have a negative impact on the economy. Especially since Utah has one of the consistently strongest economies and one of the fastest growth rates in the nation. Obviously any negative effects to the economy are not substantial, in fact the economy is probably strongly supported by the immigrant labor pool, especially in a housing market that supports the spiraling growth rate. I am aware, of course, that the housing market has suffered greatly from the current recession, but that is not linked to immigration issues. Finally, I am not going to dwell on the obvious unenforceable nature of the law.

What I will focus on are two points – one is the criminalization of a portion of the population and the other point is the efforts to ‘defend’ our sovereignty from the inescapable reality of immigration – both legal and illegal – from the South, rather than to find a way to embrace and benefit from that fact.

Many would argue that this population is already ‘criminal’ in that it illegally entered the US. But what I mean is that we have a population that, for the most part, is law abiding and seeks only to succeed in society. This in order to provide for their families here and possibly in their home countries. I doubt that many of them would choose to be here rather than in their own familiar homes, but are here out of necessity or desperation. Many have risked their lives to be here and have lost what little they own more than once. It is absurd to think that the threat of prosecution would somehow overpower their instincts to survival and success. But when we take what is probably a fairly large population and turn them away from schools, services and jobs,we begin to create an illiterate, unemployed and unsupported portion of the population. We drive this now criminalized population to seek its survival by other means. We create unwelcome children and adolescents with little to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. We have, in effect, created a far worse problem than any we have faced up to now. We will create a new class of people on the streets in Utah that are also divided from the mainstream by language, ethnicity and religion. Sorry folks, but that is a recipe for disaster in many ways.

The great writer Ryszard Kapuscinski once observed in China that besides the Great Wall, the Chinese had, for centuries, built walls in their country, their cities and even between private homes.

He wrote in ‘Travels with Herodotus’, “The worst aspect of the wall is to turn so many people into its defenders, and produce a mental attitude that sees a wall running through everything…an evil and inferior part, on the outside, and a good and superior part on the inside.”

Utahns to some degree have been accused of this already over the years. Perhaps it is easier for us to envision the world in those terms. Many of us can accept this sort of internal wall and we would rather spend our time, energy and money to defend that wall than to find a place for everyone in our society.

My family’s name is on the wall at Ellis Island. They came here a poor desperate people. Other parts of my family fled famine and poverty in Scotland. They may have come a more circuitous route to the US. America did not create their success nor give them opportunity, per se, they created America and the opportunities we all benefit from. America isn’t really an idea or notion – it is, after all, people who embrace those ideas and notions. American’s have always found a way to discriminate against those newly arrived be they Irish, Greek, Chinese, Hispanic. But those populations have forged on. It’s too bad that our legislature can’t spend more of its energy to figure out how to help those populations succeed – a success which benefits everyone. Quite a few proposals were laid out with those ideas. But what we turned to, after all the debate, was a wall, not a bridge.

Is civil war inevitable in Iraq?

December 31, 2008

At the end of any system is Chaos.  The period of chaos lasts until the
system finds a way to right itself, or crashes.  Think of any system as
if it were an airplane.  If something happens – such as the loss of an
engine – there is a period of chaos which is mitigated, hopefully, by
the pilot until the system again reaches a stasis or equilibrium which
is the “normal” state of the system in question.

Such is the case in Iraq.  The end of Sadaam’s regime started a period
of chaos.  The US presence doesn’t necessarily mitigate the chaos, it
may even contribute to it, since having a foreign army in your midst is
not the “normal” state for any sovereign government.  So what then would
mitigate the chaos?  Kapuscinski would say that it takes a generation to
work through this chaos.  Perhaps civil war is an inevitable effect of
the chaos, or maybe it is the mitigating factor that brings stasis back
to the system.  Either way, it seems civil war is inevitable.  And when
you wonder if we shouldn’t help STOP the civil war, imagine that the
French and English had come to America in 1863 and started a
peacekeeping mission which stopped the fighting.  Today we would still
live in a divided country with foreign peace keepers.

That isn’t to say war is justified, just that in some cases of
conflict, a victor must emerge and that is what the system requires…

“…A despot departs, but no dictatorship comes to a complete end at
this point. The condition for the existence of a dictatorship is the
ignorance of the crowd, which is why dictators tend this ignorance and
continually cultivate it. It takes a whole generation to change this, to
bring some enlightenment. Often, before this happens, those who
overthrew the dictator unwittingly behave like his heirs, continuing the
attitude and way of thinking that characterised his epoch – an epoch
which they themselves destroyed. This is so unintentional and
unconscious that if you point this out to them they are overcome with
righteous indignation…”