Anthony Hart’s recent apologia for socialism is a portent of how rapidly America is drifting left in its political philosophy. When a teacher of today’s students is unable to elucidate the meaning of socialism, it is a cause of concern. With more obfuscation than clarity, Hart reduces the meaning of socialism to mere acts of sociability. He claims that socialism is antecedent to capitalism and that any society with a public sector and/or social safety net is socialistic. If this were all there was to it, one would wonder what all the fuss is about. Hart not only trivializes the meaning of socialism, he makes it meaningless. It is okay to emphasize the commonalities of such diverse economies as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Canada and the United States, but it is dishonest to ignore their differences.
Words have meaning, so we should get down to brass tacks. The accepted definition of socialism is an economic system that abolishes private property regarding the means of production — land, labor and capital used to make goods and services — and replaces it with some form of collective ownership. Curiously, Hart never mentions private property, or the merits of individual versus collective decision-making, which allows him to dodge the real sticking point of comparative economic systems. The proponents of socialism properly defined are unable to offer persuasive evidence that collective ownership of the means of production leads to anything other than authoritarianism, lower economic output, and loss of individual freedom; or what Karl Marx called “increasing misery”—wrongly attributed to capitalism, when in fact socialism has a better claim to its bitter fruit. It’s not that many Americans regard socialism as an inherent evil; it’s that those who have lived under its unyielding conditions consider themselves worse off. History does not offer encouragement to those who say, “it will be different this time.”