“Looking Backward 2000-1887” by Edward Bellamy is a socialist utopian science fiction story published in 1888. The story consists of a Bostonian man who falls into a deep sleep and then awakens 113 years later in the year 2000 to find the United States has become a socialist utopia.
It was instantly popular sparking over 162 “Bellamy Clubs” to discuss its ideals. It was frequently cited by the subsequent generation of socialist writings. It was the most popular book of its time and inspired everyone from Mark Twain to President Roosevelt. It is the work which moved a generation and in its pages you can find nearly all of the past century of socialist assumptions. It is probably the most influential political book in modern American and yet very few people these days have actually read it.
On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, David John Marotta appeared on Radio 1070 WINA’s Schilling Show to take a close look at socialism’s use of force as they attempt to bring about utopia.
Listen to the audio here:
One of the difficulties with socialists is their assumption that their view of what is “good” is shared by every sane member of society. In reality, many individuals do not share their perspective. This overlooked group of sane divergent thinkers creates problems for socialism. Socialists often dodge the important question of how to handle those who refuse to comply with their socialist view of the world.
They dodge this question because the unpleasant reality is that socialism quickly turns to the use of force to bring about their vision of society.
We see this in a stark little passage from Bellamy’s Looking Backward in which one of the characters explains how they get socialist workers to work diligently. It reads:
As for actual neglect of work, positively bad work, or other overt remissness on the part of men incapable of generous motives, the discipline of the industrial army is far too strict to allow anything whatever of the sort. A man able to do duty, and persistently refusing, is sentenced to solitary imprisonment on bread and water till he consents.
In other words, they take away a man’s freedom simply because he doesn’t want to work altruistically. This is beyond “strict.” It is oppressive.
You can tell though that Bellamy was enamored by the efficient obedience of the military core. In his view, the central planner of a utopian society needed to get important work accomplished. If individuals are not efficient enough to get that work done, what can you do? If they refuse to obey, you must force them to obey.
What do you do when it seems that millions of citizens are standing in the way of your socialist paradise? You have to get them out of the way.
Bellamy’s gulag would be no different than any other forced command economies. He’d send them to reeducation centers, feed them only bread and water till they consent, or kill them. Historically, these so-called utopias have resulted in 100 million dead.
The use of force is recognized by a host of different names: mandate, regulate, ban, tax, legislate, single-payer, universal, for all, centralized, subsidized, or free. All of this is based on the socialistic theory of societal organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
Indeed, the socialist assumption is that Legislative productivity can be measured by the passing of additional laws. David Boaz writing for the Cato Institute expresses this bias well:
Now journalists may well believe that passing laws is a good thing, and passing more laws is a better thing. But they would do well to mark that as an opinion. Many of us think that passing more laws – that is more mandates, bans, regulations, taxes, subsidies, boondoggles, transfer programs, and proclamations – is a bad thing.
Many of us are in favor of less laws rather than more.
Equality of outcomes, especially the equality of income and wealth, is one of the hallmarks of the socialist vision. And much of the legislatorial effort of our governments is an effort to create equality of outcomes, but that is not the kind of equality that all of us want. Socialists will try to overlook the differences between a life of luxury and a life of thrift. They want to ignore the spending of one family and envy the wealth of another.
Imagine two families who begin with a perfectly equal set of opportunities. Then, one family buys all their members iPhones. Another family saves and invests the same amount. They may have equal beginnings, but they do not have equal results. One family has several years of enjoyment out of their new phones. The other family benefits from the compounded growth on their investments. Those unequal outcomes then lead to a new set of unequal opportunities. Ten years later, one family is poorer than the other. The children of those families have different opportunities in the world.
Although we can have some basic equality in the world, the world is not a naturally equal place. The opposite way of looking at each of us having natural gifts is that we have more than someone else in that trait. As a result, whatever definition of equality you seek to sustain requires an enormous government and the use or threat of violence to enforce. You will have to take through force the special gift that each member of society has before you can level that area to your definition of equality.
Meanwhile, that massive bureaucracy is also subject to the weaknesses of corruption, abuse, and self-serving bias.
Whenever one person’s views of society are forced upon others, it starts with bullying. If that person gains the power of the state, their bullying quickly uses the power to instill fear, silence dissent, destroy civil courage, and kill revolt. What else can socialism do with dissent? As we wrote in “Capability Is Tyranny“:
It is the capability of the bully rather than actual actions that allows a bully to dominate his victims. We obey and give him our lunch money because he could beat us up, not because he does beat us up.
One important step is to silence dissent. One method used today is to make it illegal to hold or express such views. These methods have been implemented in developed countries outside of the United States.
This type of legislation is called a “compelled speech act” because it compels every member of society to give their verbal assent to the decided viewpoint regardless of their personal convictions.
Compelled speech acts are nothing new. There is a famous account of Polycarp of Smyrna who, in 155 AD, was urged by a Roman official to burn a pinch of incense and say, “Caesar is Lord.” Being a Christian and having been a disciple of the apostle John, Polycarp politely but steadfastly refused. For his refusal to comply with the compelled speech act, Polycarp was burned to death.
Socialist states cannot abide worldviews that believe in something greater than or sometimes even different than the state.
The United States is one of the only developed countries to still protect freedom of speech and make compelled speech acts a violation of civil liberties. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeated ruled that even “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment. In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the court ruled specifically that even inflammatory KKK speech is protected. The U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed this position as recently as 2017 in Matal v. Tam. We are fortunate for such legal protections, but those protections are being attacked on a regular basis.
Many among the Socialist movement call opposing viewpoints “microaggressions.” Microaggressions are defined as brief, commonplace verbal or behavioral acts which offends another person. At a minimum, this term can shame divergent thinkers by calling them the aggressors. Because the term includes “aggression,” some feel justified to respond with real aggression of their own. This escalates the response to things that challenges their viewpoint from negative emotions to actual violence.
The premise behind much of socialism is the assumption that a few individuals have the wisdom and virtue necessary to make decisions for the whole. They assume that the primary problem is that these wise few have not been given enough power or authority yet.
In contrast, I believe there is great strength in distributing decision making among many different groups. This is the libertarian position.
Some will argue back, “Although you might be smart enough to make good choices, most people must be forced to do the right thing for their own good,” but I decided that I permanently reject this position after reading “Why the Worst Get on Top,” the tenth chapter in F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.”
Hayek explains that even if a leader’s ideals are admirable, legislated conformity can only be created with force. The only way to stop nonconformists from disobedience is the use of government force against them. This is why dedicated liberals end up as some of the worst dictators. As Hayek suggests, “socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove.”
Hayek goes on to quote Tocquevill’s 1835 prediction in “Democracy in America” of the “new kind of servitude”:
The will of man is not shattered but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd.
Whether by an immediate threat of force or a gradual erosion of resistance, any centrally run political system must have compliance.
The faster people are to suggest “there ought to be a law,” the more they have this socialistic tendency of presuming that they ought to run everyone else’s life. By definition, those who want to dictate how other people live will be some of the worst dictators to have in power.
The use of force, in civilized societies, is reserved to government. As a result, if the actions taken by government were taken by private entities, they would be horrific. A libertarian would say, perhaps those actions just are horrific even when government does them.
Elsewhere in “Why the Worst Get On Top,” Hayek writes:
We must here return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a Totalitarian regime. In this state it is the general demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal. It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal. …
In other words, some group of people see a problem and believe that they know the solution. They grow frustrated that there are many who disagree with them. They want to just take matters into their own hands and do something. The drive to do something also drives them to the centralized power of socialism.
There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society.
Hayek’s three reasons are:
- It is the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people.
- Support will be gained from the docile and gullible who have no strong convictions of their own.
- It is easier to unite people on the common hatred of an enemy or the envy of those better off than it is to unite people on any positive task.
President Obama used envy and hatred of the rich to unify his base. As we wrote in “Wealth Redistribution and the Most Social President“:
In his speech, Obama separates the country into two groups: “we” and “the top 1%.” He claims that “we,” presumably him and I, have lofty goals of helping people, goals “we can achieve together.” Meanwhile them, the other, the enemy, “the top 1%” he says are opposed to these plans. …
Class warfare like this preys on the stereotype of ostentatious consumption while actually targeting people who live well below their means. It subverts the reward of success and prudence.
A 5-year-old girl with a piggy bank and no debt has a higher net worth than 80% of medical school graduates, 15% of U.S. households (46 million people) and the bottom 30% of the world combined. And that’s just because she has a few pennies to her name.
These tactics of hate and envy tend to pull vague theoretical socialism into the practice of totalitarianism.
Hayek quotes Reinhold Niebuhr’s 1931 book “Moral Man and Immoral Society” in which Neibuhr observes “an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups.” Sinning by supporting a group to sin on your behalf, he argues, allows people to take credit for the good intentions while distancing themselves from the failures of implementation.
Libertarians, it might be said, are realists about the failures of using good intentions to justify the means of government force.
Penn Jillette describes his journey to libertarian values by suggesting that he doesn’t want the state to use violence in his name for anything for which he would not be willing to use violence. Therefore, he believes that the state should not, in his name, use violence and hold a gun to someone’s head and force them to fund a library. Instead, for every issue he asks the question, “Is there any way we can solve this problem with more freedom instead of less?”
Usually, there are distributed systems which can solve problems better than a centralized governmental solution.
Take for example free market pricing. As Megan Russell explained in her critique of Jason Voss’ claims about market failures, “There is no such thing as The Price Preeminent, the actual value, or even a correct price for a product.” The free market system creates prices locally. Those prices are set such that some people are willing to sell for that price and others are willing to buy at that price. If there is a shortage in one area, prices are free to rise until demand is satisfied by supply. If there is a surplus, prices are free to fall until supply and demand are equated.
Meanwhile, centralized planners want to fix a fair and static price. Alas, they would need to be omniscience to set prices as accurately as the free market. Price controls are never good economics. A set price creates shortages in emergency areas and surpluses in areas of low demand.
Additionally, when private individuals hold decision making power, the power is distributed across all of society. When decision making is taken away from individuals and put in the hands of centralized planners, not only is the power transferred to the state, but the power is concentrated and vastly increased.
In a free society, no one can exercise even a fraction of the power that a centralized board can exercise. To socialists, this is the goal.
To those who understand that there is both an allure to abuse that power and a lack of knowledge to use it properly, central power is the great fear.
Distributed systems change and adapt instantly without any individual even recognizing that change was necessary. Centralized systems cannot change without an act of government. They also have no feedback mechanism for those adversely impacted to influence those whose poor decisions caused the impact.
Distributed systems are sturdy, correcting themselves after economic shocks. Centralized systems are fragile; they have a single place where failure causes other parts of the system to implode or explode.
For any economic equation, centralized systems will try to fix one component and wrongly expect the rest of the equation to behave. For the supply and demand equilibrium, centralized planners want to be able to change price to a new constant and still get the same amount of quantity supplied. When their actions cause problems, they will blame a company’s greed rather than the real cause, the government’s intervention. Assured of their good intentions, they assume that all that is needed is better implementation.
Socialist generally cannot imagine the diversity of desires and perspectives that their set of rules would destroy. They earnestly believe that their tyranny would be for everyone’s good and therefore only the sick or selfish would oppose them. This is one reason why socialism produces some of the most oppressive tyrannies. As C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment“:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
The oppressors who think their oppression is good for you will not stop.
Bellamy, the author of “Looking Backward 2000-1887,” admired the universal military service requirement in Europe at the time. He believed they provided a “grand object lesson.” He based his idea of a national industrial army on the idea that eliminating the competition of the free markets would make the economy more efficient. Everything in his command economy resulting from workers, men and women, being mustered into the industrial army at a certain age, conscripted for three years to do their most profitable service, and working diligently for no more incentive than greater accolades.
He tries to pretend that everyone will still be free to choose their vocation, but if they choose a less arduous trade with too many workers the governmental administrators will increase their hours until the supply of workers meets demand. Instead of allowing pay and aptitude to adjust the labor force, he forces a government administrator to artificially adjust hours to attract workers. And in case of sudden demand “the administration … reserve[s] the power to call for special volunteers, or draft any force needed from any quarter.”
Forcing people to do anything requires viewing them as cogs in the machinery of industrial army rather than individuals with freedom of choice. It ignores individuals whose personal calling may be inventive and something the central planners does not know exists yet.
Politicians are generous with other people’s labor and money and are stingy with other people’s freedoms. The next time you hear a politician’s rhetoric about all the wonderful things they are going to do in your name, ask how they are going to enforce it? What are they going to do with people who resist? Is this worth you holding a gun to someone’s head and threatening to take away their property, their liberty or their life for it to be done? If you don’t want to be the kind of person that does that, why would you want to delegate such evil for some government bureaucrat to do in your name?
As Lee Edward writes in “What Americans Must Know About Socialism,” “This is the reality of socialism — a pseudo-religion grounded in pseudo-science and enforced by political tyranny.”
Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash