Let’s sort out some things.
As a political and economic system, socialism is government ownership and management of the means of production and distribution of goods, the control of money, and the abolition of profit and private property. These ideas also describe communism and progressivism.
Socialism originated at the end of the 18th century in several “social studies.” The studies evaded the Enlightenment’s giant strides in providing jobs and raising the standard of living of hundreds of thousands who had been far worse off before the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
In the 1840s, the term communism was coined to describe a militant form of socialism. Marx and Engels used the word in the title of their work, The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. Later both Marx and Engels referred to themselves as socialists, and Marx’s work remains the basis of socialist thought.
In 1878, a schism split communists from socialists. The socialists advocated “gradualism,” the idea that capitalist society could be changed by reform from within. The communists advocated the violent overthrow of government. It was only a matter of methodology. They remained glued together by their fundamental ideas.
Progressivism started sometime after the Civil War as an attempt to help poor people through self-help programs operated by private charities. Progressives usurped the effort. They, too, evaded the advances achieved by the Industrial Revolution.
As early as the 1890s, progressives elected politicians who promised to take over utilities, improve city services and tenement housing codes. Other states joined in. By 1903 a wide range of progressive political and economic ideas were adopted to regulate railroads and utilities. They pressured government to raise corporate taxes. They advocated workmen’s compensation—paid for by businesses—and child labor laws, which denied income to the very poor.
In 1906 progressives passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. In 1913 progressives established the Federal Reserve. In 1914, they established the Federal Trade Commission and the Anti-Trust Act, extending government regulation of business. In 1916, they again raised corporate taxes, organized a railroad commission to set rates and established a conservation commission.
World War I interrupted the progressive’s juggernaut lumbering toward total government control of the economy. However, it was resumed with the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, although now referred to as the welfare state. Another name, the same ideas.
The sameness of these doctrines, which many people believe represent different points of view, arises from a single source.
There are only two ways to regard man’s relationship to society: either he has the right to live for his own sake, or he must live for others. Whichever principle you espouse places you in one or the other of opposing camps.
If you accept the principle that man has the right to live for his own sake, you are an individualist. If you believe that man must live for others, you are a collectivist.
If man has the right to live for his own sake, then that right must be protected and so, the initiation of physical force must be outlawed. In such a society no one’s rights may be violated with impunity; so, government has only one job: to protect individual rights domestically by means of the courts and the police, and by means of the military in matters of foreign aggression. Individualism limits government.
In a society in which rights are protected and from which the initiation of physical force is banned, men are free to trade value for value as they choose, working at what they choose, disposing of their earnings and property as they see fit, enjoying their life as they like. This is capitalism, the economic system in which all property is privately owned.
Our constitution explicitly states the individual’s right to life, property, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Enumerated, too, are freedoms that follow from individual rights—such as, for example, the freedom to peaceably assemble, the freedom to petition the government to redress wrongs, the freedom to keep and bear arms, and so forth.
If you believe that man must live for others, government becomes your ruler. There is no alternative. A large group seeking to plan and execute some plan requires by its nature a leader, or leadership. In a nation of people who believe man should live for others, the government becomes that leader simply by claiming that it represents everyone in the group.
But the government is a group of men. If you believe you must live for others, it is that group of men that will tell you what to do, how to do it and when to do it. It is that group of men that will regulate and control every aspect of your life, from hopscotch to hospital.
Progressivism, socialism, communism are all expressions of collectivism. But collectivism as repeatedly shown in countless examples throughout history cannot work. So, necessarily, the collectivist seeks an accommodation. He is willing to allow vestiges of capitalism, not too much but enough to keep the leaders in shoes and jets to fly to their vacation spots. All else is controlled and regulated by government, which is what we have today: A “mixed economy.”
No matter how you describe him politically, Mr. Obama is a collectivist. It doesn’t matter whether you say he’s a socialist, a progressive or a communist. It all adds up to collectivism. It all adds up to—like it or not, accept it or not—everyone being forced to live for others.
The question is: why should men live for others when they can better live their own life? They “should,” according to collectivists, because it gives collectivists power over men’s actions, which is what all forms of collectivism are about.
So, if you wonder about those who seek power over other men, it’s instructive to recognize that all collectivist doctrines depend on the values that the able create.
Consider, for instance, the slogans of both socialism and communism. Socialists declare, “From each according to his ability; to each according to work performed.” Communists declare, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”
Notice “from each.” Who are they? They are the men of ability. If you’re one, you might want to think about whether you want to be an individualist or a collectivist when you cast your next vote.