In spite of the mass murder perpetrated by the governments of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and many other “revolutionary” societies, socialism continues to have many real world adherents. So deep is the faith that even India’s former finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, in an interview with TIME magazine in 2005, professed that “Socialist goals remain valid. What we are trying to do is devise and invent better means to achieve those goals”.
For socialists, the standard retort is that none of the societies that we traditionally consider as socialist were socialist. Rather, they were “state-capitalism”.
Even if that were true, the dictionary definition of socialism doesn’t inspire much confidence either.
Would you be in favour of an economic system in which it’s assumed that the government owns everything, including your body? Because that’s what socialism is – “government ownership and control of the means of production”. The “means of production” are land, labour and capital. Under socialism, individuals (labour) are mere cogs in the government’s machine; their sole function is to obey dictates from the central authorities.
Socialism is merely a variant of what used to be called feudalism. Before the advent of democracy, kings would demand complete obedience from their subjects, usually by appealing to superstition and religion. In this way, the elites cemented their power and exploited the population.
Of course, eventually the people decided to revolt: the French and the American revolutions ushered in the idea that all human beings have a right to their life, liberty and property without interference from the government. After these revolutions, the intellectual climate changed, and the lies of the monarchy no longer worked to the same extent. Thus, the rulers were forced to give up some of their power – and the end result was democracy, in which citizens freely elect their representatives.
But unfortunately, the constant struggle between those who wish to wield power and those who are victimized by it (ordinary folk like you and me) hasn’t ended. Democracy may allow us to choose our leaders, but it doesn’t guarantee that they won’t abuse private property rights while they’re in office. The lies of the elites are still being propagated, although it’s a lot more subtle.
One of the biggest lies is that we “need” government to commit theft against productive citizens in order to provide services such as healthcare, education and defense. Convincing the public to believe this has been a primary objective throughout history. Government, according to the parasites that live off taxpayer money, simply must exist.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to education and health, there is ample evidence that the private sector could provide these services cheaper and at higher quality. But what about defence? Do we need a government to provide security? Two brilliant theorists – Murray Rothbard and Hans Hermann Hoppe – have argued that we do not, and I tend to agree with them.
Whether Rothbard and Hoppe are right or wrong is a debate for another day. My point is simply this: socialism is an historical regression towards feudalism, under which we are all slaves of the government. The soft-socialists of today – social democrats – would do well to take note.
Many people trace their shift toward classical liberalism to a particular author. Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe, for instance, cites the great Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk for first planting in his mind seeds of doubt about social democracy and the Marxist system.
But I credit my interest in liberalism not to a famous intellectual but to my father. Like many Indian civil servants, my father entered the public service with the expectation that he would be contributing to the betterment of society. This belief turned out to be naïve. As he soon discovered, corruption and political games are more important for public sector actors than improving the lot of the least fortunate.
Searching for answers to the inefficiency plaguing government “solutions” to public policy problems, he turned to the science of economics. It was while studying economics that he discovered Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek. Thus my father was able to fast-track my learning by conveying all he had learned. I have now outgrown my father's influence and admire writers that he has never heard of: Albert Jay Nock, Lysander Spooner, John T. Flynn – these are just a few of the individuals I discovered by delving deeper into the libertarian literature.
Yet the man who figures most prominently in my thinking is “Mr. Libertarian” Murray Rothbard. Reading his Ethics of Liberty was an eye-opening experience. Rothbard moved beyond utilitarian justifications for liberty and justified freedom in the realm of natural law. He deduced the entire corpus of libertarian philosophy from a few basic axioms of human existence – such as the idea that we own ourselves (self-ownership).
Reading Rothbard radicalised my thinking. I realized that I was duty-bound to resist statism in any way I could. Life was not, as some utilitarians seemed to think, simply about increasing economic efficiency. To the contrary, libertarians are fighting for truth, justice and beauty. As Ludwig von Mises wrote:
“Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Readers should feel free to share their own journey in comments.
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There are three main types of ideas. For simplicity, I have called them Type I, Type II and Type III. What differentiates developed countries from Third World nations is that large numbers of Type II ideas have been trashed in favour of the scientific method. Each generation and place must derive different truths (that is, Type I ideas). For instance, in the 18th century thinkers would have written against monarchy. But in the 21st century, Type I ideas would aim at clarifying misconceptions about capitalism, because it is already understood that kings and queens are not appointed by God.
After a hundred years, capitalism might be understood as being fundamentally good, and the truths which will need to be communicated will become different. By then, we would have understood more about Type I and Type II ideas. Some ideas might transfer from Type I to Type II. That is how the world progresses: by trashing its bad ideas.
Type I: Ideas which are essentially correct.
Some ideas can be partly correct, and may need refining, such as Newton's laws which were refined by Einstein. But Newton was basically correct. Milton Friedman's monetary work would also fall into this category. Other ideas might have only been partially explored and may result in very powerful results in the future. That is why science is continually yielding more and more secrets of the universe. It is one's job as a student of truth to quickly recognize as many of these Type I ideas. The more Type I ideas one knows and the better one knows them, the quicker living standards improve.
Type II: Ideas which are essentially false.
These include things like the earth being flat, that communism is feasible, or that the Aryan or any other race of men (such as white, black, green or yellow) is superior to others. It is one's job to quickly identify the ideas of Type II category and to place them in the rubbish bin meant for these ideas, in one's mind. We should not forget to flush out this trash every now and then by repeating in our minds the arguments about why that idea was wrong.
Type III: Ideas which can never be proved to be right or wrong.
The typical example of this is the existence of God. Even if we go far into the past, we get stuck with something always, behind which is an impenetrable vacuum. Before the Big Bang, what was there, and who created all that energy which drives the world? Is there only one universe or multiple universes? These questions can only be answered through beliefs. As Voltaire said: "If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him." Life is so difficult and trying at times that it is good to have a God to pray to. But we should be mainly interested in extracting from religion a deep, Type I truth.