I believe that one of the things that makes it so very hard to “nail down” a definition for Socialism, is that folks—myself included—have a tendency to view various terms through their “personal lens.”
Put simply, people allow their experiences and the words of others, to “color” their view of particular words or expressions. This is certainly the case for the term “Socialism.”
It has been my intent to try to bring the definition of Socialism down to its “lowest common denominator.” I have not (until recently), been very well able to do that.
It came to me today, what the definition I would support might look like. I’m going to try to sum it up here.
The definition of Socialism I think to be most apt can be expressed thusly, “The successful attempt by a person or other entity, to gain control—consensual or not—of some aspect or aspects of another person’s existence.”
The first thing to note about this definition, is that it doesn’t limit the controlling entity to a person or to government. It can readily be argued in my humble opinion, that business is, in nature Socialist to the degree it—with the consent of those “controlled” or not—wields power over those who work for that entity, those who partake in the goods and services produced by that entity, and frankly, those otherwise affected by the actions of both the body in question, and others it affects.
In this age of mega-corporations, this is more true than ever. If, for example, one agrees to the “terms of service” for an entity like Google, or Facebook, one assents to the idea that such an entity has the “right” to filter the content one sees and “publishes” through that entity. This, like it or not, is “weak” Socialism.
The stronger a given entity becomes, the “more Socialist” that entity will be. The more difficult it is to ignore or reject the tenets and philosophies of a given entity, the more likely it will be that the vessel in question will hold sway over day to day reality for those by it affected.
It turns out as a result of the above, that government proves to be one of the most effective vehicles of Socialism.
There are probably many more reasons this is the case. Certainly one such reason is that governments can implement policies that affect both those who support them and those (even outside the confines of the physical or logical region they supposedly govern, and assuredly within those confines) who are otherwise affected by them.
Sometimes, such policies are the implementation of promises made by the government or other entity or some members of it; at others, they are neither expected nor desirable even to the majority of the folks “governed.”
Obviously, the preceding can be applied to private industry as well as government; the primary difference being that it tends to be easier to “walk away” from a company than a government.
I hope I have done an acceptably good job of “boiling down” the basic concept of Socialism.
Having done this, let us now proceed to consider the relative merits and “evils” of Socialism.
One inherent property of any Socialist activity, is that it must take away freedom. Put another way, Socialism is by nature the “surrendering of personal liberty to a collective” with the intent of making things better for all (or some part of) the collective’s members.
You can certainly imagine that there are instances where this is not just desirable, but necessary to make societies or providers of goods and services be at least palatable to those “buying into” the particular group.
For example, murder (here defined as, “The intentional killing of another human being without justifiable cause.”) is not a desirable activity in most societies. The result is that it tends to be “banned” or outlawed. This, accept or no, is an example of Socialism.
I think most would argue, that disallowing through whatever means, the act of murder, is “acceptable” Socialism.
There can be argued to be a “group of” things that at least the majority can count similarly acceptable and reasonable.
Another example would be disallowing physical harm to another member of the group without, again, justifiable cause.
The larger the number of restrictions, the smaller the number of peopleß likely to support them. Obviously, it will often be true that some percentage will support some things, some percentage others, and there will be “overlap,” as well as things that are unique to a, or some particular group or groups within the larger body.
It’s also obvious, that over the course of time, different people will find their respective ways into authority. One problematic result of this, is the tendency by those in power to “swing wildly” to one direction or another on a given issue.
This is why the United States of America, as an example, is a republic, not—as many appear to be confused into believing—a democracy. The U.S. is a “republic with democratically elected representatives.” In fact, a glimpse at the various writings of those who established and assented to, the U.S. form of government, shows that they had no love whatever for the idea of “pure democracy” by and large.
The concept of a republic is that by laying down “foundational legal concepts,” it is possible to set what are considered reasonable limits to the power, authority, and direction of those ”in charge.”
That doesn’t make all Republics “equal.” Funnily though, to some extent, all republics are socialist. The main difference can be summed up in the question, “To what extent are they so?”
One of the considerations of the founders that can be found to be addressed in the U.S. Constitution is exactly that. Put in simplest terms the question answered succinctly but thoroughly in the Constitution is, “Who has what power?”
The unfortunate reality is—as with most such entities—the intent of those who created the entity can be said to be “in the way of” folks who—for whatever reason—want to see government have more power. Since I am “out of space and time,” I will not address who those people are except to say some have good intentions and some, not so good.
Intent aside, actions that expand the role and power of various levels of government past the limits placed on them by the U.S. Constitution are almost always disastrous.
Okay, as I have said, I’m over my time and space constraints. Allow me to wish you the best of times, and thank you, yet again, for reading.
2 responses to “What is Socialism? – Religion and Politics”
My friend and former workmate, Stefano Bodini posted the following on LinkedIn. I tried to respond to what he said there, but was reminded YET AGAIN, why I don’t write or post MUCH OF ANYTHING directly to most social media sites. In short, LinkedIn would not allow me to post ANYTHING LIKE a reasonable response to his comment.
As such, I am “reposting” his comment on my blog, then posting my reply in a separate comment.
Here is his comment on LinkedIn in reply to this article:
“I’m not quite agree on your definition of socialism. By your definition everything giving rules is socialism, including the traffic laws. I more simply would say that “socialism” is thinking also about other people and not only ourselves.
Is thinking about other people as “people”, is giving part of ourselves to a “community” and not only working and cheating to steal everything from others.
The homo sapiens is a “social” creature, to survive and thrive needs to be among others, can’t survive alone.
Socialism is to remember that.
If everybody only think to themselves, everybody suffer and in the end will have a shitty life. Because if you live in a society where everybody only thing for themselves, everybody will try to steal and cheat and exploit.What shitty society.
The nature of our species imply to have rules to reduce the problems among members of our society. Anarchy is not working, is going back and throw away ANY progress made.
If you need to guard your back every second, there is no time and resources to create a culture, to create things, to go to the moon, to discover and improve.
Collaboration helped and help to improve life for everybody.
Competition only destroy and make everybody miserable.”
And here is my reply to Stefano’s comment:
“Let me take the time to reply to this, as I think it’s important to discuss things.
Let me start by saying that the idea of Socialism relates to, essentially, “social government.” That is to say, talking about Socialism in terms of what it means to the individual is not really possible without talking about what it means to society at large.
Simply put, I strongly believe that if you ask ten people for their definition of Socialism, if each of them had one, you would probably end up with at least ten different answers as to what it was and entailed.
There’s a point at which one must address things pragmatically; this is the place in which I now “reside.”
What you say about traffic laws, I completely agree with. Yes, traffic laws are Socialist in nature. Does that make them bad? It was never my intent to say so. If I were to discuss them, I would certainly say that, where they don’t intentionally tend to make life worse, sometimes they succeed nonetheless. Overall though, I don’t really have much of an issue with their “application.”
With regard to your definition of Socialism (“Thinking about others and not only ourselves”), where I think what you’re saying to be a good thing—something we all ought to be doing—I don’t think it a fair definition of Socialism. My reason is simple; I don’t believe one need espouse or employ any particular form of government to put into practice what you have used as your definition.
The funny thing is, your statements of effect, seem to more closely resemble true Libertarianism than they do what generally occurs when a person or a country is Socialist. I wonder if you would argue that there must be a government body to tell me how to think about others, or “give part of ourselves over to a community?” As for me, I don’t believe that is the case.
Can we live out our lives alone, with not a whit of contact from others? That may not be something everyone can do, but I’m pretty sure I could. Does that mean that I want to do that? Does that mean I disagree with the idea the we need to figure out how to work together if we don’t “go it alone?” I would never try to directly state, nor even imply either. Again though, I don’t think heavy control of any “governmental entity” (and here I include things like corporate entities as well as government ones) necessarily makes that better.
I have pretty much always been the first to argue, that we need pavement maintenance people, building custodial staff, garbage collectors and fast food workers every bit as much as we need software developers and even doctors. I think personally, that it behooves me to be polite, kind and where possible just plain friendly to all such people, and by this, I don’t mean just pavement maintenance people, but them, and doctors, and all others.. I don’t think I should do that more for one group or individual, than another. Again, though, some form of governmental entity trying to tell me how to do that is, for the most part, not at all helpful.
I can certainly agree with the idea that there must be some rules (though I prefer to not have to worry about them, choosing to “self regulate” and generally do things in ways that often are more “stringent” than the employed set of directives). And by the way, I am not calling for—nor do I agree with anarchy. As you have implied—if not directly stated—it has never worked, nor will it ever do so in my opinion. The sad reality is, there will always be those who required “external regulation.”
Where I entirely believe that there were, looking back in history times when one had to “guard one’s back,” I don’t believe that was the case for every moment of every day when government wasn’t there to “do it for me.” Put another way, for the most part, I think societies can function the majority of the time without government “interference.” As I have said though, laws to protect one from unreasonable death, harm and forfeiture of personal property are entirely reasonable in my view. And they ought to be “evenly applied,” not something that protects one and not another.
As to what individuals can accomplish without government being involved in every facet of their existence, I don’t think it’s hard to see that people like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell, did much of what they did with little government involvement.
Collaboration is a wonderful, and as you say, necessary thing. Regulating that collaboration with “governing entities” though, is only necessary to a very limited degree.
I’m not one of those either, who says things like “competition is the only way.” I do believe though, that there can be healthy competition. The former statement implies that there can be unhealthy competition as well. Whether government of one form or another should be regulating that by and large is another matter entirely.
I sincerely believe that we’re not particularly far apart on what we hold true where this is concerend. I doubt there’s much in what I’m saying here that you cannot or would not readily accept.
It’s my heartfelt belief that we as parents, teachers and mentors, need to instill in those “coming up” that which is good, right and proper. That doesn’t “do away with” any need for government, but if done properly, I think it reduces it substantially. And I don’t believe that to be a bad thing.
I hope I have managed in what I’ve said here, to address our apparent differences (most of which I maintain are nonexistent).
Thanks for reading my original post and “adding value” by choosing to take the time to respond to it.
Hope this finds you and yours well and that you continue to be so.”