The American Socialist Century



The Manchester Union-Leader, long an emblematic journalistic voice of the Republican Party, New England strain – before the advent of Tea Parties and general no-nothingism – isn’t quite that anymore. Do not say it is not trying to adapt, however.


President Obama and Mitt Romney, and the courses they propose for this nation, are so different, they should be galvanizing voters like never before.

Obama has left no doubt about the statist course he has been pursuing — and intends to continue. He, plain and simple, favors redistribution of wealth on a scale unimagined by previous administrations.


Will this continue to be a great nation of unlimited opportunity, or will it travel the socialist path of Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and so many others, now unable to pay their bills, faced with rioting in the streets, demands to continue the gravy train even though there is no more money?

The choice is yours. The candidates ARE different. Very, very different. Listen carefully. Then choose, liberty and economic freedom or socialism and bankruptcy.

One could say that the Union Leader is now drinking its tea unfiltered, but it is something of a developing political legend that contemporary Tea and other party conservatism is any kind of new development in conservative thought. Corey Robbin had controversial, but not by that light entirely incorrect insights to offer on that score last year. Developments in recent decades, significantly following the House career of Newt Gingrich, were in conservative political tactics, but not the persistently reactionary strain of American conservatism.

What has not changed is conservative reliance on the bogeyman of socialism to try to cast progressive candidates in a projected aura of fearful excess. The AP’s David Crary not long ago provided a brief review of the already well known history of this tactic.

Using “socialist” as a political epithet in the U.S. dates back to pre-Civil War days when abolitionist newspaper editor Horace Greeley was branded a socialist by some pro-slavery adversaries. Decades later, many elements of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal _ including Social Security _ were denounced as socialist.

It is also not so, for these extreme reactionaries, that Barack Obama represents any renewal or recent upsurge in liberal socialist inclination, as they – significantly including again Newt Gingrich over the past two years – will suspiciously charge. Here, in 1991, after eleven years of Reagan-Bush, is prominent Libertarian Party figure Jacob G. Hornberger in “FDR and the End of Economic Liberty”:

The watershed years were 1932-1937 — the first two presidential terms of Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was the crucial period in American history — the period in which Americans abandoned the principles of economic liberty on which our nation was founded. For it was during this time that the welfare-state, planned-economy way of life replaced the private-property, market-economy way of life which had existed up to that time.

What, then, could possibly be the “watershed “of which the Union Leader warns? According to Hornberger, all was lost eighty years ago. As if, too, those past eighty years were not the greatest economic leap into affluence and geopolitical power any nation or culture has ever experienced anywhere in the history of the world. Imagine what might have been accomplished had the country not “abandoned the principles of economic liberty on which our nation was founded.”

In truth, it has become popular for conservatives to trace the lost metaphysical essence of Americanness back further in time than FDR, to Woodrow Wilson. Ron Paul likes to go back to Abraham Lincoln. Some will look back to Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting progressivism, but that is locating the seed of our destruction rather too close to Republican soil, and to raise the uncomfortable question of whether Roosevelt, and Lincoln, could find even a kindling fire of comfort in the contemporary Republican Party.

Returning to Wilson, though, he did write “Socialism and Democracy,” in which a certain small bore caliber of conservative thinks a smoking gun is found (Woodrow Wilson: Commie, Socialist, or what?).

Thanks to a reader for pointing out this remarkable piece by Woodrow Wilson, Socialism and Democracy. A brief sample:

    In face of such circumstances, must not government lay aside all timid scruple and boldly make itself an agency for social reform as well as for political control?

    ‘Yes,’ says the democrat, ‘perhaps it must.”

Wilson’s short essay, in which he claims that democracy and socialism are inseparable, is certainly relevant to Kesler’s Friday post, Demonization Does You In.

Wilson was no stylist of felicitous delight, so one cannot be entirely surprised that the dimmer lights find him in such shadow, but while it is not my project to advocate Wilson, I do promote sound readings and clear understanding. Here is how Wilson found democracy and socialism “inseparable”:

For it is very clear that in fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals.

Debate that as we might, and there is a whole course in political philosophy in doing so, the first town Sheriff who insisted that guns be checked at the bar was enforcing some version of that idea, or was Virgil Earp some commie, socialist, or what? He was an ally of Republican and mining interests. To the point of Wilson and socialism, though, we have above some consumers of too much tea unable to steadily navigate Wilson’s rhetorical line. The purpose of his essay is a practical critique of socialism as a political program.

It is easy to make socialism, as theoretically developed by the greater and saner socialistic writers, intelligible not only, but even attractive, as a conception; it is easy also to render it a thing of fear to timorous minds, and to make many signs of the times bear menace of it; the only hard task is to give it validity and strength as a program in practical politics. Yet the whole interest of socialism for those whose thinking extends beyond the covers of books and the paragraphs of periodicals lies in what it will mean in practice. It is a question of practical politics, or else it is only a thesis for engaging discourse.


Democracy has not undertaken the tasks which socialists clamour to have undertaken; but it refrains from them, not for lack of adequate principles or suitable motives, but for lack of adequate organization and suitable hardihood: because it cannot see its way clear to accomplishing them with credit. Moreover it may be said that democrats of to-day hold off from such undertakings because they are of to-day, and not of the days, which history very well remembers, when government had the temerity to try everything. The best thought of modern time having recognized a difference between social and political questions, democratic government, like all other governments, seeks to confine itself to those political concerns which have, in the eyes of the judicious, approved themselves appropriate to the sphere and capacity of public authority.

The socialist does not disregard the obvious lessons of history concerning overwrought government: at least he thinks he does not. He denies that he is urging the resumption of tasks which have been repeatedly shown to be impossible.

But, according to Wilson, he is. Come the counter-revolution we’ll all be able to read.

It is worth in closing – nay, it is an act of profound duty – to recall the election, exactly one hundred years ago, in 1912, when Woodrow Wilson won the presidency. He ran against the incumbent William Howard Taft, the returning representative of the progressive wing of the Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt, and Eugene V. Debs of the – brace yourselves – Socialist Party. Given the four-way match, Wilson won with only a plurality of the popular vote, but in an electoral landslide, carrying 40 of 48 states. Debs won no states, but he did garner 6% of the ballots cast.

What conservatives need to make work intellectually – and one can imagine the distress on the mind – is the incontrovertible reality (not actually these days a bar to any argumentative conclusion) that the century in which they believe the real America was lost is the one that they along with others truly and gladly proclaim as the American century.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *