Dean Rehabilitates Socialism

The once Democratic Party presidential candidate said the West had to do “both” capitalism and socialism.

In a speech delivered in Paris, France on May 4, 2009, Howard Dean, until January of this year the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, declared that the debate about whether to “have” capitalism or socialism is over. “We are going to have both,” said Dean.

After comparing President Obama with John F. Kennedy and taking pride in the multiculturalism of modern-day America, Dean claimed that both capitalism and something he calls “communitarianism” are part of “human nature.” According to Dean, all people feel the urge to care for others besides themselves or, as he puts it, all want to be “part of a community.”

Apparently Dean sees no contradictions between capitalism and socialism for he innocently suggests that America ought to figure out “which proportion of each” it is going to have “in order to make this all work.” In Dean’s words, this is the “sensible” thing to do.

In fact, there is nothing sensible about it. Capitalism and socialism are almost perfect opposites of each other and cannot coexist. Where the first depends on the individual, the second is concerned only with the wellbeing of the collective; where the first promotes ingenuity, the second demands conformity; where the first favors freedom, the second relies on cohesion because altruism, regardless of what Dean might say, is not part of human nature. Rather altruism, although the foundation of any collectivist ideology, goes against it; it goes against the most primal human will: the will to live.

Socialism has held so many nations under oppression; it has condemned so many people to self-destruction and death that is almost unimaginable that an American of all people, a citizen of the very country that resisted socialism with reason and with force for half a century, should now champion it in blissful ignorance of its cruelties and hardships.

Whether you hold capitalism as a system responsible for the current recession or not, socialism is most certainly not an alternative. No socialist state has ever prospered economically for it denies the very human qualities that drive progress. Denying that is inexcusable.

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Comments

  1. How is this supposed communitarianism less natural then the intellectual constructions of freedom and liberty? As can be seen throughout human history, conformity and the survival of the group has always walked side by side with the rights of the individual, as the only way for an individual to use and protect their lives have been through groups. Look at one of the rights most cherished values, patriotism. What is that if not a celebration of the group?

    To me its sounds more like he is arguing for something much like the current Western European system, which is what has been on the democratic campaign tickets for the last while. Whether that is the best system is a matter for debate of course. But while I am no expert on Howard Dean, this speech does no sounds like some ultraleft wing hahoo like you are trying to paint it.

  2. I don’t think his intentions are bad. But I do think that he things way too lightly about this “communitarianism” thing which to me sounds pretty much like another word for socialism. He’s probably convinced that this is a good thing, that it will benefit lots of people, etc. but in the end, we’ve seen, repeatedly, in many countries, what it leads to.

    Being something of an Objectivist, I cannot but disagree with your assessment that conformity is linked to survival. I rather believe the opposite. I believe that the people who don’t conform, the people who think outside of the box, the innovators and the inventors are responsible for the progress we make as a species.

  3. If the innovators and inventors didn’t have a community to serve then how and why would they make their inventions? What resources would they use? What group would they market them to? A fundamental factor in the growth of human civilization has been surplus; the ability to have at the very least a small group of people who do not have to work with the basic gathering of food who instead can invest their time and energy in for instance inventing.
    I agree with your assessment that the innovators drive us forward, but without a community they would have nothing to drive. The two grow together, which is pretty much what Dean is saying. We have seen that socialism has led to oppression in many countries yes; but we have also seen that a mix like the one used in Western Europe, actually works relatively well. This is not a cry for a USSA, it’s his belief in what he thinks may be a better system.

  4. I’m not arguing for a free-for-all society, nor would I like to give the impression that I believe that the innovators and the inventors would be able to innovate and invent all on their own. Of course, it’s essential that there can be people who don’t have to concern themselves with the gathering of food in order to move forward, but who were the people who made that possible in the first place? Of course, you need resources in order to invent new technologies, but what are those resources without the technologies?

    It are individuals who have ideas. It are individuals who bring about progress. In a capitalist society, those individuals have the freedom to turn their ideas into a reality: the freedom to work, to produce, to enterprise. A socialist society, per definition, doesn’t care about individuals. It cares about the “common good”, which invariably leads to the restriction of individual freedom — even if it’s only in a small doses, like is the case in most of Western Europe.

    I don’t agree with your suggestion that people invent or innovate to “serve” a community, or, in general, for the sake of others. Did the inventors of the steam and combustion engines invent to please others? Were the automobile and the airplane invented by people who wanted to “serve” society? I don’t think so.

  5. The intentions of the inventors were in all probability to test their skills and make a nice profit out if it. However, those intentions are irrelevant. Fact is that they were brought about by the society that birthed them. A society is communal, it’s right there in the definition. Once again you are missing the point here. Neither I nor Dean is arguing in favor of one system. Both ideologies argue in favor of one component of human society. Strengthen one too much and you risk destroying the foundation. My point is that whether you like it or not communities are just as natural as individuals and you cannot have one without the other.

  6. Oh, that I agree with. Sorry I missed your point there. People live in communities and can’t quite survive, let alone, prosper on their own. At least, not in an industrial society. But I don’t think capitalism undermines that. To the contrary: I think all people prosper most in a capitalist society.

    The intentions of innovators are not irrelevant though because, in part, those intentions prove my point: that in order to have a prosperous society, you need innovators that are free to innovate.

    That, however, is not in the first place what justifies capitalism in my view. I’m not an utilitarianist. I don’t believe something’s right because it benefits many people. I believe that capitalism is righteous because it ensures freedom: specifically, the freedom to work and produce for one’s own gain.

  7. Well I am more of an utilitarianist. Capitalism is, in general, a good system do to the freedom it allows for inventors and such. But once again, “socialism light” or whatever you want to call the Western European version, is a system I believe in, since it helps moderate the side effects that unbridled capitalism bring with it (whether such a system would work for the United States as Dean suggests is another question). Capitalism is power; like all power, it needs its checks and balances.

  8. Sure, you need laws, against extortion, economic or outright slavery, etc., and I don’t oppose all social policy. It’s not as if life is bad here in Western Europe. In fact, I don’t think life’s better anywhere else. But as far as our “mixed economies” are concerned, I think we could do with a little less “socialism” or welfare state.

  9. Perhaps. I’m all for reducing government spending as long as the necessary programs gets funding, though I suspect that you and I have slightly different views on which programs are necessary

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