Socialism Is Un-American
During the Cold War, defenders of Communism and Socialism were never more scornful than in dismissing the idea that Communism was un-American. The end of the Age of Socialism has revealed conclusively its destructive, impoverishing effects. But the contrast with the Free World is deeper and more sublime than the substantial material effects.
A reflection on the American Declaration of Independence demonstrates that Communism and all forms of Socialism are indeed radically un-American, far more so than opponents of Soviet aggression usually suggested.
In The Noblest Triumph, Tom Bethell observes that all radical reform movements from the High Middle Ages right through to the 18th and 19th centuries—whether Marxist or utopian socialists—based their projects on abolishing not property alone, but marriage and religion as well. Both defenders of Western civilization and the reformers recognized these three institutions as the foundations of society, which was why the reformers wanted to tear them down. Not coincidentally, these three institutions are the social expressions of human nature, some of whose distinct but complementary rights are enumerated in the Declaration: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Socialist Hostility to Family
Human life has never existed in the solitary form proposed ad argumendum by Hobbes. Men are social creatures, and the Western tradition that gives primacy to the individual recognizes society as a valid form of being. But it is within the nuclear family that we are given life and brought up to be independent, participating members of the human family. In the family we learn coöperation and respect for authority, especially the authority of the past in the persons of our parents and grandparents In the family, we gain affection for places and customs of our origins. In the love and respect of our relatives, we learn to respect ourselves, and in conflicts with our siblings and parents, we also learn to think of ourselves as individuals. In the Western tradition, it is a duty of society to support the family, as the tree’s leaves nourish its roots.
America's ongoing experiment in abolishing childhood and parenthood is showing how essential the family is to truly human life and happiness. But for reformers, the family is the enemy, precisely because it produces individuals, rather than tokens in the state’s or corporation’s master plan.
In the last century, the Left’s mutual affinity with environmentalism—the watermelon effect: green on the outside, red on the inside—shows the Left is literally anti-life. Abortion and population control (lovely abstraction for getting rid of human beings) are obvious. But environmentalists’ earth-friendly prescriptions are at best superstitions and often kill people in the millions.
Property the Bulwark of Liberty
The family is necessary for human life, but it is not sufficient. A rule of law that secures property is a foundation of liberty. This can hardly be doubted (especially by any reader of Mr. Bethell's exposition).
The Bill of Rights, revered by liberals as a document of almost mystical content, is in fact mostly taken up with protecting the right to be secure in our property. In whole or in part, nine of the first ten Amendments attempt to make us secure against predations by the state. The third, fourth, and fifth amendments protect property directly from expropriation or invasion, and the second guarantees our right to self-defense. For the Framers, defense included resisting encroachments by the central government. Amendments six through ten protect property indirectly.
Around the world, from Hernando de Soto’s Peru to the Arab East to post-Soviet Russia, there are states where property is insecure and subject to confiscation at the whim of robber, despot, or oligarch. They demonstrate that, outside a well ordered society, life tends to be poor and often nasty, brutish, and short. Even Leftists inadvertently confirm this, for when they speak of oppressed and downtrodden people, they are speaking of people whom the law does not make secure in their property.
No Happiness without Purpose
Finally, the pursuit of happiness is a matter of religion. Since Aristotle, philosophers have located human happiness in the attainment of proper human ends and the fulfillment of the requirements of human nature. Christian Fathers and mystics have placed this fulfillment in union with God, speaking of a “God-shaped hole in the human heart”.
But one need not be a Christian, or even a theist, to see that in a purely material universe, a man is a result of random physical happenstance in an uncaring universe. He can have no purpose, no proper end. The right to pursue happiness—or any right, for that matter—makes sense only if there is a dimension in which humans have proper rather than random or instrumental ends. In other words, a spiritual dimension.
As much as they would like to, reformers cannot change human nature. Every man feels the need for a purpose to his life. Hence, collective schemes attempt to finesse the matter by finding purpose in collective ends, and hence their hostility toward religion and anything that exalts the individual.
Religion is the institution through which we deal communally with the spiritual dimension of our nature and reflect it in our daily existence. Religion elucidates, codifies, and promotes the virtues of prudence, restraint, frugality, investment, honesty, and industry. Material prosperity depends upon these virtues, but at the same time religion teaches us to hold property and security in some disdain, an attitude as necessary for the risk-taking entrepreneur as for the saint. From the mediæval monks, to the Puritans (the monks’ colonial avatars), to the modern business man (the monks’ modern avatars), these virtues have been the basis of success.
This is not to justify religion as a useful fiction that produces material benefits. Religion is justified on its own terms, as the worship we owe to the Creator. But the parts of a moral order should reinforce one another. Adam Smith presumed that religion would guide and restrain his rational economic actors. The American Framers understood that a nation deficient in virtue as nurtured by religion could not long maintain its liberty. Michael Novak made the connection between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when he addressed the overly collectivist strain in Roman Catholic social thought. Novak pointed out that “Capitalism”—a Marxist term—is not an ideology as Marxists suppose, but a phenomenon. It appears whenever men have the secure rights:
- to establish families
- to own property and pass it on to their heirs
- to form free associations (e.g., corporations and labor unions)
These are basic principles of the Catholic Church’s social teaching, he said, and Catholic suspicions of the free market were misplaced.
Reformers who eliminate religion blot out recognition of what makes humans able to live free and self-sufficient lives rather than as slaves to their own passions, to other men, to sweeping, inhuman ideologies, or to selfish genes. That skeptic, Tom Jefferson, with all his distrust of organized religion, wrought better than he knew in adopting the formulation that governments are instituted to protect "the pursuit of happiness" instead of repeating John Locke's phrase, for the "preservation of property".
Thus Socialism is antithetical to the basic tenets of the America polity. It is no slur but a bald statement of fact that socialists are un-American.