I honestly never thought I’d see the day: I’ve read an article in The Nation that I largely agree with. In the article Ronald Aronson urges The Left in the United States to reclaim the word socialism. Here’s his peroration:
The fantasy universe of purely private individuals, for all its lip service to religious belief, is no longer able to inculcate the basic social morality and sense of responsibility any society needs to function. Twenty-five years of attacking government has drained much of the basic civic spirit and social responsibility we must have to transact our collective business with integrity. If nothing is higher than the individual, the only thing that matters is whether I alone succeed. In the Enron and other corporate fraud scandals, in the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, the chickens have been coming home to roost.
On the road to shaping an alternative, the left might respond with a time-honored socialist insight, namely that “I” only exists within a “we,” and that unless we look out for everyone, no one is secure. To say this confidently means accepting that we stand for a clear alternative and embody decisively different values and traditions than those on the right. This means getting friendly again with socialism.
I’m don’t consider myself a member of “The Left” (nor “The Right”, for that matter) but I don’t have any particular allergy to the word socialism. It’s a perfectly good word and it has a reasonably accepted meaning. It’s useful for communicating meaning and expressing intent.
I really hate the co-optation of the lovely word liberalism to describe something that doesn’t resemble it very much. Those who’ve done the coopting are the heirs of those who destroyed the last pathetic remnants of the old liberals. Both liberalism and socialism have the same philosophical roots: the French Revolutionary ideals of Fraternité. Egalité. Liberté. The liberals believed in freedom. Socialists believe in equality. Brotherhood has yet to be heard from.
And progressivism is even worse since it means nothing whatever. It’s like saying virtuism or goodnessism. Who doesn’t want progress? We just don’t all agree on what it means.
As I say, I’m not allergic to the word socialism. Nous sommes tous socialistes. Only the most doctrinaire completely reject redistribution. It’s a pragmatic necessity. We tax the rich for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: it’s where the money is. It’s a matter of degree.
So I’m completely in favor of those who are calling themselves liberals or progressives or the netroots or whatever they’re calling themselves these days calling themselves socialists. Using a word that actually has a definition and you can really sink your teeth into would have a number of beneficial effects:
- they’d know what they stood for
- the rest of us would know what they stood for
- maybe a couple of decent political parties would emerge from the wreckage that would ensue