It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try

By Elizabeth Bruenig/ Washington Post/ March 6, 2017


In the United States, we’ve arrived at a pair of mutually exclusive convictions: that liberal, capitalist democracies are guaranteed by their nature to succeed and that in our Trumpist moment they seem to be failing in deeply unsettling ways. For liberals — and by this I mean inheritors of the long liberal tradition, not specifically those who might also be called progressives — efforts to square these two notions have typically combined expressions of high anxiety with reassurances that, if we only have the right attitude, everything will set itself aright.

Hanging on and hoping for the best is certainly one approach to rescuing the best of liberalism from its discontents, but my answer is admittedly more ambitious: It’s time to give socialism a try.

Contemporary supporters of liberalism are often subject, I think, to what I call “everyday Fukuyama-ism” — the idea, explicitly stated or not, that the end of the Cold War really signaled the end of history, and that we can only look forward to the unceasing rise of Western-style liberal-democratic capitalism. (As the leftist scholar Mark Fisher recounted: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”) This assumption is reflected in the blindsided, startled unease of liberals in the era of President Trump: “There are moments when everything I have come to believe in — reasoned deliberation, mutual toleration, liberal democracy, free speech, honesty, decency, and moderation — seem as if they are in eclipse,” Andrew Sullivan recently lamented in New York magazine. “For the foreseeable future, nationalism is likely to remain a defining political force,” Yascha Mounk fretted this weekend in the New York Times; “liberals should strive to make nationalism as inclusive as possible,” he warned. 

Against this backdrop of liberal disquietude, the notion that everything either will be or already is all right, granted the correct attitude —  that “we’re better than this,” as Joe Biden confidently declares on his newly launched political action committee’s website — appears particularly frail. It’s hard to square the late-Obama-era insistence that “America is already great” with the palpable sense that something — in the climate, in the economy, in society, in politics, in the wellspring of American ideas — is going badly wrong. What to do? Sullivan’s solution to liberalism’s peril is contemplative “self-doubt and self-knowledge”; Mounk’s is to “domesticate [nationalism] as best we can.”

But my sense is that while Sullivan, Mounk and all the other concerned liberal observers are right that something is wrong with the state of American liberalism, the problem is much deeper than they allow. I don’t think business-as-usual but better is enough to fix what’s broken here. I think the problem lies at the root of the thing, with capitalism itself.

In fact, both Sullivan’s and Mounk’s complaints — that Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual. 

That capitalism is inimical to the best of liberalism isn’t a new concern: It’s a long-standing critique, present in early socialist thought. That both capitalism and liberal governance have changed since those days without displacing the criticism suggests that it’s true in a foundational way.  

Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.

I don’t think that every problem can be traced back to capitalism: There were calamities and injustices long before capital, and I’ll venture to say there will be after. But it seems to me that it’s time for those who expected to enjoy the end of history to accept that, though they’re linked in certain respects, capitalism seems to be at odds with the harmonious, peaceful, stable liberalism of midcentury dreams. I don’t think we’ve reached the end of history yet, which means we still have the chance to shape the future we want. I suggest we take it. 

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79 Responses to It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try

  1. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here is a video for you: I disagree with Bernie Sanders politically, however, he governed himself with a great deal of decorum.

  2. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, my ideal society as I see it is best described like this: We help each other whenever and wherever possible, however, we allow people to live their individual lives with little, if any, government intrusion. Example: some people want to consume raw food, milk, et cetera. That is the business of the people doing it only.

    • Sounds like classic libertarians. Sounds nice but impractical. I don’t know of any society that has made it work. I do agree that many personal activities should not involve the government, e.g. food choices, abortion, drugs, sex,etc.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, while you have made clear your disdain for Steven Crowder, here are 2 questions for you: 1: Who would you take more seriously regarding the issue of the Canadian health care system: Him or politicians who tout it as a success story who have never been to a Canadian health care facilities? 2: Why are you skeptical of the things that Steven Crowder mentions?

        • I had never heard of Crowder before your references to him.Mostly I don’t like him because his political beliefs are totally different than mine. But he certainly has his share of controversy. His Wikipedia entry mentions some of it, including accusations of racism and homophobia. At one point he was even fired by Fox News, and suspended by YouTube. Steven Crowder seems to get in trouble a lot

  3. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, I would like to see a system where all of the people’s needs are met and that everyone is provided for adequately. Having said that, I also believe in the concept of a merit-based society. What would be an ideal system that helps provide for people’s needs, however, is not completely anti-capitalist?

  4. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, per your request, I will abstain from sending you any further Steven Crowder videos. Having said that, since he was exposed to a Socialist system in Canada, I think he would have more credibility than people who call themselves Democratic Socialists. They should reverse the label and call themselves Social Democrats.

  5. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if you were to have a vision of how best to have a Social Democracy but maybe throw in some libertarian aspects, what would that consist of?

  6. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, you have made clear your disdain for some of Steven Crowder’s videos that I have shared with you. To be fair, who would you take more seriously regarding the pitfalls of Socialism: Someone like him who actively lived under such a system or people who advocate for such a system in order to lull us into a sense of perpetual government dependency?

  7. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here is a video for you: Even though I disagree with David Pakman politically, I like the fact that he effectively make a distinction between pure Socialism and Social Democracy.

  8. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if you have a hard time taking Steven Crowder seriously, which is surprising considering the fact that he was subjected to a Socialist system in Canada, what will it take to convince you that Socialism is not all that it is cracked up to be?

    • Let’s ban socialism as soon as the American people reject the post office, social security, medicare and the VA, public utilities, public schools, and other socialist programs. I don’t see any groundswell for abolition of public programs.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, the only reason Democratic Socialism would appeal to people is because of the word Democratic. I will try to find more videos to share with you on this subject.

        • The word “democratic” is important and distinguishes it from other countries who consider themselves socialist without being democratic. Socialism is of value only if democratic.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, what I don’t get is why some people don’t pay attention to the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which is as a result of Socialism. Watch all of the videos that I have shared with you.

          • Ragnar, how many times do I have to tell you: communism and democratic socialism are not the same? Totally different!

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, you could make that argument about National Socialism vs. Democratic Socialism. One form of Socialism is forced in and one is voted in. Watch the videos I linked again, even those with Steven Crowder, so it will become perfectly clear to you.

  9. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, the people who are enamored with Socialism are those who have no real understanding of how destructive it is. National Socialism (Nazism) has only led to death, destruction, famine, poverty, et cetera. Democratic Socialism is just voted in. One is forced in while the other is voted in.

    • Ragnar, I’ve lost a lot of respect for you if you are seriously equating national socialism with democratic socialism. Sometimes you seem intelligent but too often you resort to right-wing talking points far removed from reality.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, watch again the videos I shared with you regarding Steven Crowder’s discussions of Socialism. Look at Cuba and you will see the hell that Socialism has subjected them to. You claim that millions of people here are hungry and homeless. Where do you get that statistic from?

        • Ragnar, a large part of Cuba’s problems are the decades-long embargo by the U.S. I was in Cuba a couple of years ago, and the people were anxious to start a friendly relationship with the U.S. Obama was getting it started, then Trump came along to stifle that.

          And for homelessness in America, there are about half a million homeless each day. And about 42 million are food insecure (hungry). And this is in the richest country in the world. How sad…

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, do you deny the fact that some people who are homeless are in that situation because of substance abuse issues in some cases?

          • Of course there is abuse, Ragnar. There is abuse in every part of our life. But that doesn’t change the fact that there area great many people and families who don’t have enough money to pay rents. Especially now with the coronavirus crisis. Would you deprive them of help because some people have substance abuse problems? Doesn’t a society have an obligation to help those in need? Don’t those on the Right have a heart? Sometimes I wonder.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, I agree with you in general. The problem is in how we are supposed to be able to know if someone is truly in need of help and some people who use their alleged plights to scam the system. If we did not have the welfare/nanny state that we do right now, more people would have an incentive to look for work. In a 2 parent household, one parent would work while the other stayed at home to take care of family activities, chores, et cetera. Things like welfare should be for people who fall on hard times until they can get back on their feet. It should not be seen as a career opportunity where people get money from the state and be required to do nothing in order to be eligible for benefits.

          • I’m not sure why you always complain about the minority of those who abuse the system, rather than feeling a bit of compassion for those who truly need it (unemployment is especially high now).  If you’re looking for perfection, you won’t find it. Investigating each case would require resources we don’t have. Certainly you can find it in your heart to allow our country the opportunity to help those who truly need it. Is that so hard? By the way, since welfare reform people cannot make a career out of welfare. There are limits.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, this “my family is on numerous form of government assistance” message, which may be true, also enables people who are receiving welfare to be lazy. We also have had rampant abuses of our system due to illegal immigrants coming over the border from Mexico. Keely Mullen looked too well dressed to even qualify for welfare benefits.

  10. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, most of the people who want Socialism have never actually lived in the countries that have Socialist ideas. The people who live in countries that have Socialism as part of their governmental system are going hungry and are unable to make an adequate living. You talk about millions of people being hungry and homeless. They have a much better situation here than they would in Cuba, Venezuela, as well as other countries that have Socialist models? Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Because of its decline as a result of Socialist policies. Why is it that people who hate Socialism want to flee countries that have it and we have people who are enamored with Socialism that don’t elect to move to countries that have Socialism?

    • Ragnar, you are still confusing democratic socialism with undemocratic socialism.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, no matter how many times it is tried, it always leads to collapse.

        • Ragnar, when do you expect Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway to collapse? I’d like to know.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, Venezuela has become a hellhole due to Socialist ideology. Of course, that should be obvious to any person who reads history.

          • Are you aware, Ragnar, that the United States has been imposing serious sanctions on Venezuela for more than a decade? That certainly is not helpful to their economy.By the way, you haven’t answered my question about the Scandinavian countries.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, the sanctions are irrelevant to the discussion. We have been imposing sanctions on Iran and that does not seem to deter them from pursuit of nuclear weapons. Some of the information I have read about the Scandinavian countries is interesting. The problem is that pure Socialism does not workout as some people would have us believe.

          • Iran’s economy has been badly hurt by sanctions. I don’t know whether they are trying to build nuclear weapons, but they weren’t doing it when we had a treaty. Trump blew up the treaty that numerous countries were in support of, so it would hardly be unexpected if Iran tried to build one. You are vague about the problems of Scandinavian countries, but happiness surveys of citizens rank Denmark at the top, and the U.S.farther down. “According to the World Happiness Report, happiness is closely linked to social equality and community spirit – and Denmark does well on both. Denmark has a high level of equality and a strong sense of common responsibility for social welfare. Even though there are nine major political parties in Denmark, none of them seriously supports dismantling the Danish welfare state.” 

  11. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, I know that there is a difference between Social Democracy and all out Socialism. The problem is when people refer to themselves as Socialists. Social democrat sounds a little more palatable. Just my thoughts. Before you dismiss what Steven Crowder says out of hand, that man grew up in a system with socialized health care, something that gives credence to his criticisms of it.

  12. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here are videos for you: 1:, 2:, 3:, 4:, 5:, 6:, 7:, 8:, 9: The people who buy into this ideology have been lied to and have believed the empty promises that go along with this system. Capitalism may not be perfect, however, no person has come to his or her death under such a system insofar as I know.

    • I guess you don’t think the millions of people who died in our invasions all over the world, for oil and other resources, count.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, I will concede the point that you make. I find war as being distasteful. Having said that, we should not be required to sit on our hands and appear to be weak in the eyes of our enemies. Just my thoughts.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, in your opinion, how best would it be to balance some of the more positive and practical elements of Capitalism with some of the benefits provided by Socialism? I am not an extremist in either regard, however, where can both cross paths and be beneficial to everyone?

          • Coincidentally, Tom Friedman covers that very topic today. See what you think.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, that is a good article. I had indicated that I tend to be open-minded about some things, even if I ultimately disagreed with the person in question who was presenting an analysis of said issues. Even though I disagree with him politically, David Pakman has been someone that I find to be interesting to listen to from time to time. There are a number of videos that he has on his channel that I have seen. Not all of them, however, I have seen a number of them. There are videos where I have watched him do interviews and there are videos where it is just him and his crew.

        • It’s good, Ragnar, that you can be open-minded, and also that we can find things to agree on.

  13. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here are a few videos for you: 1:, 2: I know that it is hard for many people to grasp, however, this ideology has led to the deaths of millions, either through starvation or mass genocide. Look up the history of countries that are operated under Socialist policies and get back to me at your convenience. When all of the “free” stuff that people who buy into this b.s. want runs out, when everything that they want for free is no longer accessible, the people demanding all of these “free” things will ultimately wake up.

    • Really, Ragnar? It is beyond my understanding that you, Crowder, and other conservatives can’t figure out that democratic socialism is not communism. If Sweden, Demark and Norway caused starvation and genocide, I missed it. By the way, what about the socialism in this country, the Post Office, fire department, the military, etc? Those aren’t so bad, are they? Democratic socialism is DEMOCRATIC socialism.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, if you need a history lesson on the harms of pure Socialism, look at Venezuela as an example where Socialism clearly does not work. Breadlines? Mass starvation of the population? It is easy to say, “It is not affecting me, so it is not my problem,” however, that thinking is naive.

  14. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, do you know why Socialism doesn’t work? Because Socialists don’t. They just take from other people to make themselves feel better. There’s no line between democratic socialism and socialism. The former is within the latter. Government is not our nanny.

    • The Scandinavian countries do quite well with democratic socialism, and the people are much happier with their lives than we are here.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, as I understand it, Social democracy is a political, social and economic philosophy that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and a capitalist oriented mixed economy. The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy, measures for income redistribution, regulation of the economy in the general interest and social welfare provisions. In this way, social democracy aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes. Due to longstanding governance by social democratic parties during the British post-war consensus and their influence on socioeconomic policy in the Nordic countries, social democracy has become associated with the Nordic model and Keynesianism within political circles in the late 20th century. Social democracy originated as a political ideology that advocated an evolutionary and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism using established political processes in contrast to the revolutionary approach to transition associated with orthodox Marxism. In the early post-war era in Western Europe, social democratic parties rejected the Stalinist political and economic model then current in the Soviet Union, committing themselves either to an alternative path to socialism or to a compromise between capitalism and socialism. In this period, social democrats embraced a mixed economy based on the predominance of private property, with only a minority of essential utilities and public services under public ownership. As a result, social democracy became associated with Keynesian economics, state interventionism and the welfare state while abandoning the prior goal of replacing the capitalist system (factor markets, private property and wage labour) with a qualitatively different socialist economic system. With the rise of popularity for neoliberalism and the New Right by the 1980s, many social democratic parties incorporated the Third Way ideology, aiming to fuse liberal economics with social democratic welfare policies.[13][14] By the 2010s, the Third Way had generally fallen out of favor in a phenomenon known as PASOKification. Modern social democracy is characterised by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty,[16] including support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, child care, education, health care and workers’ compensation. The social democratic movement often has strong connections with the labor movement and trade unions which are supportive of collective bargaining rights for workers as well as measures to extend decision-making beyond politics into the economic sphere in the form of co-determination for employees and other economic stakeholders.

        • Sounds great. I wish we had more of that in our country…

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, no economic model is perfect in any regard. I shall concede that point. Assuming that some aspects of our government were Socialistic and not others, what would you like to see in both scenarios? I am not an extremist in either way, however, I would like to see if we can find any semblance of common ground despite differing views on some issues.

          • A combination of capitalism and socialism is optimal, and I suspect almost every country has that in various forms. I’d like to see everyone eligible to own their own business. But I think there should be limits on income so we don’t have multi-billionaires who own this country (Charles Koch, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, for example). We should make laws and rules such that there is not the the extreme wealth inequality we have today. That doesn’t seem too much to ask.

  15. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, Socialism doesn’t work because the people who support it don’t either. Fools who push for socialism are largely aware that their lot will not improve by pillaging the wealthy. They don’t care. Their mantra is: “If I can’t have it, why should they”? Socialism is good, if you want the government running your life. A government should be basic but stable. A free market is always superior to socialism.

  16. Arlen Grossman, try living in Venezuela for 6 months, either them or another country that has a Socialist operated government then come back where you will see that our free market medicinal system has greater options for treating various conditions. Those on the Left who want to live under a system based on Socialism have every opportunity to go to other countries and experience the joy of it for themselves.

  17. Socialism is a morally bankrupt ideology. Every time said ideology is implemented, economic decline is the ultimate result. Socialist types gave the U.S.A the income tax, which was prohibited under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

    • Democratic Socialism works well in many countries. The Scandinavian countries do well with it, and the citizens are happy. Germany, France, Britain, Italy, etc aren’t interesting in giving it up either.
      Also, from Wikipedia: The Taxing and Spending Clause[1] (which contains provisions known as the General Welfare Clause)[2] and the Uniformity Clause,[3] Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution, grants the federal government of the United States its power of taxation. While authorizing Congress to levy taxes, this clause permits the levying of taxes for two purposes only: to pay the debts of the United States, and to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. Taken together, these purposes have traditionally been held to imply and to constitute the federal government’s taxing and spending power.[4]

      • The reason it allegedly works well is because of the ignorance of the brainwashed masses. Democratic Socialists gave the U.S.A. the graduated income tax. As I have heard, Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto promoted that scheme as well. If you have read Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, you will learn that direct taxes were prohibited.

  18. List of X says:

    Well, I lived in a country that pretty much got rid of all capitalism. Although that country was also famous for a totalitarian government, I don’t think the experiment with 95% socialism would have been a success even with a democratic government. First of all, even a fully socialist state still uses money as the means of paying for labor and goods, which means that the capitalist tendencies of people to accrue more wealth to buy more comfortable living are still determining the people’s behavior. And when the government pays everyone’s salary, as the monopolist of the labor market, it feels less pressure to pay decent salaries, since it’s not going to lose it’s best workers to anyone. So, as the joke of that time went, “they pretend what they pay us is a salary, and we pretend that what we do is work”. As a result, quality of work and productivity was terrible and led to constant deficits, black markets, corruption (you have to know a connected someone to get certain products) stealing from workplace was widespread – and I doubt all this was a sole result of totalitarianism.
    What we need is a balance between socialism and capitalism – there are things where competition is useful, like consumer goods or services, and these are the ones capitalism should handle. But there are things that are either not practical to involve competition (utilities), or unethical to rely on a profit motive, such as healthcare, military, judiciary, or the need tp provide certain service to as many people as possible, not just to those where it’s profitable, such as schools and roads – all those could be the domain of socialism.

    • What you say makes total sense to me. Both capitalism and socialism have their pros and cons. A balance between the two is the answer, it’s just a question of how much of each. All countries are a mix of both capitalism and socialism. In the U.S. there is too much capitalism (especially the crony kind). Steering the U.S. toward a more balanced economy (more socialism) is called for in order to repair the aristocracy we have become, and return us to more of a democracy. Getting there will not be easy, maybe damn near impossible. But that is a goal I would support.

      • Arlen Grossman, I am aware of each fault associated with the different economic systems. Socialism to an extreme degree would not do any good. Nor what one would call crony capitalism.

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