Nathan J. Robinson, oh boy, I’m finally getting to you. On the Internet Left, you and your magazine Current Affairs rival even Chapo Trap House in terms of influence.
According to the the about page of the website, Current Affairs is like “If Christopher Hitchens and Willy Wonka edited a magazine together.” I should also note that Nathan has called Hitchens “an asshole, who supported one of the bloodiest atrocities of the 21st century and used to creepily fantasize about how steel pellets could kill someone even if they were bearing a Koran over their heart.”
However, what caught my interest is that he recently published a new book — entitled Why You Should Be A Socialist. Current Affairs even has a parody “Libertarian Review,” up on its website of this book.
Well, I figured I should offer a real libertarian review. However, going through all of the 250 plus pages of this book would take all day and most of tomorrow. So, instead I’ll focus on Chapter 12 “Response To Criticism: Why Opponents Of Socialism Are All Wrong.” A chapter trying to debunk the idea that “socialism is cancer,” point by point. I will go through each point listed by the author give my two sense — usually involving the defense of these arguments.
1.Socialists Dislike Freedom; They Only Care About Equality
Of course, what “socialists,” care about is a bit of a silly topic. Individual socialists value different things and as such saying “they only care,” about this or that is a little weird. However, I won’t deny libertarians — including myself, depending on who I’m arguing with — have made this point.
I will say socialists certainly do not care about economic freedom. After all, socialism as an ideology is based on limiting it in various ways. Either Nathan must debunk the idea of economic freedom — and I don’t mean proof it’s harmful, I mean proof it does not even exist — or he must admit this argument has some truth to it.
You sometimes see memes against ancaps that say things like “I only have rights if I can pay my child workers less than a living wage in heroine,” and yeah — that’s kind of true.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure anyone who isn’t a pure anarchist would not object to the banning of paying children in heroine, however, even banning something like that is limiting the freedom of the person to hire someone and pay them however he sees fit. You may find that an okay thing to ban, and that’s fine, but the fact is that person is less free with that regulation in place than he is without it.
Even the examples socialists give of a market restricting freedom are an attack of economic liberty. For instance, Nathan mentions “restricting working people’s leisure time,” (which is still higher than at any point in human history — blah) however, freedom to be an asshole is still freedom.
I do believe many socialists care about freedom, however, they believe in it in a much more metaphysical sense than libertarians do. A libertarian views freedom as what you’re able to theoretically do, a socialist views freedom as what you can realistically do. I find the socialist concept of freedom to be contradictory with everything we’ve learned about either human rights or natural law since the enlightenment.
Nathan goes on and on about “meaningful choices,” but who decides what makes a choice meaningful? Many socialists give the example of healthcare, but I’ve known people who got cancer and didn’t get treatment not because they couldn’t afford it, but because they simply chose it wasn’t worth it. Were they still denied the right to make a “meaningful choice,” because of the choice they made — if so, that’s pretty weird.
2.Venezuela, Venezuela, Venezuela
Okay, we do talk about it quite a bit, I’ll give him that. However, one cannot just pretend we pulled the example out of our asses.
First off, Venezuela is very economically unfree — I know, some will sigh at this argument, for those people, give me a second. Venezuela is the second lowest on the Index of Economic Freedom — just behind North Korea. Yet, we tend to not talk about other countries in the “Repressed“ category such as Chad, Liberia, Central African Republic, Burundi, Mozambique, Turkmenistan, Suriname, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Kiribati, Djibouti, Ecuador, Algeria, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, or the Republic of Congo.
We talk about it because it was the prime example socialists gave us ever since Hugo Chavez came to power of modern 21st century Democratic Socialism.
Hey, anyone remember when Bernie Sanders said this in 2011:
The American dream is more apt to be realized in . . . Venezuela . . . where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.
Or when Michael Moore tweeted this in 2013, after Chavez died:
Hugo Chavez declared the oil belonged to the people. He used the oil money to eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health care, and education for all.
Or when Noam Chomsky — who, to be fair, was brought back into mainstream awareness by Hugo Chavez holding up a Spanish paperback of Hegemony Or Survival at the United Nations — said this in 2009:
What’s so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela, is that I can see how a better world is being created.
Chomsky later backpedaled on this when asked by John Stossel about these claims — however, fair is fair, he’s the only one of the seven Stossel asked that could even be bothered to do that.
Oliver Stone made a whole film about how great Venezuela was. Sean Penn went over there and praised the government under socialism. This is why we talk about it.
To be fair, some of us have done it as well. Fox News ran an article in 2011 arguing that Venezuela was the end result of capitalism, not socialism based on some of the same numbers we hear socialists use now to make the same argument. The only difference is they dropped that around the same time you guys stopped calling it socialist.
The other reason we talk about it is the stark night-and-day contrast from before Chavez’s leadership to after. Again, a leadership socialists praised for over a decade on end!
Before Chavez, Venezuela was the richest nation in South America. It has a year round growing season, tons of oil, was a common tourist location. Compare capitalism to, well whatever you want to call it but we’ll just say “not capitalism.”
One thing I have seen libertarians do is compare it with Hong Kong — the freest market on the planet. Hong Kong is a rock with no natural resources and it can’t grow anything if it tries. Yet, because of neo-liberal trade policies and economic deregulation, it’s a vibrant city-state full of freedom loving people.
3.Socialism Is When The Government Controls The Economy, And That’s Always A Disaster
This suffers from the same issue as the first rebuttal. Nathan ignores that there are many socialist who believe that, well, socialism is when the government does stuff.
Going back to aforementioned Noam Chomsky, over the course of the 21st century he’s endorsed people like Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, and Bernie Sanders — hardly a bunch of anarchists. I myself was a socialist for a number of years, and even a Chomskyite (in truth, on foreign policy I still kind of am) and I was fully on board with more government control over the economy.
I simply ask Nathan, if socialism is not about economic control, can you point me to one anarchist-socialist leader who ever gained popularity among the movement? The closest that comes to mind is Leon Trotsky, and that’s only compared to Stalin — although, Saddam Hussein was an anarchist compared to Stalin, oh, and he was part of socialist party as well — and the Russian socialist movement rejected him after the death of Lenin.
And before you mention Catalonia, allow me to remind you that the socialist leadership made it illegal to drink coffee. Wait, how could you make anything illegal under anarchy? How could you even have a socialist leadership under anarchy?
4.Socialists Elevate The Collective And Forget The Individual
This one is true, however, it’s true to some extend under any philosophy except libertarianism.
For instance, I’m sure many of Nate’s fans consider themselves “Democratic Socialists.” However, democracy as a system is based on suppression of the individual. James Madison talked about this in Federalist #10 — a paper that also makes a quite good argument for full on multiculturalism — in order to defend creating a Republic with a large legislative branch instead of a direct democracy.
Under democracy, no matter what the majority will rule. Many might not see this as an issue if the minority is just 1% or 14% — oops, did I just reference something I’m not suppose to?
Hey Nate, remember when 537 citizens of Florida caused George W. Bush to become president? And while we’re at it, some of the worst crimes of his first term — the PATRIOT Act, The War In Afghanistan, the War In Iraq — all happened with approval of the majority of Americans.
For the sake of time, we’ll focus on the 51–49 thing, as that’s a striking argument against democracy. Remember, a man once spent over a year in the United States Senate because of two votes. Those guys did get there voices heard, the other group that was only two smaller, did not.
The free market would never allow this happen. The market gave homosexuals gay bars and clubs, the government gave them DOMA. The market gave African-Americans BET, the government gave them segregation. I could go on forever.
5.People Are Inherently Greedy And/Or Lazy
I actually agree with Nathan that his argument is nonsense. As I’ve talked about before, people aren’t “inherently,” anything and the entire concept of “human nature,” is nonsense.
I will say, Nathan did take a quote from Milton Friedman out of context. To open this section, he gives the following quote from Friedman’s Donahue interview in 1979.
Is there some society that you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia [back when it was the Soviet Union] doesn’t run on greed?
Friedman wasn’t saying that people are by default greedy — he might have well thought that, but this isn’t him expressing it. Friedman was responding to a question from a liberal, asking him how he could support capitalism in spite of all the greed it creates.
The Soviet Union did run on greed — it ran on the greed of the oligarchs. That doesn’t mean people are by default greedy, it means oligarchs and dictators tend to be.
Friedman was arguing not that greed is part of human nature, but instead that it is not negative by default. Greed, like many causes for action, is neutral by itself and can lead to a positive result.
This is actually one of my big issues with the “greed is good,” “the virtue of selfishness,” forms of libertarianism. Not only do they believe “human nature,” (a myth) is strict, defined, and binary, but they also must take concepts people hate and go the other way just for contrarian brownie points.
If you can’t tell, I really don’t care for objectivism.
Are people selfish by default? Well, it depends on how vaguely you want to define “selfish.” For instance, is it selfish to pay for the medical bills of a friend if you only do so because you wish to continue talking to and being around said friend? Maybe, but who cares exactly?
6.Socialists Always Deny That Socialist Governments Are “True Socialism”
This argument is one Nathan represents dishonestly. None of us have any issue with calling a government “not socialist,” if you were doing so even if it was succeeding. However, we often do not see that from socialists — this goes back to the point I was making regarding Venezuela.
For instance, remember when Michael Moore praised the Cuban healthcare system in Sicko? At the end of the film, Moore takes various people who helped rebuild New York City after 9/11 to the country of Cuba, and shows them getting better healthcare from Castro than they did from Bush. The scene is actually quite touching, all things considered. And Moore gives a nice, heart-filled narration about how even the worst enemies can help each other in times of need.
Yeah, well after that film came out we found out Cuba has two kinds of hospitals — one for visitors and one for citizens. I’ll let you guess which ones are kept in better shape, and you shouldn’t need to guess which ones Moore visited.
Rather we should blame Moore for this or not, I don’t know. I think he was lied to as were the rest of us honestly.
Reports from after that movie found Cuban hospitals tend to use very ineffective means (if anyone brings up the “lung cancer cure,” I’ll remind them studies found that works worse than Chemotherapy) and many do not even have clean water.
Going back to Venezuela, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone, and Sean Penn all praised the country under the rein of Chavez. Now, all but one of them has been oddly silent regarding the recent quagmire the country is in. And the one who has said something, denies he ever supported the guy he met with and who held up his book at the United Nations.
Hey, remember when Lincoln Steffens said of the Soviet Union “I have been over into the future — and it works”? Would someone like Nathan say the same thing if the Russian Revolution happened today?
7.Nice IPhone, Hypocrite
Yeah, this is another I agree is usually kind of dumb. It does have its place, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t deny it is overused quite commonly.
The issue isn’t just that you have an IPhone and are a socialist. The issue is the specific context for how you view Apple. I myself dislike Apple quite a bit, that’s why I use Android — no one in my family has ever owned an Apple phone because we hate those guys — and use a Window’s PC instead of a Macbook.
Imagine I bought the complete series of something like Rules Of Engagement — a show I personally hate. While doing that, I complained about how the people behind the show are making tons of money off of DVD sales, when I just bought a bunch of DVD’s of them. It would make perfect sense to call me either a hypocrite of quite irresponsible with money in that context.
Also, here’s a quote from the book I found funny:
If a resident of the Soviet Union had gotten a free education in state schools and a job in the state bureaucracy, would they be a hypocrite if they criticized the way these institutions were run or the structure of the Soviet economy?
Man, it’s a good thing no one has ever called me a hypocrite for driving on roads I was forced to pay for many of which were built my private forces and the government declared eminent domain on.
That’s the other thing, the guy in the Soviet system had no choice but to either pay his dues or be sent to the Gulag. If you don’t buy an IPhone, you can buy a phone made by another company — including a non-smart phone. I know people who still use flip-phones, because it simply has what they need and works best for them.
8.Final Argument: Socialists Are Boring
No, I’m being dead serious right now, what?
This is an argument people make? Like, I’ve heard all the other ones at one point or another — even used some myself, but I can’t think of a single libertarian who has used this one.
From reading the debunking, I’m basically taking this to be a repeat of number four, the idea that socialists want to turn us into gray blobs, or something, I don’t know.
Okay, I’ll address what Nathan actually talks about. He’s responding to the idea that socialism would create a joyless world of strict sweatshops and eating potatoes and bread — which, to be fair, it kind of did in Russia. Seriously, during the years of the collapse people who lived there were saying it felt like reality itself was being undone.
The thing is, I can’t think of a single famous libertarian who used the “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” argument as a main one. I’m sure some — even one or two of the big guys — have mentioned it at one point, but that has never been our main issue.
Did Pinkie Pie become a libertarian? If so, why did nobody tell me? Remember, socialism made her grow up on a rock farm. Capitalism made her through parties for her best friends and pet Alligator.
I’m very tired.
The closet argument I can think is that Socialism takes away the pursuit of happiness — but that’s not quite the same thing as happiness by itself. Tell me, if libertarians just want people to be happy and excited 24/7, why aren’t we utilitarians. You know, the ideology that bases itself on the most happiness for the most people — because, as Shane Killian put it, if the only goal to life is maximum happiness, why not just give out free heroine?
Overall, this did help prove socialism is not cancer. Yep, socialism is not caused by cells multiplying improperly and then those improper cells multiplying property.
It didn’t convince me to become a socialist however. While some of the arguments we libertarians make are quite dumb, this chapter overall did not prove that I should be a socialist.
However, it did help me be a better libertarian. By finally seeing the response socialists have to our claims, we can as such move the conversation forward and have a chance to respond to these claims ahead of time.
Practice makes perfect.