Why Socialism is Always Oppressive, Dictatorial and Corrupt

This essay is Part 2 of a three-part series on socialism:

Communists: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao

Theorists and socialist leaders in the Communist ideological tradition.

In the first essay in this series, I gave the definition of socialism offered in the Oxford English Dictionary and explained why the essential idea of socialism is immoral. Even in it’s “purest” and most democratic form, socialism is inherently unjust and will lead to mass poverty.

In this essay, I will explain why many historical examples of countries that called themselves “socialist,” such as the Soviet Union and China, were in fact socialist, (contrary to the protestations of many of today’s socialists) and explore why the more consistent implementations of socialism have always resulted in dictatorship, oppression and corruption.

Again from the Oxford English Dictionary, socialism is defined as:

A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

First, let’s look at what this definition does not say: It does not say that everyone must have equal wealth or income. It does not say that money must be abolished. It does not say that the state or political leadership must be abolished. (The abolition of money, the state and political leadership were supposed to be features of Marx’s communist utopia that would arise out of socialism.)

A key part of what the definition does say, that gives us a clue to the basic idea underlying socialism, is the last part: “owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” Socialism is based on the idea that the community as a whole has interests apart from individual interests, and at least in some cases, community interests override individual interests. A community as a whole can allegedly make decisions that protect or further those interests. This forms the basis for why socialist ideologies believe that the community as a whole has the right to own and regulate property.

The idea that the community as a whole (or any other group) has interests, rights, and the ability to make decisions apart from individuals, is called collectivism. Collectivism treats the group–in this case, the community–as though it were a single living organism, with individuals as parts or cells of its body. Under this view, the individuals are inherently dependent on the whole for everything in their life. Individuals’ choices are entirely determined by their circumstances and place in the community, and separation from the community means a loss of personal purpose and rapid death for an individual. Thus, the community, as the agent responsible for everything an individual is, has the right to determine how goods and services will be produced and distributed.

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What is Individualism? What is Collectivism?

German man refusing Nazi saluteModern political debates, from the 18th Century up until today, are full of appeals to the ideas of individualism and collectivism, whether open or merely implied. People speak of “the common good” or “public goods” or “obligations to society” on one hand, and of “individual rights” or “individual freedom” on the other.

The late novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand, is well known today for being an arch individualist who was very opposed to any form of collectivism. But what does it really mean to be an individualist or collectivist? Are the two views mutually exclusive? Is one or the other right, or is the reality of the world a mixture of both? Here I will discuss what individualism and collectivism mean, which one or mixture represents the truth, and what the major implications of each of the views are for today’s moral and political debates.

Life is the Active Pursuit of Self-Sustaining Goals

The issue of individualism versus collectivism does not arise out of thin air. It arises out of the observation–whether explicitly stated or implicitly understood–that life consists of organisms that pursue goals that keep them alive. Lions find watering holes and hunt gazelles, eagles catch rabbits or fish, termites dig and build mounds for shelter, etc. The ultimate goal of this activity for any given organism is its continued life as the type of organism it is. (The origin of organisms in evolution has ensured that reproduction is a natural part of the life-pattern of each nonhuman species–i.e. reproductive behavior is part of an individual organism being the type of organism it is.)

The question of individualism versus collectivism is the question of what the living unit is for human beings–that is, what is the human organism that acts toward self-sustaining goals: is it the individual, or some group?

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“Equal is Unfair – The Inequality Advantage”: A Talk by Yaron Brook

Should economic inequality (inequality of wealth) in a capitalist system concern you? Is inequality of opportunity a problem that needs a governmental solution? Is it fair or just that some people make more money than others, or inherit wealth from their parents?

I found this video so powerful that I had to share it in its own post on my blog. In this video, Yaron Brook is both reasonable and passionate when he speaks about one of the central moral and political issues of our time: inequality. He also answers questions from his audience at the University of Exeter after the talk.

Stick around for the Q&A for Dr. Brook’s view of what legitimate equality is. (Hint: It’s the same type of equality meant by the Founding Fathers of the United States.)

Also, look for Yaron Brook’s upcoming book, Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality, co-authored with Don Watkins.

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Related Posts:

Socialism and Welfare vs. Justice: Why Inalienable Private Property Rights are Required for Justice

On Fairness and Justice: Their Meanings, Scopes, and How They Are Not the Same

Wealth is Created by Action Based on Rational Thought

The Role of Profits in Free-Market Capitalism, and Why High Profits are Good for a Company’s Workers

How Business Executives and Investors Create Wealth and Earn Large Incomes

Why Fairness Does Not Mean Justice: Some Further Argument

Equal is Unfair: America's Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality, book coverOver three years ago, I wrote an essay discussing the proper meaning of the concepts of “fairness” and “justice,” as I understand them: On Fairness and Justice: Their Meanings, Scopes, and How They Are Not the Same.

My major points in this essay were 1) that the concept of “fairness” presupposes that one is talking about a zero-sum game: a situation devised by a purposeful intelligence to measure people’s attributes, where one person winning requires that another person loses; 2) that life in society and in general does not meet this criterion for “fairness” to apply: people “win” by creating valuable things, and do not need to deprive others of these things to have them; and 3) that societal justice requires the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and property, and that it consists in each individual generally being rewarded in proportion to his mental effort and virtuous actions.

In this previous essay, I explained my view of “fairness” and illustrated it with examples, but I did not argue extensively for my conception of that term–why my conception of fairness is correct. I have been prompted to provide further argument by the upcoming release of a book called “Equal is Unfair,” and one of the co-authors’ (Yaron Brook’s) reply to me regarding “fairness”:

I have great respect for Dr. Brook, and am looking forward to his latest book, but I think he’s wrong here: fairness does not mean justice. And the purpose of this post is to argue my case. I encourage those who have not read my previous essay to read it before proceeding on in this one, since it will help set the context for my arguments: On Fairness and Justice.

One of the first things that should spring to mind when someone mentions the word, “fairness,” is the realm of sports and competitions: Is it fair when women are put in competition with men? Is it fair when one team learns the other team’s plays through spying? Is a race where one athlete has artificial legs fair? Is a weightlifting competition fair when steroids are secretly taken, or openly allowed? Is it fair when the Patriots let air out of the football?

Does justice have the same intimate connection with such competitive sports? Is that one of the first things you think of when you think of justice? Probably not. This is our first clue that fairness and justice are different concepts: they seem to be associated with different realms of life.

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A Refutation of G.E. Moore’s Critique of Ethical Egoism: A Dialogue

G. E. Moore He thought ethical egoism was self-contradictory.

G. E. Moore

In a post on Reddit, a user called /u/Regtik quoted the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Egoism, which features G.E. Moore’s criticism that ethical egoism is self-contradictory. What follows is my discussion with Regtik. (Another user, called “parolang” also makes an appearance.) My comments explore the status of “good”–including “moral good”–as inherently relational to a living creature, versus the mistaken notion of “intrinsic goods,” as well as the reason that the rational self-interests of individuals generally do not conflict.

I am “Sword_of_Apollo” in this discussion and, as usual, I am arguing from an Objectivist perspective, (which advocates a normative ethics of rational egoism):

Regtik: Ethical Egoism is an internally inconsistent morality.

From the [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]:

“G. E. Moore argued that ethical egoism is self-contradictory. If I am an egoist, I hold that I ought to maximize my good. I deny that others ought to maximize my good (they should maximize their own goods). But to say that x is “my good” is just to say that my possessing x is good. (I cannot possess the goodness.) If my possession of x is good, then I must hold that others ought to maximize my possession of it. I both deny and am committed to affirming that others ought to maximize my good. (Sometimes Moore suggests instead that “my good” be glossed as “x is good and x is mine.” This does not yield the contradiction above, since it does not claim that my possession of x is good. But it yields a different contradiction: if x is good, everyone ought to maximize it wherever it appears; egoists hold that I ought to maximize x only when it appears in me.)”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

This is a good example of why ethical egoism fails. Ethical Egoism fails to reap the full benefits of human cooperation because it holds the stance that cooperation is only useful when it benefits yourself. …

Sword_of_Apollo: This is not a sound argument. The actual, rational basis of the concept of “good” involves a relation. Something is good for something else, (a living creature.) Plato and Kant to the contrary notwithstanding, this includes moral goods.

Moral goods are those goods that are freely chosen by humans, (potentially rational animals) that are good for all humans in all–or almost all–circumstances. (This universality means that they are very much abstract goods. Note here that when I say “good for all humans,” I mean that the goal or object of each moral act is always good for the agent acting; not that the actions of each agent are necessarily good for all humans.)

To claim that egoism is self-contradictory as G.E. Moore did is absurd. It’s like saying that the concept of “destructive” is self-contradictory, because something can be destructive to one object, but not to others: A bomb that destroys one building is destructive, because it destroyed that building; but it is also not destructive, because it left many others standing. So the bomb is both destructive and not destructive at the same time. Since we (allegedly) have a contradiction, the concept of “destructive” can only apply to things that destroy everything, and is otherwise nonsensical. That’s absurd. Something that is destructive is destructive to something else, just as something that is good is good for something else.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

This is a good example of why ethical egoism fails. Ethical Egoism fails to reap the full benefits of human cooperation because it holds the stance that cooperation is only useful when it benefits yourself.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Prisoner’s Dilemma is an artificially restricted situation that is not a good model for real life.

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Ayn Rand and the Crude Materialism of the “Rich vs. Poor” Worldview

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn RandOne of the most common criticisms of Ayn Rand that I hear from people (especially on the Left) is that she “loved the rich and hated the poor,” or, in more recent terms, that she “was for the 1% at the expense of the 99%.”

Yet Ayn Rand herself did not really think or judge people in those terms, as should be fairly obvious to anyone who has read her writing without prejudice: Many of the heroes and protagonists of her novels were poor or roughly middle-income, including a young Howard Roark, Steven Mallory, Roark’s friend Mike, Eddie Willers, Cheryl Brooks, Jeff Allen, Gwen Ives, and even her most famous hero, John Galt. Many of Rand’s villains are wealthy businessmen, government officials and scientists, including the mature Peter Keating, Guy Francon, James Taggart, Orren Boyle, Floyd Ferris, Wesley Mouch, Kip Chalmers, and Mr. Thompson.

Rand’s nonfiction explicitly says that what is important in the moral judgment of people is not the scale of their productive ability, but how they choose to use their minds. In her essay, “The Objectivist Ethics” (VoS) Rand writes:

“Productive work is the road of man’s unlimited achievement and calls upon the highest attributes of his character: his creative ability, his ambitiousness, his self-assertiveness, his refusal to bear uncontested disasters, his dedication to the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values. “Productive work” does not mean the unfocused performance of the motions of some job. It means the consciously chosen pursuit of a productive career, in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability. It is not the degree of a man’s ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.” [emphasis mine]

So Rand doesn’t accept that having more money automatically makes one more moral.

But why then the accusations that she’s in favor of the rich and against the poor? The accusations actually show us, not what Rand believed, but what many of her critics believe. The accusations actually reflect the materialistic nature of these critics’ worldview.

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A Message on Ayn Rand, Compassion, and Individualism vs. Collectivism

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

A user on reddit posted a question to the subreddit, /r/askphilosophy, which I reprint below. I have also reprinted my response in a private message below that.

The question posed:

So I’ve read many of Ayn Rand’s work and have been frequently reading Libertarian articles and stuff. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and The Virtue of Selfishness. [Links added in reprint.]

When I read Atlas Shrugged it was something quite new to me. I was a Philosophy undergraduate back then and her ideas were very different from all of the things I’ve been in contact with. Mainly her individualist ethics and capitalism.

As time went by I kept reading other books, articles, as well as debating with a few people and reflecting about all of those concepts. As for today, I really appreciate how well Rand’s ethics value the subject and how fair laissez-faire capitalism seems to be. However, I’ve seen many flaws in her ideas.

Concerning ethics, I think her ideas lack a lot of compassion and put collectivism to a zero. Individualism is great, but we are all part of social groups, aren’t we? And concerning politics I don’t see how a TRUE free market would be possible in any time soon, since it would require anarchy or minarchy to happen. (about economy, I am in favor of capitalism as an economic system, even though I disagree of how it is like right now)

So as it’s been a while since I’ve started this path, which was fairly opposite to the extreme-left I had taken when I got into Philosophy, I’d like to read some authors and books that have ideas that oppose Rand’s. I don’t want books that argue directly with her, such as “Ayn Rand Nation”. Instead, I’d like to read opposite opinions.

According to the Political Compass I’m a Right Libertarian, so I’d like to read some authors of the Left Libertarian. The Political Compass mentions Pyotr Kropotkin, Noam Chomsky and Emma Goldman in this area. (I’d like to read the Left Libertarian authors since I’m not that pro-government at the moment)

So what authors/books would you suggest me?

My response:

In your OP, you say:

Concerning ethics, I think [Rand’s] ideas lack a lot of compassion and put collectivism to a zero. Individualism is great, but we are all part of social groups, aren’t we?

First, in regard to compassion: that is an emotional response, and emotions are displayed by people, not ideas. Principles as such can neither be compassionate, nor uncompassionate. They can be true or false, justified or unjustified by evidence and argument.

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