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Political Philosophy and Law > Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy

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message 1: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
See posts 32-53 in the Philosophy of Capitalism topic.


message 2: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 28, 2018 09:36AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
The present topic addresses what is sometimes called "democratic socialism" or "social democracy," especially as practiced in the Scandinavian and some other countries. The definitions of these concepts are fluid, and I don't intend to limit them to one particular meaning or meanings here. Please note that there is a separate topic on Karl Marx (1818-83) as well as an additional topic on Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism, Rule of Law. It may be difficult, in some cases, to identify the topic that most precisely corresponds to what the poster wishes to say, but give it your best shot!

(revised 4/28/2018)


message 3: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments Unrelated question

based on remarks made in the 'Govt & Economy, Property Rights' thread

where the distinction was drawn between capitalism's emphasis on "for profit luxuries" vs socialism's being intent upon "providing people's basic needs'"

...now, if we set aside how an economy performs--can't it be agreed at the very least that socialism is the more ethical governmental system? In that it is the most public spirited or even..Christian? Just asking.


message 4: by Feliks (last edited Apr 03, 2018 06:26PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments Unrelated:

...musing a little bit about Rosa Luxemburg this evening. I've read the masterful, exhaustive, and thrilling biography of this important figure as penned by John Nettl (good reason for airing this topic in the Democratic Socialist thread, for Democratic Socialism was surely a big part of Luxemburg's life) but I came away from that work without a clear idea of Luxemburg's actual contribution to socialist thought.

More recently I struggled through Gyorgy Lukacs' juggernaut, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. In that tome, Lukacs' praises Luxemburg frequently. Yet I still don't grasp exactly where her thought was in any way, as triumphant as he indicates.

Yes, she criticized Bolshevism and she fought for all sorts of Marxist concepts in Germany. But even reading a thumbnail bio of her writings seems to show that her greatest effort, 'The Accumulation of Capital cannot be considered as anything but a flop. The #1 publication she is known for, is regarded as 'crude' and 'mistaken'?

Meanwhile, her more successful pamphlet, 'Reform or Revolution', while seemingly effective and fine, still does not evince to me, any of the great dialectic power which Lukacs regards so highly, and which (he describes coming from her) as such a stern counter to intricate economic theories issuing from capitalism's most devious proponents.

So, wherefore exactly are the economic theories of Rosa Luxemburg which are supposedly so devastating? Not her political arguments and not her arguments for workers' unions...these meet my expectation. She fought many theoretical battles (such as those she waged against nationalists, anarchists, opportunists, Social Democrats, etc). But what of the other?

(By the way--since I enjoy Nettl so much, I recently sought out one of his younger works--and he also visits the concepts of reform/revolution as applied to colonialism. I mention this only in case anyone has an interest. That book is International Systems And The Modernization Of Societies: The Formation Of National Goals And Attitudes)


message 5: by Feliks (last edited Apr 03, 2018 06:37PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments ps. I suppose when I think at all of social democracy at all, I harken back to Luxemburg's furor vs that party during her career. In brief I recall that she regarded them simply as cowardly. In that they sought a sort of 'appeasement' policy from the German government at the time. In exchange for seats in the Reichstag, they comprised Marxist principles (according to Rosa). She insisted that representation in the existing bourgeoisie system was not better than overturning that system completely and replacing it with the true worker's state. It was a half-measure which disgusted her.

What else comes to mind? Well, there was a social democratic party under the Kerensky government (Russia) as I recall. The Bolsheviks had to eradicate them during the period of street battles in ..Petrograd? Before they could seize control. But I forget how much 'chance' they had, (or thought they had) at rising to real power. And of course, how authentically social-democrat that lot were (fighting for their lives most of the time) is probably greatly open to interpretation.

Oh well. Just woolgathering tonight...


message 6: by Randal (last edited Apr 05, 2018 07:51PM) (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Feliks wrote: "So, wherefore exactly are the economic theories of Rosa Luxemburg which are supposedly so devastating? Not her political arguments and not her arguments for workers' unions...these meet my expectation. She fought many theoretical battles (such as those she waged against nationalists, anarchists, opportunists, Social Democrats, etc). But what of the other? ..."

Feliks,

My copy of The Accumulation of Capital remains unread, but I have read the introduction to the 1968 Modern Reader translation by none other than Joan Robinson, who wrote a book by the same name. The last paragraph of her 15-page introduction reads as follows:

"All this is perhaps too neat an account of what our author is saying. The argument streams along bearing a welter of historical examples in its flood, and ideas emerge and disappear again bewilderingly. But something like the above seems to be intended. And something like it is now widely accepted as being true. Rosa Luxemburg, as we have seen, neglects the rise in real wages which takes place as capitalism develops, and denies the internal inducement to invest provided by technical progress, two factors which help to rescue capitalism from the difficulties which it creates for itself. She is left with only one influence (economic imperialism) to account for continuous capital accumulation, so that her analysis is incomplete. All the same, few would deny that the extension of capitalism into new territories was the mainspring of what an academic economist has called the ‘vast secular boom’ of the last two hundred years, and many academic economists account for the uneasy condition of capitalism in the twentieth century largely by the ‘closing of the frontier’ all over the world. But the academic economists are being wise after the event. For all its confusions and exaggerations, this book shows more prescience than any orthodox contemporary could claim."

You can read the whole book, with JR's introduction here.

Cheers,

Randal


message 7: by MJD (new)

MJD While I am more inclined to agree with those of the libertarian viewpoint, I appreciate that democratic socialist seem to be a lot more peaceful and generally respectful of established political norms in Western democracies than their more radical counterparts.

I think that the book Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke is one of the better books ever written on the need for restraint and not to "burn it all down" when it comes to addressing grievances.


message 8: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
MJD wrote: "I think that the book Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke is one of the better books ever written on the need for restraint and not to "burn it all down" when it comes to addressing grievances."

See the Edmund Burke topic in this Goodreads group.


message 9: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments y'know it has been slow to dawn on me up until this month that countries such as Sweden and Denmark even are, in fact, examples of "democratic socialism".

After all, I have never heard the phrase applied to them, (that is anywhere in America where they are even mentioned).

Nope--to my recall, all I have ever heard is them referred to is was as 'socialist countries' (with every bad connotation that phrase can provoke).

So, they have a parliament or a congress and citizens can vote; and their economies (although more 'managed' by the State there than here) are doing swell. Fancy that!

in this case then, what is really the worst gripe that Conservatives can possibly have against these examples of 'leftist' governance?

Is the root of their hysteria again --as in so many other cases--simply capitalist frenzy at the very idea of any fetters ever placed on commerce?

Sad. As Calvin Coolidge unfortunately stated it, "the business of America is...business"? A truly awful remark when one considers it at length.

Anyway. 'Socialism' and 'Democratic Socialism' now seem to be bogeyman concepts like 'Marxism', in that no one who is talking about them seems able to even breathe the very words aloud. As if to speak the devil's name invokes his presence.

I swear in all my life I have never once heard the name 'Marx' ever even one time, mentioned by any American, on either TV or radio. And now I'm realizing I will probably never hear Sweden or Denmark referred to as anything but as 'socialists'. With frowns and grimaces included.


message 10: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Feliks wrote: "y'know it has been slow to dawn on me up until this month that countries such as Sweden and Denmark even are, in fact, examples of "democratic socialism".

After all, I have never heard the phrase..."


During the 2016 Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders frequently described himself as a democratic socialist and the Scandinavian countries as examples of democratic socialism. He has continued to use these terms since that time, and I believe he also often used them before the 2016 campaigns. He had been registered as a socialist (I don't know whether the registration name was "democratic socialist") for many decades before that election, and I think he had often made that distinction. Quite a few young people have gotten on this bandwagon and don't consider "socialist" to be a dirty word.

I'm not saying here that I personally am a democratic socialist (that would depend, in part, on the definition and would also involve many issues that are still open questions for me). I am only saying that Bernie Sanders has proudly called himself a democratic socialist for a long time.


message 11: by MJD (last edited Apr 08, 2018 09:20PM) (new)

MJD Here is a definition of "socialism" from Merriam-Webster:

______________________________________________________________
Definition of socialism
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
______________________________________________________________

My problem with a lot of people that call themselves "socialist" or "democratic socialist" and/or point to other countries and describe them as such don't seem to be using the word according to the above definition. A lot of the time higher taxes, more regulation of private businesses, and more welfare programs are called "socialist," but I don't think of such policies as being socialist.

If having only having a few services owned and operated by the government (as some countries that are often cited as "socialist" are) then the USA would qualify a socialist country (government ran roads, water and sewer services, post office, education etc.). But I don't think that this goes with the definition above. If such a system was "socialist" then Adam Smith was a socialist and his book The Wealth of Nations is a socialist book because he advocates for some, not all, services to be owned and operated by government like education.

[Adam Smith: "The third and last duty of the sovereign or commonwealth, is that of erecting and maintaining those public institutions and those public works, which though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature, that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual, or small number of individuals; and which it, therefore, cannot be expected that any individual, or small number of individuals, should erect or maintain. The performance of this duty requires, too, very different degrees of expense in the different periods of society." (WN, book V, chap. 1, part 3).}

[from https://republicoflagrangia.org/2013/... "However, Smith describes several examples of these functions in the remainder of this section. In fact he acknowledges three categories: 1) infrastructure, 2) education of the youth and 3) education to people of all ages. Following the reasoning of The wealth of nations we can be quite certain that Smith would have endorsed some kind of universal healthcare system."]

In summary, I don't think that the definition I found does fits with what people are talking about when they advocate "[democratic] socialism" and/or point to some countries and call them "democratic] socialist" countries. Is there another definition that should be used?


message 12: by MJD (new)

MJD Feliks wrote: "Unrelated question

based on remarks made in the 'Govt & Economy, Property Rights' thread

where the distinction was drawn between capitalism's emphasis on "for profit luxuries" vs socialism's bein..."


You asked about the ethics of socialism based on "if we set aside how an economy performs," but I respectfully disagree with your framing.

If socialist policies like large scale collective farming and large scale control over manufacturing worked to promote the general welfare, then it would be okay. But it has been shown not to work that well (as far as I know), so it is not okay.

Whether or not an idea sounds nicer detached from reality than another idea doesn't seem to be a good benchmark for thinking about ethics in my opinion.

Here is an example that I hope will make my point clear: Stabbing small children with a needle and injecting them with vaccines to prevent diseases seems a lot worse than placing a magical amulet on them to prevent diseases if we were to ignore the effects of the two actions. However, since vaccination has a really good track record for eliminating things like polio while magical amulets do not, stabbing child with needles is best given the nature of reality.

I think that it goes without saying - but I'll say it anyway - that if it were shown that socialist policies worked better than the free market (and that a lot of people in the 20th century were just doing it wrong) then of course they would be more ethical.


message 13: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
MJD wrote (post 11): "Here is a definition of "socialism" from Merriam-Webster:

______________________________________________________________
Definition of socialism
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods"


Correct. As I stated in post 12 (February 14, 2017) here:

With regard to the term "liberal," I recall reading somewhere (I don't remember where) many years ago that it was Franklin Roosevelt who changed the meaning of "liberal" in the US to mean what is perhaps called "social democratic" in the other English-speaking countries. However, the US definition of "liberal"—notwithstanding the imprecations of the American right wing—does not include socialism (defined as governmental ownership of the means of production, which was its original meaning). Bernie Sanders is the only US politician in my lifetime (to my recollection) who calls himself a "socialist," but by that term he does not mean governmental ownership of the means of production but rather the kind of social democracy that one finds in, for example, the Scandinavian countries. Even the latter is way too left-wing for the vast majority of Americans, and the word "socialist" has been hurled against US politicians of the Democratic Party for as long as I can remember as the equivalent of "Communist." Barry Goldwater used to talk about "creeping socialism" and Ronald Reagan opposed the "socialist" governmental program of Medicare. In short, all these terms have degenerated from their original meanings once introduced into the cauldron of American politics.


message 14: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments re: #12
"If socialist policies like large scale collective farming and large scale control over manufacturing worked to promote the general welfare, then it would be okay. But it has been shown not to work that well (as far as I know), so it is not okay."

H'mmm. According to the material I've read the policies work well enough.

Russia was a serfdom, a medieval economy at the end of the Tsarist era. And then where was Russia by 1950? They were on manufacturing and military parity with the US and frankly, (as Noam Chomsky points out) this was the real reason capitalism feared the rivalry so much. A different economic system that matched our own; rather than a different political system.

Asia offers other examples, I'm sure.

You could also go back slightly further to the pre-modern European era of communal farming ('the commons') and find good results; or even all the way back to hunter-gatherer days. Cooperative agriculture's efficiency has too long a record of effectiveness, to be very greatly doubted.

If still unconvinced, you might enter the argument from the front door. How well does capitalism manage food production? Today we have factory farms, monopolies, conglomerates. The small farmer has been swallowed up; and giant corporations manage food. Is this any better management than a govt agency? (Wendell Berry traces this sad history in the famous, "The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture")

Corollary: even though we have capitalist agriculture our USDA and our DPCR and FDA and other agencies still take a large hand in 'management'. Farm subsidies have played a hand in the American landscape since Hoover. Really, how far are we away from a socialist agriculture here in the USA?

Another wisp of a response: Ferdinand Braudel: offers lengthy historical examples of govt managed agriculture in the Mediterranean historical peak. Of course they were autocracies, but still.

I admit I am on fire with these theories lately because I'm reading Karl Polanyi for the first time. But in the first thirty pages of his 'Great Transformation' he points out that the nature of manufacturing may make it impossible to use for such an argument as you're advancing. Factorization screws up societal structures so much that its hard to say whether it 'does better' under one economic system vs another. The only author I know who has comprehensively analysed factorization is Harry Braverman and he is not only successful in his argument he is firmly on the Left. (Perhaps I need to flip through his book this week sometime to better support my recall of what he established; but suffice to say his criticisms of capitalist factory management were withering. Excoriating!)

Final remark to make: the syringe vs amulet example, seems a bit "iffy" to me....h'mmm...

Anyway thx for the input MJD. I'd like to see this thread grow! I thought of some more inquiries to add, only last evening...


message 15: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 09, 2018 07:23AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Addendum to my post 13:

Accordingly, I may have erred in naming this topic "democratic socialism." I started this topic as a result of an exchange in another topic where "socialism" was being conflated with authoritarian socialism or totalitarian Communism. After more than a year of hearing Bernie Sanders repeatedly praise the "democratic socialism" of the Scandinavian countries, I had temporarily forgotten that these governments do not own much of the means of production and are accordingly not "socialist" in the original meaning of the term. In contrast, it is my understanding that the government of Great Britain nationalized several important industries when the Labour Party took over after World War II—actions that were partially rolled back during the administration of Margaret Thatcher. So perhaps the British government of the immediate post-World War II period could be called "democratic socialist." It is my impression that Hayek was opposed to such things as nationalized industry and central planning (as in the Soviet "five-year plans"), as distinguished from national health insurance, for example, which I believe he supported. But I'll have to reread Road to Serfdom and read some of his other works to confirm this—a project, along with other such issues of political economy, that I will have to defer until after completion of my next book (2-3 years from now) on ethics.

My knowledge of the post-World War II situation in Great Britain and in the Scandinavian countries is, I admit, somewhat superficial, and I welcome correction or elaboration by those who have better knowledge of these developments.


message 16: by MJD (new)

MJD Alan wrote: "MJD wrote (post 11): "Here is a definition of "socialism" from Merriam-Webster:

______________________________________________________________
Definition of socialism
1 : any of various economic a..."


I agree that the word "socialist" has become something in America as either a simple insult (when used by the Right) and as an avocation for "the kind of social democracy that one finds in, for example, the Scandinavian countries" (when used by the Left).

The problem is that the word has a history that goes along with the definition that I posted, and there are people that call themselves "socialist" (and as "democratic socialist") that advocate for policies that fall in line with the definition that I posted (which is not in line with "the kind of social democracy that one finds in, for example, the Scandinavian countries").

My main point is that I think that it would be better for people to not label themselves as "[democratic] socialist" unless they really want socialism along the lines of the definition I posted. The word has so much history with people that wanted complete government ownership of the means of production and is currently associated with people still think so, that it is just a nonstarter for people to call themselves it and try to change the term to mean capitalism+more government regulation+more government welfare programs.


message 17: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments Interesting! (#15)

What I want to ask next is pursuant to #11. If we want to better define 'democratic socialism' can we even say, when it first appeared? I'm guessing Germany around 1900? Or earlier--1848, 1860?


message 18: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments easy refresher on nationalism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationa...


message 19: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
See also the Wikipedia article on the Nordic model and the articles on Socialism and Social Democracy.

I have changed the title of this topic to "'Democratic Socialism' and Social Democracy."

Notwithstanding Bernie Sanders's claim that he is a democratic socialist, I don't believe that either he or any significant portion of Americans on the left support socialism in the original meaning of widespread government ownership of the means of production. And I am also not aware of any system of widespread government ownership of the means of production that has been successful. It certainly wasn't in the Soviet Union, where ideology trumped reality for decades until the whole thing collapsed. Additionally, given such historical experiences, it is questionable in my mind whether widespread ownership of the means of production is compatible with individual freedom even in the noneconomic sphere. The Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cuba suggest not. As my boss (a former Kenyon College political science professor) at a social science textbook-writing company during the 1970s used to say, "In capitalism, it's dog eat dog. In communism, it's just the reverse."

Here's a question I have pondered for a few decades: Is economic survival or prosperity (i.e. economics in whatever economic system) compatible with ethics? I tend to think not. Every business and every job within that business involves, it seems to me, ethical compromise. I have often wondered whether this is endemic to the human condition—at least as we know it and as it will exist in the foreseeable future. In the United States and other capitalist or quasi-capitalist countries, such compromise usually takes the form of necessary deference to employers who insist that one's actions be dictated by the bottom line—financial profit—which, in turn, is dictated by the often irrational whims of consumers. Not-for-profit companies and their employees have to conform to the sometimes irrational wills of donors (see recent episodes of "Mozart in the Jungle," for example) as well as, in some cases, consumers. In "socialist" countries, such compromise involves bending to the political desiderata of one's bosses—up to and including the individual or collective will of the "Supreme Leader." Either way, as my former boss used to say, it's dog eat dog. The only "solution," it seems to me, is to be born wealthy and not have to work for a living. But one's inherited wealth was then produced by a forebear, and that parent or more remote ancestor had to compromise with ethics in order to acquire it. Retirement is the next best thing, but then one had to struggle for years, often with irrational bosses and/or consumers, in order to make retirement possible. I used to know a woman who kept looking for the "perfect job." I laughed, knowing that no such job, wherein one's economic sustenance depends on the cooperation of others, exists.

So this is, perhaps, the "tragic" part of the human condition. On the other hand, given at least minimal forms of human freedom, one's mind can be free or relatively free. Unless, of course, hardcore scientific determinism rules human life and thought, in which case nothing matters because everything is predetermined and inevitable. I am currently studying the issue of free will versus determinism and will provide an update on my conclusions, if any, when I finish this investigation a few months hence.


message 20: by MJD (new)

MJD Alan wrote: "See also the Wikipedia article on the Nordic model and the articles on Socialism and Social Democracy.

I have changed the title of this topic to "'Democratic Socialism' and Social Democracy."

..."

I recently read the book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker, and I think that the book answers your question well. In his defense of inequalities in capitalism and even defenses of sweatshops (for the record he doesn't think that sweatshops are ideal) he seems to say that capitalism - along the lines of several measures of well being - objectively has contributed to the creation of the greatest human well being ever (he states a number of time that, given a Rawlsian choice of when one should choose to be born if they don't know where and to what body one will be born to, one should choose now).

I generally agree that now is the best time to be alive in all of human history in terms of human well-being, and that capitalism is in a large part the reason why this is true.

Furthermore, I see the goal of ethics to generate human well-being (I do not know of another metric that is not ultimately based on well-being). As such I believe that current capitalism is not only compatible with ethics, I believe that it is extremely ethical.


message 21: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments Steven Pinker said that? H'mmm, maybe he should stick with linguistics. Capitalism is still reeling from the havoc we caused with slavery, after all. That's just citing one fallout. His mentor Chomsky, even points this out too. How roundly, broadly "successful" can a system be when it cheerfully thrives on such devastation?


message 22: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 11, 2018 07:06AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
MJD wrote (post 20): "Furthermore, I see the goal of ethics to generate human well-being (I do not know of another metric that is not ultimately based on well-being). As such I believe that current capitalism is not only compatible with ethics, I believe that it is extremely ethical."

Among other things, that begs the question of what is "human well-being." To answer that question, one has to go back to Plato and Aristotle.

I have Pinker's latest book on my "to read" list. I generally liked his book The Blank Slate, which I reviewed here. His more recent work, which I have not read, seems, on the surface, to be too optimistic for my taste and reminds me of utilitarianism, which is often associated with the left. But I'll read it at some point.


message 23: by MJD (new)

MJD Feliks wrote: "Steven Pinker said that? H'mmm, maybe he should stick with linguistics. Capitalism is still reeling from the havoc we caused with slavery, after all. That's just citing one fallout. His mentor Chom..."

Slavery was nearly a human universal throughout history until recently history. I don't think that it can be blamed on the West or any conception of "capitalism". Also, I would not call a system that uses literal slave labor a capitalist system.


message 24: by MJD (new)

MJD I think that the notion of "sweatshops" are the hardest things to defend when it comes to unfettered capitalism.

I think that this article does a good job summing up the arguments in defense of "sweatshops": http://econlib.org/library/Columns/y2...


message 25: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 11, 2018 08:17AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Addendum to my post 22: I've now downloaded Pinker's Enlightenment Now on my Kindle and have begun reading it. I'm sure I'll agree with his commitment to reason, science, and Enlightenment—there is no postmodernism in my DNA!


message 26: by MJD (last edited Apr 11, 2018 08:36AM) (new)

MJD Alan wrote: "MJD wrote (post 20): "Furthermore, I see the goal of ethics to generate human well-being (I do not know of another metric that is not ultimately based on well-being). As such I believe that current..."

When it comes to well being, I want to see if you agree with the following statement: Any conception of well being [apart from those that advocate suicide] must include having essential bodily needs fulfilled (such as being properly fed).

I say this in light of even the radical anti-sensual stance that Socrates takes in Phaedo, in which he dismisses the pleasures of the flesh in pursuit of the fulfillment of the soul. Even with this take on the end goal of what should be considered well-being, I think that having essential bodily needs fulfilled is at least a necessary stepping stone. One needs to not be lacking in essential calories and nutrients in order to properly pursue philosophy in light of this view (unless one is advocating suicide, which Socrates was not).

There are then those who think that sensual activities (eating, drinking, etc.) are the highest ends unto themselves. Then there are those that fall somewhere in-between.

In summary, I think that the fulfillment of basic bodily needs is the foundation of any system of well-being I can think of (apart from those that say that suicide is the answer). Would you agree with that? (Note: My "angle" - if you will - is that if this is true, then capitalism is an ethical aid to well being since it makes available basic necessities like food with the greatest efficiency. But to be fair, that is a separate point that you could disagree with while still agreeing with my first point.)

[I don't want to get away from the topic of the thread, so I want to relate this to democratic socialism in the sense that my concern is that those of the democratic socialist bent may go too far against the operations of the free market, which in turn could lead to less market efficiency which could lead to less availability of essentials.]


message 27: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 11, 2018 09:09AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
MJD wrote: "In summary, I think that the fulfillment of basic bodily needs is the foundation of any system of well-being I can think of . . . . Would you agree with that?"

I would agree that fulfillment of basic bodily needs is (usually at least) a necessary condition of human well-being but not a sufficient condition. I have a more teleological view of ethics in the manner of, say, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics with reason being at the top of the hierarchy (compare Maslow's "hierarchy of needs", which, of course, is not quite the same). Similarly, along this line, I was thinking more of Plato's Republic than the Socratic asceticism portrayed in the Phaedo, though excessive materialism is, in my view, deleterious to human ethical well-being. For this and other reasons, I do not agree with your statement that capitalism is "extremely ethical." Although I was a libertarian fellow traveler in my younger years, I have gone back to my roots in a more philosophical approach to ethics. Capitalism may (libertarianism), or may not (Marxism and its variants), be superior to other systems in providing for basic needs, but what I was talking about in my posts 19 and 22 is something much different.


message 28: by Feliks (last edited Apr 11, 2018 05:14PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments "Slavery was nearly a human universal throughout history until recently history."

True MJD, (#23) but slavery under pre-capitalist societies stemmed from various causes and was often bent to various purposes other than economic production. Under capitalism, that was exactly what it was used for.

"I don't think that it can be blamed on the West or any conception of "capitalism".

Even bending over backward to be fair to capitalism, I myself can't find any reassuring excuse for this episode in our civilization. It doesn't seem to be 'just an episode' but part of our pathology in one way or another.

"Also, I would not call a system that uses literal slave labor a capitalist system. "

Well, "wage slavery" is still a common criticism of our system. The handling of 'labor' (labor meaning men's lives) as 'commodities' --not just the goods they produce for merchant/industrialists--seems to express the selfsame ethic.

But your qualification about 'literal' slavery --yes, that's worth emphasizing too.

I'm guess I'm merely stating how it all seems to me; and admittedly I do read a lot of books which are critical of the West, I acknowledge this.

Nevertheless I think Chomsky's point is still valid. I've mentioned it before in this group. A student stood during one of his lectures and asked him, "doesn't the continued, ongoing success of capitalism vouch for its being the best economic system of all time?"

Chomsky reminded him that slavery in the US was a highly successful period in capitalism; (the South's resistance causing no wonder). Therefore, 'successful' is not the same thing as 'best'.


message 29: by Randal (last edited Apr 11, 2018 01:18PM) (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) MJD wrote: "Here is a definition of "socialism" from Merriam-Webster:
Definition of socialism
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work d ..."


Since when do we rely on Professor Merriam-Webster for definitions of hot terms like “socialism” which have had various meanings over the last 250 years, depending on the political standpoint of the individual proposing the definition? Professor Merriam-Webster’s definition(s) strike(s) me as just what a 1950’s red-blooded ‘Merican anti-communist would say. Why should we rely on this as our starting point.

Let’s try some definitions from others with a different standpoint:
For G.D.H. Cole, the term meant, “collective regulation of men’s affairs on a cooperative basis with the happiness and welfare of all as the end in view and with the emphasis, not on ‘politics’ but on the production and distribution of wealth and the strengthening of ‘socializing’ influences in the life-long education of the citizens in cooperative, as against to competitive, patterns of behavior and social attitudes and beliefs.” Quoted in Michael Harrington (1972) Socialism (p. 44).

Leon Walras, one of the three founders of the marginal revolution in economics in the nineteenth century considered himself a socialist because he felt, like Henry George in the US, that title to land had no justification except through ownership by the sovereign government. Walras, was an avid supporter of the Paris bourse, by the way.

Walras wrote in Studies in Social Economics (1936, English Translation by van Daal and Walker, 2010, p107) “Here is how this will be done: one of the two natural types of social wealth – the personal faculties and their labour – is assigned according to natural law to individual property and enjoyment; the other natural natural type of social wealth – land and its products – is assigned according to natural law to common, collective enjoyment via taxation . . . It is no less true that my socialism tends to be in favour of the restoration of the State to correct the encroachments of the individual, not so much, in our country, at least from the political point of view.”

This from Erich Fromm (1961) on Marx’s view of socialism: “Socialism, for Marx, is a society which serves the needs of man. But, many will ask, is not that exactly what modern capitalism does? Are not our big corporations most eager to serve the needs of man? And are the big advertising companies not reconnaissance parties which, by means of great efforts, from surveys to "motivation analysis," try to find out what the needs of man are? Indeed, one can understand the concept of socialism only if one understands Marx's distinction between the true needs of man, and the synthetic, artificially produced needs of man.”

Or from The Communist Manifesto referring to “communism” rather than “socialism”: “The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of production and appropriating products, that is on class antagonism, on the exploitation of the many by the few.” (p 235 in the Penguin Classics edition, 1967.)

My own definition of a socialist, and I consider myself one, is someone who recognizes that all wealth is social and that by virtue of that recognition we should strive for social control of that wealth.

When we resort to the dictionary in serious discussions of political philosophy, we err, thinks me. Dictionaries are products of their time. My understanding is that this group is devoted to timeless ideas about political philosophy. Let’s not rely solely on Professor Mirriam-Webster for discussion of basic terms.

Cheers,

Randal


message 30: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Randal wrote: "When we resort to the dictionary in serious discussions of political philosophy, we err, thinks me. Dictionaries are products of their time. My understanding is that this group is devoted to timeless ideas about political philosophy. ..."

Please forgive my lack of grammar ("thinks me"). But, I confess that it was intentional. As for my quip about "timeless ideas," I confess that this was ironical. I am not a believer in timeless ideas, as those who have read my posts here will attest.

Cheers,

Randal


message 31: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 11, 2018 05:31PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Randal wrote: "My own definition of a socialist, and I consider myself one, is someone who recognizes that all wealth is social and that by virtue of that recognition we should strive for social control of that wealth. "

Randal, when you refer to "all wealth" as being "social" and properly subject to "social control," do you include all personal property (for example, the shirt on one's back)? Does the majority, through their representatives in the legislature (or their presumed representative in a Supreme Leader, whether elected or not), have a "natural" (Walras's term) right to take all of my property, including what is necessary for my survival? Isn't this exactly what happened to "enemies of the state" in Stalin's Soviet Union—at least to the extent they did not enjoy a "command performance" before the firing squad?


message 32: by Feliks (last edited Apr 11, 2018 05:32PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1360 comments In a way, MJD --if I may say so--you seem to have a sound, pragmatist's 'let's judge the tree by it's fruit" attitude to some of these questions and I quite appreciate that as a way of going about an assessment. Its to your credit. I like that approach too and often try to harken back to it myself. Bravo.


message 33: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Alan wrote: "Randal, when you refer to "all wealth" as being "social" and properly subject to "social control," do you include all personal property (for example, the shirt on one's back)? ..."

Alan,

Certainly I do. Without society where would your shirt come from?

Alan wrote: "Does the majority, through their representatives in the legislature (or their presumed representative in a Supreme Leader, whether elected or not), have a "natural" (Walras's term) right to take all of my property, including what is necessary for my survival? ..."

As you know, I am not a believer in natural rights.

Alan wrote: "Isn't this exactly what happened to "enemies of the state" in Stalin's Soviet Union—at least to the extent they did not enjoy a "command performance" before the firing squad? ..."

Respectfully, this is an absurd (and insulting - "emotionally hectoring") remark.

Sincerely,

Randal


message 34: by MJD (new)

MJD My question is what exactly would the USA look like if it was a truly democratic socialist country. What is the endgame. I am sincerely curious.


message 35: by MJD (last edited Apr 11, 2018 07:51PM) (new)

MJD Referring to message 29:

I want to make it clear that I do not think that a definition in a dictionary is a sacred final declaration of what something is, but I do think that they are a good place to start a conversation about terms that hold many meanings to many people.

Randal, now I do not what to sound facetious, but I do not see a wide gap between definitions that you posted from yourself and other thinkers on what "socialism" is and what the dictionary says. But you seem to not like the dictionary definition so I am at a loss.

Randal, since I believe that people who call themselves a term should be given the respect of defining the term that they are defining themselves with, I want to see if you could give a detailed and clear definition of what socialism is in your own words (also, if you think that "democratic socialism" is different enough from it then a definition of that would be good too).


message 36: by Randal (last edited Apr 11, 2018 08:18PM) (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) MJD wrote: " I want to see if you could give a detailed and clear definition of what socialism is in your own words..."

Mr. Anonymous,

I have given you my definition above: "My own definition of a socialist, and I consider myself one, is someone who recognizes that all wealth is social and that by virtue of that recognition we should strive for social control of that wealth. "

What about that is not clear?

Regards,

Randal


message 37: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 11, 2018 08:21PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Randal wrote (post 33): "Alan wrote: "Isn't this exactly what happened to "enemies of the state" in Stalin's Soviet Union—at least to the extent they did not enjoy a "command performance" before the firing squad? ..."

Respectfully, this is an absurd (and insulting - "emotionally hectoring") remark."


I didn't mean this as a personal remark. I merely meant: is this not the logical consequence of all property being at the disposal of the state? In view of twentieth-century history, I think this is a legitimate question. It is, in fact, a question that many scholars have asked.


message 38: by Randal (last edited Apr 11, 2018 08:39PM) (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Alan wrote: "is this not the logical consequence of all property being at the disposal of the state?..."

Alan,

You said this. Not I. What I said is that all wealth is the product of society. What would make you imagine that it comes from the fruits of one person's efforts alone or that "all property (is) at the disposal of the state?" Where would Robinson Crusoe get buttons for his shirt? When did I ever say that "all property (is) at the disposal of the state?"

Your previous comment (and this one) was (is) insulting and contrary to your Group Rules.

Sincerely,

Randal


message 39: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Randal wrote: "Alan wrote: "is this not the logical consequence of all property being at the disposal of the state?..."

Alan,

You said this. Not I. What I said is that all wealth is the product of society. What..."


You are mistaking an important question of political philosophy and economics for a personal insult, which was not intended. How can "society" control all property without government controlling it? And if government has such total control, what is to prevent government (especially in the absence of what Marx called "bourgeois rights") from ending up with dictatorial or totalitarian control? Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is not a theory. This is the experience of the twentieth century.


message 40: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Alan wrote: "You are mistaking an important question of political philosophy and economics for a personal insult, which was not intended. How can "society" control all property without government controlling it?..."

Alan,

Of course government controls distribution of property. In the US it protects ownership of corporations, employing thousands. It protects ownership of the shirt on your back by incorporation of laws and police departments to defer theft. That doesn't mean that I advocate totalitarian government control.

Alan wrote: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is not a theory. This is the experience of the twentieth century...."

When did I say speak in favor of "absolute power?" What I have said is what I think should be an obvious truth: all wealth is the product of social production. Various governments protect the distribution of that wealth in different ways.

You are twisting what I have said. I wonder why?

Sincerely,

Randal


message 41: by Mimi (new)

Mimi | 96 comments Randal's statement was vague, but after rereading it a few times I take it in a general sense. "Society" in this sense is not the government, rather people in general. As someone recently stated, "You did not build this alone..." meaning that everyone who paid taxes or contributed in any way to building infrastructure that supports a factory has a stake in the wealth (and pollution) generated by that factory. It also encompasses the notion of the "commons" or all territory, environment or infrastructure shared by everyone. Not literally owned by government, but shared in a general sense, as the air we all must breathe and the water we all drink. Am I close, Randal?


message 42: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Randal wrote: "When did I ever say that "all property (is) at the disposal of the state?"..."

I may have seemed to have contradicted myself in my recent reply to Alan. In those remarks, I said "Of course government controls distribution of property." I think I explained there what I meant by that. Society determines how distribution of property will be established. All States do control distribution, by their various laws, protecting private property, for example. That doesn't imply that I advocate totalitarianism. Just a simple description of what governments do.

Randal


message 43: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 142 comments "My own definition of a socialist, and I consider myself one, is someone who recognizes that all wealth is social and that by virtue of that recognition we should strive for social control of that wealth. "

One problem I see with this definition, and not with the Merriam-Webster definition, is that it's abstract enough to apply to Medieval society or National Socialism, or Homer's Achaeans or any other non-individualist society.

But Erich Fromm's definition is the most obnoxious:

Indeed, one can understand the concept of socialism only if one understands Marx's distinction between the true needs of man, and the synthetic, artificially produced needs of man.
[end quote]

I guess, in 1961 it seemed obvious that people could be prosperous but still 'alienated,' drink too much, smoke too much, plus those joyriding 'delinquents,' but people still dream about living then, because life was freer.


message 44: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Apr 11, 2018 09:12PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
Randal wrote (post 40): "You are twisting what I have said. I wonder why?."

I apparently misunderstand what you mean by "social control" of "all" property (your posts 29 and 33). To me, social control of all property means government control of all property, with the possible consequences (not necessarily intended) that I described. I do not question that government should have appropriate economic regulations under the rule of law. But the Soviets (following Marx to some extent) eschewed the rule of law. Perhaps I have read too many books about the Soviet Union and about Lenin and Stalin.

As I am preparing this post, additional comments are arriving from Mimi, Randal, and Chris, which I have not yet read. I'll file this one and add anything I think is appropriate to the others.


message 45: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Donut,

You are right. My comment applies to all societies. Why does that trouble you?

Sincerely,

Randal


message 46: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 142 comments Randal wrote: "Donut,

You are right. My comment applies to all societies. Why does that trouble you?

Sincerely,

Randal"


A definition which applies to all societies is not a helpful definition of 'socialism' over against capitalism. Or maybe it is. Depends what you are trying to do.


message 47: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3794 comments Mod
It's past midnight here in the Eastern time zone, and I need to get to bed. Randal, I think you and I have misunderstood each other, and I apologize for any contribution I have made to that. It was inadvertent, and I'm still not sure exactly what you mean. But I think we have discussed this point to exhaustion, at least for this evening. You are much better read than I in economics, and I probably should avoid addressing these matters until I have read Walras and the other economists you have mentioned that I have not read. My reading from the left on these issues has been limited to Marx, Lenin, and a few contemporary progressive thinkers. I agree for the most part with the contemporary progressive thinkers but disagree with much of what I recall reading in Marx and Lenin some 50 years ago.


message 48: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Mimi wrote: ""Society" in this sense is not the government, rather people in general. As someone recently stated, "You did not build this alone..." meaning that everyone who paid taxes or contributed in any way to building infrastructure that supports a factory has a stake in the wealth (and pollution) generated by that factory. It also encompasses the notion of the "commons" or all territory, environment or infrastructure shared by everyone. Not literally owned by government, but shared in a general sense, as the air we all must breathe and the water we all drink. Am I close, Randal? ..."

Mimi,

Exactly. That person was Elizabeth Warren!

Cheers,

Randal


message 49: by Randal (new)

Randal Samstag (scepticos) Christopher wrote: "A definition which applies to all societies is not a helpful definition of 'socialism' over against capitalism. Or maybe it is. Depends what you are trying to do...."

Christopher,

What I am trying to do is to point out that there is no "individualistic" society, anywhere. All societies, because they are societies, define distribution and protection of wealth in the way that their histories and mores tend. To start to think about socialism, one needs to start there.

Regards,

Randal


message 50: by MJD (new)

MJD Here is my thinking on the subject, let me know if you think I am mistaken.

Capitalist shoe company = privately owned apart from the government, be it shareholders or an individual person (but can still be taxed by the government in terms of property tax and income tax, negative externalities such as pollution can be punished by the government, contracts with workers can be upheld by the government, physical property can be protected by the government, intellectual property can be protected by the government, and positive externalities like worker training can be supported and rewarded by the government)

Socialist shoe company: government owns the shoe company

______________________________________________________________

My point is that I think the line is drawn at government ownership or private ownership, and within the lines of private ownership there is a lot of wiggle room. Can we agree on that?


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