Bernie Sanders and the Injustice of “Democratic Socialism”

This essay is Part 3 of a three-part series on socialism:

Bernie Sanders Talking

Bernie Sanders

In the first essay of this series, I took socialism, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, and showed why it is immoral (unjust) in theory and in its “purest” practice. Then, in the second essay, I explained why, in the real world, attempts to approach pure socialism have always resulted in oppressive, dictatorial governments with high degrees of corruption. (Again, as explained in the second essay, worker-owned cooperatives cannot generally be called “socialism.”)

In this essay, I’ll discuss partial socialism, as it presents itself in the Scandinavian countries of Europe, (like Sweden,) in the US, and in the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. Some people will say that pure socialism is impractical and/or inconsistent with human nature, but still think that there should be a “balanced” mixture of socialism and capitalism. Capitalism, they think, mustn’t be “unfettered,” but rather must be reigned in by government regulation and welfare programs. This they will often call “democratic socialism” or “social democracy.”

I’ll explain why partial socialism and welfare programs are unjust and destructive of people’s well-being.

Socialism Lite

Once 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.

But “the community as a whole” is not a single entity, and does not think with a single mind. There is not even a single, definite organization encompassing “the community as a whole.” So it can’t really do anything or own anything. In socialist practice, “the community as a whole” is taken to be represented by government. (And as I explained in Part 2, the logic of socialism means that this government doesn’t even have to be “democratic,” in the way that term is often understood. At least in the Marxist version, it can also be represented by an informal government, consisting of organized gangs of proletarian thugs with guns–this is Marx’s “revolutionary terror.”)

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Ayn Rand on Christmas

Ayn Rand, novelist and philosopher of Objectivism, a philosophy for living on Earth.

Ayn Rand – novelist and philosopher

Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher, really enjoyed Christmas.

She was not a materialist; nor was she a mystical spiritualist. She held that there is no conflict between genuine spirituality and the enjoyment of material things. Human beings need material products to survive, and an abundance of material wealth–used under the guidance of proper moral principles–enhances human life and happiness dramatically. Wealth allows people leisure time: Instead of working about 12 hours a day from sunrise to sunset, 6 days a week, having a short supper and going to bed as most people did before capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, most Westerners can now afford to work 8 hours a day, while pursuing hobbies, recreation and friendships after work and on the weekends. People have a greater ability to balance vocational productive work with other pursuits that also contribute to happiness and spiritual contentment.

Rand also held that voluntary trade in a free market is a good, benevolent, win-win interaction: Both parties benefit from the trade, by their own judgment (or they wouldn’t pursue it, assuming they’re not acting self-destructively.) There is no need for anyone to sacrifice the interests of others for his own supposed benefit in free-market trades. (And in fact, sacrificing others cannot bring real benefits, but is self-destructive, all things considered.)

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QuickPoint 3: The Basis of Ayn Rand’s Ethics in a Nutshell

The Virtue of SelfishnessI observe long-term survival that I may objectively define human flourishing,* and the means to it. I aim at my objective flourishing that I may achieve happiness.

*Flourishing” is fulfilling one’s natural goal as well as possible. For living organisms, this means fulfilling an ideal pattern or mode of life as the type of organism each is. For man, this means choosing to make maximal use of his basic, distinctive means of survival–his conceptual faculty. Rand identifies this as the “survival of man qua man.”]

This is, in my understanding, the most basic summary of Rand’s program in “The Objectivist Ethics,” an essay within The Virtue of Selfishness. I think that keeping these two sentences in mind while reading the essay will help many people understand Rand’s points more fully.

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Related Posts:

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Values Are Relational But Not Subjective

Why Each Person Can Have Only One Ultimate Value

Why a Proper Ethics is Not a Set of Social Rules, But a Complete Way of Life

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Theme

A musical theme for this blog. I choose it not because it’s my favorite piece of music ever, (though it is fairly high on the list) but because it fits how I feel about the blog. I only wish it were longer. This theme music for the blog has been added to the About page, and may change from time to time.

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

After a brief introduction to Atlas Shrugged, this essay provides a very good overview of the alternative between altruism and egoism. While not a work of technical philosophy, it is substantial: it quotes philosophers and textbooks that explain the meaning of altruism and clearly differentiates what rational egoism means for one’s life, versus what altruism means. It also generally outlines Ayn Rand’s argument for life as the standard of value and for rational egoism.

Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism by Craig Biddle

The book-length version can be found here: Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle

Recommended technical works are here: Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality and Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Some short points about the Objectivist ethics of rational egoism (1):

  1. If human beings wish to live, they need morality because only certain types of actions will lead to successful life as a human being, while others will necessarily lead to suffering and toward death; yet human beings do not automatically choose life-promoting actions, and they do not automatically know what is life-promoting for them, especially in the long term.
  2. A certain fundamental happiness is the marker of a flourishing life, and the fullest, long-term happiness is an individual’s proper purpose in adhering to moral principles. What serves his own flourishing life (and thus, long-term happiness) is what defines an individual’s self-interest, (i.e. his proper values.) Interactions with others are part of morality, but are not the central concern; the central concern is the reality of the individual’s condition with respect to the attainment of life-sustaining/enriching values.
  3. Rationality is the fundamental virtue that subsumes all other virtues. Its being the fundamental virtue means that reason is the means by which an individual discovers what is in his self-interest, and that action based on reason is the only means by which he can achieve his proper values, (thus building happiness.)
  4. The six subsidiary virtues that Ayn Rand identified are aspects of rationality. They are: honesty, independence, productiveness, integrity, justice, and pride. Pride is not boastfulness or foolhardiness, but a dedication to excellence and moral self-improvement.
  5. Attempting to sacrifice the rational interests of others as a means to one’s own happiness, whether done through force or deception, is doomed to fail. One’s own happiness cannot be built on the robbery or enslavement of others, because human life depends on the production of values that sustain it. Those on whom the parasite feeds are worn down or destroyed, and find it in their rational interest to sabotage and get rid of the parasite. By using force or deception, the parasite is working to sabotage the victims’ motivation and rational judgment, and it is their motivation and rational judgment in the production of values on which he is depending for his livelihood.
  6. The rational interests of individuals in everyday life in society do not conflict, because life-sustaining values are not a static quantity to be fought over, but are created by effort based on reasoning, and are thus variable and potentially unlimited.
  7. Human beings are a combination of the physical and mental, and an individual’s self-interest includes psychological values. Self-interest is not to be reduced to only the physical, such as money. Other people can be of tremendous psychological value (i.e. friends, lovers, children.) That an individual’s ultimate standard of value is his own flourishing life does not mean that he disregards others, or that he simply uses them for material gain. He can gain major psychological benefits from contact with other people of good character who reflect his values.
  8. Objectivist moral principles allow for a vast range of optional values within their practice. They allow for different career choices, (including full-time parenthood,) different tastes in art (literature, movies, music) and different amounts and types of social contact. One’s own emotions about different options are typically among the relevant factors to consider in deciding which optional values to pursue.
  9. A basic (non-self-sacrificial) benevolence toward others is in one’s own interest in an essentially free society. This typically includes being courteous and respectful to strangers, and considerate to friends. This is due to the fact that others are potential values to oneself, whether as trading partners, friends, lovers, or simply as general innovators whose ideas can improve one’s own life. In a free, rights-respecting society, strangers are much more likely to be allies than enemies, in fundamental terms, and it’s not in one’s interest to push such people away without good reason. (Business competitors are not enemies; see Atlas Shrugged.)
  10. Just like principles of physics and free-market economics, principles of morality are contextual absolutes. This means that they are not like Biblical commandments that are supposed to always apply, no matter the situation. Proper moral principles apply only within certain circumstances, but when they do apply, they are absolute, and cannot be violated with impunity. For example, the principle that “the initiation of physical force is immoral/evil (destructive to human life)” does not apply in the face of an immediate physical threat to someone’s life. Initiating force to push one’s unsuspecting friend out of the path of a falling boulder is a good act. In ordinary circumstances, when human life depends on the free exercise of each individual’s mind, the initiation of force is evil because it destroys and/or paralyzes the minds of victims and subverts the mental functioning of the perpetrator, to the extent it is initiated.

For those who don’t have backgrounds in philosophy, but want to learn more about this moral code, I recommend reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle. For those who are more philosophically oriented, I also recommend Viable Values and Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Dr. Tara Smith.

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(1) Dictionary definition of: egoism1. the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one’s personal interest; selfishness (opposed to altruism). … 3. Ethics. the view that each person should regard his own welfare as the supreme end of his actions [Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1973]

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Related Posts:

Introduction to Objectivism

Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

Why a Proper Ethics is Not a Set of Social Rules, But a Complete Way of Life

The Wages of Altruism: Domestic Abuse

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