After Bernie Sanders resigned from the American presidential run in 2016, a rise of democratic socialism occurred all across the United States – from college campuses to political parties, all the way to our daily news. With it, various misconceptions about this system not only emerged, as it was popularized within the international political landscape. This article is about fixing these misunderstandings.
- The Need for Democracy
Vladimir Lenin once said that “democracy is indispensable to socialism.” Even back then, he understood that democratic socialism and actual socialism aren’t that different from each other.
Firstly, let’s make a comparison: democratic socialism to actual socialism. Based on the nomenclature, one might not find much of a difference at all. (After all, one of them is “democratic.”) Bernie Sanders, however, says that there’s a major distinction between the two. “What democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top 1/10th of 1% in this country own almost 90%, or almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%,” he says.
Our common opinion of democracy is that it was created for the noble. Millennials ruthlessly blame the democratic system when faced with the statistic that 1% of people own the majority of the wealth. Many of his ex-supporters also said that “America is a socialist country,” and that “Medicare, social security, and even the post office are examples of socialism.” The counter-argument here is that they’re essentially wrong – if these are legitimate examples, why is it that each of these elements can be linked to private initiatives that excel more than these government-owned sectors?
But let’s take a look back for a moment.
2. The Objective of Democracy
When discussing such a convoluted matter, we must remind ourselves of the pure, legitimate objective of the government. Thankfully, the Constitution of the United States and The Declaration of Independence are always here to help us. Together, they provide us with the “why” and “how” of the reason there is a governing body in America. In these documents, the essential role of the government is represented by the safety and minimal wellbeing that is caused by their regulations, military service, and police force.
As I researched to conclude whether or not something like wealth inequality can be solved with democratic socialism, I’ve realized that the way this ideology is portrayed in the media is based on misunderstandings of what the current state of things actually is. “We should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden, and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” Bernie said throughout his campaign. In spite of that, the differences between these countries relative to the system rooted in American society for centuries are so vast that it becomes futile to make such a comparison as a means of assuring hope.
3. Our “Socialist” Neighbors
What people often – and erroneously cite – is that Scandinavia’s system of social democracy is based on the democratic “version” of socialism. The difference between the two is that one is predominantly capitalist, and the other is not. Democratic socialism is about implementing capitalist ideas into an essentially socialist system, whereas a social democracy preaches the exact opposite of that. Here are a few descriptions of popular examples that are completely wrong to be cited as “successes”:
When Bernie talks about Denmark, he is also referring to a country sixty times smaller than the United States with a population that is incredibly homogenous. The Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Rasmussen, agonized by how Americans characterize his country as a bonfire for socialist success, explained that “I would like to make one thing clear: Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy; Denmark is a market economy.”
In recent years, in fact, middle-class citizens from Denmark stated that they couldn’t live up to their transportation needs due to the 180% tax on new cars.
Robert Mugabe, one of the most gruesome dictators in recent decades, was democratically elected by a majority of the population.
Even though he was democratically elected as a socialist leader, virtually the entire world sees Maduro as a dictator. Now, one of the most resourceful countries in Latin America is on the brink of collapse. But we all knew it was a dictatorship all along, right?
The founder of IKEA Ingvar Kamprad left his country because of the restraining high tax rate. Sweden – a “socialist” nation in Bernie’s eyes – facing problems involved with the “way-too-capitalist” practice of taxation.
Adam Smith once said that “he who does not work does not eat.” In the 1770s, the Founding Fathers of the U.S. had a pivotal decision to make – which government system their independent state would adopt. Would they feed the population through socialist means, or make it mandatory for them to supply themselves through the exertion of one’s self?
They recognized that the rights of the minority could never be in the debt of the ever-changing will of the majority.
(Old propaganda poster in favor of capitalism.)
The Moral Dilemma
When a system of socialism starts to collapse – because resources are part of a collective basis, leading to some people being more prolific than others – a governing body has a crucial choice to make. The first of two options is that they turn towards communism, where the government is necessarily in full control of commerce. The other option is having a system of capitalism which preaches the free market.
Adam Smith did this by abiding by the critical concept that given the necessary freedom, people are inarguably more likely to live a stable life rather than when they’re equal to everyone else around them. And look where we are now – you can have a car, an iPhone, and many pieces of clothing, all from different brands. If the first option is chosen, Lenin would be correct in affirming that “the goal of socialism is communism.” However, we still have the freedom to select the alternative of capitalism if socialism ends up collapsing.
Still, democratic socialists choose to neglect the numerous examples of failed socialist economies by taking refuge on the idea that this doctrine is inherently more altruistic than the “immoral and greedy” system of capitalism. Nevertheless, contrary to the free enterprise of the capital – which requires voluntary transactions to occur – socialism can only happen at gunpoint. If you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail. In a socialist system, the voluntary aspect of capitalism is not apparent. And what’s more greedy than merely wanting to take from someone something you haven’t earned?
Ultimately, Bernie Sanders just wanted to be the President of the United States. He did this, like every other candidate, by relentlessly trying to “buy” votes. Donald Trump made use of his narcissistic abilities online, Hillary dabbed on live television and talked about Pokémon, and Bernie…well, tried to affect hope. In his debates, he didn’t present any worldview per se – instead, he recognized certain elements that have existed for hundreds of years, made Millennials angry about it, and offered them with what appeared to be a promising and compelling solution. The catalyst for his popularity, then, was the false promise that something, if anything, would change. But who can blame him?
If you were living in such a heated and indignant society, wouldn’t you want to believe in these “solutions” too? Wouldn’t you also be frustrated with the reality that after eight years of a Black President in office, the only hopeful candidate that was squished out of the melting pot of politics in the United States was a businessman who enjoys printing his name on top of buildings?
In the end, the “gift” of democratic socialism was, in Bernie’s eyes, a mere way for him to have leverage over the other contestants. Yet when we look back at the results, we shouldn’t wonder anymore why Bernie is not the current American President, but rather the spoiled rich guy who has a keen affection with his nuclear button.