Bernie Sanders, Alexis De Tocqueville, and Hayek’s warning

When Hitler came to power in Germany, Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian who had been following the rise of totalitarian movements, had already moved to England. There he wrote a book of warning to the Socialists in England. He felt they did not understand Nazism or Communism or Fascism. This book was The Road To Serfdom, and its main thesis was that the economic systems that Germany, Italy, and Russia had embraced had something to do with their totalitarian characteristics.

Is is easy to argue with Hayek. After all, one Nazi, Rudolph Hess, said that Nazism was “nothing but applied biology.” In other words, it was about eugenics, not about economics. And of course Germany wanted revenge for defeat in the first World War, and Hitler appealed to strong nationalism.
On the other hand, Hayek grew up in the middle of the Germanic world, and was following events closely. And though some at the time saw Nazism as a last-ditch effort of the reactionaries to prevent Socialism, we do have to wonder – why was it an abbreviation for “National Socialism” and not “National Capitalism?” And why was its rhetoric so anti-capitalist?

Socialism is experiencing an unusual revival in Britain and the U.S. Monster crowds are flocking to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the West Coast and it is likely that Jeremy Corbyn will be elected to head Britain’s Labour party. “Sanders has long styled himself a socialist and seeks income redistribution; Corbyn wants government ownership of railroads and coal mines. Both look with favor on 90 percent tax rates.”

I listened to Bernie’s speech in Denver (on Youtube). He starts by saying what a wealthy country we are. Then he talks about “income inequality” – the concentration of wealth among a few billionaires. He feels the billionaires have to shoulder their “responsibilities”. He tells the story of a woman who came up to him and said that she has one child, and she and her husband want more, but she has to work three jobs, and he has to work two, and they feel there would be no time to pay attention to the child. To get our deprived people educated, he would make college free. He would scrap the free-trade agreement we have with Mexico (Nafta) and would also get rid of “Cafta”. Here, he sounds like the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, who wanted to punish Ford for deciding to build an auto plant in Mexico, and who also has called for an across-the-board tariff on Chinese imports.

I can understand the appeal of these types of arguments. In the U.S. some people are very poor, some people are very rich, there are many unemployed and underemployed, there is a feeling of stagnation. And why should a rich man such as Bill Gates be able to afford medical care that a poor man cannot afford? Why can’t we solve all these problems by taking the inexhaustible reservoir of money hoarded by the rich and spend it on the poor and the struggling? And as far as foreign trade, how can we compete with a country like Vietnam, where people may work for 50 cents an hour, and protections that we have to pay for our own workers (and which add to the price of production here) would be absent?

If we wanted to carry this to an extreme, we could look at all the harm done by the desire for profit – from slavery in the early years of the U.S. to corporations cutting corners on safety and the environment, and we could dream of a new system, where instead of profit, we have idealism, and from each we ask “according to his ability” and to each we give “according to his needs.”

In our new system, unfortunately there would need to be coercion. As Leon Trotsky said “The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.” And indoctrination is necessary as well. And here Hayek comments:

It was not the Fascists but the socialists who began to collect children from the tenderest age into political organizations to make sure that they grew up as good proletarians. It was not the Fascists but the socialists who first thought of organizing sports and games, football and hiking, in party clubs where the members would not be infected by other views.

Hayek adds that the collectivists developed various devices for “the permanent supervision of private life.”

Alexis De Tocqueville

Alexis De Tocqueville

Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman who observed and praised the early United States, said this in 1848:

Democracy and Socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy sees equality in liberty, Socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

Hayek says that Socialism promised a “new freedom” an economic freedom without which political freedom was not worth having. In other words, instead of freedom from the coercion of other men, it would be freedom from want and necessity.

Hayek slams the brakes on further: “From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.”

At this point we could ask – on what basis do these party poopers (Friedrich and Alexis) feel that liberty, spontaneous evolution, and free growth go out the window with Socialism? After all, isn’t it just about helping people? And aren’t there countries such as Sweden that do well under a democratic Socialist system? I won’t go into their arguments here, but Hayek does say that the various collectivist ideologies want to organize the whole of society…for this unitary end, and [refuse]…to recognize autonomous spheres in which the ends of the individuals are supreme.”

Hayek says he is not a “conservative”, because “by its very nature, it [conservatism] cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving.” It may succeed to slow down undesirable developments, but since it does not indicate another direction, it has…”invariably been …dragged along a path not of its own choosing.”

Recent history raises questions. Does the “Socialism” of Mao and Stalin have little in common with the welfare-state experiments in the West? Why, for example, did the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics kill tens of millions of its own people? Why did the same thing happen in Communist China?

And then there is this puzzling quote from a former leftist – (he says he was originally so far left that “a self-identified terrorist proposed marriage to me.”) He adds:
“Hang out in leftist internet environments, and…you will discover a rejection of…American concepts of individual rights and law.” When he joined a left-wing online discussion forum he noticed that:

If you took all the words typed into the forum…you’d quickly notice that nouns expressing the emotions of anger, aggression, and disgust, and verbs speaking destruction…and wreaking vengeance, outnumbered any other class of words…I do have right-wing friends now, and they do get angry…But when I encounter unhinged, stratospheric vituperation, when I encounter detailed revenge fantasies in scatological and sadistic language, I know I’ve stumbled up on a left-wing website.

This former leftist, Danusha Goska, also notices an irony:

Given that the left prides itself on being the liberator of women, homosexuals, and on being “sex positive,” one of the weirder and most obvious aspects of left-wing hate is how often, and how virulently, it is expressed in terms that are misogynist, homophobic, and in the distinctive anti-sex voice of a sexually frustrated high-school misfit.

In his long career as an active leftist, he never witnessed outrage over “child marriage, honor killing,…stoning, or acid attacks. Nothing. Zip. Crickets..” The left’s selective outrage convinced him that feminism was not so much about support for women, as a protest against Western men. It’s an “I hate” phenomenon, rather than an “I love” phenomenon.

It is puzzling that what seems on the surface to be an understandable course of action, based on a desire to help others, is so often associated with unpleasant consequences and unpleasant personalities.

Suppose you care about the environment. You might approve of the 1,438 “sustainability” programs at our colleges – except when you read this: the sustainability ideology claims that “curtailing economic, political, and intellectual liberty is the price that must be paid to ensure the welfare of future generations”, and the U.N report that started the movement (“Our Common Future” – 1987) united environmentalism with hostility to free markets and demands for social justice and insists that “diversity, sexual liberation, and redistribution of wealth” should be subordinate parts of sustainability.

It seems that everything is subordinate to ideology.

And their ideology leads nowhere good. An economist named John Jewkes wrote this, shortly after World War II. It was about Britain, but it could apply to us today:

For I believe that the recent melancholy decline of Great Britain is largely of our own making. The fall in our standard of living to a level which excites the pity and evokes the charity of many other richer countries, the progressive restrictions on individual liberties, the ever-widening destruction of respect for law, the steady sapping of our instinct for tolerance and compromise, the sharpening of class distinctions, our growing incapacity to play a rightful part in world affairs — these sad changes are not due to something that happened in the remote past. They are due to something which has happened in the past two years. At the root of our troubles lies the fallacy that the best way of ordering economic affairs is to place the responsibility for all crucial decisions in the hands of the State. It is a simple error, it is certainly an understandable error. But it is one which, driven to its logical conclusion, as it is now being driven by those who have been constitutionally put into power, can bring upon us untold miseries and humiliations…

Sustainability – Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism – a report by the National Association of Scholars – 2015.
The Road to Serfdom – F.A. Hayek – University of Chicago Press (printed 1944 and 1994).
Ten Reasons Why I am no longer a Leftist – Danusha Goska – link follows:
Why I am not a Conservative – Friedrich Hayek – link follows:: (
Bernie Sanders speech in Denver: http: //
The Strange Death of the Center-Left  Michael Barone – link follows:
Donald Trump’s stand on tariffs (written in 2011)

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