By Henry Kyambalesa
In early February 2019 during a State of the Union Address, U.S. President, Mr. Donald J. Trump, warned about what he perceived to be the emergence of incessant calls to introduce socialism in the United States of America.
The warning was apparently evoked by some Democrats in the U.S. Congress who have been espousing popular policies—including Medicare for all, tuition-free education at public colleges and universities, tax hikes on wealthy citizens and residents, and the New Green Deal—without actually calling for state ownership of the means or factors of production.
Later during the same month, he was reported by Fishbein (2019) and Rodrigo (2019), for example, as having reiterated the warning in a speech he delivered in Miami, Florida, in the following words:
“Socialism is a sad and discredited ideology rooted in the total ignorance of history and human nature. [Here] … in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence—not government coercion, domination and control.”
A few Democratic members of the U.S. Congress—including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—identify themselves as “democratic socialists.”
In the remainder of this article, an attempt is made to provide a definition of the term “democratic socialism” rather than “socialism” per se, tender a set of salient traits of “human nature,” as well as determine whether or not the traits of human nature are consistent with the ideals or beliefs of democratic socialism.
- What Is ‘Democratic Socialism’?
The term “democratic socialism” refers to an economic and political ideology that is based on the following beliefs, which are adapted from definitions tendered by Plano and Greenberg (1993:10), Amadeo (2019) and Democratic Socialists of America (2019):
(a) That there should be a democratically elected government that should provide for central planning designed to distribute common or public goods, such as mass transit, housing, water, and electricity and other forms of energy, as well as provide extensive publicly financed welfare assistance, healthcare and pension or retirement benefits.
(b) That government should strive to create a society where income and wealth inequalities are minimal by introducing a taxation system that would require affluent members of society to contribute more of their wealth and incomes to the public treasury, and by guaranteeing that ordinary members of society are paid a living wage. And
(c) That the factors or means of production—particularly land and the various forms of capital (including raw materials, financial resources, manufacturing facilities, assembly plants, and machinery and equipment)—should be owned and managed jointly by the working people by replacing private ownership with public or social ownership of such means or factors of production.
- Salient Traits of Human Nature
The term “human nature” is used in this article to refer to the inherent or intrinsic dispositions and traits of human beings, which include the following:
(a) A sense of belonging: An inclination to seek to be a member of a community of humans and to live as an accepted member of the community rather than live in solitude;
(b) Equity-seeking nature: An inherent propensity to expect to be treated equitably as an important and vital member of one’s community, and to be rewarded equitably and/or recognized for one’s work in the community;
(c) Liberty-seeking nature: Proclivity for freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity;
(d) Pleasure-seeking nature: An inclination for the pursuit of leisure, happiness and/or relaxation;
(e) Self-centered nature: The tendency to concentrate selfishly or egoistically on one’s own needs and affairs, and to show little or no concern for the needs and affairs of other people; and
(f) The survival instinct: The impulse to be alive and to exist, especially in the light of life-threatening circumstances obtaining in one’s environment, and to avoid activities or situations which have the potential to cause or inflict pain.
- Consistency with Human Nature
Let us now determine whether democratic socialism would be consistent with any of the traits of human nature. Firstly, democratic socialism—which would require the forfeiture of privately owned factors of production—would not be consistent with the liberty-seeking nature of humans that seeks the freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity.
Secondly, the possibility of being compelled to jointly own and manage the means of production that would be converted from private ownership to public ownership would be inconsistent with the selfish, egoistic or self-centered nature of humans.
And, thirdly, the provision of public goods (such as mass transit, healthcare and retirement benefits) and the subsequent prevention of the operations of private providers would also be inconsistent with the liberty-seeking nature of humans by which individuals seek the freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity.
However, the creation of a society where income and wealth inequalities are minimal is consistent with the equity-seeking nature of humans.
In passing, a comment on the following declaration by Mr. Trump reported by Rodrigo (2019) is perhaps in order at this juncture: “The days of socialism and communism are numbered, not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and Cuba as well.”
The changes in the nature of any given sovereign country’s socioeconomic system and its political, economic and other vital institutions are issues and affairs which national leaders and/or the citizens they represent ought to strive to initiate—suggestively through referenda—without any meddling or interference from other sovereign nations if such changes are to be widely embraced by the people, and if they are to stand the test of time.
Ayres, Crystal, “15 Democratic Socialism Pros and Cons,” Vittana.Org: https://vittana.org/, accessed on July 10, 2019.
Amadeo, Kimberly, “Socialism and Its Characteristics, Pros, Cons, Examples and Types, What It Is, How It Works, Comparison to Capitalism, Communism, [and] Fascism,” The Balance: https://www.thebalance.com/, accessed on May 20, 2019.
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), “What Is Democratic Socialism?” https://www.dsausa.org/, accessed on July 10, 2019.
Fishbein, Rebecca, “Trump Is Really Pushing the Whole ‘America Will Never Be a Socialist Country’ Thing,” Splinter News: https://sprinternews.com/, February 18, 2019.
Plano, Jack C. and Greenberg, Milton, The American Political Dictionary, Ninth Edition (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1993).
Pramuk, Jacob, “Expect Trump to Make More ‘Socialism’ Jabs As He Faces Tough 2020 Re-Election Fight,” https://www.cnbc.com/, February 6, 2019.
Rodrigo, Chris M., “Trump on Venezuela: ‘The Days of Socialism Are Numbered’,” The Hill: https://thehill.com/, February 18, 2019.
Whiting, Brianna, “Democratic Socialism Defined,” Study.Com: https://study.com/, accessed on June 25, 2019.