Despite obvious philosophical differences, George Orwell and Ayn Rand had a lot in common as novelists: they both cranked everything up to eleven and whacked you over the head with it to make sure you got their points. Their characters are cartoonish, their plot lines are simple, their morality is black and white. They aren’t telling stories as much as delivering homilies: they’re not so much storytellers as they are preachers.
And they were a couple of damned good fire-and-brimstone preachers.
But one thing that’s always troubled me about both of them is the nakedness of their villains’ will to power—whether to wield it or accommodate it. Few of them seem to genuinely give a damn about anything besides their own welfare, their own power and position. That’s certainly a strain of wickedness worthy of contempt, but it leaves out the very worst sorts of tyrant.
I think C.S. Lewis nailed it with a passage I’ve cited repeatedly in the past:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
“Omnipotent moral buysbodies” is a tolerable description of the modern left, and there’s plenty of evidence that they’re perfectly willing to torment us for our own good—all the more horrible in that, bereft of any foundational morality, they’re making it up as they go along.
The leftism of today is a boot stomping on a human face, forever, for its own good.
Hold those thoughts.
Editor-in-Chief Tom Jensen had an opinion piece in Sunday’s Berlingske in which he wondered whether the voters of Copehagen and Frederiksberg so enamored of Enhedlisten (EL)—the red-green political party usually translated into English as “The Unity List” (the eponymous unity presumably that between communists and environmentalists)—have ever read the party’s program of principles.
Tom Jensen has read it, and was kind enough to share what he learned.
What happens when the socialist revolution’s troops come knocking
Tom Jensen, Berlingske.dk, Nov 28
Jensen begins by spilling a whole lot of ink explaining that he’s not one of those rightists that’s frightened of socialism. He explains that in his own experience it’s actually socialists who tend to be more frightened of the right than vice versa. He works very hard to establish himself as a reasonable person in the mind of the reader (whether he succeeds probably depends on the individual reader).
He then describes the innocuous language with which EL’s revolutionary program is written and points out how its reverence for democratic processes is undermined by policies that could in no way be peacefully or democratically enacted.
Here’s the opening paragraph of Enhedslitsten’s Program of Principles (I’m using unadulterated GoogleTranslate translations to try and be as neutral as possible):
The program of principles is the ideological basis for Enhedslisten. In it, we define our socialist values and visions, our perception of the capitalist society we live in, our strategy for socialist social change and our principles of daily political work.
A few paragraphs later:
Inequality is growing and the environment is being destroyed, both globally and locally. This is because our society today is designed and governed according to how to create the most possible profit. Where the purpose of producing food, clothing, building homes and creating new technologies is to make money and create profits for very few people rather than meet the needs we have as human beings. It is the pursuit of profit for the few that characterizes the capitalist society we live in.
That’s the stuff! The profit motive is destroying the world just to make a few people rich.
(Translation note: Google translated “ganske få personer” as “quite a few people,” which is exactly the opposite of the intended meaning in Danish, so I had to intervene and change it to “very few.”)
The idea that we’re all getting up and going about our busy days to make money and profit for our overlords is a little dramatic, but let’s not get hung up on that. Not yet.
History has shown that we can change the world when there are many of us working for it. Enhedslisten consists of people who have joined together to create a better society for the benefit of the general population. A society where democracy applies to all sections of society, including the economy, and where solidarity encompasses all. A socialist society.
Leaning on history to support the premise of socialist societies as places where “democracy applies to all sections of society” and “solidarity encompasses all” may not have been the optimal move here, given the observable history of socialism, but let’s also not get hung up on that: the point being made is that a socialist society is good for everyone and Enhedslisten is working for all of us because they care.
The document then spends several paragraphs describing the virtues of the “freedom in fellowship” enabled by socialism, then launches into a rant against the vices of capitalism. This goes on for several pages.
It then pirhouettes nicely to an attack on the “the pursuit of profit:”
The pursuit of profit means that it is not human needs that determine which products to create. For example, far more research is being done into the development of beauty products for consumers in the rich part of the world than in the diseases that kill hundreds of thousands in the poor part of the world.
The underlying logic of this paragraph is a little opaque, but it’s significant and worthy of attention. When Enhedslisten says that the profit motive is not based on human needs (menneskers behov), they’re making themselves the judges of what is and what is not a human need, and where, and to what extent. My daughters’ perceived “need” for lip gloss and mascara is not a legitimate human need; a sick Somalian child’s need for medicine is. That sounds entirely reasonable, as indeed it is, but the principle is emphatically unreasonable. Healing the sick is certainly better than darkening the eyelashes or shining up the lips of the heathy, but the world is a vast and complicated place and few decisions are this easy.
Thomas Sowell’s definition of economics is worth bearing in mind: the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses. There are, for example, no pharmaceutical or biotech companies using resources necessary for the production of medicine to crank out mascara. You could shut down the beauty industry tomorrow, and it would have no impact on the accessibility of medicine to the world’s poor. The resources being allocated for Maybelline to produce mascara are not being withheld from Novo Nordisk’s efforts to produce a covid pill.
The juxtaposition of sick children on the one hand and make-up on the other makes for a stark example, but if “human needs” aren’t going to be addressed by a free(ish) market, as they are under the model we call “capitalism,” how are they going to be addressed? Is Enhedslisten prepared to write up a prioritized list of all human needs? What ranks higher, anti-Malarial medicine or ACE inhibitors? Asthma inhalers or antibiotics? Lip gloss or shampoo? Butter or milk?
And how is a socialist Denmark to weigh the needs of the foreign poor against Denmark’s own poor?
See how quickly this gets complicated beyond the capacity for human design?
The pursuit of profit is not the problem, but the solution. It gets everyone looking around for a way to profit by serving the needs of other people. After all, you can’t make a living providing things nobody wants.
Apparently, however, you can get a lot of votes for a party pitching a society nobody would want to live in.
Tom Jensen notes that Enhedslisten’s opposition to capitalism is not a sentiment widely shared on the Danish left, and that in fact probably only 10-15% of the Danish population is actually opposed to capitalism (however they define it). This only underscores his concern, given the number of voters this forthrightly socialist party picked up in the recent election. (About which more in a moment.)
Now that we’ve had a taste of Enhedlisten’s principles, let’s cut straight to the passage that apparently inspired Jensen’s piece. It’s a passage from the section entitled “Democratic economy,” and here it is:
A new and truly democratic system of society presupposes fundamental changes in the ownership of the means of production, such as companies, land, and natural resources. Here, collective property forms will become dominant. That is why we’re working for public authorities, employees, local communities, and other associations of people to own and run companies. The capitalist exploitation, where the few live off the work of the many, must be abolished. It is crucial that societal sectors are owned and controlled by the community. This means that economic power is managed by the people and its elected representatives.
Bada-bing. This isn’t cute and cuddly Scandinavian welfare-state “socialism:” this is the real shit.
Now to Jensen:
This is where the questions line up. For when the representatives of the political majority knock on the door of the business owner or landowner (which, as you know, includes everyone with a house and garden) to confiscate his property and hand it over to the community, what happens when the landowner replies: “You can forget all about that, because it’s my property!” and slams the door shut on the troops of the revolution?
Well, it may be that the President of Enhedslisten’s Central Committee during the revolutionary change of society asks the sitting National Chief of Police to draw up an action card, which states that “one is very sorry to hear that, but the decision has been made. Failure to cooperate will therefore mean that you can expect the authorities to come and confiscate your property anyway.”
If against that backdrop the citizen still resists, and surely many of us would, what happens then? How does Enhedslisten imagine that its preconceived social upheaval can ever take place without violence, coercion and tyrannical exercise of power?
Jensen then concludes:
The answer is that it is impossible to imagine. Therefore, it is most convenient not to touch the subject. On the other hand, it is good public service to Denmark’s growing crowd of Enhedslisten voters to draw attention to it.
It is hereby done.
Jensen didn’t just idly wake up one morning and leaf through Enhedslisten’s anachronistic Program of Principles on a lark: he did so because in the election earlier this month, this party got 24.6% of the vote in Copenhagen and 17,6% of the vote in historically conservative Frederiksberg.
And saying so is precisely the kind of thing that gets the left to accuse one of “socialistphobia,” which is almost certainly why Jensen spent so much time at the top of his column disarming such accusations (“I know many fine, excellent, and sympathetic socialists. I have some of them in my circle of friends—and in the family”).
I too know many fine and sympathetic socialists, and I too have many in my circle of friends. (I don’t believe I have any avowed socialists in my family—so far.)
As he writes: “It isn’t socialists that frighten me. It’s the ideas of socialism that can occasionally give me a sleepless night. (Even if only figuratively.)”
The problem with socialism is that few people will actually defend it for what it is, because the people agitating most strenuously for it are masters of the bait-and-switch. They’re selling socialism, but they slap a shiny label on it, wrap it up in colorful cellophane, and tie it all off in pretty bows. It’s the same old poison, but the label says “NEW AND IMPROVED!” and the celebrity endorser swears that it’s really, really good for you!
It’s almost refreshing to read something as bald and frank as a principle for the confiscation of private property: but if the quarter of Copenhageners who voted for EL did so because they support the principles set out in EL’s document, it’s not just refreshing but terrifying.
But to see it called out by the editor-in-chief of Berlingske is heartening.
Now if only he’d use that same pair of eyes to take a look across the Atlantic—he just might be surprised at the alarming direction in which the American left has been going under cover of resisting the Dread Tyrant Trump.
Same boots, different feet…
The trouble with capitalism is capitalists, but the trouble with socialism is socialism, as Bill Buckley often said (quoting William Schlamm IIRC).
I know several people who voted for Enhedslisten. All are very nice and caring people, and none of them have given a moment’s thought to either the party program or to the implementation details of it. They just vote with their hearts not their minds. And somewhere in the back there is a Lenin type just waiting for the right moment…