“Always in motion is the future.”
-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
Hey, remember when Bernie Sanders was a socialist? Then, he and his supporters clarified that, no, he’s a democratic socialist, oh wow man, cool, oh wait, J/K, he’s a social democrat?
Sanders’ overriding philosophy is not so complex. He should not be given too much credit, and it is ironic that his supporters place so much faith in his vision – he can’t even properly define his own ideology! He’s transitioned as often as David Bowie re-invented himself in the early and mid-1970s.
But this is par for the course. It reflects the very nature of what Sanders is trying to foist on us.
The argument from those who have felt the Bern goes like this: we already live in a social democracy, because for generations, national parks, libraries, public education and emergency services have been provided by government, and those are all good things, and we also have welfare and age entitlement programs, and nobody says no to their Social Security check or when government picks up the tab for healthcare, therefore all of these things should be expanded because bigger is better.
A social democracy may be able to function for an extended period of time if an overwhelming majority of the populace regularly chooses it via elections; if the populace is culturally homogenous and socially cohesive; and if markets are allowed to remain unfettered, or if a country enjoys vast deposits of natural resources, so that enough wealth is generated from which to fund a country’s social programs without running long-term deficits. These are all big ifs.
(“Social democracy” is such a vague term it may as well be meaningless. It’s as though leftist linguistics got in a room to answer the question, “What is the most harmless phrase we can use to market soft totalitarianism to an ignorant populace, and how can we make it so broad that literally anything in public life can fit inside its purview?”)
What Sanders is selling, then, isn’t a reformation of our “rigged economy” or “free college” or “social justice” or “a strengthened safety net.” No, what Sanders is selling is transition. Social democracy is not an endpoint; it is moving away from private enterprise and choice towards a mixed economy and central planning. Does anyone really think, whether they be his most ardent supporters or his most strident critics, that Sanders will settle for raising taxes by only five or ten points on the wealthy, a few more regulations of Wall Street, and some modest increases in welfare and entitlement benefits? Sanders is not even the last of his kind; behind him is another just like him who will demand more of the same until complete justice has been achieved, until we’ve reached the teleological conclusion of history… which is a moment that can never come. There is no fixed point. There is no socialist utopia, only a carrot at the end of a stick. But to the social justice warrior, this is a blessing in disguise; it’s job security. You can’t have justice without grievances, and there will always be grievances because life is unfair and a large portion of humans belabor under childish mentalities of what is fair and unfair, what is right and wrong, what is equality and inequality.
But what do you expect from Sanders? His ideology is based on a man who believed the steam engine represented the end of technological advancement.
It wouldn’t make much sense for a politician’s campaign slogan to be, “Everything’s Great!” It is common for the slogan for a presidential re-election campaign to be “Four More Years!” but for contemporary politicians to win office, they have to point out a lost past glory and/or contemporary injustice or grievance that will be rectified in the future. A politician is a salesman whose commodity is future happiness.
Bernie Sanders is no different and what he is selling are promises he could never deliver while sowing lies about the reasons for prosperity Americans enjoyed in the mid-20th century. His policy proposals are carbon copies of those from the 1930s, he confuses and conflates causalities, and he advocates a future economy and relationship between the individual and the state similar to those that have failed in the not too distant past, that are failing currently, and will fail.
In his new book The Fractured Republic, Yuval Levin writes –
“Indeed, this outdated model for solving problems is what now stands out most about the social-democratic vision that implicitly guides the American Left: although it offers itself up as a vision of the future, it is an anachronism. It is how the past used to think about the future.”
This refusal to ever consider the benefits of the present while conveying a narrative of misleading information about the past and promises of a future utopia is simply self-anachrony. In other words, social democrats, democratic socialists, socialists, or whatever their nom de jour, can only rail against the present because they view the past and the future through a the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side lens. And this is exactly why attempting to implement democratic socialism in the United States is a fool’s errand.
“It is anachronistic in three ways above all. First, the social-democratic vision takes a degree of social cohesion for granted that is no longer realistic. Our chief welfare-state institutions were in large part built at two high points of American cultural and political consolidation, the 1930s and the 1960s. They therefore assume a level of stability and social order that we can no longer assume. That means they don’t work to create such order, and in fact that they frequently undermine it – especially by creating incentives against family formation and work. In our time, society’s concern for those who have been displaced in modern life must not take forms that further alienate those very Americans from the broader society. Today’s welfare state too often does just that…
Second, our welfare state also looks and functions like the institutions of a bygone age. It often still embodies the modernizing assumption that more advanced institutions will be larger and more consolidated, rather than the postmodernizing assumption that more advanced institutions will be nimbler and more responsive, customizable, and adaptable. Progressive public institutions took the shapes they did in response to the shape that the larger society and its economic, social, and cultural institutions were taking. As those other institutions are transformed, our public institutions will need to start taking new shapes, too.
Finally, the social-democratic vision points back to a fundamentally anachronistic epistemology, or theory of knowledge. At the core of the original progressive vision was the idea that in order for government to be effective, political and administrative functions…would have to be separated. Politics would continue to answer to the fundamentally competitive electoral logic of our democracy, while administration would answer to a separate and fundamentally technocratic managerial logic. In this view, the most effective way to regulate and manage a complex modern society was for the legitimately elected government to empower social scientists to employ their centralized expert knowledge…”
Sanders and his supporters, like any and all Marxists, are infused with teleological sentiments. Ironically, it is an inclination that does more to undermine their agenda than serve it. The points of teleological philosophy originally discussed by Plato tended the purpose of an object. An object has a “final cause,” a function that dictates its incorporation into existence. Teleology was then perverted by Hegel and Marx so that time itself has a teleology, a destination. Marx believed capitalism was bound to collapse under its own excesses (How Marxism hasn’t collapsed under its own delusions I’ll never understand). They discarded the application of teleology from the tangible in favor of the intangible. But, they labor under a delusion; Marx did not accurately understand his own time, so of course his vision of the future would be corrupted. There is no destination where justice and equality reside. How and why should you take a corporeal movement seriously when its driving underpinnings are the metaphysical?
The arc of the moral universe does not bend towards justice. Rather, it is a straight line, decorated with peaks and valleys, blips of grievances and redresses.
“Timeless” is an archaic synonym for “untimely.” If any word describes the utopia provided by Marxism and its derivatives, it is untimely, as in it cannot exist. There is a timelessness to socialism and communism: the states that operate with these pernicious ideologies either fail because their economies collapse due to the burden of public spending, or due to the ineptitude of social planners, or both. Democratic socialism is failing the people in the European countries that labor under its delusional ideology. Marxism is itself timeless. It has stood the test of time in that it has not yet been relegated to the dustbin of history; it maintains old adherents and somehow gains new ones, despite any and all data to the contrary of its feasibility.
Sanders, his supporters, and social democracy are never of the present. It is apt that he calls his movement a revolution, since it implies civilization in flux, but that is what it can and always will be. There will be no settling down, this fluidity is a feature of the system, not a bug. There is no destination, only a journey, and eventually the road will reach its terminus, and underneath there will only be air.