Someone once wrote to ask a question jarring in its directness: How should we argue against Socialism? It is commonly supposed, of course, that the question of Socialism is a somewhat antique one. We’re past all that, you know; it’s so Eighties. But then one reads or hears something striking enough in its implications, that one is reminded that the issue is very far from settled. It is quite pressing — a menace, even, though it wears new disguises. So perhaps the reader will forgive me my presumption as I endeavor to advise my correspondent on the question of how to argue against Socialism.
To my mind, this is more an undertaking more suitable to the art of Rhetoric than to social science dialectic. It is not a matter of forensics applied to sociology and economics by the purely rational faculties of the mind. It is true enough that reason applied to evidence, in a social-scientific method, has demonstrated the falsity of the architecture of Socialism. Professors Hayek and von Mises did much of that work. But it seems to me that we are not going to repel this menace by statistics alone. Technical reason will not be enough.
Rhetoric — I must confess I am a great admirer of that noble discipline; a greater admirer still because it has fallen of late into such undeserved disrepute. But good rhetoric is always true rhetoric: it is sentiment inspired to vindicate a just cause. Indeed, I think that precisely the problem under examination here — the problem of Socialism — has a great deal do to with the discredit of Rhetoric as an art; and it must be a very real problem indeed if it has cast under suspicion the art whose champions go by names like Cicero, Burke and Lincoln. But the art of Rhetoric has fallen into disrepute because we have forgotten the principle propounded by Aristotle: that what makes a sophist is not his faculty but his moral purpose.
Our task is one for the true rhetorician, who, sensitive at all times that man is a dualistic creature, one that both reasons and feels, may discern paths by which persuasion can be effected. His target will not be man’s reason alone but his sentiment, not merely his head but his gut. His task of persuasion will be directed at the “chest,” as C. S. Lewis put it, the seat of magnanimity, the union of head and gut, “of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiment.” Head and heart in union, reason commanding the persuasive resources of emotion: this is a man in full. Richard Weaver wrote that Rhetoric is, indeed, one of the few arts that speaks to the whole man.
Thus we must aim by means of a true rhetoric to expose Socialism as an ideal, to remove from it the appeal to the emotions of idealism, the nobility of purpose which can so easily overawe the old earthy questions of practice, implementation, unintended consequence. We must expose the false rhetoric behind it, the conceit of the Socialists.
The urgency of this task should be clear to readers here. One of our national parties preaches Socialism, almost nakedly, and the other party can manage only a tepid resistance to it. We have one party which at all times tends, when faced with challenge or opportunity, to augment and enlarge the instruments of the State. That this party has made concessions and compromises with Capitalism does not diminish its essence, for indeed nothing is so certain as that Capitalist enterprises, individually or in groups, may combine with the State, may connive together with it at Socialism in certain sectors, industries, projects. It is an error, to my way of thinking, to suppose that Capitalism cannot coexist with Socialism: often there are strong alliances between firms and the State. In any case, America has a Socialist party and a Capitalist party, the latter of which is partially hamstrung by its acquiescence in the agenda of the former.
All this is merely to establish why I think Socialism is a real menace. We have one party that wants it, and another that can’t really get up the nerve to say no. So: How to argue against Socialism?
We must abolish the ideal of Socialism. Deprive it of the aura of Noble Ideal, which our intellectuals, in their folly, granted it, and it will whither. The power of the Socialist is his deceitful appeal to the assumed nobility of his ideal.
It will hardly matter to the Socialist Rhetorician that Socialism “doesn’t work,” for his concern is not with what works and what does not; rather, his concern to conjure ideals, sweet, intoxicating ideals, and project them onto a blank screen as it were, isolated from concrete history and daily life. His purpose is to summon castles in the sky, and from these deduce a grand sweeping, unreal critique, now implicit, now explicit, of reality. In this glow of unreality the critique appears unanswerable. Therefore he will point to those who go hungry, or those whose sickness could be but is not alleviated, or to any number of vivid privations — all with pressing implication that his system, Socialism, can end the privations. This is a cunning rhetorical device. He is not engaging in dialectics, in a learned discourse, a sober weighing of means and ends on the question of which philosophy ought to guide our political economy. He aims rather at stimulating our passionate but unguided sentiment; guilt, mostly. For him what is important is that our emotions are troubled, that we feel the bite of personal mortification in perceiving our own comfort and plenty in contrast to what other lack. And, since he is still, as yet, a merely hypothetical character, I feel no qualms about imputing to him motives of a baser sort. I say, then, that he aims to mislead our sentiment, and thereby subvert our reason.
The method of the Socialist Rhetorician, in fine, is to subtly force a decisive comparison between ideal and practice, namely, between the ideal of Socialism and the practice of Capitalism. He is the quintessential sophist of Aristotle’s dictum. His moral purpose is dubious because his rhetoric hinges on a deceit. He will not play fair; he is a cheat. He has put everything at the service of his politics, including any sense of honorable argumentation. Or maybe he no longer remembers what that is.
Anyway, the state of rhetoric in our day can be pretty well suggested by the fact that this simple principle of discrepancy must be repeated unceasingly. Actual Capitalism is confronted by a bright shiny imaginary ideal. The Inquisitor of Unreality approaches. The tangled mess of actual contemporary American medicine must compete with Free Health Care for All. The ever-human recklessness and greed of speculators is set against the image of the Perfectly Regulated Financial Sector. That a sophist can get away quite easily with an unaccountable shift or elision from ideal to reality, and back again, as often as is needful to his designs, tells us that men are not trained properly. Stable sentiment has not been cultivated in them sufficient enough to recognize and call out a dirty trick when it appears. Our Rhetoric is insufficient to the challenge of the promoters of a system with means our servility.
What I should like to recommend to my correspondent, who so boldly demanded how to argue against the Servile State which is Socialism, is this.
He should forget attacking Socialism because it doesn’t work (the politics of it), and begin attacking it on its own principles (the philosophy guiding it). Admittedly this is a greater burden on the intellect, but I believe my correspondent is up to the challenge. What he must demonstrate is that Socialism is evil even if it does what it says it will do; that to destroy the principle of private property is to amputate an irreplaceable part of what it means to be human, what it means to labor and create and be fruitful; in religious terms, that it is a heresy, an innovation that will annihilate, a revolt against the nature of man and the natural order of the world; in short, that it fails not because it doesn’t work, but rather it doesn’t work because it fails — fails utterly to reflect in any meaningful way the truth about Man and Society.