Sunday, November 27, 2016
Socialism - Is it American? by William Starr Myers 1919
Socialism - Is it Americanism? by William Starr Myers 1919 [Professor of History and Politics, Princeton University]
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It is rather interesting and curious to find that a great many of the people who have taken literally President Wilson’s declaration that we must make the world safe for democracy are also making it their business to spill a sort of altruism over the entire world. They are so busy attempting to spread democracy that they are not always certain in their own minds, it seems, as to what you mean by democracy. In fact, many of their confreres are extremely active just at the present time in trying to so transform their own country that they go to prove that they have very little confidence in the brand of democracy that we usually have known as American. In other words, they are trying to change our government from a democratic government into an autocratic one, from an American government into one modeled on European paternalism. That is, they are trying, whether by fair means or foul, whether openly or secretly, whether in an acknowledged way or tacitly, to put us upon a socialistie basis. And socialism, to my mind, is not only un-American, but it is undemocratic.
Of course, in discussing such a thing as socialism, the first difficulty we have is to get a definition of socialism. I know a great many socialists, and seldom do you find them agreeing upon what socialism is. It is just about as hard as trying to define religion. But, by talking with a number of socialists, we work out a definition which they are willing to accept, and it is this: that socialism is the government ownership of manufacture and distribution of all forms of wealth; and by that they mean the manufacture and distribution, that is, the production and transportation, of all forms of wealth; not merely in the sense of money, but in the sense of anything that is for the economic good of man or his welfare and enjoyment.
If we are going upon that basis, where the state takes over the means of manufacture, distribution, transportation and such, it means inevitably that we are going to substitute a government judgment for the individual emulation and competition, and it will become the duty of the government to decide how people shall be happy and what their measure of happiness shall be. Now, it seems to me that just as soon as you undertake to substitute a government judgment for the individual judgment, you are on ground that is anything except American, because if the Government is to decide as to the happiness of the individual, of course it first relieves him of all responsibility. In a socialistic state there is not the same responsibility of citizenship as you find in democracy, like America.
It seems to me that after all ambition is not only right, but it is one of the most valuable attributes of the human mind. Because what is ambition? Is not ambition just like any other thing—the greater the value of it the greater is the wrong when it is wrongly used, the greater is the abuse? Is not ambition, after all, the desire for greater service? And, mark you, what is every business man trying to do in order to increase his business? He is trying to appeal to the service of the public, public service, in order that, by serving the public, he may increase his business. Ambition is not only one of the most valuable but one of the most necessary human attributes.
What is the object of the American government? It is to give equality of opportunity. As the Declaration of Independence said, men are born free and have equal rights to the pursuit—not to the gift of happiness but to the pursuit—of happiness. The object of our Government is common equality of opportunity for each individual to work out his own salvation. To have to work it out in the business sense, the economical sense, and the spiritual sense. You cannot legislate men's happiness.
Again, socialism is essentially un-Christian. I bring this up because I have a great many friends who call themselves Christian Socialists. To my mind Socialism and Christianity are mutually exclusive terms. The whole appeal of the Christian religion is to individual impulse and to individual responsibility. We hear in church that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Giving is democratic. Sitting back and receiving the results of somebody else's work is socialism. I defy any socialist to show how the socialist state will call forth love from the human heart, because that comes from the well spring of the heart and not by outward direction. Parents who are successful in training their children usually do it by appealing to the love in their hearts, and not by outward direction.
Socialism is also opposed to the Jewish religion, which is the foundation on which the Christian religion is based. It is the fact that the Christian and Jewish religions, which are the same in essence, appeal to the individual responsibility; that, to my mind makes them the highest form of religion; and it is not socialism.
Democratic government is a government of cooperation, the working together of individuals. The socialists are strong on cooperation. There is one thing they are extremely fond of, and that is cooperation, but it is a word they have no right to use, because cooperation is the working together, the result of individual impulse. Socialism is working together as the result of government and outward direction. That is the difference between socialism and the cooperation with which men worked together in the Liberty Loans. Democracy is working together through an inward impulse; socialism, through an outward direction.
I hold no brief for the labor man, but I have learned this, that if you take the average labor man, and talk to him, he will say that he likes certain things in socialism; but, to come right down to facts, you will find that he likes working together, cooperation. And when you say to him, “Are you willing to go on the socialistic basis, where the state determines each wage and job and so on?" he will say, “No!” He will say he wants to cooperate. It is the word cooperation that catches his imagination.