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Salvo 08.09.2022 8 minutes

Socialism and the Great Reset

CDU

America must sink so the world may rise.

Editors’ Note

The following is an excerpt from Michael Walsh’s forthcoming book, Against the Great Reset: Eighteen Theses Contra the New World Order, which will be published by Bombardier Books and be available October 18, 2022. Walsh has gathered a series of essays from among eighteen of the most eminent thinkers, writers, and journalists—including the American Mind’s own James Poulos, as well as Claremont Senior Fellows Michael Anton and the late Angelo Codevilla—to provide the first major salvo in the intellectual resistance to the sweeping restructuring of the western world by globalist elites. See Michael Walsh’s original entry here.”

It has become increasingly common to hear those on what we may call the conventional Right claim that the main threat facing the historic American nation and the American way of life is “socialism.” These warnings have grown with the rise of the so-called “Great Reset,” ostensibly a broad effort to reduce inequality, cool the planet (i.e., “address climate change”), and cure various social ills, all by decreasing alleged “overconsumption.” In other words, its mission is to persuade people, at least in the developed West, to accept lower standards of living in order to create a more just and “equitable” world. Since the conservative mind, not unreasonably, associates lower standards of living with “socialism,” many conservatives naturally intuit that the Great Reset must somehow be “socialist.”

I believe this fear is at least partly misplaced and that the warnings it gives rise to, however well-meaning, are counterproductive because they deflect attention from the truer, greater threat: specifically, the cabal of bankers, techies, corporate executives, politicians, senior bureaucrats, academics, and pundits who coalesce around the World Economic Forum and seek to change, reduce, restrict, and homogenize the Western way of life—but only for ordinary people. Their own way of life, along with the wealth and power that define it, they seek to entrench, augment, deepen, and extend.

This is why a strict or literal definition of “socialism”—public or government ownership and control of the means of production in order to equalize incomes and wealth across the population—is inapt to our situation. The Great Reset quietly but unmistakably redefines “socialism” to allow and even promote wealth and power concentration in certain hands. In the decisive sense, then, the West’s present economic system—really, its overarching regime—is the opposite of
socialistic.

Yet there are ways in which this regime might still be tentatively described as “socialist,” at least as it operates for those not members in good standing of the Davoisie. If the Great Reset is allowed to proceed as planned, wealth for all but the global overclass will be equalized, or at least reduced for the middle and increased for the bottom. Many of the means used to accomplish this goal will be “socialistic,” broadly understood. But to understand both the similarities and the differences, we must go back to socialism’s source, which is the thought of Karl Marx and his colleague, financial backer, and junior partner, Friedrich Engels.

That thought is most accessible in Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, the jointly authored Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), and Engels’s pamphlet “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” (1880). Marxism’s detailed account of economics is fully developed in the monumental Capital (Das Kapital), published in three volumes between 1867 and 1894. Marx and Engels do not claim to be innovators. They insist rather that they merely discovered and explicate the “scientific” theory of socialism, whose true roots are to be found in the unfolding development of “history.”

Marxism

A word ought to be said about the difference between “communism” and “socialism.” The distinction is not always clear in Marx’s and Engels’s works. Often, they use both terms interchangeably. Engels, especially, seems to elide the two, particularly in “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” But we may perhaps take as authoritative the distinction made in the Manifesto. There, the two authors contrast true communism with various forms of socialism—feudal, petty-bourgeois, German, conservative, and critical-utopian—all of which they find wanting, at best milestones on the road to communism.

It is unnecessary for our purposes here to recount Marx’s and Engels’s distinctions between the various forms of socialism. Suffice it to say that, in their account, all of those varieties constitute cynical or at any rate inconsequential concessions to the lower classes, intended to stave off the emergence of full communism and to preserve ruling class status and privileges. The “socialism” with which we are most familiar today—high and progressive taxation, a generous welfare state, nationalization of key services such as health care, an expansive list of state-guaranteed “rights,” combined with the retention of private property and private ownership of most means of production—Marx and Engels deride as “bourgeois socialism,” i.e., not only not the real thing but fundamentally closer to bourgeois capitalism than to true socialism, much less communism.

Marxism and “History”

For Marx and Engels, the ground of both socialism and communism is “history,” understood not as an account of past events, conditions, structures, and trends but as an inexorable movement toward a final, fully rational state, with “state” understood as both “state of being” and the formal machinery of government. The discovery of this notion of “history” is implicit in Rousseau’s account of man’s transition from the state of nature—man’s original and natural, in the sense of “default,” condition—to civil society. For Rousseau, that transition was both a decline and one-way: there is no going back. This change in man’s situation, which putatively changes his nature, is the core of what would come to be called “historicism”: the idea that human nature is not constant but variable according to the historical situation. In this understanding, “history,” and not any purported but nonexistent permanent human nature as posited by all prior philosophy, both determines the organization of society and supplies the standard by which man should live.

For Rousseau, man’s transition from the state of nature to civil society is caused by the discovery or development of his rationality, a latent quality always present in humanity but not active in the state of nature, in which men live more or less as beasts. What distinguishes man from the beasts is his freedom, his awareness of and ability to act on that freedom, and the potential to develop his rationality. The “unlocking” of that rationality is perhaps inevitable but at the same
time accidental or inadvertent. Once unlocked, human rationality inevitably leads to the invention of private property, which is the basis of all politics. “The first person who, having fenced off ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society,” Rousseau writes in his Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality among Men.

Private property necessarily gives rise to institutions designed to protect and defend it, and these become not only the instruments of civil society but also sources of inequality and misery. Implicit in Rousseau’s thought is the unsettling notion that, once this historical process begins, it has no end or rational direction. History is driven by contradiction and conflict—though, he asserts, human beings can still live more or less happily if isolated from urban wealth and corruption. But such circumstances are rare and the products of chance. History in the main is the endless replacement of one set of standards and modes of life for new ones, one set of masters for another, ad infinitum.

Rousseau’s successors, principally Kant and Hegel, accept the notion that history is driven by conflict but posit that the process nonetheless has a rational direction. History’s inherent and inevitable conflicts point forward and upward toward a final state in which all of history’s contradictions are resolved. It is this alleged insight—popularized in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Francis Fukuyama—upon which Marx and Engels build their political and economic theory.

For Marxism, the fundamental fact of human life—what sets man apart from the other living beings—is conscious production and consumption. Marx partly follows Rousseau in believing that there was a period when man could, essentially, “live off the land,” on what he could find and gather. But whereas for Rousseau, man’s transition from the state of nature to civil society was an avoidable or at any rate accidental and unnecessary tragedy, for Marx it was inevitable and, eventually, will turn out all to the good.

Unlike producing animals (for instance, bees) man’s production is conscious. He knows what he does and why he does it. But this consciousness does not arise from any innate rationality but rather from necessity. Population increase forces man to produce—that is, to manipulate nature rather than simply living off its bounty—in order to survive. (The implication is that nature is barely bountiful enough to support a limited number of primitive men but must be “conquered” in order to support the inevitably larger numbers that will emerge absent some external force that consistently culls the population.) This turn to production represents a fundamental change in man’s being and is the first step in his historical development.

From this point forward, the character of man and of every society he inhabits is set by the mode(s) of production. Such modes not only determine but explain, literally, everything about human life: man’s past, present, and future; his theology, morality, and worldview; and the underlying metaphysics and ontology of reality. Thus can Marx claim that his theory is comprehensive…

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