The State Embeds
Socialism, says the Wikipedia article:
is an economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy. "Social ownership" may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them. They differ in the type of social ownership they advocate, the degree to which they rely on markets or planning, how management is to be organised within productive institutions, and the role of the state in constructing socialism.
The co-operative approach to social ownership was always around and the co-operative movement has a distinguished history (and hopefully future) but Socialism came to be associated with a lumbering state, bureaucratic, overarching, overbearing.
In a geopolitical world recast by World War II, Socialism developed into very distinct strands across the northern world, spread from east to west, on a spectrum from those who laid claim to the teachings of Marx, through the Social Democracy of Western Europe and Britain, through to the New Deal and Great Society programmes in the States. In post-WWII, to very different extents and in its very broadest definition, Socialism became embedded in the mainstream political assumptions of all the industrialised northern nations.
Socialism’s programmes brought betterment to generations. It raised millions out of the misery and insecurity of the preceding century and established the first universal public services. Undreamed of standards of living were being reached, driven by a great post-war technological advance and industrial expansion, which, combined with careful, nurturing government, distributed wealth commonly as never before. People could work themselves out of poverty into a much better situation.
In the blur of all this, the fundamental question of the individual’s freedom and economic rights were lost sight of, as the scale of states and industries and arsenals and strategies and onerous, dizzying responsibilities, grew bigger and bigger. And everywhere, to different extents, governments, and people, grew used to the idea that the people needed to be cared for, and this could only be achieved through wise and strong governance for their own good, that society is dependent on their expert leadership and direction. The welfare state developed, in response to the logic of the prevailing economic orthodoxy, which would naturally exclude swathes of society from its bounty.
But it wasn’t to run schools and hospitals, coal and steel industries, that the state in the West started to change in nature. The real driver of the growth of the power of state, and the gradual change in relationship between government and people would be the militarism that, once roused by the World Wars, wouldn’t then be discarded. This most terrible genie, that had tasted such awesome power, could not go back in the bottle, and its voracious demands poison the world’s relations.
George Orwell’s essay You And The Atom Bomb, in 1945 saw what it meant, a very interesting article about technology and society.
And arms had been needed to defend this precious jewel called Democracy against the obvious threat of tyranny, and they would continue to be needed, more and more so. Though the West is always described as Democratic, its politicians always talk about Democracy, Democracy never really much happened anywhere, though some models are much closer than others. Britain’s constitutional arrangements are just what they are, as tumbling history has made them. As we’re realising, democracy in Britain was conditional right from the start.
Elections are decided by actually a very small number, the floating voters in those constituencies that might change hands. For most people there’s not much feeling of involvement in a democracy – where to put this X every five years - that it even matters to vote one way or another, because it won’t count towards anything. It’s a blunt and unresponsive, uninclusive system. But when there was a referendum to keep the current electoral system or adopt something a little more responsive, the British people voted to keep the status quo. There it is.
Right from the very start, America’s founding fathers designed a republican constitution, rather than a democratic one, for fear of the rabble. President James Madison said that the scheme of government was to:
. . . refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.
We should coco. He also said:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary.