On the other hand, the policy agenda favored by nearly everyone on the American left resembles more than anything else the political, social, and economic arrangements that prevail in northern Europe, and especially in Denmark. Is Denmark a socialist country? If it is, then there is no meaningful distinction between socialism and liberal democracy — at least when the liberal democracy has a generous welfare state and a modestly regulated, mixed market economy. Given the political history of the United States, doesn’t it make more sense for the left to understand itself, and to explain itself to voters, by making connections with the Democratic Party’s own record of advocating for just such an expansive form of liberalism (rather than “socialism”)?
What the left really seems to want is a return to the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt — a New Deal 2.0 for the 21st century.
Well, yes. To the extent that the American left can be said to have any serious ideas and proposals for achieving their objectives, as opposed to a vague collection of postures and grievances, it seems clear that they’re motivated by nostalgia for the decades between the New Deal and the Great Society. Of course, those golden years produced a generation of spoiled brats who were convinced that they had grown up in a tyrannical dystopia that needed to be burnt to the ground, so, given that human nature hasn’t dramatically changed in the meantime, I’m not sure why people think we’d be any more likely to appreciate a reinvigorated welfare state this time around. Still, though, it’s true that most of the inane chatter about “socialism” is either fear-mongering or status-signaling. The invasive managerial state grows in tandem with technological sophistication toward a Brave New World future regardless of which party is in power. Like generals fighting the last war, political junkies rehash century-old arguments over socialism and laissez-faire as if it’s relevant. Even the wispy fantasy of a Danish-style social democracy dissipates on contact with cultural and demographic realities.
Yet, as Kristian Niemietz has observed on his side of the ocean, people who used to claim to only want to see their society become a little more like Scandinavia or Germany have held a finger to the prevailing cultural winds and started signaling their affinity for something more extreme. (Thankfully, we seem to be behind the trend over here.) Sure, Owen Jones and most of his fellow Guardianistas have always been fatuous fools. And sure, despite the fact that it would be impossible to imagine teen and ladies‘ fashion outlets fawning over anyone who proudly proclaimed herself on TV to be a national socialist (“I’m literally a Nazi, you idiot!”), it’s also clear that Sarkar is embarrassingly ignorant about what she’s actually saying; she’s only bright enough to recognize a high-status opinion that will win her praise from her peers. But slippery slopes have to start somewhere, and the bromides that pass for received wisdom among cultural elites seems like as good a place as any. Why are we, especially those of us who don’t believe in any sort of Whiggish progression to history, supposed to rest assured that experiments with extreme leftism could never happen again?
Which brings us to the real point — as Jordan Peterson was recently wondering, what is the limiting principle of the left? How far is too far in pursuit of equality? Why do so many people still believe in some Platonic ideal of “true” socialism, existing outside of space and time, independent of all the failed attempts made on Earth to realize it? Why are we supposed to believe that a New Deal 2.0 would be enough, and not a springboard for a renewed drive to eliminate all inequalities? Regardless of how overblown the rhetoric surrounding socialism may be in our political environment, one can still be wary of the unreconstructed left-wing longing for utopia. Too bad our fellow travelers never had to go through the equivalent of denazification after the fall of the USSR.