Socialism: A Clear and Present Danger

COMMENTARY Progressivism

Socialism: A Clear and Present Danger

Oct 11, 2019 3 min read

Former Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought

Lee Edwards is a leading historian of American conservatism and the author or editor of 25 books.
Socialism’s central philosophical weakness is its dependence upon the errant thought of its founder, Karl Marx. Pictured: statues of Karl Marx on display in Trier, Germany.. Hannelore Foerster / Stringer / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The national polls continue to show that a large majority of millennials have a favorable view of socialism.

Socialism has failed in every country where it has been tried.

We must educate the rising generation about the true costs of socialism, and not just in dollars and cents.

A perilous possibility now confronts us—the conversion of America, the leading capitalist nation in the world, into a socialist state. Impossible, you say? Consider the following. 

The national polls continue to show that a large majority of millennials have a favorable view of socialism. A near majority favor the “compassion” of socialism over capitalism which, they argue, is indifferent to the needs of the people, especially those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt)—an avowed socialist—and the equally “progressive” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) continue to run strong in the presidential primaries; their combined support is close to 40 percent among Democrats polled. Younger Americans cheer their promises of universal health care and free education, while brushing aside the proposals’ trillion-dollar price tag.   

Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) support government ownership of industries whose products are viewed as “necessities” (railroads, coal mines, social media, who knows?). They say that, to the greatest extent possible, government should “democratize” private businesses—that is, give control of them to workers. “Socialism,” says a member of DSA’s national steering committee, “is the democratization of all areas of life, including but not limited to the economy.” So much for the Declaration of Independence and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We must acknowledge that the Great Recession of 2008 tore a huge hole in the American people’s faith in capitalism as the way to a better life and sent them looking for alternatives. Many of them, especially younger Americans, found it in a “soft socialism” that was part welfare state, part administrative state, part socialist state. Capitalists failed to present a persuasive case for free markets, beginning with Milton Friedman’s famous axiom: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Socialists love to cite Sweden and Denmark as socialist models, but these Scandinavian countries favor the free market over socialism in running their economies and are content with private rather than government ownership of their major industries. Speaking before the National Press Club, the Danish prime minister opened his remarks by emphasizing that Denmark is not a socialist country.

What is to be done?

We must educate the rising generation about the true costs of socialism, and not just in dollars and cents. Would a majority of millennials choose socialism if in exchange for “free” education and “free” health care, they would have to give up their personal property such as their iPhone and their iPad? This is not simply a possibility--the abolition of private property is the first dictum of socialism.

Would seven percent of millennials be willing to accept communism with its denial of free speech, a free press, free assembly, the imprisonment and often execution of dissidents, no open elections, no independent judiciary or rule of law, the dictatorship of the Communist Party in all matters and on all occasions? This is the communism of China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Nicaragua.

Socialists like to say that socialism has never failed because it has never been tried. But in fact socialism has failed in every country where it has been tried, from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China to three non-communist countries that tried but ultimately rejected socialism. All three countries of those countries—Israel, India, and the United Kingdom—adhered to socialist principles and practices for more than 20 years, only to change direction and adopt capitalism as the better way to economic prosperity. As a result, India today has the largest middle class in the free world.

The PRC has the second largest economy because in the late 1970s Deng Xiaoping abandoned the rigid excesses of Maoist thought and adopted a form of communism that allowed foreign investments and even a stock market while underwriting SOEs (state-owned enterprises). At the same time, Deng ensured strict political control of China through the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army, in accordance with Mao Zedong’s motto, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Socialism’s central philosophical weakness is its dependence upon the errant thought of its founder, Karl Marx. Marx insisted that his version of Hegelian dialectic—thesis, antithesis, synthesis—was scientific and without flaw. He asserted that feudalism had been replaced by capitalism which would be replaced by socialism and then communism in an irreversible process. But 200 years after the publication of “The Communist Manifesto,” capitalism rather than socialism dominates the global economy. According to the Heritage Foundation’s “2018 Index of Economic Freedom,” 102 countries, many with less developed or emerging economies, showed advances in economic growth and individual prosperity. As the esteemed economist Paul Samuelson wrote, “As a prophet Marx was colossally unlucky and his system colossally unuseful.”

Socialism depends upon the decision-making of a central government. The Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek put it succinctly: “Planning leads to dictatorship.” Without exception, every leader from Lenin to Castro promised to initiate basic freedoms such as free elections, a free press, free assembly, and religious freedom. None fulfilled these promises. Is a world without freedom, without choice, without basic human rights the world that millennials would choose if they had a choice?

This is our challenge: to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about socialism—a pseudo-religion grounded in pseudo-science and enforced by political might. This is our obligation to this generation and generations to come: to make the case against socialism, a god that failed, a science that never was, a political system headed for the ash heap of history.

An abbreviated version of this commentary was first posted on

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