In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

Writing well over 2000 years ago, Aristotle answered Plato, whose Republic advocated socialism, thusly:

What is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. People pay most attention to what is their own: they care less for what is common; or, at any rate, they care for it only to the extent to which each is individually concerned. Even when there is no other cause for inattention, people are more prone to neglect their duty when they think that another attending to it . . .

The Republic advocated that women and children also be common property. What Aristotle wrote about sons applies to other things, as well:

[Under the plan of The Republic] each citizen will have a thousand sons; they will not be the sons of each citizen individually; any son whatever will be equally the son of any father whatever. The result will be that all will neglect all.

In other words, the word “son” loses its meaning when abused in this fashion. The same is true of the concept of property.

Aristotle is right. We love the particular, not the general. Good philosophies of government will recognize that and will thus operate on a human scale as much as possible. Socialism fails in that regard and thus loses all the non-coercive power of simple affection and care.


  • http://none centennial

    WOW! Ok first, what is widely considered communisim (not socialism)today was not contrived until the writings of Karl Marx in the year of 1848 (a bit after Aristotle).

    Seconed, the views of plato can not really be be deemed relivent to the definition of communisim (let alone socialism)

    Third, one would think that modern socialism would veiw women and men as equal.

    Forth, This artical seems to suggest that one might be able to live of from (or rather be fooled to live) another person(s). this is not true, one would still likely lose his house from not having a job for example.

    Fifth, this artical seems to be a little bias to me. :(

  • Hunter Baker

    My goodness, the idea of the common ownership of property didn’t exist until Karl Marx? Someone needs to explain that to Plato!

  • http://none centennial

    I thought common ownership was only one of many attributes of that Karl Marx tried to associate with the idea of communism/socialism. I still say that Plato (although brilliant) and Aritotle (often considerd a madman and/or prophet) would both have to take into account the major changes in world economics and world economic theory. I am not saying that Karl Marx was original with the idea of common ownership but mearly assembled similar attributes as seen in The Communist Manifesto. Which in turn the Communist Manifesto became the major influencing factors of todays definition of communism and socialism. But you are right about the idea of common ownership not being founded by Karl Marx. It has probably gone hand in hand with human civilization since our cave days. Common ownership can even be seen by children who sometimes share money to buy a toy for example.

  • Hunter Baker

    I don’t think world economic theory would have a big impact on the basic point for which I’m citing Aristotle above. What he says about the effect of common ownership on the care of property is perennially relevant.

  • Neal Lang

    “Common ownership can even be seen by children who sometimes share money to buy a toy for example.”

    And then argue whose it is! BTW, Marx’s contribution to the world was not Communism but a refinement of the philosophy of “dialectical materialism”, a theory whereby everything, including man, can be only evaluated by the sum of their “matter”. Marx’s other gift to man was his promotion of “class struggle” as the “yellow brick road” to man’s happiness. Both Communism and Socialisms are the beneficiaries of “class warefare”. See Obama as an example.

  • Chase Bitter

    Hang on a second, you are missing a very important point – quoting Plato’s idea of the ‘Community of Wives’ is either unintentionally ignorant, or intentionally misleading. Have your pick.

    *Plato did not advocate the concept of a ‘Community of Wives and Children’* after the Republic. In various later writings _he advocated a more conventional family-oriented_ sort of system we’re more familiar with today.

    Quoting this passage without at least stating the withdrawal of it is pretty under-the-belt and sniffs a touch like propaganda. (forgive the use of the word)

    Anyhow, regardless all of that, the fact is that in strictly financial terms – cold hard numbers – a Socialism is a superior order to a free market. It’s plain old business 101 that the extirpation (removal) of high outliers produces a greater margin of profit.

    That being said, the only issue really is motivation, and it has been the argument of some that motivation is not existent in a Socialistic circumstance, to the extent that it is in the Privatized or Capitalistic circumstance or structure.

    However, ultimate privatization is a severe problem, and not defensible in either an ethical or a theoretical debate.

    We have socialized schooling, policing, mailing, libraries and other things, without which we’d be in a pickle. Privatized policing could never be defended in a debate where both sides were competent.

    So then the question has to be not -if- socialism is okay, but rather we have to see the question as the question of -how much- and how do we implement it?

    Furthermore, the foundation of America leads more towards certain socialistic principles than what our conception of ‘constitutional right-wing’ harboring culture would probably see at this point.

    Capitalism is a laissez-faire based concept that people are not equal, and the one who’s bigger than you wins. Those who make more money get more money, and the sick, handicapped and elderly are left to whither on, bereft of a public fund to ensure their care when they cannot care for themselves. (such a fund would be, by it’s definition, socialistic)

    Socialism is the idea that all people aught to be treated fairly equally, those who can work hard, work hard, those who can benefit the world through their minds do so, and the elderly, handicapped and disadvantaged are taken care of.

    Socialism is the fundamental human structure anyway, in the most basic community: there is a clothier, a cook, a farmer, a miller, a parson and everybody’s elderly parents, maybe with a physically handicapped child that they all take care of, without the exchange of money.

    This has been a rambling I suppose, but I don’t mean offense to anyone, we all have the right to our own views, but I think we all aught to be at least somewhat qualified to say what we want to say.

    Know your Plato if you’re going to quote him, read the founding documents if you want to debate about them, and let’s not confuse the catastrophe of the USSR with the concept of socialism altogether.

    We are educated because of socialism. Socialized teachers in our socialized schools taught us little socialized children how to read our socially-purchased books. And that is why we can even debate this issue. I would gladly accept a Public Debate on the idea that Public Schools are unconstitutional and un-American. I would even volunteer to fly to just about anywhere within the continental US to meet at the debate, if we plan ahead far enough. (half a year would be preferable, or maybe July-ish)

    So then I say again, to close my little rambling, that we aught to ask the question- how much? How much Socialism can we use to increase general profit and welfare, by extricating outliers, while still preserving enough motivational structure in the direction of success. France is a good subject to include because their productivity rates are higher, and their system is far more socialized than ours.

    Much obliged my friends,

    -Chase Bitter

  • Neal Lang

    “We have socialized schooling, policing, mailing, libraries and other things, without which we’d be in a pickle.”

    You make a wonderful case for the evils and inefficiencies of socialism. I cannot think of any more underproducing fields in US than Education, Law Enforcement, and the Postal System. Medicine in this country is already 50% socialized and we can see where that is heading. Ask yourself why do Canadians come to America for treatment if socialization works so well?

  • Hunter Baker

    Okay, Chase, so here’s the question: Why does Plato’s prize student Aristotle spend time knocking his concept of common property if it was offered in jest?

    But leave that aside. It doesn’t really matter whether Plato really meant what he said about common property. Is Aristotle’s critique of the concept valuable or not? I think it is. There is no doubt that common ownership is vulnerable to his attack. “My house” means much more when it really is my house instead of when it is mine because all of us “own” it. The word “own” loses its meaning.

    To put it bluntly, compare the state of housing projects to houses people own.

    Now, you try to take the fact that we do have public ownership of some things like schools to suggest that critiques of socialism are bankrupt. It is a big leap to say that just because there are some needed services from which it is difficult to expect a profit and thus need to be government run, then common ownership in general is superior. Sure, we have the post office instead of just UPS or FedEx because of rural exceptions that probably couldn’t be profitably served. We have known since time immemorial that we some public services have to be community efforts. That is hardly a brief for socialism. It is an argument for having government at all.

  • Neal Lang

    “Capitalism is a laissez-faire based concept that people are not equal, and the one who’s bigger than you wins. Those who make more money get more money, and the sick, handicapped and elderly are left to whither on, bereft of a public fund to ensure their care when they cannot care for themselves. (such a fund would be, by it’s definition, socialistic)”

    What utter nonsense! There is no economic system that is built more on individual equality than is the free market, capitalist system. The difference is that this system insures merely equality of “opportunity” as opposed to the socialistic system’s supposed equality of outcomes.

    Unlike the socialist system, whereby everyone is supposed to share equally in the fruits of societal output, the capitalist systems insures that greater efforts achieve greater rewards. I cannot see a less fair system than socialism where government coerces the better, more efficient producers to subsidizes the least efficient and least ambitious of a society.

    To establish the need for socialism, first the government must destroy the family, the historic first source of charity for the less productive injured or infirmed. Just look at Social Security, a socialist system that all are coerced into paying into despite the lack of any guarantee that you will ever see a return on your “investment”. Talk about a mindless “Ponzi Scheme”! Of course, the family sufferes because the children no longer feel obligated to care for their parents, after-all society, in the form of Social Security will take care of that for them.

  • Chase Bitter

    Neal- Just because we are bad at instituting socialized systems doesn’t mean that they are bad altogether. The systems which rate astronomically better than us for education (Like France, Germany, Canada, etc.) all have socialized education systems too.

    Hunter- Plato still suggests that property should generally be held in common, just not wives and children.

    Aristotle certainly raises a very important point, and ultimately that’s motivation. But pure Capitalism is completely without social structure, pure Capitalism is laissez-faire by it’s definition. Capital is money, so in layman’s speech, Capitalism is Money-ism.

    My point that we have socialized systems in the US is not my argument for superiority of socialism. The _numbers_ will always favour capitalism – i.e. the extirpation of outliers – the issue is always motivation.

    The concept of ownership is important to us as humans, which I do not by any means suggest is wrong, Aristotle was wiser than any of us rambling on here, but my point was that the question can’t be, “Is Socialism Bad?” or “Socialism vs. Capitalism” but must be- how do we integrate them properly, to preserve Capitalistic motivation, and not fall into laissez-faire mentalities.

    Again, France is a good example, their _productivity rate_ is higher than ours, but they live in a more socialized system than we do. Productivity rates are a direct expression of motivation. So there may be a correlation between a balance of the aforementioned and motivation itself.

    We are bad at Socialized systems, there’s no doubt about it, and that in and of itself is almost an argument that could be made against the shift to more socialism in the United States. Our mediocrity at it though, sure doesn’t seem to be stifling the success of other countries.

    And so, as Bob Bakel said – What is wrong with some form of Socialism in some areas?

    I’m not suggesting we switch our bibles and newspapers for Das Kapital, I’m just suggesting we consider the benefit of the improvement of our socialized systems first and foremost, and then after we do that, consider the possibility of voucher systems, for instance. Voucher systems are a social concept that actually encourage free trade.

    Ebony and Ivory, eh?

  • Hunter Baker

    Chase, I don’t have a huge problem with what you’ve stated fairly moderately in this last comment. However, I maintain the righteousness of including Aristotle’s response to Plato’s Republic. If his student thought it was fair game, so do I.

  • Neal Lang

    “Again, France is a good example, their productivity rate is higher than ours, but they live in a more socialized system than we do. Productivity rates are a direct expression of motivation. So there may be a correlation between a balance of the aforementioned and motivation itself.”

    Stop getting your economic facts from Paul Klugman. Productivity is measured per capita not per hour worked. On that basis the average American is 12% more productive than the average Frenchman.

    “Neal- Just because we are bad at instituting socialized systems doesn’t mean that they are bad altogether. The systems which rate astronomically better than us for education (Like France, Germany, Canada, etc.) all have socialized education systems too.”

    Of course, our private education system system – private schools and home schoolers outclass all the socialized education systems – foreign and domestic. How do you ‘splain that?

  • http://blog.acton.org john

    long live Capitalism!

    the hell with communism/socialism!

  • Chase Bitter

    Neal-
    I think that the argument of productivity being calculated per-hour verses per-capita is necessarily set in one way or another, that’s a debate for a sociologist I think, and I don’t have the education to debate on that kind of level.

    I would assume that a per-hour ratio may be more directly related to motivation. But I don’t have the psychological study to back that concept either.

    Some private schools are terrible, I live right next to one called Paradigm High School, which doesn’t even get accreditation last I checked. And it’s a pretty icky place.

    All over the world though, certain schools are better than others, Private schools on the whole verses public schools on the whole would be a tricky debate as well.

    So to say “our private” beats “their Public” is a touch out of context I think. Private schools in the US (at least in Utah) don’t need accreditation, so it would vary greatly on the schools. The fair comparison I think, would be “our private” verses “their Private”. And I’m not familiar with those numbers. A good idea for a debate though!

    Hunter-
    I firmly agree, we have to look at all sides of the issue, and we can’t very well talk about Plato without talking about his favourite pupil, Aristotle :-)

    Forgive me, I hope I didn’t seem too abrupt or unkind in my remarks. I don’t really favour one system or the other, personally, but I do abhor people’s immediate reactions to a ‘bad concept’ as opposed to them actually taking time to consider whether we may have taken some things out of context.

    Well met mifriend.

    -Chase

  • Neal Lang

    “I think that the argument of productivity being calculated per-hour verses per-capita is necessarily set in one way or another, that’s a debate for a sociologist I think, and I don’t have the education to debate on that kind of level.”

    Then why bring up French Productivity? In France a much smaller percentage of the Workforce is employed when compared to that of the US – one of the many benefits of Socialism, I suspose.

    “Some private schools are terrible, I live right next to one called Paradigm High School, which doesn’t even get accreditation last I checked. And it’s a pretty icky place.”

    Most government schools enjoy this destinction, and why not, the pay is not comensurate with ability, ambition, or productivity, but instead longevity. My daughter-in-law teaches in public school. She earned a State manadated bonus for highest improvement in student academics twice. She receive her bonus the first time over union objections, the second she did not – the union convincing the district to divy-up the bonus amongst all the teachers. This wa at the worst elementary school in the district – my daughter-in-law left that school the following year. Guess who suffered? I suggest it was the kids she could have helped.

    “So to say “our private” beats “their Public” is a touch out of context I think.”

    Actually, in competetive academic challenges, such as “spelling bees”, the private schools in the US wipeout the public schools. While the causes for the failure of the public school system are many, the greatest problem is its lack of accountability. Schools should be accountable to the parents, however, the socialization of our society has replaced the family with the State. Of course, the public school system the State and the public school system is accountable only to itself. Instead of utilizing pedagogy technology that has been proven for centuries, our public schools move from one fad to another and are amazed when they don’t work. Learning requires discpline – something totally lacking in our socialized schools.

  • Chase Bitter

    Niel- You keep missing my points. I’ve been off doing other things lately, sorry I haven’t posted back here, but I doubt I’ll post again.

    You took all three of the points you commented on out of context. One might be drawn to ask if you read my whole post.

    If you take Philosophy, Sociology, Recent History or probably just about any other subject in a good college/university you’ll learn about Das Kapital and The Wealth of Nations. The first advocating Communism, the latter advocating Capitalism; the two most influential political treatises of the last few hundred years, and as inseparable as two sides of the same coin.

    By the way – I teach band at my local Elementary School. I know the drill :-) But most educators favor a more liberal approach.

    Either way, this argument is a pretty sterile one, neither of us are likely to gain much from it, and we’re both really out of our depth.

    Hopefully the higher educated can take up the debate, and hopefully each side is actually allowed to make it’s case.

    Best wishes,

    -Chase

  • Ernie

    Neal, have you ever been to Norway? By reading your posts one gets the impression that any country applying socialist principles would be the most unhappy on Earth. But if you stick to the facts, you will see that Norway and other Scandinavian countries rank consistently on top of all lists of human development indicators. Are their governments fooling those poor Scandinavians? Just a thought.

  • Neal Lang

    “Neal, have you ever been to Norway? By reading your posts one gets the impression that any country applying socialist principles would be the most unhappy on Earth. But if you stick to the facts, you will see that Norway and other Scandinavian countries rank consistently on top of all lists of human development indicators. Are their governments fooling those poor Scandinavians? Just a thought.”

    Please explain why the suicide rate has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

  • Neal Lang

    “If you take Philosophy, Sociology, Recent History or probably just about any other subject in a good college/university you’ll learn about Das Kapital and The Wealth of Nations.”

    You would probably be lucky to find a copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in a college library let alone have objectively discussed in most college social studies classrooms these days.

  • Neal Lang

    The financial burder of becoming a Socialist Utopia:

    Percent of total government spending to GDP for the 2007:

    Norway 55.8%
    USA 19.9%

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