Aspirations to socialism and social democracy appear to be gaining traction in much of America, especially among young Americans. People are often fuzzy about what they mean by terms like “socialism.” Sometimes it seems to be a type of aspirational outlook. On other occasions, it involves specific policy-proposals. In yet other instances, it’s some combination of both. The effect is often to make socialism a harder target to critique.
The good news is that we’re been here before. Some of the best conservative and classical liberal minds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were especially adept at pushing away the fog and identifying what those using socialist or social democratic language are really about.
In this regard, few minds rank higher in terms of nailing down the key motivations and objectives of socialism than the nineteenth century French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville and the twentieth century American theologian Michael Novak. The reflections of Tocqueville and Novak about the character of socialism are deeply relevant for understanding why people, both in their time and in ours, are attracted to an economic system — whether of the command economy or social democratic variety — that has inflicted enormous political and economic damage on entire societies.
If you’d like to know more, I’ll be speaking about how Tocqueville and Novak thought about socialism on Wednesday, May 29th at the Heritage Foundation’s Lehrman Auditorium in Washington D.C. between 11:00 am and 12:00 pm EST. My lecture, entitled “Tocqueville, Novak, and the Challenge of Socialism,” is open to the public. Details of how to register and attend can be found here. For those of you who don’t live in Washington D.C. or its environs, the event is being livestreamed, so you can watch from anywhere in the world. Again, check out Heritage’s website for more details.