“When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom”, Confucius
It is common for all across the political spectrum to adopt political language without thinking a great deal about the words we frequently use. It was whilst I was studying modern feminism that it struck me how language could be manipulated in such a way as to convey often subliminal messages. Since then, I have started to notice an increasing number of ways in which ideological language has been manipulated across the left-right spectrum. Opponents of freedom have often sought to disguise their evil ideology by engineering the pretense of a noble cause, or a moral crusade. It is likely that this has always been the case throughout history, but with the emergence of communism, the intense focus on language in the world of philosophy and the continued propagation of the good versus evil story of the world all occurring in the 20th century, the distortion of ideologically based language has escalated exponentially. The opponents of freedom have been highly successful in their manipulation of language; I believe that as libertarians, we have to attempt to reverse the damage caused by redefining this language. Each week I will tackle a different term in the ideological playbook, offering a correct understanding of the term, and critiquing the modern-day perspective, a result of a hundred years of mischaracterisation.
Socialism is the blanket term for the politics of the left, and so is very important and serves as the first area of focus in the analysis of modern ideological language. Let us first try and focus on the word ‘society’, from which we get socialism. What do we think of a ‘society’ as being? I would suggest that when we think of a society, we think of a group of individuals that cooperate to achieve the satisfaction of their desires. For example, an individual might want to build a house. In order to do so, he will have to hire builders, architects, plumbers, and possibly interior designers. He will have to strike deals with these workers, such that it is mutually beneficial for both parties to engage in the project. In this scenario then, we have individuals working together to pursue individual desires; the man gets his house built and the workers earn a living. But the ripples of capitalism established here go further.
The contracted builders use various pieces of equipment in their work, equipment they must buy from a manufacturer. They also need all the raw building materials from suppliers who could be anywhere on the planet. All these materials, pieces of equipment and men will need transporting, which will involve the purchase of means of transportation. The architects must have extensive knowledge of how to design a house, which must be taught to them by teachers. All who work at the site of the project must eat and drink at a nearby location, and so must buy these things from a local store. After transactions have been made at every level and sublevel of the project, the service providers are enriched with money, with which they can purchase consumer goods. They might decide to build a house, in which case the whole process starts again, further enriching all contributors. Another excellent example of this is the story of the manufacture of a pencil, explained brilliantly in this short video: http://the-libertarian.co.uk/pencil-movie/
With each voluntary agreement, and with each transaction, more people are brought into the society. Eventually, the capitalist net covers all peoples; all are brought into society through their voluntary transactions. The society can grow larger as more people benefit of each other’s skills and desires. All get their desires satisfied, and no-one has to do anything they have not chosen to do. This is how we should think of socialism. The support of free markets and free individuals is the most socialist position there is, where socialist means those that support what is in the best interest of all of society.
The people whom, in the modern era, we commonly address as ‘socialists’ claim that people are not inherently good, and because of this they must be forced to be good by the State, where ‘good’ is whatever the State deems in to be. The nature of their understanding of society is one where all individuals are bound to each other by threat of violence and forced to act is a way that the State deems is in the interests of the State, as a whole.
Consider a room containing 3 people. One person has a gun, call him Mr State; Mr State points the gun at one of the other people, call him citizen B, and tells him to clean the shoes of citizen C. Mr State tells B that if he refuses to comply then he will shoot B in the leg. Would we call this a society? Would we call the proponents of a system based on this model ‘socialists’? The ‘room of 3’ example is a condensed form of a system we are told today is Socialism.
I would suggest that there is nothing socialist about the ‘room of 3’ example; that is to say that it in no way describes a system that would be in the interests of a society. We must do our best to reveal to people the true nature of the monster they know as compassionate ‘Socialism’. It is through use of this argument and similar ones that proponents of freedom must seek to win back language that has been hijacked by the supporters of tyranny.