Our responsibility to enhance freedom everywhere Teaching vs. doing: the challenge of strategic leadership
What's the difference between socialism and communism? People get repeatedly confused about this "difference". So here's an extract from the current manuscript of DOF.
Let me, at this stage clarify the meanings of socialism and communism, a matter that comes up ever so often in the public discourse. John Stuart Mill defined these terms, thus:
Socialism: ‘The word Socialism, which originated among the English Communists, and was assumed by them as a name to designate their own doctrine, is now , on the Continent, employed in a larger sense; not necessarily implying Communism, or the entire abolition of private property, but applied to any system which requires that the land and the instruments of production should be the property, not of individuals, but of communities or associations, or of the government.’
Communism: ‘the Communistic doctrine, which forms the extreme limit of Socialism; according to which not only the instruments of the land and capital, are the joint property of the community, but the produce is divided and the labour apportioned, as far as possible, equally.’
Careful reflection shows us, however, that these terms are actually synonymous, merely two shades of black. Both prioritise the collective over the individual interest. Both advocate, even glorify, state theft of property (redistribution) for social ends. Communism has led to severe state-led violence, such as in Stalin’s USSR. Socialism, on the other hand, has largely led governments to kill of people indirectly through corruption, bureaucratic production of goods, and general incompetence (as in the case of India). The end result is the same: people die. There is therefore, in my view, not much point in making a painstaking distinction between these two terms, and I therefore use them interchangeably.
Collectivist ideas such as these can only be implemented through statism, or through the glorification of the state. This perspective is best attributed to Hegel, although he had many precursors (but not Hobbes, whose argument was individual-centric, not society centric). He asked that individuals be reduced by the state into abstract elements of a social pattern. He celebrated ‘the authority and power and the greatness of the State … against the whims or individual inclinations of this or that citizen or subject’. In doing so he added even one more dangerous element – the dictator – to the mix. Indeed ‘For him, such questions as whether the great man, the earth-shaker, is good or virtuous or just are absolutely meaningless, and indeed petty, for the values implied by these words are themselves created and superseded by those very transformations of which the great man is the Herculean agent.’ Such amoral Hegelian approaches were extremely influential in driving communism and fascism.
Hegelian perspectives are popular and emerge repeatedly in every generation. The lesson for the liberal is this: preaching freedom is worthless and unless a way is found for the liberal to wrest control of the state from the statists. What use is our love of liberty if socialists or fascists are allowed to rule the world? Advocates of liberty must not underestimate the ever-present risks of Hegelian ideas. Collectivism can easily take religious forms. Crusades and jihads are a reminder. Religions build oppressive and unethical hierarchies like the caste system, and elevate certain individuals over entire groups. Collectivism remains a serious threat in many forms and shapes.
Mill, J.S., Principles of Political Economy, Chapters on Communism and Property, respectively.
 Ibid, p.94.
 Berlin, Isaiah, Freedom and its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty, London: Pimlico, Random House, 2003, p.93.
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