From a philosophical perspective, the conclusion one can draw from the Milgram experiment is that obedience and evil are linked. In where there is an authority, especially an absolute authority, obedience results in people harming others. Anyone who is a sheep is potentially evil. All that’s required is an authority to get them to cause harm. This readily explains Christians throughout history who have had two authorities (usually absolute) demanding their obedience: god and kings, emperors, despots, and now presidents. Most Christians in this country are obedient sheep; that readily explains their evil. They imagine, for example, that opposing Trump and/or the Republican Party is akin to opposing god’s will. This is why they just do not see how they weaponize their votes against minorities, non-Christians, and women especially.
On a separate note, hopefully they see now that weaponizing their votes in this manner backfires and harms them as well: “In 2016 36.2 percent of SNAP program beneficiaries were White, 25.6 percent were African American, 17.2 percent were Hispanic, 3.3 percent were Asian. [Source: USDA]” Most of the 36 percent of Whites that receive SNAP benefits live in poor, rural areas; these are the same people that were promised jobs and opportunities, and now here they are losing what serves as a lifeline for their families. This is why (as a strict determinist) I value people who expose themselves to an array of positions.
This is why I oppose dogmatic thinking entirely, be it Christian, Muslim, or what have you. You simply cannot acquire truth by way of predilection. Truth does not conform to your beliefs; beliefs must conform to truth. These people that read and follow one book or, in a futile attempt to intellectualize and rationalize their false beliefs, read books that are mostly related to those beliefs cannot acquire the truth and more importantly, cannot empathize with people who don’t share those beliefs. In other words, I am an atheist now because when I was still a Christian, I exchanged my pond of very limited determinants for a vast ocean of determinants, which is to say that I expanded my knowledge with the unwavering belief that if Christianity is true, nothing I expose myself to will disprove that. Today, I am not a Christian and even though I identify as an atheist, I do not read one religious text or books that confirm or are related to atheism.
In the end, despite my violent and sometimes justified anger, I return to empathy. Trump supporters are entranced sheep who believe they have a lot to lose if they separate from their herd. To their minds, Trump is god’s appointed servant. The Republican Party has fooled them into thinking that they are the party of family values and moral exemplification. Their families and friends share these beliefs and I strongly believe that there are Republicans out there who have second thoughts, but the fear of being alienated or even disowned by the people close to them keeps them in line. To you, I say the following.
Stop pressing the button! I won’t lie to you. You will lose some friends and people in your own family might turn their backs on you. However, you will gain something as well. You will learn who is there for you in a more unconditional manner. Eventually you will make new friends. Should your fear be that you are in disobedience to god, consider your own beliefs again.
Do you not believe in a loving, merciful god? Did he not forgive others for disobedience? Did Jesus not die for the forgiveness of all sins? So what sin can you possibly commit that cannot be forgiven and moreover, that god did not already know about? Is he not omniscient and sovereign? It then follows that he orders all of your steps. Once you revisit your own beliefs, ask yourself: Would god truly appoint someone who commits adultery and fornication? Would he appoint someone who is on record saying that he sexually assaults women? Would he appoint someone who forcibly separates children from their parents and puts other human beings in cages? Then remind yourself that immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are people and that a lot of them share your beliefs. So why would god appoint someone who is harming people who believe in and pray to him?
Stop pressing the button!
In this, Erdogen can learn a valuable lesson that will vastly reduce the negative impacts women in Turkey are currently facing. The return of restrictive policies also marks the return of illegal contraceptive and abortion methods, which, in turn, are a prelude to higher maternal deaths. Turkey, like Albania before it, must not go back to the days when abortion was criminalized. There is precedence in the Muslim World and in the world at large that should discourage Erdogen from continuing his de facto ban on abortion and eventually passing legislation that would officially ban abortion. If nothing else, the history of reproductive rights in the Muslim World not only serves as exemplary for majority-Muslim countries, but also countries around the world — especially countries currently enforcing prohibitive abortion policies.
Restrictive policies do not end abortion. Such policies end the lives of many women. In country after country, women literally bleed to death after experiencing complications related to unsafe, illegal procedures. Legalizing and decriminalizing abortion not only saves their lives, but also slows the cycle of poverty. For women in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Chile, Brazil, Northern Ireland, and other countries not surveyed here, the battle is ongoing. We are morally obligated to see what measures need to be taken in order to provide these women with safe, legal access to reproductive healthcare. Also, once this access is provided, we must ensure that there are no barriers keeping some women, be it for economic, educational, or other reasons, from getting and being able to meet the costs related to reproductive healthcare.
By R.N. Carmona
Everyone shouldn’t have the right to vote. There’s that one controversial opening sentence that some say is required to draw a reader in. Yet there’s nothing at all controversial about that statement. From an ethical point of view, it’s a true statement once one considers the dangers of allowing anyone to vote. There are glaring issues in continuing to bestow this right on anyone who is 18 or older.
The overwhelming number of non-college Whites that supported Donald Trump shouldn’t have the right to vote. One will find that the more one is misinformed, the likelier it is they have little to no college experience. According to statistics, there are more on the Left among college graduates than there are on the Right. This is quite telling. In the end, stripping an unearned right from millions of uneducated people secures more important rights for women (reproductive rights), children (the right to a good education), and people who practice religions other than Christianity. It’s a resounding win! Never mind that some of the rights secured are literally life-and-death, like the rights of minorities being confronted by police brutality. The Right is perfectly okay with infringing on the rights of people they imagine are their enemies, even if it results in harm or even death. Stripping uneducated people of their right to vote is extremely minor by comparison.
The question then becomes, how do we get from where we are to what’s being suggested here? Literacy exams have been proposed in the past, but the reason for such proposals were different. Primarily, these tests were proposed as means to oppress Black voters. The goal here isn’t to oppress anyone. The goal is to keep people from harm. More importantly, it’s to keep people alive. It’s also a utilitarian analysis concerning whose rights matter more. An uneducated person’s right to vote simply doesn’t matter more than the education of children, the reproductive rights of women, the lives of immigrants and minorities, the religious rights of non-Christians, and the marital rights of homosexuals.
When one considers the fact that people forgo their right to vote in election after election — 100 million Americans didn’t vote in the 2016 election — it can be argued that the right to vote isn’t considered that important. A woman in need of reproductive rights doesn’t surrender her rights. A child in need of education doesn’t willingly surrender that right. Minorities who experience police brutality don’t willingly surrender their lives. Immigrants don’t willingly surrender the life they made in the states. Those rights are taken from them by hateful individuals who weaponize their right to vote by rallying behind candidates who support their hateful agendas.
Even given a Kantian analysis, the opening statement isn’t controversial. Per Kant, people are to be treated as ends in themselves and never as a means. Uneducated voters, who are usually Right wing, consider people on the Left a means. In fact, according to the lot of them, the country doesn’t even belong to people on the Left. If it were up to them, people like myself wouldn’t be here. Anyone who isn’t on the Right is a means to their ends, so when they vote in a disastrous Administration, they don’t care about the people they’re hurting. They don’t care about endangering pivotal rights belonging to people on the Left. If it were up to them, women and Blacks still wouldn’t be able to vote, homosexuals wouldn’t be able to marry, non-Christians wouldn’t have religious rights, minorities would experience more police brutality, and abortion would be completely illegal. Their failure on gun control has already resulted in 18 school shootings this year alone — which is a rate of about 40%; should that trend continue, we will end the year with 146 school shootings.
So what’s the point of a literacy test and how would it work? How would it curb the kind of harm that’s been done? For one, it wouldn’t be multiple choice or about correct answers. The tests would be designed to render thoughtful, well-argued responses. It doesn’t matter what people are arguing for, so long as they can demonstrate good arguments and good reasons for subscribing to a given view. Let’s place a bet on how many “god hates fags,” “abortion is murder,” “ban all them Muslims,” “kill the niggers and spics” people will pass a written exam of this sort. An oral presentation could serve as a useful second half to such an exam. Let’s see the well-organized Right wing voting block passes around the right answers to that.
What might very well happen is that uneducated people might realize that education is valuable and that they need to go out and get educated in order to defend their current point of views. In doing so, however, they’ll then realize how mistaken they are. It happens all the time to hardnosed Christians who deny evolution. Some of them even abandon the religion altogether. I’m sure it’ll happen to the uneducated too. Or they’ll whine and moan about them damn liberals and about how their voice isn’t heard; they do it anyway every time Democrats are elected, so again, what would be the difference if they were actually silenced?
All would-be voters would have to articulate answers to the questions like the following. For sake of simplicity, we can focus on an issues that has once again become central because of the Parkland shooting.
Where do you stand on gun control?
What arguments can you make in favor of someone owning a semi-automatic weapon?
Why can’t this same individual own a nuclear arm?
What arguments can you make against someone owning a semi-automatic weapon?
All would-be voters would be required to answer all the question, both for and the against because in having to process their opponent’s way of thinking, they may come to see their own errors. So this test can be developed by historians, philosophers, scientists, etc. The questions would focus on pertinent issues and any voter who can’t get beyond “god hates fags” and “ban the Muslims” would disqualify themselves.
So who decides who passes or fails? You decide! Like any other test, pass or fail falls on your shoulders. Let’s place a bet on the aforementioned people walking out without answering. People who complain about biased graders need to realize that bias isn’t necessarily bad. Perfect objectivity isn’t necessary either. I think one should be able to discern who’s reasonable and who isn’t based on the replies given, should any be given because like I suggested, some may decline to respond. And that’s their failure.
The question then becomes, what if someone can’t articulate their thinking? They wouldn’t lose their right to vote for sake of not being able to articulate their reasoning on one of the issues. That’s the fairness of the exam, of any exam. Failure on one question isn’t a failure overall. Very few people will fail to articulate their intuitions and that’s what’s wrong with where we find ourselves. No one compels us to detail our reasoning. That’s precisely why people cling to irrational beliefs because such beliefs are based on fervent emotion rather than rational, logical methodology.
What’s clear is that the hateful ignorants won’t have anything intriguing to share. They’ll disqualify themselves and millions of Americans will be better off for it. So let our allies and the United Nations rain down heavily on the US should such disenfranchisement ever take place. It is the moral decision! Of course, we can stay on the current course and count up to 146 school shootings in 2018; we can pretend to be fine with the blood on our hands. We can wait to hear the identity of the next minority to die at the hands of corrupt law enforcement or the identity of the next woman to come forward as a victim of sexual assault committed by law enforcement. We can wait for education to be defunded further. We can wait for people to die because their health insurance has been cut off. We can wait for things to get even worse than they are before we realize that the ignorant enable the GOP to carry out business as usual. Collectively, those on the Left need to grow a spine and stop opposing the idea defended here because it makes them uncomfortable. Again, it is the moral decision and we should make strides to implement literacy tests, so that all voters are qualified enough to make the crucial decision of deciding who governs our country.
By R.N. Carmona
When concerning economics, no economic system is more misunderstood and more polarizing than socialism. Given the controversial history of one of its variants, namely communism, that socialism is a polarizing concept isn’t at all surprising. This, however, is no justification for them who would choose to remain ignorant of what socialism is. To draw an analogy, one could weigh the pros and cons of capitalism. Clearly, it wouldn’t be fair to be uncharitable and speak of capitalism by way of only its cons. In other words, speaking of self-interest or more forcefully, greed as though these characterized the whole of human nature would be disingenuous. Moreover, accusing capitalist models of exposing or drawing out these aspects of human nature, at least without added justification, is dishonest. It is to demonstrate that one is ignorant of capitalism as a whole. There are pros that need to be considered in any discussion on capitalism and the same undoubtedly applies to socialism.
Unfortunately, in discussions on socialism, what one will often find is a determined party whose only interest is to impart their misunderstanding. Implicit in that is the will to poison the well, even going as far as attacking the reputation of politicians who even mention socialist ideas, let alone propose legislation partially structured around these ideas. In 2008, Barack Obama, then Junior Senator of Illinois, was accused of being a socialist and this was the basis of criticism for voters on both sides of the aisle, especially on the right. Today, Bernie Sanders is the candidate being written off by right wing voters. Some would state that he has done himself no favors by identifying himself as a democratic socialist. Regardless of the fact that democratic is much more pronounced and important than socialist in the label ‘democratic socialist’, many Americans blatantly choose to misunderstand what it is he stands for. They would much rather liken him to Soviet communists than to Swedish social democrats, and that’s likely because they aren’t students of the history of economics with regards to socialism. In 1981, after being elected Mayor of Burlington, Sanders said, “I’ve stayed away from calling myself a socialist because I did not want to spend half my life explaining that I did not believe in the Soviet Union or in concentration camps.”1
This introduction therefore has this audience in mind. The candidacy of any given politician shouldn’t suffer due to what amounts to nothing more than libel and slander. The candidacy of a politician should stand or fall on the basis of the merits and demerits of their voting records, policy proposals, and broader plans if they are elected to the public office they’re running for. Bernie Sanders is a great and worthwhile candidate. Left or right wing, his voting record and his policies should be considered without resort to ad hominem and blatant misunderstanding of how he chooses to label himself.
Perhaps this willful ignorance and uncharitable approach to alternative views is a symptom of something more insidious and maybe what’s needed is a cultural overthrowing or a social revolution, but these endeavors are much too grand to consider. People can be persuaded within their own subjective experience. They can come to be convinced of something they currently do not accept and for these narrower endeavors, grandiose goals or perhaps delusions aren’t necessary. At the very least, my hope is that my readers are persuaded that socialism isn’t a blasphemous term to be met with scorn. It isn’t a mere alternative because as will be demonstrated, it can be fully integrated into a capitalist system. It need not stand alone nor lead to the fall of capitalism which Marx considered inevitable.
II. What Socialism Is
Socialism, like any ideology, cannot be defined easily. It is best defined by an explication of its principles and perhaps in also expounding on these principles. With this in mind, one can think of the principles that the variants of socialism hold in common. Michael Newman makes explicit these principles in stating:
[T]he most fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society. Socialists may not have agreed about the extent to which inequality can be eradicated or the means by which change can be effected, but no socialist would defend the current inequalities of wealth and power. In particular, socialists have maintained that, under capitalism, vast privileges and opportunities are derived from the hereditary ownership of capital and wealth at one end of the social scale, while a cycle of deprivation limits opportunities and influence at the other end. To varying extents, all socialists have therefore challenged the property relationships that are fundamental to capitalism, and have aspired to establish a society in which everyone has the possibility to seek fulfillment without facing barriers based on structural inequalities.2
Newman goes on to explain that another feature of socialism has been the belief in an egalitarian system. This, however, depends on an optimistic view of human beings that differs from a pessimistic view such as the one that characterizes people as self-interested, competitive or even greedy. Though Nazism and Stalinism would say much against more optimistic views, this hasn’t prevented socialists from thinking that an egalitarian society is possible. Bernie Sanders, for example, has an optimistic view of human beings. Sanders stated: “What being a socialist means is…that you hold out…a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed…but on cooperation…where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire.”3
In keeping with Newman’s ideas of hereditary ownership, inequality, and everyone having the opportunity to seek fulfillment, Sanders has been vocal about the Citizens United decision and what he has called the oligarchy. He states:
American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections. It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. According to media reports the Koch brothers alone, one family, will spend more money in this election cycle than either the Democratic or Republican parties. This is not democracy. This is oligarchy. In Vermont and at our town meetings we know what American democracy is supposed to be about. It is one person, one vote – with every citizen having an equal say – and no voter suppression. And that’s the kind of American political system we have to fight for and will fight for in this campaign.4
Given this, it is to be clearly noted that Sanders is not a communist. Though there are elements of Marxism in his view, Sanders isn’t a Marxist. This will be demonstrated shortly. What is clear is that his opponents are both wrong and dishonest to mischaracterize his views, to speak as though he agrees with socialist models that failed and led to abuse of power and injustice. As will also be shown, Sanders isn’t merely a socialist. He’s a democratic socialist, so it will be useful to distinguish between this strand of socialism as compared to others and to also discuss what would result from the implementation of a democratic socialist model. As one will see, this will not result in the end of capitalism in the U.S. nor the rise of a communistic government. To make this manifest, a brief survey of two important strands of socialism is necessary.
A. Marxism and Marxist elements in Sanders’ Views
It could be argued that the common misunderstanding people have of socialism stems from their misunderstanding of it’s common ancestor, namely Marxism. That will not be argued here. It’s merely been suggested because the branches of Marxism have each retained Marxist traits and thus, to misunderstand Marxism will, in all likelihood, lead one to misunderstand its branches. Setting aside historical materialism, since a broader discussion of Marxism isn’t intended, Marxism says nothing radical. Perhaps people recoil in horror because it strips them of what some philosophers have labeled an illusion: free will. Marxism is utterly deterministic in that it asserts that society determines human consciousness. In Preface to A Critique of Political Economy, Marx stated:
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the conic structure of society—the real foundation, on which rise legal and poetical superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.5
This is to say that in any society, the mode of production corresponds to whatever ideas and institutions are in place. In all of these societies, a ruling class derived their power from control over the economy. Also, the ideas and institutions in place aligned with the interests of these classes.
Though Sanders isn’t a Marxist, you can trace Marxist influences in his views. As mentioned earlier, Sanders is concerned with the oligarchy and more specifically, the power it derives, perhaps underhandedly, from the Citizens United decision. Tangentially, the Supreme Court decision reversed the Citizens United decision and allowed corporations to make campaign contributions. This is what Sanders is getting at when he makes pointed attacks against Hillary Clinton’s super Pacs. In the latest Democratic debate, Sanders strongly hinted at the notion of a ruling class deriving its power from existing ideas and institutions:
But here is the issue, Secretary touched on it, can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaker fees to individuals? So it’s easy to say, well, I’m going to do this and do that, but I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street. I am very proud, I do not have a super PAC. I do not want Wall Street’s money. I’ll rely on the middle class and working families.6
What he’s implying here is that candidates who receive contributions from corporations likely won’t bite the hand that fed them. Put another way, one cannot expect a candidate who received millions of dollars in contributions to go after the very ideas and institutions that give them their power. Sanders is correct to point out that Clinton will not break up large banks because that will definitely upset her campaign contributors. Also, candidates who receive large contributions from major corporations are indebted to them and therefore, are far more likely to vouch for whatever special interests they may have. This reciprocity is not in the interest of the people and most certainly not in the interest of the middle class Americans Sanders represents. If this sort of thinking sounds too paranoid, know that Bernie isn’t alone. After the reversal of the Citizens United decision, President Obama had this to say: “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”7 In the same vein, Senator Chuck Schumer stated:
We are not going to let this decision go unchallenged…At a time when Americans are worried about special interests having too much influence, this decision opens up the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow elections and undermine our democracy. If there’s one thing that Americans from the left, right and center can all agree on, it’s that they don’t want more special interests in our politics.8
Schumer alludes to special interests already having some sway. Though political dramas aren’t fully accurate, anyone who has watched Netflix’s House of Cards or ABC’s Scandal knows how often such special interests have featured in the respective plot lines of both dramas. “We the People” has been overthrown by an oligarchy—a ruling class that Bernie Sanders is all too aware of. He’s also aware of the conflict of interest that will ensue if the reversal of Citizens United isn’t opposed. Again, on this sentiment, he isn’t alone. Justice John Paul Stevens stated the following:
The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907. The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.9
Though Marxism threatens one of our most basic assumptions, namely that we have free will, it’s deterministic bents are neither strange nor shunned by philosophers. Tangentially, a deeper consideration of our wills will inevitably lead to either strict determinism or compatibilism. In other words, if the former, we have no will and are always subject to the sway of the circumstances involved in our decisions. If the latter, these circumstances only partially determine the decisions we make and thus, the final say rests with us. Marxism disturbs neither of these views. It is, in other words, fully compatible with both views.
Moreover, further consideration of slave, feudalistic, capitalistic, communistic, and other societies will show that Marx was correct to point out that society determines our consciousness and not vice versa. Members of the middle class in the United States will attest to this by alluding to the ideas and institutions that impose their social consciousness. Talk of glass ceilings, economic barriers, and the plight of women and minorities will no doubt feature in any assessment which explains why a given middle class American didn’t realize the American dream. These points warrant much more attention than can be given here, but one thing is absolutely clear, relevant Marxist ideas are present in Sanders’ views and Sanders is correct to expose the ruling class and to have a desire to oppose it.
Conversely, and along those same lines, Sanders has characterized his campaign as a political revolution. Marx’s theory also featured this notion of change by way of revolution. This revolution did not imply a violent overthrow, but rather, a pacifistic changing of the guard. This changing of the guard happened gradually, however. Marx did not intend to argue that this occurred overnight. Rather, as he put it, “the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or…with property relations within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forms of production these relations turn into their fetters.”10 From this comes revolution.
Sanders’ notion of a political revolution differs in key respects from Marx’s notion of social revolution. Sanders, for instance, wants a fairer distribution of wealth and he also wants to revert power to the people and away from corporations. It isn’t the sort of social revolution that will be necessary when, for instance, robots begin performing the tasks now carried out by humans. In such a society, there will no doubt be a ruling class, perhaps large corporations, looking to pad their bottom line by drastically cutting the cost of labor. Laborers who relied on these jobs will come into conflict with these corporations and will, for a time, inhibit such developments. This will then lead to a change in social relationships and what Marx called the superstructure, which is ideology, laws, and even the state.
Though speaking of wealth inequality in the UK, Michael Newman is aware of the fact that such inequality is derived from structures. Under capitalism, certain individuals who are talented or outright lucky can achieve a level of success that the majority of people cannot. While capitalism seeks to incentivize innovation and creativity, such an ideology has led to rampant incentives. It is clear that in order to address wealth inequality, ideologies of this sort have to be opposed. A surgeon should get paid more than a cashier, but the cashier shouldn’t find himself below the poverty line. Incentive can be granted, but not at the expense of others. Such a superstructure only reinforces inequality.
B. Utopian Socialism
Prior to discussing democratic socialism, it is necessary to briefly discuss the contributions of utopian socialists: “cooperation, association,…harmony in a context of egalitarianism” and “an emphasis on sexual equality.”11 Aside from egalitarian, small scale societies, democratic socialism has been a beneficiary of these contributions. As was shown earlier, Sanders calls for cooperation and social ownership of the means of production. This will require us to associate with one another and organize ourselves in a way that’s conducive to a working economy.
In terms of sexual equality, Sanders believes that “[w]e must establish pay equity for women workers.”12 He has also worked to do away with the gender wage gap:
In 2012, Bernie support the Paycheck Fairness Act and helped the effort to bring it to a vote again in 2014. The bill was designed to strengthen the claims that female employers had against companies in cases of sex or gender discrimination. Among his twelve point Economic Agenda for America, Bernie wrote that we must “provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.” In addition to these more recent efforts, Bernie voted in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which aims “to ensure that individuals subjected to unlawful pay discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under the federal anti-discrimination laws.”13
Sexual equality goes further than equal pay for women. Sanders has fully embraced this utopian ideal. He has been a pro-choicer for his entire political career. In an op-ed he wrote for the Huffington Post, Sanders wrote: “We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.”14 Sanders has also been in favor of contraceptives. He has also voted in favor of the Violence Against Women Act whilst maintaining that more needs to be done to address sexual and domestic violence against women. With this in mind, it is time now to turn to democratic socialism in order to see how it compares to and differs from other schools of socialism.
C. Democratic Socialism
In terms of why the label democratic is necessary, democratic socialists added the adjective in order to distinguish themselves from Communists who also identify as socialists. Modern democrats, with the exception of Marxist-Leninists, believe that communism is not democratic and totalitarian.
III. What Socialism Is Not: What is Communism and How It Differs from Socialism
Communism also puts emphasis on centralization or a nationalized economy. That is to say that the government appoints officials and also oversees production, distribution, and transactions. There is no free market or social ownership of resources. At the height of Stalin’s regime, his Five Year Plans made these points explicit. Stalin, for instance, collectivized all farmlands and transferred ownership of these lands to Soviet leadership. He also created GOSPLAN, which was an economic planning committee.
Democratic socialism, on the other hand, doesn’t call for a nationalized economy, but rather, a socialized economy. Donald Busky states that it’s “the movement of people to end their own exploitation and the destruction of the environment. It takes power out of the hands of elites who run political and economic systems solely for their own benefit at the direct expense to everyone and everything else.”15 Later he explains that democratic socialism synthesizes social ownership and political democracy. Though there is often hesitance to label this position a social democracy, since this position entails a reformation of capitalism and to some, a watered down socialism, this notion of social democracy entails an all conclusive, comprehensive welfare system. A social democracy would provide free healthcare as a right, as a guarantee to all of its citizens. There will also be more accessible assistance for employment and education. It must be emphasized that Sanders and democratic socialists, in general, are evolutionary socialists who expect a gradual transition from capitalism to democratic socialism. They are not expecting a revolutionary or even violent overthrow of capitalism and are thus, willing to allow capitalists to retain their control over industries.
With this in mind, one must question whether Sanders’ views are in keeping with what’s been surveyed in this section. The honest answer is a resounding yes, especially given what he said in a recent speech on democratic socialism in the U.S. At this point in history, it is a necessity given the grotesque wealth inequality that exists in the U.S. Sanders states that “[d]espite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.”16 Prior to assessing whether Sanders’ views align with the ideals of democratic socialism, it is necessary to take pause at this statistic. It is also necessary to look into our own expectations of what wealth distribution is in this country and then consider what an ideal distribution would look like. Thankfully, the YouTuber politizane has already charted the actual, expected, and ideal wealth distributions. Below is a chart showing what they look like.
More striking still are the charts that follow. These charts show more accurately how the wealth in this country, approximately 54 trillion dollars, is distributed in the U.S. The ideal is shown below.
This ideal is more representative of democratic socialism than it is of capitalism. Them who have argued that socialism destroys incentive and private ownership have misconstrued what socialism means. Marx stated: “The capitalist mode of production and accumulation and, therefore, capitalist private property, have for their fundamental condition the annihilation of self-earned private property; in other words, the expropriation of the laborer.”17 As Atkinson explains, socialism would prevent the destruction of private property and the expropriation of laborers. In the ultimate bait and switch, opponents of socialism, who are generally capitalists, have indicted socialism on false charges—charges that can be rightly used to indict capitalism. Capitalism, when given free rein, provides excessive incentive and often at the expense of lower class citizens. Americans on both sides of aisle are keenly aware of this and the chart below alludes to that.
As can be clearly seen, the distribution of wealth is no longer as smooth. The wealthiest citizens are no longer 10-20% more well off than the poorest on the chart. In the ideal chart, the poor aren’t exactly poor since the poverty line isn’t even visible on the chart. On the expected chart, it is clearly visible and the distribution of wealth is much more skewed in the direction of the wealthy. Unfortunately, what’s actually the case doesn’t match our expectations.
On the expected chart, the wealthiest had 100 times more wealth than the poorest. On the actual chart, the middle class is nearly indistinguishable from the poor. The wealthy are far more well off than the rich and the 1% we’re accustomed to hearing about has such a distribution, it’s not even visible on the chart. The stack (the last bar on the right) goes up so high, it can be piled into ten even stacks of cash. This is the grotesque inequality democratic socialists take issue with; this is the inequality Sanders is looking to address.
Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth – trillions of wealth – going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent – a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period. Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.18
Sanders is also aware of the relatively large number of Americans in poverty. According to the 2014 census, about 47 million Americans are below the poverty line. Included in that number are 21% of children.19 The U.S. has one of the highest rates of child poverty in any of the developed countries. Since the 2012 UNICEF survey, the rate of child poverty has decreased, but there is still much room for improvement.
According to Sanders, “[Democratic socialism] builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.”20 With this in mind, it is time now to look at its success around the world. Then an emphasis will be put on its prospects in the U.S. and Sanders’ plans to implement it.
IV. Democratic Socialism in the Modern Day
[T]he poverty that exists in much of the world is that of absolute destitution—the lack of food, drinking water, basic sanitation, healthcare, and education. Meanwhile, the richest 1% of the world’s population now receive as much income as the poorest 57%, while the income of the 25 million richest Americans is the equivalent of that of almost 2 billion of the world’s poorest people.21
As Newman would later explain, “the socialism of the future must surely be democratic both in its organizations and in the wider institutions in which it operates.”22 It should resemble the movements in countries like Sweden, a country that boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world. It also has a cooperative movement that provides housing for its citizens.23 Going back to Marxist thought, it should come as no surprise that Sweden contributes more that goes toward the aid and development of poor countries than the U.S. does. If society determines consciousness, democratic socialism would determine social consciousness and it appears that it would lead to more empathy. Perhaps this is a further indictment of capitalism, but as Newman and others recognize, a critique of capitalism is not sufficient nor would it mean that people would begin to lean toward democratic socialism.
So perhaps what’s required is to implement what does work. Sanders is, once again, one step ahead. Busky suggested the following after examining why a major socialist party doesn’t exist in the U.S.:
Instead of a maximum program of advocating immediate, total nationalization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, as small socialist sects have tended to do and which has often proved to be too radical for the majority of people to accept in many countries, American Socialists would do well to advance a minimum program calling for the creation of a national health plan which all other developed nations except for the United States already have..Another program would be to abolish unemployment by having the government hire all those who want and need to work but whom the capitalist system is unwilling or unable to hire. Still another program would be to abolish poverty by the creation of a guaranteed annual income by means of a negative income tax. If a person’s or family’s income fell below the poverty line, then the Internal Revenue Service would give them enough money to bring them to some point above the poverty line as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.24
As for nationalization, as democratic socialist scholars have suggested, it must be reiterated that control of industries would be turned over to workers and not to the state. The economy would not be centralized the way it is under communism, but rather, socialized as explained earlier. Optimism must be expressed. “Socialism…is the hope for human freedom and justice under the unprecedented conditions of life that humanity [faces] in the twenty-first century.”25 Not just any variant of socialism, but a democratic socialism that emphasizes equality, the end of absolute poverty, and a higher standard of living for all human beings. It is the American ideal. If all men are equal, then all of humankind should have the opportunity to succeed. As stated earlier, this need not lead to the destruction of incentives; this ought not discourage them who are creative and innovative. There will be a just reward for people who advance society scientifically, medically, technologically and so on, but the reward will not come at the expense of others nor would it be unjustifiably excessive as it is now. Bernie Sanders understands this and his vision for the U.S. confirms that. What follows is what democratic socialism means to him and implicit in that will be his vision for the United States:
In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.
It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. That is why I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer health care system. Yes. The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further.
Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy.
People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Democratic socialism means that, in the year 2015, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago – and that public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free. This is also not a radical idea. It exists today in many countries around the world. In fact, it used to exist in the United States.
Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10%. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for unemployed young people, than to lock them up and spend $80 billion a year through mass incarceration.
Democratic socialism means that if someone works forty hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty: that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour over the next few years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now in Congress. How can it possibly be that the United States, today, is virtually the only nation on earth, large or small, which does not guarantee that a working class woman can stay home for a reasonable period of time with her new-born baby? How absurd is that?
Democratic socialism means that we have government policy which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet, and that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and habitable for our kids and grandchildren.
Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It is not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated; “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
It is not acceptable that major corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion in taxes each and every year. It is not acceptable that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or truck drivers. It is not acceptable that billionaire families are able to leave virtually all of their wealth to their families without paying a reasonable estate tax. It is not acceptable that Wall Street speculators are able to gamble trillions of dollars in the derivatives market without paying a nickel in taxes on those transactions.
Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote. It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely. Every American should be embarrassed that in our last national election 63% of the American people, and 80% of young people, did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors to suppress the vote, we must make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder. It is not too much to demand that everyone 18 years of age is registered to vote – end of discussion.25
Bernie Sanders hits all of the major points discussed here and more. This is his vision for the United States—a vision that every American should endorse. Them who do not endorse him either because he’s a “socialist” or because he disagrees with Republicans on a given issue are putting dishonesty before truth, putting themselves before the well-being of their fellow citizens, and prioritizing in a way that’s socially and morally irresponsible. They’re saying that the abortion issue matters more to them than poverty. They’re saying that they’d rather war over the peace of mind of millions of Americans without healthcare and a livable income. They’re saying they have no problem with special interests effectively running the show, dictating the terms of elections. They’re saying they’d rather a Republican candidate who stresses the right to bear arms over a candidate who recognizes the issue of illegal firearms in urban populaces throughout the United States. Sanders’ views on guns is far more nuanced and actually succeeds at synthesizing both sides of the issue; he, in other words, recognizes that guns in rural states take on different meaning than they do in urban settings. He isn’t trying to strip a hunter of his rifle, but he is imploring the gang member to turn in his illegally acquired, unlicensed, and unregistered firearm. Sanders’ vision for the U.S. is one of great depth, optimism, and promise. If you aren’t already a supporter, honestly consider it for yourself. He isn’t only the ideal American candidate, he’s a global candidate. His vision is not only needed in the United States, it is also needed abroad. Socialism isn’t a dead ideology. It is the one true hope for a bright future for us all.
1 Kruse, Michael. “14 things Bernie Sanders has said about socialism”. Politico. 17 July 2015. Web.
2 Newman, Michael. Socialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 2-3. Print.
3 Ibid. 
4 “Bernie’s Announcement”. Bernie Sanders. 26 May 2015. Web.
5 Ibid. , p.23
6 “Transcript of the Democratic Presidential Debate”. The New York Times. 17 Jan 2016. Web.
7 “Petition Against Citizens United Decision Gains Steam”. Democracy Chronicles. ND. Web.
8 Ibid. 
9 Ibid. 
10 Marchionatti, Roberto, ed. Karl Marx: Critical Responses. London: Routledge, 1998. 171. Print.
11 Ibid. , p.15
12 “Remarks by Sen. Bernie Sanders”. Burlington Free Press. 26 May 2015. Web.
13 “Bernie Sanders on Equal Pay”. Feel The Bern. ND. Web.
14 Sanders, Bernie. “United Against the War on Women”. Huffington Post. 30 Apr 2012. Web.
15 Busky, Donald F. Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. xi. Print.
16 “Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States”. Bernie Sanders. 19 Nov 2015. Web.
17 Atkinson, Warren. “Incentive Under Socialism”. Indiana State University. ND. Web.
18 Ibid. 
19 “Poverty: 2014 Highlights”. United States Census Bureau. ND. Web.
20 Ibid. 
21 Ibid. , p.140
22 Ibid. , p.145
23 Ibid. , p.37-38
24 Ibid. , p.170
25 Harrington, Michael. Socialism: Past and Future. New York: Arcade, 1989. 1. Print.
26 Ibid.