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  • Norman Young

The Conservative's Guide to Socialism


Political words are notoriously slippery. The project of defining them can sometimes feel like stapling Jello to the wall. This is especially true of words that develop strong positive or negative connotations. Connotation can attach itself to the meaning of words if the connotative use becomes common enough.

The word "socialism" has taken on a life of its own over the last few months. The variety of uses of the term are making political dialogue terribly confused. Average Americans honestly discussing their political differences will often find themselves arguing over what does or does not qualify as "socialism." This is because words are weapons, and both sides have an interest in dulling their opponents blades and sharpening their own. I'm here to help. I have done my best to parse the common uses of the term "socialism" and subdivide them into their proper categories. Keep in mind that these categories will only reflect term usage in the aggregate. Individuals tend to equivocate.

The first thing to notice is a broad categorical distinction between "socialism" referring to a historical thing and "socialism" describing modern political feelings. There is debate within both categories, of course. But let's begin with the historical.

Properly defined, historical socialism includes fascism (national socialism) and communism (international socialism), both of which sought to empower the working class by giving it control over the means of production. National socialism gave workers control through nationalization of industry (accomplished either by state regulation of nominally private corporations or by direct state ownership). Communist socialism sought to empower workers by overthrowing the state on behalf of a global proletariat—a project which, ironically, always necessitates tyrannical use of state power.

Democrats unanimously desire to exclude the national socialists from historical "socialism," for good reason. The farther one goes toward the political Left, the fewer historically socialist regimes actually count as "socialist." For Democrats, there are countless ways to parse history based on which socialist regimes you want to identify with, and which o