from Kevin Williamson at National Review, ‘Socialist’ Is the New ‘Libertarian

Beneath the tribalism, the underlying energies on both sides of the political divide are status anxietyand risk aversion. Americans, along with most of the rest of the world, today enjoy a material standard of living that is radically better than what our parents or grandparents enjoyed during the so-called golden age of the postwar era. And it’s not just those shiny gadgets that Mr. Tomasky dismisses with such shallow contempt. We have better food, housing, health care, and — yes — access to education, including higher education, than most people would have dreamt of in the Eisenhower era. (And extreme poverty around the world was cut by half in about 30 years, one of the unappreciated miracles of human history.) These advances are taken for granted, and even held in glib contempt, because the process that creates them (capitalism) is largely invisible to most people, who have very little if any understanding of where material progress comes from and how it happens. By almost any measurable metric (calories and kilowatt-hours consumed, square feet inhabited, etc.) this American life looks pretty good compared to the 1980s, much less the 1950s. But there are fault lines, as evidenced by the decline in life expectancies for non-college-educated white men, particularly in Greater Appalachia, a lamentable social trend driven almost entirely by despair and ennui: It isn’t malaria or starvation killing those people, but afflictions associated with chronic alcohol abuse, addiction to opiates and other drugs, and suicide.

The theoretical promise of socialism, like the promise of the Bismarckian welfare state that was developed as a liberal alternative to it, is that it fortifies the individual by insulating him from bearing the full weight of social and economic forces beyond his control. This is hardly an exclusively progressive or left-wing idea: F. A. Hayek’s argument for various kinds of social insurance and welfare plans was based on much the same thinking, with the state “providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.”

Socialism provides, for those not inclined to think too deeply about the question, a one-word answer for all those dilemmas. It’s the Left’s version of the libertarians’ “The free market will take care of it, or private charity will.” Neither of those prescriptions withstands very much scrutiny.


This is an exceptional essay. I encourage you to read the entire article.