1-8-15 – What exactly is Democratic Socialism?

by Richard Tracy

There is among us an ongoing effort to justify socialism. It seems likely that this is due in part to Bernie Sanders’ past selfidentification as a socialist. Vermont’s junior Senator doesn’t talk much about it, of course, but his supporters are out in force, using Facebook and letters to the editor as conduits for their arguments in favor of socialist policies and against capitalism.

A popular theme along this line is to attach to socialism the adjective “democratic.” (Perhaps to make it more palatable?) There is a website for Democratic Socialists of America, which features this line: “Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically…”.

What does that even mean? The economy and society are not things which can be “run”. When at their best, they are comprised of billions of spontaneous interactions, financial or otherwise, which embody the mutual cooperation of willing participants. There’s a reason why economics is a social science.

Who should “run“ the economy and society? The very notion is preposterous! No person or group of persons has ever come close to replicating the effectiveness of a free market economy in a free society, and none ever will.

According to democratic socialists, as long as the majority of voters want socialism and approve of it in democratic elections, then socialism is thereby elevated into status as a certifiable good thing. All the past and present failures of socialist governments are irrelevant. History will not repeat itself…this time. We are to believe that only the current crop of American progressives fully understands the many (allegedly) positive nuances of socialism.

Surely modern politicians can be trusted to replace demonic capitalism with the more socially just, Utopian existence that we all deserve? Right? Past failures and current mediocrity are of no concern, right? Right?

In a word, “No.”

Americans have moved from understanding that the United States was formed as a republic to the notion that we are a democracy. We regularly hear intelligent people (who ought to know better) use the term democracy as if it is synonymous with freedom.

Historically speaking, democracies have a poor track record. Our founders understood this, and painstakingly crafted a republic with the intent to check the worst aspects of democracy while preserving the element of free elections. For example, there is this well known quote attributed to John Adams “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” It’s a safe bet that most of the Founders had read Plato who wrote that “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy.”

Nevertheless the notion persists that democracy and freedom/free society are one and the same. On the campaign trail this pretense is repeatedly perpetuated by the likes of Clinton, Sanders, Christie, and Kasich. They and others occasionally speak in pseudo reverence about “our democracy” as if it’s a given that it even exists.

People who should know better? Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a book entitled, “Making our Democracy Work.”

It’s not just the Founding Fathers and ancient philosophers who saw that democracy was inadequate. Much more modern figures have observed that democracy is no guarantee of freedom. In “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury mentioned “The terrible tyranny of the majority.” Author James Brovard wrote that “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” To which some of us add that in a republic, the sheep is armed and ready to contest the vote. Thomas Sowell penned an essay “The Democratic Fallacy.”

Mark Twain said “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” Maybe he was joking? One man who wasn’t joking was Karl Marx to whom these words are attributed: “Democracy is the road to socialism.”

Socialism — democratic or otherwise — is about centralized control. Such control yields neither efficiency nor abundance. Central control does not yield accountability or transparency. It rarely produces the promised results.

Of greater importance, socialized central control most certainly does not produce more freedom.

– Dick Tracy is a self-employed 8th generation Vermonter and a product of Vermont public schools who ran for state senate in 2012. He and his wife live in Sharon. 


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Tompkins January 8, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Incredibly well written and spot on. I particularly liked the Adams quotes. Mr. Tracy is the kind of person we need in the legislature, not the flock of liberal sheep presently taking up space in Montpelier.


Ed Dubois January 9, 2016 at 2:26 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head. Socialists, Democratic Socialists, and Democrats all BELIEVE that they need to RUN the economy and society and aren’t clever enough to know that it isn’t possible.


Robert January 9, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Advocating “democratic socialism” is an unwitting and tacit admission that one is bereft of critical thinking and an understanding of history. It is ironic that supporters of this relabeled failure (socialism) admonish capitalism as being greedy when wanting something you have not worked for is a primary feature of socialism. Indeed socialism speaks to those who want something for nothing whereas capitalism speaks to those motivated to get ahead. The difference is that generally speaking, under capitalism all of society benefits whereas under socialism an inept government gets to pick winnners and losers.


Tom Licata January 9, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Excellent analysis and commentary.

“What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven.”


Peg C January 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Thank you Dick for a good insight. I’d like to go further into our speech by saying words have meaning and are a slow unknowing indoctrination into Socialism/Marxism. It wasn’t until the election of 2012 that the word “forward” was indoctrinated into our daily language with such high usage. Are we all moving “forward” into a way of speaking that has us accepting of less freedoms? Words have meaning and consequences, but are we aware of what we are saying?
In the May 2012; US News this information is found. Type into your browser….. What is the history of the word “forward” and see where it takes you. Once you learn the truth, if it doesn ‘t matter to you, then are you part of the problem?

Quoted there “. . .Victor Morton of the Washington Times has a provocative take on the Obama campaign’s use of the slogan “Forward.” Unfortunately for Obama, Victor writes that the term brings with it a lot of leftist baggage:

The slogan “Forward!” reflected the conviction of European Marxists and radicals that their movements reflected the march of history, which would move forward past capitalism and into socialism and communism. …

There have been at least two radical-left publications named “Vorwaerts” (the German word for “Forward”). One was the daily newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Germany whose writers included Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky. It still publishes as the organ of Germany’s SDP, though that party has changed considerably since World War II. Another was the 1844 biweekly reader of the Communist League. Karl Marx, Engels and Mikhail Bakunin are among the names associated with that publication……”


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