Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Horse of a Different Color: What Makes the Difference between Liberals and Socialists?

As President Obama has been making his stumping rounds for re-election, he is running into opposition. An Iowa Tea Party member, Ryan Rhodes, accused the president of being a Socialist. What would make Barack Obama a Socialist or just an extreme-left Liberal? Maybe a working definition would help.

In order to define liberalism and socialism best, I think we need to split the two terms along certain lines, under social, religious, and political headings.

Social: How do liberals versus socialists order society? What decisions do they make and what is their reasoning behind it? Liberals tend to desire a free society in which people can make make decisions for their own life apart from government involvement, but who can also count on their government as a source of consistent help. Society, in this utopian vision, bands together in order to use the government for the good of all citizens. The ideal of this system may be closest to a true Democracy. Government programs are used for one end alone, a happy and free society.

Socialists, at least under the Communist system, see freedom a little differently. The people rise up and form a proletariat government, in which the government is given the power to make decisions for the people by the initial will of the people. In Communism, the only form of Socialism the West is really familiar with, the wealthy are unburdened of their wealth and it is in-turn supposed to be redistributed to those who are poor. This is supposed to have a leveling effect on society and make all people equals. Education, money, and talents are all to be equal throughout society.

Religious: The Liberal would tend to remain somehow religious. Historically, they would be Christian or Unitarian. Liberalism would like to see God's gifts and resources used to the optimum societal impact. However it tends toward the Social Gospel - seeing societal and physical care as almost the sole function of the Church. Freedom of religion is still important and the Church is still "useful."

Socialists, however, reject religion in general and Christianity in particular as the "opiate of the masses." The socialist believes that society is all there is and is all that is needed. This is Secular Humanism and is a direct result of the acceptance of Darwinian evolutionary theory. In the case of Communism, religion is either tightly controlled or it is entirely, and often violently, removed from society. This model would tend toward freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

Political: As mentioned earlier, Liberals like Democracy; the will of the majority is what should organize and move the political process. If the majority can be swayed, then its new will should be enforced. Therefore, the media is seen as a very useful tool in swaying minds to Liberal ideals. (Historically, the only democratic processes that are built into the United States' political system are voting for political candidates and voting on bills within the Congress. The other checks and balances were put in place to ensure a Republic rather than a Democracy.)

Socialists, again in the Communist system, form a strong centralized government, often led by a dictator or cabinet, which makes decisions about who gets what and where resources will go. In a more pure Socialist system, the government would be a loose faction of representatives sent by the people to determine how to properly use the commune's resources. (Again, the concept of representatives is reflected in the United State's political structure, but does not reflect the ideals of Communism particularly because the U.S. has an executive branch and a bicameral legislature).

So given those criteria, how can we determine where President Obama stands? Is he a Liberal or is he a Socialist? Socially, he is for big government and giving breaks to the poor while seeking to heavily tax the rich. While he has not directly advocated "redistribution" of wealth from the rich to the poor, his policies would take in larger and larger amounts from the wealthy to the government to cover debts incurred by decisions made by his administration, ostensibly for the good of the people. While this wouldn't land him quite into the Communist camp, I believe it lands him solidly within Socialism.

Religiously, Obama has attended a very socially and religiously Liberal Church. He does not regularly attend services as President, and has made comments for evolutionary explanations of existence and against conservative interpretations of the Bible. He also has made comments against Christian beliefs. He keeps his cards relatively close to his chest here, but it is a pretty safe bet he is neither a believing Christian or a friend of the Christian Gospel. His policies also seem to indicate that he is not merely interested in the Social Gospel, but in humanistic social advocacy. Hence his original slogan, with all its quasi-religious undertones, "Change we can believe in."

Politically, President Obama has further centralized an already highly-centralized government, setting up "czars" over several social, financial, and industrial domains. These czars make decisions on what standards and taxes will be put in place and exert control over an entire field. This centralization is exactly what we would see from a socialist or even a Communist taking the executive office.

While he protests the Socialist moniker, I believe by this simple definition we can see that President Obama is, indeed, a Socialist and not a Liberal. Further, I think we would be surprised to find that many, if not most, Conservatives are actually Liberals and most Liberals, if pressed, are actually Socialists.

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