“Where some has failed, more rarely succeeds.”—Aaron Haspel, Everything (2015)
I grew up hearing again and again from all the old communists and socialists in Verdun and The Point that none of the supposedly communist countries were actually communist, and none of the supposedly socialist countries were actually socialist: “We’ve never really tried communism!”—they’d say, before pounding a fist into the table, and taking another swig of beer.
There’s some truth to claims like this. After all, we live in a complicated world wherein all theoretical constructs are forced to fall from grace when they’re put into practice. So there has never been, nor will there ever be, a perfectly communist society or a perfectly capitalist society. But does this mean that every system must be judged only with reference to its pristine Platonic ideal?
Why can’t we judge how something looks in the messy real world we live in? What’s more, isn’t there something vaguely sleazy about constantly placing your proposed system beyond reproach?
Listening to a libertarian go off on one of their anti-government rants is like listening to an American who’s convinced himself that he lives in Liberia: a country where nothing works, everything’s broken, and everyone in charge is either corrupt or incompetent. The rhetoric is so over the top and absurd. You have to visit the States from time to time to be reminded of how full of shit these people are.
Much in America works. And works very well. Libertarians talk about government and governing the way that judgy know-it-alls who don’t have kids talk about parenting. Perhaps that’s why a perverse part of me wants to see what happens when a libertarian party gets elected to a serious public office with grownup responsibilities. Because right now most of their political ideas are untested and absurdly theoretical.
Then again, even if they did get elected, I suspect libertarians would explain away all of their failures the way ideologues of all political stripes have been explaining away their failures for the last century: by saying that their panacea didn’t work because it wasn’t implemented thoroughly enough.
The perfect political system does not exist. They’re all more or less flawed, just as we are all more or less flawed. That being said, some regimes are better than others (e.g., the American republic is, at present, way better than the Saudi Arabian monarchy). The best regimes, to my mind, are constitutional democracies; especially constitutional democracies that have found creative ways to balance the two (equally sacred) fairness ideals: the fairness ideal that says we ought to link rewards to effort, and the fairness ideal that says we ought to level the playing field, share, and avoid extremes of wealth and poverty.
The ideal regime I long for does two things well:
- it provides ample opportunity for private enterprise to innovate and prosper,
- it guarantees social security so that citizens cannot be priced out of basic needs such as food, shelter, education, and leisure time.
It defends the full rights and freedoms of individuals through human rights legislation, and it rejects all forms of forced collectivism. At present, social democracy seems to be the only form of government that can reliably achieve these goals.
Libertarianism doesn’t provide an adequate economic framework for social security; democratic socialism and social conservatism inherently promote forced collectivism; communism fails to link rewards to effort; anarchism severely limits human freedoms; and far-right politics invariably lead to barbarism.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)