Open Your Eyes: Social Democracy Is Collapsing

Jeffrey A. Tucker, Foundation for Economic Education

A sign of strange times: 1984 by George Orwell has become a bestseller yet again. Here is a book distinguished for its dark view of the state, together with a genuine despair about what to do about it. 

Strangely, this view is held today by the Right, the Left, and even people who don’t think of themselves as loyal to either way. The whole fiasco happening in D.C. seems insoluble, and the inevitable is already taking place today as it did under the presidents who preceded Trump: the realization that the new guy in town is not going to solve the problem.

Now arrives the genuine crisis of social democracy. True, it’s been building for decades but with the rise of extremist parties in Europe, and the first signs of entrenched and sometimes violent political confrontations in the United States, the reality is ever more part of our lives. The times cry out for some new chapter in public life, and a complete rethinking of the relationship between the individual and the state and between society and its governing institutions.

Origins of the Problem

At a speech for college students, I asked the question: who here knows the term social democracy? Two hands of more than one hundred went up. That’s sad. The short answer is that social democracy is what we have now and what everyone loves to hate. It’s not constitutionalism, not liberalism, not socialism in full, and not conservatism. It’s unlimited rule by self-proclaimed elites who think they know better than the rest of us how to manage our lives.

By way of background, at the end of the Second World War, the intellectual and political elites in the United States rallied around the idea that ideology was dead. The classic statement summing up this view in book form came in 1960: The End of Ideology by Daniel Bell. A self-described "socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture,” he said that all wild-eyed visions of politics had come to an end. They would all be replaced by a system of rule by experts that everyone will love forever.

To be sure, the ultimate end-of-ideology system is freedom itself. Genuine liberalism (which probably shouldn’t be classified as an ideology at all) doesn’t require universal agreement on some system of public administration. It tolerates vast differences of opinion on religion, culture, behavioral norms, traditions, and personal ethics. It permits every form of speech, writing, association, and movement. Commerce, producing and trading toward living better lives, becomes the lifeblood. It only asks that people – including the state – not violate basic human rights.

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