A VIEW FROM THE MIDDLE by David Lourie – A Response to “Socialism Has Never Worked and Can’t “



Regarding Michael Greer’s editorial, “Why Socialism Has Never Worked and Can’t,”

By David Lourie

I agree with the author that Socialism doesn’t work because it goes against human nature.  No argument there.

In Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital,” the treatise that defined and established the original Socialist movement, he miscalculated human nature almost as profoundly as Ayn Rand misunderstood it in her books (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.)  So I see these highly influential thinkers from both sides of political values – the left and the right – being equally flawed in their theories (more on this below).

I think Das Kapital has some valuable insights, but it is also a contender for the defining example of naive idealism.

Marx’s core principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” ignores human nature, because people who produce or contribute more naturally expect to receive more – and rightly so.

I agree that it’s perfectly natural and normal for some people to excel and surpass others – so in my opinion the angry political fight over Welfare boils down to a matter of degree, as opposed to the extremist, polarized and exaggerated diatribes we read nowadays, which suggest the fight, is more polar than it really is.

I support avoiding the harsh and often cruel extremes that characterize life in the jungle, so in human society I’m in favor of giving some amount of help to the genuinely needy (though not to the genuinely lazy).

The idea of Welfare has always been a matter of degree in modern Western nations, trying to approximate the elusive ideal of balancing the rights and needs of the advantaged and the disadvantage – unlike the unbalanced and unworkable version that Marx proposed for Socialism.

But I agree with Marx that although life in general is not fair, human society should be, and we should strive to make it that way.

Welfare should establish a safety net, below which weak or disadvantaged people won’t fall, as part of our species rising above a jungle-like existence.  I believe both sides agree to that in principle.  So I think all the current hostile and polarized rhetoric about Welfare and Unions (which per se do NOT constitute “Socialism”) is really all about establishing exactly how high and wide that safety net should be.  Yes?  No?

Maybe the divisive political issue is not as polarized as the popular rhetoric makes it out to be.

The author of the editorial cites human nature in defense of her points, so I would like to see both her and the spokespeople for the other side of the political divide acknowledge that their common human nature is at the foundation of their disagreement.  Both sides are driven by same imperatives of human nature.

Because of human nature at work, of course every government will try to get too powerful, while of course the opposition will try to tip the balance too far in their own favor.

This is the unstoppable process that will forever characterize our democracies, and it’s all driven on both sides by the same qualities of human nature.

So neither side should be self righteous or claim the moral high ground, in my opinion.

I’d like to see all the vitriolic oratory about Welfare toned down and replaced by a less hostile, less exaggerated and more intelligent give-and-take, in which both sides acknowledge and articulate the common imperatives that drive them.  Perhaps this perspective could help some in finding solutions to replace the ongoing litany of accusation and name-calling, in which the common ground that is actually there, and could offer a starting point for dialogue, seems to elude the antagonists.  So drop the withering insults, please, and for a start just acknowledge what little common ground there is.

In this contemporary war of words, and regarding this thoughtful editorial, the author’s rhetoric about Unions falls into the same trap as the other side’s rant about excessive government: both sides use extreme examples to make their points, and that is misleading, because most of the real life activity on both sides occupies the middle ranges more than the extremes.

But unfortunately, each side regards the other’s ‘mid range’ as ‘extreme.’

As an example, one of the things I disagree with in the editorial is when she says, “[Unionized workers] quickly realize that, since they won’t be rewarded for working harder, they need hardly work at all.”

This above criticism only describes a small minority of workers, not the typical worker, so this is severely exaggerating the situation while pretending it’s accurate, just to make the point more strongly, and that is pure sophistry, which reflects the current hostile political climate on both sides.

Another editorial point I disagree with is when she says, “We only value what we earn. Whatever is given to us that we didn’t earn, has no value.”  That doesn’t even pass the ‘look out the window’ test.  Although the idea may feel right to some at first glance – especially to those who would like to believe it’s true – on closer inspection it just reveals the author’s ignorance about human psychology.

Similarly, on the conservative side, Ayn Rand’s writing is another interesting case of ‘logic’ which appears compelling at first read, but which doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny.

When her books came out they took many intellectuals by storm, and she gained an immediate loyal following which is pretty strong to this day.

What’s so interesting to me is how so many of those educated and intelligent people completely missed the fact that in constructing the case for her social values and policies, she fell into the fundamental logic trap of assuming her conclusion.

However, having said that, I actually do understand why so many intelligent people missed that problem: once again, human nature is to blame.  You see, Rand was saying what these people wanted to hear, thus their belief arose too easily, without a healthy level of doubt and analysis.

The other reason for her enormous lasting influence was that a personality cult developed around her, with her followers feeling intellectually uplifted and inspired by her writing.

But while demonstrating her sharp intellect, Rand was also demonstrating her profoundly naive assumptions about human nature, as did Karl Marx regarding his core Socialist principle.

For example, as author Jonathan Chait observes, “Rand called her doctrine “Objectivism,” and it . . . was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors.  Emotion and taste had no place.”

So I submit she was indeed out of touch with most of us.

And it’s ironic that Rand placed logic on the highest pedestal, while she herself used logic in such a fundamentally flawed way.

Rand’s conclusions are the product of a self-satisfying intellectual process, rather than the result of perceptive real-life observations of people – much the same as Karl Marx’s core idea.

So Karl Marx and Ayn Rand could have benefited by a good look at “Lord of the Flies” (had it been available when Marx was alive).

DL Cameo2

David Lourie


David Lourie is a freelance writer and documentary film editor.  He has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Arts from UCLA, and taught film making for 2 years to graduate students at the UCLA Film School, as well as teaching at several film schools in Australia, where he now lives.  He won an Emmy Award for a National Geographic documentary he edited in 1999, and he’s received several international film festival awards over the years.  He also writes the international comic strip, “Dharma The Cat – Philosophy With Fur,” published by Simon & Schuster Australia, and by magazines in 28 countries, translated into 18 languages: www.dharmathecatcartoons.com .


Michael Greer’s editorial which David is commenting on:

Socialism Has Never Worked and Can’t

Socialism Has Never Worked and Can’t

By Michael Greer We often hear that “the only reason socialism has never worked” is that the “wrong people” were…

August 11, 2014


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