Friday, June 28, 2013

The New York Times rants against socialism


Theodore Roosevelt has now thought out and matured his doctrine of Socialism. It is not the Marxian Socialism. Much that Karl Marx taught is rejected by present-day Socialists. Mr. Roosevelt achieves the redistribution of wealth in a simpler and easier way. He leaves the land, the mines, the factories, the railroads, the banks—all the instruments of production and exchange—in the hands of their individual owners, but of the profits of their operation he takes whatever share the people at any given time may choose to appropriate to the common use. The people are going to say, “We care not who owns and milks the cow, so long as we get our fill of the milk and cream.” Marx left Socialism in its infancy, a doctrine that stumbled and sprawled under the weight of its own inconsistencies. Mr. Roosevelt’s doctrine is of no such complexity. It has all the simplicity of theft and much of its impudence. The means employed are admirably adapted to the end sought, and if the system can be made to work at all, it will go on forever.

Mr. Roosevelt’s plan for the reorganization of Government and society is set forth in his article on “The Progressive Party” in the September issue of The Century Magazine. IN summary it is this:

1.                Unite all the people in the Progressive Party by destroying the “bi-partisan combine of the two boss-ridden party machines whose hostility each to the other is only nominal compared to the hostility of both to the people at large.”

2.                Extend indefinitely the power and the functions of Government. For the solution of the problems confronting the people, and effectually to cure the evils of today, “it will be necessary to invoke the use of governmental power to a degree hitherto unknown in this country, and, in the interest of democracy, to apply principles which the purely individualistic democracy of a century ago would not have recognized as democratic.”

3.                Abolish competition. That is a cardinal doctrine of Socialism. “We believe that the business world must change from a competitive to a cooperate basis. We absolutely repudiate the theory that any good whatever can come from confining ourselves solely to the effort to reproduce the dead and gone conditions of sixty years ago—conditions of uncontrolled competition between competitors most of whom were small and weak.”

4.                Put the making and the repeal of laws and the interpretation of the Constitution directly into the hands of the people by the initiative and the referendum and the recall of judicial decisions by popular vote. “We hold moreover, with the utmost emphasis, that the people themselves should have the right to decide for themselves after due deliberation what laws are to be placed upon the statute books, and what construction is to be placed upon the Constitutions, National and State, by the courts so far as concerns all law for social and industrial justice.”

5.                Confiscate great fortunes and let the people take what part they choose of all private fortunes by the taxing power. “We believe that great fortunes, even when accumulated by the man himself, are of limited benefit to the country, and that they are detrimental rather than beneficial when secured through inheritance. We therefore believe in a heavily progressive inheritance tax—a tax which shall bear very lightly on small or ordinary inheritances, but which shall bear very heavily upon all inheritances of colossal size. We believe in a heavily graded income tax, along the same lines, but discriminating sharply in favor of earned, as compared with unearned incomes.”

That is the Roosevelt Socialism. We have called it super-Socialism. Nietzsche imagined and portrayed the superman. In a wiser society that had ceased to waste time and effort in caring for the dependent and the helpless, leaving them to their fate, so gourds of social nutrition would be drawn upon for the development of the efficient, the capable, the fine specimens of the race, until the perfect type was evolved—the superman. Mr. Roosevelt has laid many systems of Socialism under contribution, rejecting, choosing, refining, perfecting, and upon parts of all he erects his own. He surpasses and towers above the other teachers of Socialism. We do not see how his work could have been better done—for his ends. It is so easy when there is no Opposition, when you have put all the people into one party, and when your plan is expressly contrived for laying hold of the gains of the capable, the efficient, and the successful for the benefit of the incompetent, the shiftless, the shirks, and the failures. Government under the control of all for the benefit of all would of necessity work without a hitch.

It is Socialism. It is something else, too, but unmistakably, it is Socialism. “The goal is not Socialism,” says Mr. Roosevelt, “but so much of Socialism as will best permit the building thereon of a sanely altruistic individualism, an individualism where self-respect is combined with a lively sense of consideration for and duty toward others, and where full recognition of the increased need of collective action goes hand in hand with a developed instead of an atrophied power of individual action.”

Socialism is never a goal, any more than republicanism or democracy is a goal. Parties and party faiths and policies are means to an end. Mr. Roosevelt’s system of Socialism is a means, the goal lies further on. He professes the deepest solicitude for the ideal of individualism. His collectivism, his co-operative plan for business, his Government direction and control “to a degree hitherto unknown in this country,” he protests, “would not mean in the slightest degree any impairment or weakening of individual character.” “We are striving,” he says, “in good faith to produce conditions in which there shall be a more general division of material well-being, to produce conditions under which it shall be difficult for the very rich to become so very rich, and easier for the men without capital, but the right type of character, to lead a life of self-respecting and hard-working well-being.”

The plan must be examined. It is not without foresight and purpose that Mr. Roosevelt would call into being a Government of men, not of laws. The Constitution of the United States, adopted a century and a quarter ago, guarantees protection to the life, liberty, and property of the citizen. When the deep, even-flowing, traditional current of constitutional interpretation by men profoundly learned in the law is diverted to the fretted and tortuous channel of popular caprice, the checks the people at the beginning laid upon themselves, the guarantees they gave as a solemn covenant of all with all are swept away, mere sticks in the Niagara Rapids. The Constitution is torn to tatters. And that is the foundation of the system, as Mr. Roosevelt well knows. In vain the possessor of a great fortune will appeal to the courts: the people are the courts, and they want his money. Not only the great, but the small, fortunes will be open to spoliation, any fortunes, any accumulation. There are not enough great fortunes to satisfy Mr. Roosevelt’s great Progressive Party after it has once made a beginning of redistributing wealth by confiscation. Observe that Mr. Roosevelt’s death and income taxes are not laid for revenue—he says nothing about revenue. They are imposed to take away the possessions of the rich. But in estimating the yield of the new income tax the Ways and Means Committee puts the number of incomes exceeding $1,000,000 per year at only 100, and the revenue from the tax on them would be but $9,000,000. Of these “colossal fortunes” there would be enough merely to whet the Gargantuan appetite of Demos. Inevitably, all fortunes save the most modest, would be laid under contribution.

Now the effect of this cannot be mistaken. It would kill the spirit of enterprise, at once put a stop to industrial progress, and bring the country’s business to the dead level of stagnation. Who would strive and toil, who would live laborious days in building up a great business to accumulate wealth that excise taxes would diminish during his life and that the Government would seize at his death? Mr. Roosevelt destroys the motive of toil and enterprise when he contrives a tax that would bear heavily upon “unearned” incomes, that is incomes from investments. If you destroy the incentive you prevent the achievement. Any form of Socialism would bring on industrial paralysis, Mr. Roosevelt’s most of all. His plan could have no other result. It is a logical and coherent plan: First, the party of all the people; then Government interference with all industrial and commercial forces; then the doing away with competition, which all Socialists preach; then the surmounting of the terrible obstacle of the Constitution by popular vote—all these changes being accomplished the way would be open to unlimited confiscation of property and the redistribution of wealth.

The trouble is that after a little there would be nothing to confiscate. And that is the vice, the hollowness, the sham of Mr. Roosevelt’s Socialistic doctrine. From beginning to end of his article there is not a line or a word which, rightly understood and carried out to its true meaning, can give the least encouragement to any business man or worker in this Republic. Yet we are all business men, all workers. Mr. Roosevelt’s reconstitution of society would leave it inert by destroying individual initiative, hope, and ambition, which are the foundations of progress. It is a sterile system, yet being sterile, why has he constructed it? Because he knew that with his great skill he could make the Utopian dream attractive to that very considerable part of society which is the material with which agitators work—the discontented, the unsuccessful, the envious. And upon a Progressive Party thus assembled and fortified with delusions he would rise again to power. It is as the basis of his ambition that he has formulated his plan. The fatal defect of it is that the American people are far too intelligent, they have too much common sense to be deluded by the shallow sophistries of the Roosevelt Socialism. But the Colonel had to do something, his party is going to pieces.

The New York Times
Published: September 30, 1913

Copyright © The New York Times

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