In a much earlier post, titled “American Socialism,” we observed, with some repressed annoyance, that the term, “socialist,” was a term in popular use by people who do not know better, as an epithet to designate a person or a governmental program as indefensibly un-American, and blameworthy. We had attempted to clarify the word, “Socialism,” in fact, as a political-economic theory, representing the total ownership and control of basic industry and business enterprise, by the State. We observed that the theory (the product, no doubt, of well-meaning theoreticians) could not be successful, because it discourages initiative and demonstrates, additionally, a disregard for the individualistic and creative feature of the human persona, viz., the natural, human aspiration for self-fullment.
Theories like “Socialism,” were, perhaps, in direct and understandable response to a laissez-faire economic system, whereby society manifested the immense suffering and privation on the part of the common man, whose humanity and intrinsic value was seen, solely in terms of his capacity for labor, in the production of profit for the entrepreneur. Any reader of Victorian literature (especially the novels of Charles Dickens) will be aware of the great suffering and privation of the lower classes, whose lives and suffering were existentially relegated to the theoretical and unsympathetic operation of “Natural Law.”
In more recent times, due no doubt, in large part to reformers like Charles Dickens, a measure of recognition for the plight of the common man had its nascent development, and empathic governmental reforms were legislated. In the 1930’s, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt oversaw a new philosophy of governance, by which assistance to the needy, limitations of working hours, regulations to protect life and health, a system of social security and survivor’s insurance, protections for trade unionism, unemployment insurance and many of the programs of governmental assistance existing today, were firmly established.
Such reforms were part of the government’s appropriate recognition of a measure of responsibility, and developing moral concern for humanity; a far cry from the “blacking shops” in which Dickens labored as a small child. Such beneficial and empathic assistance by government to improve the air and drinking water, prevent hunger and want, are inarguably commendable actions; they collaterally, are also an effective way to prevent the appeal of other forms of governance, which might well limit free enterprise and individual initiative.
Unthinking citizens, who decry American governmental programs of welfare and beneficial assistance, as “Socialist”and therefore, “unAmerican”, should, (1) consider their own participation in social security, disability and death benefits, unemployment insurance, postal privileges and the remaining plethora of governmental services and benefits, which they enjoy and, perhaps, (2) research the accurate definition and meaning of the word, “Socialism.”
We prefer the words, “Compassionate Capitalism,” to aptly describe the American system, which embodys the morally proper exercise of empathic governance.