To be clear, I'm not speaking here of communism or any of the various and sundry dictatorships that called themselves "people's republics." Freedom and liberty were never their purpose; at best, the goal was benign regimentation, and they failed even at that. People won't regiment without being enslaved, and slavery is never benign. Those so-called socialisms failed because they were inhuman, they were anti-social, they destroyed personhood in the name of The People. They were a contradiction in terms and they wound up in the place Marx assigned to their predecessors, the dustbin of history.
Yet humanity is profoundly socialist. Our every impulse pulls us there, our every human impulse. Our primitive, lizard brains are pure selfishness, but they don't define us. Not even the greediest capitalist is free from his socialist impulses. It's in his genes, because every human starts as a socialist.
We are all born into a state of total dependence. When we are born, we are not endowed, by the creator, with the blessings of liberty. We are born helpless. We have no freedom. We are all need. Those needs are either met by other humans, usually by our parents, or we die. And we have nothing whatsoever to exchange for our lives, nothing of economic value, nothing but love.
Every one of us is born a welfare queen or king, an absolutely useless, needy consumer of scarce resources to which we can contribute not a thing. For the better part of two decades our very existence is a net minus, we are a drag upon our family, community or tribe.
Yet for over two million years we have survived; this species with a life expectancy (until yesterday) of thirty years, half of which was spent in immaturity, helpless and useless as larvae, has succeeded so wildly that we now threaten to choke the life out of every other species on the planet.
I point this out to remind those who think that all human activity is best explained by, and governed by, economic transactions and the workings of the market, that they are utterly wrong, wrong from the beginning, wrong from the moment they first drew breath.
We are creatures of welfare; we owe our existence to altruism; we are all, literally, love children.
If, and only if, our welfare is nurtured long enough and well enough that we reach adulthood, and we begin to sustain our own lives through our own, conscious efforts, can we become suitable vessels for the blessings of liberty. Not before. And not even that is enough. Civilization must grow along with us.
As a child must mature to receive the blessings of liberty, so must a society. Nobody is free in a primitive clan of hunter gatherers, they are all slaves to starvation, perched on the knife edge of life and death, every day. Only one person is free in a primitive tribe; the strongest man with the biggest club owns everything and everybody. More and more people become free as society and custom evolve through warlords, dictatorships, kings and noblemen, oligarchy and aristocracies of race, class, religion. The circle of liberty widens ever so slowly with history, but never and nowhere wide enough yet to encircle all society. We still have a lot of growing to do.
And that is the point and paradox. Without society there is no liberty, without altruism there is no society. The jungle isn't free, the law of the jungle, the market, isn't free, they are hunting grounds, the inhabitants free to be prey. Only within some form of collectivism, that despised word, that terrifying concept, can liberty be created, protected, and expanded.
If the lack of government was the measure of freedom, Somalia would be the freest nation in the world. In that light, all the asinine talk about big government versus small government fades away. That argument is a shell game; it means big government for the big and small government for the rest. The powerful always have all the government they need. And that is just another name for the abuse of power.
It is that power which an evolved society seeks to curb. It is, to use another despised word, the redistribution of power that is at the heart of the liberal project. If we want to point the arrow of history towards liberty, we should remember what gave it, and us, birth. Socialism.