Freedom and Socialism

“How can the freedom of citizens be secured in a socialist state?” asked political theorist William Connolly. In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman makes an automatic connection between the economic freedom and political freedom, implying that socialism by its very existence denies freedom to its citizens. Economic freedom, as defined by Friedman, is laissez—faire capitalism or market activity with very minimal government assistance or regulation. Political freedom, as defined by Friedman, includes the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the right to vote. As a liberal egalitarian, I do not disagree with the basic definition of political freedom which Friedman advocates. However, Friedman asserts that socialist economic systems, whether they are Soviet-style system, social democratic systems, or even liberal welfare states, undermine political freedom. I find this assertion problematic not only because it does not follow logically, but also because it is a commonly held assumption

The common connection between economic socialism and political authoritarianism is a remnant of the Cold War. Our main point of reference is the Soviet Union (though this may be short-sighted), where one could admit that political freedom was heavily repressed. But it does not follow that the lack of freedom (particularly civil and political freedom) in the Soviet Union was due to its economic system. Instead, it was likely its authoritarian single party political structure. While I may be myself oversimplifying, this fear of socialism in the name of civil and political freedom is a major part of the American ideological narrative.

However, this is not to say that we should not be worried about the structure of socialism. As with capitalism (democracy, liberalism, etc.) some forms are better than others. Likewise, certain precautions need to be taken against all forms of government in order to ensure civil and political liberty. The fact that many socialist regimes have been authoritarian is clearly something which socialists should be worried about, as is Connolly – though this does not mean that they should necessarily give up on socialism.

William Connolly makes four recommendations about how socialist states can secure freedom while maintaining a commitment to socialism. First, schools and other institutions of learning “must be subject less to state control and more to the control of local communities and teachers.” He argues that by diffusing educational authority, there will be a greater amount of diverse and critical thought. It also prevents the state from using the educational system as merely a propaganda tool.

Second, it is important that “publishing houses, the press, and other media retain some independence from state control.” Such protections are needed to keep the state from manipulating the public for the states-sake. State-control of media outlets is not a socialist program, but rather a program utilized by authoritarian governments to undermine dissent.

Third, an independent judiciary is “imperative” for a socialist state, in the way that it is vital in any regime. Connelly says that a significant difference between Richard Nixon and Joseph Stalin was the existence in the United States of a judiciary which “was relatively immune from direct executive control.” Now, courts are still imperfect (there is no shortage of examples from American history), however Connelly could more generally have said that what is needed is a meaningful system of checks and balances. A strong and independent judiciary would be an important element of a significant checks and balances scheme, which would also require a strong legislature with the ability to represent the will of the people apart from the disposition of the executive.

The forth recommendation that Connelly makes is that the right of workers to strike should be maintained. The right to strike would ensure that the interests of worker are not ignored by a regime the is supposedly organized to benefit the workers.
In many ways, Connelly is calling for a socialist state with republican protections. In many ways, Marxist theory provides an economic critique which touches on politics but lacks a theory of regime types. This may not be fatal to Marxist theory, but is has complicated effort to establish socialist states.

The separation of powers, the division of powers, the protection of individual rights against government intrusion, and the rule of law are in no way capitalist ideas. One could argue that capitalist regimes have equally undermined such principles. The failure of socialist regimes in the late 20th century has cast doubt upon the prospect for socialism. However, we should not fall for the analysis of Friedman and other libertarians who blame the negatives of socialism upon its economic theory; rather we should look at the failure to establish sound political principles. These principles are under attack today in many places (Russia, Pakistan, and even the United States) where socialism does not exist is a serious way.

By claiming that capitalism produces political freedom ignores the important role of constitutional democratic government, which I would claim is the root of American freedom, despite capitalism, not because of it. We are willing to ignore those protections in the name of capitalism, much in the way that we are willing to ignore them in the pursuit of empire. John Rawls argues against laissez-faire capitalism and welfare-state capitalism largely on the grounds that the inequalities resulting from it undermine the basis for equal citizenship.

In 1977, Connelly asked “is it possible, possible even at the level of theoretical speculation, to institutionalize such a synthesis of socialist and liberal ideals?” He is less than optimistic about the possibility. While I am hesitant to place hope in this as a political reality, theoretically such a synthesis may be the direction that I am heading in. Both liberal egalitarians and proponents of market socialism seem to also be heading along a similar course.

Connolly, W. E. (1977). A note on freedom under socialism. Political Theory, 5(4), 461-472.

Friedman, M., & Friedman, R. D. (1990). Free to choose : A personal statement (1st Harvest/HBJ ed.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Rawls, J., & Kelly, E. (2001). Justice as fairness : A restatement. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

32 Replies to “Freedom and Socialism”

  1. Interesting thoughts. Those first two protections, carving out exceptions for educators and journalists, remind me a bit of a certain strain of conservative who values religious freedom above freedom overall and then tries to tie in all his concerns with his religion so he may legitimately wish to be free in those matters. There was also something a while back about the NRA trying to evade restrictions on political lobbying by recasting itself as a constitutionally protected media enterprise; I don’t remember how that played out.

    At any rate, I think you ought to address the idea of butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers all working within a socialist economy that would exempt academics such as yourself. Is that a burden you would be willing to carry for the sake of providing an independent voice in society, the sort of role that ordinary workers are not qualified to perform? (Well, I guess they would raise their voices with their unions.)

  2. I believe in a market form of socialism which allows for private firms including bakeries and butcher shops. I do not see any need for a complete centralization of economic activities. In this sense, it is a non-Marxist approach to socialism.

  3. You’re on a roll, Chris.

    I appreciate these posts where you explain various political theories with cautions and contrasts in a way that is nearly jargon free. It’s literally the first time I’ve understood some of these ideas clearly enough even to begin to think about agreeing or disagreeing.

    I’ll bet you’re one heckuva good classroom teacher.

    1. Ardis,

      When teaching I use as much jargon as possible to show my superiority. Just kidding, I still chat about these things with some of my former students. Teaching political theory is one off the things I miss most about BYU-Idaho.

      Oh, and thanks for the kinds words. You are the best.

  4. Nicely expounded thoughts, Chris.

    I have to agree that the capitalism equals freedom mantra is way over used relative to its value.

    It seems pretty clear to me that economic regimes do not translate so simply to political systems. Socialist regimes can be totalitarian or democratic, and likewise capitalist regimes can be democratic or totalitarian. It is the protections in place to keep the economics subservient to the people rather than the other way around that makes the society free. I never seem to make much headway with that point, however..

  5. It is interesting to me that without socialistic type of regulation in government, capitalism creates the slavery of working class bondage in society. Regulation by its very definition is basically an “agreed upon by all” to ensure some form of equality in the work place. I view our current economy as a balance of powers of both captalist and socialist ideals. On one hand we have a free enterprise in industry and on the other we have strict rules and regulations that prevent the monoplolies and runaway overbearing by industry itself.

    We also have other socialist types of insurances in industry- programs like workers compensation,unemployment, health insurance, etc are all social in their own rights which provide a necessary balance for the poor and not well off that a capitalist environment breeds. It’s like the one tames the other- they balance each other out. Look at “unions” in general- on one hand they are an enemy to pure capitalism but on the other they provide a necessary insurance for the over zealous capitalist.

    Freedom in our economy is only available because of the socialist regulations that control the capitalists.

  6. How many times must socialism be tried, the people lose all rights and freedoms, and then millions die in purges, pogroms, and genocide until the world gives up trying to implement Lucifer’s plan. I guess fools will be enticed again and again (the Gods of the copybook headings unheeded and ignored), and the masses will go to their graves until the beast is finally chained in the infernal pit and the millenium dawns.

  7. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about this stuff, and I appreciate your separating socialism itself from the way socialism is organized. It seems your argument is that we should not attribute loss of political freedom to socialist economies necessarily — socialism is not inherently oppressive. But would you be willing to grant the same consideration to capitalism? Or is capitalism inherently unjust?

    1. Aliquis,

      As usual, thanks for your comment. Capitalism in it’s many form is not inherently unjust. I think my ideal envisions a blended of socialism and capitalism. For the most part, I am not demanding socialism, but instead arguing that there should be such a leftist voice in the political sphere. This is often not the case in the US.

  8. I,

    I am interested in what you think Lucifer’s plan is. Are you suggesting that we only see it in a socialist system? I am thinking of some of the dreggs of society- like the KKK, the mafia, the drug cartels, the mob, etc and see these guys more as Lucifer’s plan. In the BoM we are told about the secret society of Gadianton. This was Satan’s type of government. Was it socialist?

    Just wondering.

  9. rob,

    “It is time, therefore, that every American, and especially every member of the priesthood, become informed about the aims, tactics, and schemes of socialistic communism. This becomes particularly important when it is realized that communism is turning out to be the earthly image of the plan which Satan presented in the preexistence. The whole program of socialistic communism is essentially a war against God and the plan of salvation—the very plan which we fought to uphold during “the war in heaven.””
    (Ezra Taft Benson. From God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, pg. 356. 1974. )

    What Is Wrong With A “Little” Socialism?
    In reply to the argument that a little bit of socialism is good so long as it doesn’t go too far, it is tempting to say that, in like fashion, just a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer is all right, too! History proves that the growth of the welfare state is difficult to check before it comes to its full flower of dictatorship. But let us hope that this time around, the trend can be reversed. If not then we will see the inevitability of complete socialism, probably within our lifetime.

    (Ezra Taft Benson, 1968)

    “Many are now advocating that which has become a general practice since the early 1930s: a redistribution of wealth through the federal tax system. That, by definition, is socialism!”

    “Americans have always been committed to taking care of the poor, aged, and unemployed. We have done this on the basis of Judaic-Christian beliefs and humanitarian principles. It has been fundamental to our way of life that charity must be voluntary if it is to be charity. Compulsory benevolence is not charity. Today’s socialists–who call themselves egalitarians–are using the federal government to redistribute wealth in our society, not as a matter of voluntary charity, but as a so-called matter of right.”
    (President Ezra Taft Benson speaking about socialism on April 12, 1977)

    “The central issue in that pre-mortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed Him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.”
    (BYU devotional held Tuesday, 16 September 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson)”

    What Is Wrong With A “Little” Socialism?
    In reply to the argument that a little bit of socialism is good so long as it doesn’t go too far, it is tempting to say that, in like fashion, just a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer is all right, too! History proves that the growth of the welfare state is difficult to check before it comes to its full flower of dictatorship. But let us hope that this time around, the trend can be reversed. If not then we will see the inevitability of complete socialism, probably within our lifetime.

    (Ezra Taft Benson, 1968)

    “Today, there is a great threat to freedom. The Church is prospering and growing, but all over the world the light of freedom is being diminished. A great struggle for the minds of men is now being waged. At issue is whether or not man’s basic inalienable rights of life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness shall be recognized. It is the same struggle over which the war in heaven was waged. In undiminished fury, and with an anxiety that his time is short—and it is—the great adversary to all men is attempting to destroy man’s freedom and to see him totally subjugated. There are evidences of this struggle all about us. A system of slavery, communism, has imprisoned the minds and bodies of over one billion of the earth’s inhabitants. Today, forty-five percent of the people of the world, in sixty-five nations, live under totalitarian dictatorships or forms of government that deny people most or all of their political and religious freedom. We further read and hear about international terrorism where nations are blackmailed and there is no regard for human life.”

    “Even among free nations we see the encroachment of government upon the lives of the citizenry by excessive taxation and regulation, all done under the guise that the people would not willfully or charitably distribute their wealth, so the government must take it from them. We further observe promises by the state of security, whereby men are taken care of from the womb to the tomb rather than earning this security by the “sweat of their brow”; deception in high places, with the justification that “the end justifies the means”; atheism; agnosticism; immorality; and dishonesty. The attendant results of such sin and usurpation of power are a general distrust of government officials; an insatiable, covetous spirit for more and more material wants; personal debt to satisfy this craving; and the disintegration of the family unit.”
    (Ezra Taft Benson. This Nation Shall Endure, p. 8.)

    “There are “two contending Forces. Those forces are known and have been designated by different terms throughout the ages. “In the beginning” they were known as Satan on the one hand, and Christ on the other… In these days, they are called “domination by the state,” on one hand, “personal liberty,” on the other.””
    (David O. McKay. Two Contending Forces. May 18, 1960.)

    “[I pray] that we will develop the understanding, the desire, and the courage born of the Spirit, to eschew socialism and to support and sustain, in the manner revealed and as interpreted by the Lord, those just and holy principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States for the protection of all flesh, in the exercise of their God-given agency.
    (Elder Marion G. Romney. General Conference. April 1966. Address on Socialism.)

  10. I,

    Needless to say, I think Ezra Taft Benson was wrong. To the extent that he had a legitimate fear of Soviet Communism, we live in a different era.

    You may want to actually read the post.

  11. I,

    I am not convinced Ezra Taft Benson was correct in his conspiracy fears. He voiced the general opinions held by the John Birch Society. Somewhere, somehow I believe we got duped into believing that Satan’s plan is forced obedience and that he carries this out through the means of socialism and communism. First off, most of the evil communistic and siocialistic governments were in fact a dictatorship running around under a false banner of socialism. the truth of it is that LDS governement (united order) is closer to true socilaism than the soviets ever dreamed of.

    But for the sake of the manner lets break this idea down that Satan’s plans of forced obedience are carried out under the banner of socialism and communism. Where is the forced obedience to repent and be baptized in and under these governments? I mean- if we are taliking about forced obedience to gain salvation then we have to thus state that the government itself must force the sinners into repentance and then into the waters of baptism. But, where have we witnessed this forced obedience to salvation in government? In fact- it’s nowhere! Why? because that is not Satan’s plan.

    Satan’s plans were to trick us into believing he could be our savior and that it was a right to sin and that in the end we could all be saved when in fact he would just lead us all down into hell. Satan’s plans are to sway men to sin- to become captive to the chains of sin. The only whole governments he does set up are those secret combinations such as had by Gadianton.

    ETB was a conspiracy theorist who worked in the government at the height of the cold war. Theories at that time ran rampant. I have waited my whole life for the soviets to take over our government and instead they have pretty much folded, the iron curtain is a thing of the past, the wall in Germany was knocked down, etc. Whereas those oppressive dictatorship style governments were a threat to society (as any are), “socialism” and “communism” can be governed in a myriad of ways in the whcih are not evil. Not that I am advocating a departure of our government into something else, but the fact remains that a large part of why our government even operates is because of the socialistic principles that keep capitalism in check.

    We cannot just state that “socialism” = satanism. That is the wrong approach. I could state the same for anything when handled incorrectly.

  12. rob,

    I was only quoting Ezra Taft Benson – Apostle and Prophet – whose opinion/inspired statements I trust far more than yours. Socialism/communism/collectivism/welfare statism is Satan’s plan. Benson said it, as did other of the Brethren. Take it up with them.

    As for…

    the truth of it is that LDS governement (united order) is closer to true socilaism

    Read this: Socialism is Not the United Order – President Marion G. Romney, March 1966

    …from which I quote:


    As to the fruits of socialism, we all have our own opinions. I myself have watched its growth in our own country and observed it in operation in many other lands. But I have yet to see or hear of its freeing the hearts of men of selfishness and greed or of its bringing peace, plenty, or freedom. These things it will never bring, nor will it do away with idleness and promote “industry, thrift, and self-respect,” for it is founded in theory and in practice on the principles of the evil one.
    (President Marion G. Romney, March 1966)

    [I pray] that we will develop the understanding, the desire, and the courage, born of the Spirit, to eschew socialism and support and sustain, in the manner revealed and as interpreted by the Lord, those just and holy principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States for the protection of all flesh in the exercise of their God-given agency.
    (President Marion G. Romney, March 1966)

    I’m not calling socialism “satanism”. I’m simply pointing out what the Brethren have pointed out which is that socialism is Lucifer’s plan.

    And to dismiss President Benson as a “conspiracy theorist” and pretend that a socialist system won’t drastically change our constitutional form of government nor usurp/destroy our inalienable rights and agency is just plain ridiculous. History has proven that socialism leads to death by the millions and the destruction of freedom no matter how you or anyone else wants to sugar coat it, rebrand it, and try to sell it again — your fingers wabbling back to the Fire.

  13. I,

    Since ETB we have had no prophet warning us of this communist conspiracy. certainly our current prophet would be warning us if this were the case wouldn’t he? In fact, the past two decades have been the warnings for us to escape debt and become more self reliant, avoid pornography, and be more accepting to other religions. Un fact, there hasn’t been any warnings against some communistic conspiracy.

    Call it whatever you want but the united order carrys the same socialistic principles as held by socialist idealists. If we were to define the united order as being more capitalist or socialist we would have to conclude that it is more socialist.

    It is sad that we live in a time when people do not properly understand what socialism even is. It’s not that I am making a case for some evil system, it’s just that so many of us misrepresent what socialism really is. Here is a proper definition-

    “Socilaism: a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”

    Let’s look at the united order definition-

    United order: An organization through which the Saints in the early days of the restored Church sought to live the law of consecration. Individuals shared property, goods, and profits, receiving these things according to their wants and needs
    (Guide to the Scriptures | U United Order.:Entry)

    The basic principle here is the same- “equality in community.” Here is what the scriptures say on the matter-

    17 And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just—
    18 And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 82:17 – 18)

    Basically it states that the property and substance of trade is owned by the church for the purpose of spreading the wealth and making each individual equal. Now this does not mean that one becomes idle and profits from the hard work of others. Many think that in a socialist government it’s about taking from the rich and giving it to the idle. But the principles advanced by socialism is that people are equal in society by equally contributing also- there is no idlesness that it breeds because all have a common interest in their neighbor.

  14. What is the point here? Are we seeing a resurgence of communism and socialism somewhere in the world? If not, this discussion is at best quaint and at worst pernicious.

  15. I,

    The point I was making was that the united order has more principles siding with socialism than any other form of current government. I truly want equality in society. I am against the evils of a corrupt capitalist society like we have. How that equality happens and what we end up calling it is anyones guess. I would prefer we did call it the united order/law of consecration. We need to start moving in that direction at some point.

  16. President Benson also said that “Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” This was requoted twice in the most recent general conference.

    None of I’s quotes came from a living prophet or authority.

    But if we are quoting dead prophets, perhaps we should be rebelling again public funding of education.

    “I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking property from one man and giving it to another….Would I encourage free schools by taxation? No! (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 18:357)”

    And “The tenth plank of Karl Marx’s Manifesto for destroying our kind of civilization advocated the establishment of ‘free education for all children in public schools.’ There were several reasons why Marx wanted government to run the schools . . . the United States system of popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Improvement Era, December, 1970. p. 49)

    We have had socialism in this country, and in all countries, for centuries, even millenia. We socialized fire fighting a couple of hundred years ago; prior to socialized fire fighting, people either 1. relied on charity of their neighbors to fill in bucket brigades, or 2. purchased fire insurance, and the fire insurance companies had fire fighters that would put out fires of their insureds. Police service is socialized. Roads are socialized. Parks are socialized. Libraries are socialized.

    Are those the types of socialized services that a “little bit” is of Satan”?

  17. I think the great irony is that ETB was taking the philosophies of men (capitalism v. socialism) and mingling them with scripture (satan’s plan).

    Seems like everytime someone in the church does this it leads to trouble down the road sometime. (see: the world is only 6000 years old/evolution can’t exist; homosexuality can’t be biological, why would our father do that to anyone?; Blacks can’t have the priesthood, it’s the curse of Cain; etc. etc. etc.)

    I’d personally rather discuss socialism v. capitalism on an economic/philosophic level than conflate it with some eternal battle between good and evil that we can’t comprehend.

  18. The socialism quotes are being given without the other side — from other general authorities during the same period.

    Anyone remember N. Eldon Tanner who served in the First Presidency during the time periods above? He served in the Canadian Parliament representing a party that was socialist in domestic policy.

    Then there was Hugh B. Brown who explicitly drew a distinction between socialism and communism, noting that failure to see that difference would condemn many Saints in Western Europe.

    More recently, the one that comes to mind was James E. Faust. He was a Democratic legislator in Utah. He was pretty liberal on domestic policy . . supported civil rights, social welfare, etc.

    The point is that there was diversity on this issue.

  19. It was thought by some right wing extremist groups that the civil rights movement was a plot led by the communists. ETB was certain that MLK Jr. was a communist and that his civil rights movement would be the major plot to downfall the American government and society as we know it. It is intersting how much times have changed through the decades and now how we view the civil rights movement in American culture. We now have a black president that was freely elected. Although, some right wing extremists will probably tell you that his gaining the presidency is just part of this same commy plot. It’s kind of interesting that even the socialist party in this country doesn’t claim Obama.

  20. “I” says: I was only quoting Ezra Taft Benson – Apostle and Prophet – whose opinion/inspired statements I trust far more than yours. Socialism/communism/collectivism/welfare statism is Satan’s plan. Benson said it, as did other of the Brethren. Take it up with them.

    This is odd, because you talk of Satan’s plan as forcing obedience, then you quote various authorities whom you believe we must, despite our own perspectives, bow before in obedience. Thus, your arguments seem to be directed in the way you think “Satan’s plan” would work.

  21. Your observation about capitalism and freedom is right on. China is capitalism on fire. It remains, however, a communist dictatorship.

  22. I thought you were an intellectual? Where’s the intellect?

    How do you say in effect, ignore the elephant in the room, which is taking up all the space, and making that big stink, now that we’ve ignored it, see it’s not so bad in here is it?

    Well, except for there is more than one elephant. Or did you forget China? Oh, that’s just one.
    Oh, that’s different.
    Different too.
    Oh, that’s too small a sample
    We bombed the country side and ruined it.
    That wasn’t communist! (yes, it was, and there were millions “converted” to it for a couple decades)
    Must we keep going?

    But it was just the monolithic Soviet Union that got it wrong and it will eventually turn out right somewhere.

  23. 26 –
    “despite our own perspectives, bow before in obedience. Thus, your arguments seem to be directed in the way you think “Satan’s plan” would work.”

    That’s the kind of logic that anti-mormons apply to church leadership. Why fall in line with it?

    They never said bow before them. They preached God’s will, God’s principles, and the reasons for them and gave everyone the opportunity to get on board with the same revelation.

    I have. You haven’t. Presumably, it’s because you think I and they (Prophets/Apostles) are politically biased and using/twisting church doctrines to justify preferred outcomes. This is a sad accusation as I have no desire or pleasure in it.

    This is part of how God’s plan works in regards to this topic.
    Church members have access to the holy spirit to discern God’s will for themselves.
    Prophets & Apostles have authority to reveal God’s will and commandments to the world.
    Church members, as they live worthily can receive a confirmation that what the prophets/apostles taught is true.
    Church members – in an ideal situation, as is often the case, church members have already received similar revelation for themselves anyway – after all priesthood is priesthood. But what the members receives begins and ends with their family unit. So prophets are necessary to point everyone else to the revelation they are entitled to receive.

    You’re entitled to receive it, if you want to.

    Nothing in that sounds like Satan’s plan to me.

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