Writing in the New York Times last Sunday, the paper’s Paris bureau chief Steven Erlanger asked the question: “What’s a Socialist?” The question was undoubtedly raised because of the recent electoral victory in France of Francois Hollande, the country’s first socialist chief since 1988. His party also garnered a “whopping majority in Parliament.” Erlanger continued: “What does it mean to be a Socialist these days, anyway?”
A good question indeed, since so many conservatives have tried to make a case that Barack Obama is a socialist. Erlanger does not write anything to directly answer that question, but cites a conversation he had with the most well-known Parisian intellectual, writer Bernard-Henri Levy, whom he quotes as saying the following:
‘There are no more socialists — if they were honest they would change the name of the party,” he told me. Socialism “evokes the nightmare of the Soviet Union, whose leaders named themselves socialists.” Today, he maintains, European socialists are essentially like American Democrats — there has been no ideological left in France that matters since the effective demise of the Communist Party, which was “the true ‘exception francaise.’” (emphasis added)
Levy, in making that comparison, has let the cat out of the bag. It may not call itself socialist, but the type of policies the Democratic Party advocates are in effect the same kind of statist positions favored by the socialist left in France.
Like Europe’s socialists, the American left-wing Democrats adopt the clarion call of “social justice,” which means the creation of redistributionist policies that “tax the rich” as the would-be answer to funding an ever-growing entitlement state.
Joschka Fischer, who moved from the far left in Germany to the reformist left-wing Green Party, calls the European model of socialism “a combination of democracy, rule of law, and the welfare state,” and he provides the sad example of the deeply flawed and sinking British National Health Service as an example of what he thinks should be adopted as a model elsewhere.
One could say, as my friend, historian Martin J. Sklar, has argued — especially in his book The United States as a Developing Country — that the United States has long been a country based on “The Mix,” in which our system combines elements of both capitalism and socialism. Sklar explains it this way:
The developmental equivalent … in the United States … consisted of an outlook that we may call The Mix — that is, the mix of the public and private sectors as seats of authority and initiative in shaping, planning, regulating, and containing development, or to put it in baldly ideological terms, the mix of socialism and capitalism.