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Is There an American Socialist Tradition? Possibly, but it is Not the one today's Left Celebrates

Capitalism, Sklar writes, “needs socialism for stability, and socialism needs capitalism for the wealth creation that generates and supports an ever expanding equalitarianism and noncapitalist investment and labor activity.” It is not antithetical to real liberal democracy, and is in fact in permanent opposition to the statism of the Left today and its supporters. So as Sklar sees things, the entire American system, including both of our major political parties, have embraced this symbiotic relationship, and in general, have moved to the left. “In the 1990s,” he argues, “President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich have been the master leaders of this bipartisan leftward shift in the U.S. political spectrum and political culture.”

Socialism, then, is not the kind of government ownership, state command and managerial authoritarian systems most people call socialism, run by a vanguard political party and a group of bureaucratic statist managers -- such as those now called for to administer ObamaCare by the new Independent Payment Advisory Boards that the President now calls for and that Stanley Kurtz has dissected in an important analysis at NRO's The Corner. Indeed, Sklar now agrees with the essence of Kurtz’s views, but instead of calling Obama and his programs those of stealth socialism, as does Stanley Kurtz, he refers to Obama as a politician of the far radical fringe that acts in a Leninist, rather than socialist, fashion.

Sklar’s article is very complicated and deserves close, serious reading, and cannot be adequately summed up any more than I have attempted above. But I should note that his work has had a serious impact, and even the highly respected major conservative constitutional theorist John Yoo, who now teaches law at Stanford University, has used and assigned Sklar’s readings in his classes. In a review of one of his books for The American Journal of Legal History, Thomas K. McCraw of the Harvard Business School called Sklar’s work “a masterpiece that places us all in his debt.”

And last June, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, author of the best-selling Liberal Fascism, urged his readers to also take a careful look at Sklar’s theories. He cites a blog post of mine written a year ago, in which I noted that Sklar believes that Obama will make “central to his presidency” what he calls “proto-statist structures characteristic of fascist politics -- that is, ‘social service’ political organizations operating extra-electorally and also capable of electoral engagement,” that will lead to “party-state systems…in which the party is the state.” Thus, he notes that during the campaign, Obama favored armed public service groups that could be used for homeland security, that would tie leadership bureaucracies to him through the unions and groups like ACORN.

More recently, Sklar has written a series of papers he has been circulating on ObamaCare, in which he dissects the various proposals of it supporters as favoring medical care as “an instrument of partisan politics, ideological prescription … interest-group/activist pressures, and class/ethnic/racial/preference and deprivation … in short, social injustice.” The program, he argues, is “retrogressive and reactionary ... compatible with a state-capitalist or state-socialist standpoint.” Although those who favor ObamaCare think of themselves as leftist representatives of the poor and the people, Sklar writes that the program they propose imposes “a scarcity regime upon an abundance capacity,” spreading around “squalor and inequality.” Moreover, he develops a constitutional analysis in which he argues that the health care law “may be found to violate the constitutionally protected rights of life, liberty, property, and privacy, as well as the constitutional division and limitation of powers among the federal and state governments,” and he declares it unconstitutional in its totality.