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Le gauche caviar
April 16, 2013 7:36 AM   Subscribe

So, what's the problem with champagne socialism? Are well-off advocates of left-wing positions hypocrites? How does one square egalitarian convictions with personal affluence?
posted by acb (79 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Please. I prefer limousine liberal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Empathy?
posted by panaceanot at 7:46 AM on April 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Wasn't that an Oasis song?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:49 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Union organizer Reg Baskin tells the story about how he was doing party work with George Cadbury. At one point, Cadbury said to Baskin, "I can't understand how you can afford to be a socialist. It's okay for me, I'm rich."
posted by No Robots at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


How does one square egalitarian convictions with personal affluence?

I'm going to go with "Easily."
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: "Please. I prefer limousine liberal."

As do we.
posted by barnacles at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2013


Look, you don't get to argue that you should be subject to a more progressive tax regime unless you're literally shoving fistfuls of cash through the letterboxes of the less well-off. I would have thought that was self-evident.
posted by liquidindian at 7:53 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I don't see any downside to rich socialists. Oh no! They want to tax themselves at a higher rate! Yes, and? The proper response, I think, is "Thank you."
posted by Sys Rq at 7:54 AM on April 16, 2013 [27 favorites]


This narrative is in keeping with the Labour left's tendency to focus on the personal integrity of political leaders rather than on the broader structural conditions in which they operate. The disappointments of the past and present can be blamed on the purported failings of leading figures within the party. From this perspective, champagne socialism has always been a kind of corruption which has repeatedly derailed the parliamentary socialist project.

That is an extremely uncharitable recounting of this particular critique. It's not about "corruption" or personal "failings" of individual leaders. It's a critique based on the idea that personal interests and social position tend to trump, or at least shape, ideology (for everyone, not only the wealthy), and thus that extremely wealthy people are not well-positioned to represent the interests of the non-wealthy working class, regardless of their professed ideology or good intentions—especially when those interests are in opposition to their own (as they very often are!). They will not accurately understand the problems, or share the concerns of, the people for whom they claim to speak. It's absolutely a focus on broad structural conditions.

And there is a difference between saying "multi-millionaires shouldn't be leftists," which is fairly nonsensical—what are you going to do, excommunicate them?— and saying "multi-millionaires should not hold cabinet positions in a government that purports to specifically represent the working class."

I have friends who are union organizers and it is routine to hear about organizing drives at shops where the ownership is ostensibly progressive, radical, or anarchist—right up until the moment that the workers attempt to organize for more power on the shop floor, at which point you might as well be dealing with the Koch brothers.
posted by enn at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


From Love and Mr Lewisham by HG Wells.
He argued on social questions with his uncle, who was a prominent
local Conservative. His uncle's controversial methods were coarse in
the extreme. Socialists, he said, were thieves. The object of
Socialism was to take away what a man earned and give it to "a lot of
lazy scoundrels." Also rich people were necessary. "If there weren't
well-off people, how d'ye think I'd get a livin'? Hey? And where'd
_you_ be then?" Socialism, his uncle assured him, was "got up" by
agitators. "They get money out of young Gabies like you, and they
spend it in champagne." And thereafter he met Mr. Lewisham's arguments
with the word "Champagne" uttered in an irritating voice, followed by
a luscious pantomime of drinking.
It's not a very good book.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take note of how, when you see a left-leaning celebrity actor in the newspapers talking about their political views, the right-wing media outlets denounce that celebrity for being a limousine liberal etc., that celebrities have no place in politics, and so on.

Also take note of how Ronald Reagan, who prior to entering politics was a right-leaning celebrity actor, is a big right-wing media fave, and how supportive the right-wing media was of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he started speaking about his political views, and so on.

Being wealthy and/or famous is a fantastic way for otherwise powerless people to obtain a platform for discussing political views, and celebrities are most likely to be "new" money and not entrenched in the political system already. When "new" money's views align with the old money's views, that person is embraced, and when those views don't align, the people espousing those views are attacked hard to keep them from becoming more influential.

In short, the whole thing is about maintaining the status quo, not about the actual views themselves. Having money doesn't make you a hypocrite if you think money should be spent to help other people; there's no reason why having money shouldn't correlate with having empathy, no matter how much people maintaining the status quo want to pretend they're incompatible. It is simply that many people with power, money and influence have relatively little empathy for those who benefit from left-leaning political views, so they have no reason to support such views and (in the minds of some of them) many reasons to denounce such views.

In short: when you're influential enough to be a threat to someone else's influence, you're going to be attacked for the very thing that made you influential. When that thing is money or fame, you'll be attacked for having it, and when that thing isn't money or fame...well, then you're probably not very influential, now, are you?
posted by davejay at 8:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think there is a problem with champagne socialism, though, and it's one the article has entirely failed to address. Right or left, why are only the rich being placed in positions of political power?

It's easier to see how right-wing leaders justify this, because in their vision of the world, having wealth is somehow inherently virtuous and displays qualities that one wants in political leadership: hard work, business acumen, etc. It's much much harder to reconcile the ubiquity of rich folks in leftist politics, because leftist politics is specifically about giving voice and power to the people who are voiceless and powerless-- and the rich ain't either.

So basically, I don't think champagne socialists are a problem de facto. I think the problem is only champagne socialists have the influence, money and marketability to play politics, and that means the political system is pretty broken.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:02 AM on April 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


wealthy and/or famous ... otherwise powerless people

"But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln...."
posted by enn at 8:03 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is an extremely uncharitable recounting of this particular critique. It's not about "corruption" or personal "failings" of individual leaders. It's a critique based on the idea that personal interests and social position tend to trump, or at least shape, ideology

Actually, both this and the idea that the Labour left is focusing more on personality and personal morality than ideology and class analysis can be true at the same time. I wouldn't trust the current Labour intellectuals to have this nuanced an understanding of politics as enn.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:04 AM on April 16, 2013


Champagne Socialists are also a band. Here you can purchase their 2009 single on mint-green vinyl. Try the preview out and listen to "Blue Genes." Lots of fun. They immediately changed their name to Neverever and have since released two albums, Angelic Swells and Shake-A-Baby, which aren't quite as noisy or fun, alas, but are still nice.

This article seems silly to me.
posted by jsturgill at 8:04 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm more weirded out by the accompanying pic with the article. It's like someone took a snapshot of Hollande from between someone's legs.
posted by Kitteh at 8:05 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said, "All these I have observed from my youth." And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Luke 18:18-25
And yet Christians who endlessly moan about our disobedience to God and don't give everything they have to the poor are rarely derided as hypocrites.

Advocate for progressive taxation and a social safety net who don't reduce themselves to penury with their charity? Vile charlatans, the lot!
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:05 AM on April 16, 2013 [17 favorites]


The sort of people who say 'champagne socialists' without irony are also the type to say 'the politics of envy' to cover the other group of people they want to dismiss without engaging with the actual arguments.
posted by liquidindian at 8:07 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think there is a problem with champagne socialism, though, and it's one the article has entirely failed to address. Right or left, why are only the rich being placed in positions of political power?

This didn't always used to be the case on the left, but thirty years of neoliberalism and individualisation have removed many of the collective power bases that were open to the working classes. When was the last time you saw an union leader on the news? Now the political classes have been professionalised, largely open only to those who can afford to go into politics straigth from uni, the unions are busted and most political pressure groups have been co-opted and been reinvented as think tanks, full of jobs for the boys as long as they stay on message.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:14 AM on April 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think the issue here (or for Hollande) isn't that they are "champagne socialists", its that they are rich socialists who got caught hiding money in tax havens. That and the French economy is having issues and the voters are angry.

I guess the better question is about the hypocrisy of being for more progressive taxation and socialism in general while still personally taking advantage of legal ways to minimize taxation and or procure higher levels of service from areas of the economy that are nationalized.

I actually find the former easier to rationalize away than the latter.

I had more of a moral conundrum using private healthcare when I lived in the UK than I did taking advantage of things like non-dom status to minimize taxation. And the reason for that is that allowing the people who have the power and money to demand better services to escape from the nationalized services has a negative impact on those people unable to pay or use private services.

The flip side of this is that for things that I think are unreasonable that I benefit from (carried interest for example) my response to them being taken away is cheerful acceptance.
posted by JPD at 8:16 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the US, champagne socialists have been largely replaced by bum wine capitalists.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:22 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wasn't that an Oasis song?

Close, but no cigar.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:22 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse: "Now the political classes have been professionalised, largely open only to those who can afford to go into politics straigth from uni, the unions are busted and most political pressure groups have been co-opted and been reinvented as think tanks, full of jobs for the boys as long as they stay on message."

It's actually even worse than that, at least in the UK. What remains of the power and financial muscle of the unions is largely captured by the Labour party, who appear to give very little in return. When the unions were credited with getting Ed Milliband the top job. There was all sorts of hyperbole about the lefties. This is the same Ed Miliband who condemned legal strike action and had his party abstain on workfare schemes. The same Ed Miliband who argues about flavours of austerity instead of alternatives. He's like a one man flood-plain, dissipating the pent-up energy of the labour (and Labour) movement with little effect on the concentrations of capital. His dad must be so proud.
posted by Jakey at 8:28 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


OH yes, it would be so much better if all rich people were conservative.

Most of the complaints are from rich conservatives who feel that rich liberals are betraying their social class. They feel like as rich people, other rich people should identify and support them against the plebes.
posted by delmoi at 8:29 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


When was the last time you saw an union leader on the news?
Do you watch MSNBC? I don't even watch that much TV but my impression is that MSNBC has union people on all time.
posted by delmoi at 8:33 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


This becomes an issue when folks start to view equality more strictly as an end rather than a means. I guess for some, it's a distinction too complicated or tantalizing to make.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:37 AM on April 16, 2013


I think there is a problem with champagne socialism, though, and it's one the article has entirely failed to address. Right or left, why are only the rich being placed in positions of political power?
Money and power have a feedback effect on eachother. The more power you have, the more money you get, and the more money you get, the more power you get. If you look at someone like Obama, he obviously was primarily focused on doing well politically, but he still ended up with millions of dollars due to book sales that were purely a byproduct of his campaign. On the other hand you have Steve Jobs, purely focused on running Apple and didn't seem particularly interested in politics at all, yet he ended up being someone the president asked for advice from, simply because he was really rich.

If you wanted to become powerful, and you gained a little power it would make to use that power to get some money to help you in your goal - if you wanted to become rich, and you ended up with a little power it would make sense to use that power to help you become more rich. It would actually take some effort to avoid accumulating wealth or power if you only wanted the other.
posted by delmoi at 8:43 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, what's the problem with champagne socialism?

It's not for kids.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:50 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope focused on this to some extent, especially in his Palliser series of books, and the (fictional) bottom line seemed to be that the upper class wanted to drive the engine of change so that it would move slowly enough that society (or at least their society) could bear it, seeing as how the Radical alternative could easily look like what happened in Revolutionary France. They believed in the ideals and wanted more fairness, but not so much fairness that their heads ended up on pikes.

I wonder how much of that also applies today -- but then again, wealthy people are the only people who would be capable of making redistribution of wealth possible without violence -- but if they don't do so en masse via joining a voting bloc, you would just end up with a bunch of random poor people who used to be rich -- which we already have plenty of now, with pretty much no power at all.
posted by Mchelly at 9:02 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not for kids.

Dude, it's France. They give their kids champagne socialism all the time.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the issue here (or for Hollande) isn't that they are "champagne socialists", its that they are rich socialists who got caught hiding money in tax havens.

I think this is a much bigger issue, at least when talking about issues of hypocrisy. If you're a wealthy socialist arguing for a progressive tax system and you're paying into it, great! Thanks for paying your fair share! If, on the other hand, you're arguing for a fairer taxation system while hiding your money so that you aren't actually subject to it, are you really much different from those on the right who you claim to oppose?

When was the last time you saw an union leader on the news?

Do you watch MSNBC? I don't even watch that much TV but my impression is that MSNBC has union people on all time.


I wonder if this is a particularly European issue (MartinWisse is in the Netherlands, according to his profile). I see union leaders on the news all the time, and I live in one of the least unionized provinces in Canada. Our unions have been losing power over the past few decades, for the reasons MartinWisse suggests, but they still get a fair amount of media attention.
posted by asnider at 9:05 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wasn't it George Bernard Shaw who said it is far more likely for the rich man to take up the cause of revolution than his butler?
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:08 AM on April 16, 2013


This:
"Here's a group of people with significant material advantages – and yet they call for the reduction or elimination of these advantages in society as a whole. Perhaps this is why those on the right despise champagne socialists so much."

Given the choice between a rich bastard who is involved in politics to work to reform the skewed system the wealthy enjoy, and a rich bastard who wishes to, oh I dunno, cut taxes on the wealthy, I'll take the first kind every time.

And I also have no problem with rich progressives taking advantage of the current loophole-laden tax code: Money is speech in the US, and the more you have the more influence you can wield. Why should Soros unilaterally disarm, when the Koches aren't?
posted by jetsetsc at 9:11 AM on April 16, 2013


And I also have no problem with rich progressives taking advantage of the current loophole-laden tax code. Why should Soros unilaterally disarm, when the Koches aren't?

I'm pretty sure that the super wealthy won't be destitute if they actually pay the taxes they owe.

Money is speech in the US, and the more you have the more influence you can wield

This, in itself, is deeply problematic. It's true, of course, but it's a problem.
posted by asnider at 9:18 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that the super wealthy won't be destitute if they actually pay the taxes they owe.

Of course not, but that is sort of supporting the view of some conservatives that if you want to pay higher taxes you should just write a bigger check to the government. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage unfair loopholes while at the same time supporting via your vote and your checkbook politicians who will eliminate those loopholes.
posted by JPD at 9:33 AM on April 16, 2013


I think the issue here (or for Hollande) isn't that they are "champagne socialists", its that they are rich socialists who got caught hiding money in tax havens.

Maybe the bigger problem is that by raising taxes without proportionally greater increases in spending, Hollande's socialists are engaging in fiscal austerity just as much as anyone else in Europe although with a 'socialist' face. But, then, that's exactly the sort of sensible approach a bunch of millionaire "socialists" might take..

Honestly, I don't see any downside to rich socialists. Oh no! They want to tax themselves at a higher rate! Yes, and? The proper response, I think, is "Thank you."

But why are you thanking them, if they actually thought higher taxes for the wealthy was the right thing to do?

Marx knows what a "socialist" is now, anyway.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:33 AM on April 16, 2013


Yes, but while Austerity is the proximate cause of the economic issues - weirdly the voters still seem to support it at a much greater rate than you or I would think I'd guess.


Also anyone using the term "Gauche Caviar" is almost certainly pro Austerity and from the right.

BTW -Reinhart-Rogoff the paper oft cited as the current intellectual argument for Austerity, turns out to be well, wrong. Basically due to an Excel error.
posted by JPD at 9:52 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Next let's discuss the proposition: Why don't population control advocates just kill themselves?

I mean, as long as we are taking empty right-wing rhetoric and running with it.
posted by bjrubble at 9:56 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


More in this series: Is it okay for pro-choice campaigners to have children? If wars are so bad, why aren't you speaking German? Why don't gay-rights advocates just go out and, like, eat a dick already? If you don't endorse the current tax policy, are you ever allowed to buy anything? &c
posted by forgetful snow at 10:04 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


[expletive deleted], as a non-religious person who has himself cited that passage in an argument with a Christian and gotten called out for it, I feel obligated to mention that in context it's anything but a slam dunk for the claim you're trying to make.

The next two verses read as follows:
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
and unfortunately seem to me to rob that chapter of any interest it might have to anyone: Christians surely already agree with that point, and non-Christians won't be convinced by it (insofar as it even attempts to defend its claim). But my point is that without including that additional context you could be accused of arguing in bad faith (no pun intended), which is more or less what happened to me.
posted by valrus at 10:11 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next let's discuss the proposition: Why don't population control advocates just kill themselves?

I mean, as long as we are taking empty right-wing rhetoric and running with it.


Bah. Population control is empty right-wing rhetoric anyway, driven by fear of the poor brown masses, justified by the pseudoscience flavour of the month about why having more of them instead of us is bad; it used to be all about swamping out the good white stock, then it became eco damage.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:27 AM on April 16, 2013


If any one holds that religion is essentially ritual and sacramental; or that it is purely personal; or that God is on the side of the rich; or that social interest is likely to lead preachers astray; he must prove his case with his eye on the Hebrew prophets, and the burden of proof is with him.--Christianity And The Social Crisis / Walter Rauschenbusch
posted by No Robots at 10:34 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


In seriousness, the "limousine liberal" idea is really a conflation of cause and effect:

1. "In a better world, I would probably have less wealth"
2. "Giving away my wealth will make a better world"

#1 implies #2 only if you believe that personal accumulation of wealth is itself the problem. If you believe that the problem is fairness, or opportunity, or the second-order economic effects of inequality, or any of a constellation of concerns whose consequence may be the personal accumulation of wealth, then proposition #2 doesn't follow at all.

And, in fact, I think for a lot of liberals #1 doesn't really hold, either, since they believe (with fairly good evidence) that in the long term the wealthy benefit from a more equitable economy as well.
posted by bjrubble at 10:39 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, forgive me, first one but I can't help it:

Metafilter: Why don't gay-rights advocates just go out and, like, eat a dick already?
posted by bjrubble at 10:42 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Learning about "concern trolling" is one of the best "here's a label for the thing you keep seeing" experiences I've had recently.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:47 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Again, I think the focus on hypocrisy is misplaced. The issue with multi-millionaire cabinet ministers in a socialist government is not one of hypocrisy. It's one of representation. You don't have to believe (for example) that feminist men are "hypocrites" to believe that it makes sense for the NOW to fill its leadership roles with women. And it shouldn't be controversial to believe that the best people to represent the interests of the working class are working-class people. But we have so internalized the idea that wealthy people are the best people to hold positions of responsibility that it is hard for people to see the obvious in this context.
posted by enn at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


With millennia of oppression to overcome, the proletariat can hardly be expected to possess the skills necessary to take power immediately. It is therefore the duty of socialists who have wealth, education and social standing to use these benefits to help raise the proletariat.
posted by No Robots at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2013


This becomes an issue when folks start to view equality more strictly as an end rather than a means. I guess for some, it's a distinction too complicated or tantalizing to make.
I think this is key. If you're wealthy yet advocating for workers' communal housing and dining rooms, then there are good questions you need to answer about your wealth and why you're holding onto it. If you're advocating social mobility, meritocracy, and a reasonable social safety net, then there are no worries about keeping your wealth assuming that you are paying your taxes (including inheritance tax, which is necessary for a meritocracy).

Socialism—or at least the strain that I can agree with—isn't so worried with wealth as such but rather the sometimes harmful effects of wealth and how it moves through society. Once the link between wealth and privilege is broken I'm relatively comfortable about some folk having more than others.
posted by Jehan at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So Huey Long would respond to accusations of being a communist by saying that "those communists want every man to be a worker, but I want every man to be a king."

Bracketing off the unfortunately gendered language, I'd say I'm on his side here, and my being on his side is at the core of why I'm not the slightest bit offended by rich leftists. Insofar as it's possible, we should all be rich leftists.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:52 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


TVTropes: Category Traitor
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:24 PM on April 16, 2013


Btw, it's la gauche. /enseignantdefrançais
posted by No Robots at 12:30 PM on April 16, 2013


Look, you don't get to argue that you should be subject to a more progressive tax regime unless you're literally shoving fistfuls of cash through the letterboxes of the less well-off. I would have thought that was self-evident.

Can't tell if this is serious, but I disagree. People can often recognise that it would be good if everyone did x, even though they themselves are too lazy/selfish to do x without being made to. For an imperfect analogy, let's imagine organ donation opt-in required going to a separate little office four miles from the DMV. Many people who did not make the effort to do this might still agree that making organ donation opt-out was a good idea. Similarly, someone with spare cash who is too lazy/poor at budgeting to actually put aside cash for charity can still agree that having higher government welfare would be a good thing, and that they should and comfortably could pay higher taxes to achieve this.
posted by jacalata at 12:48 PM on April 16, 2013


please pardon the intrusion of Biblefilter
valrus: 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
and unfortunately seem to me to rob that chapter of any interest it might have to anyone


To say the least: Jesus neatly nullifies his own statement with that one, a rhetorically empty statement unbecoming of the Son of God.

Unless... he actually doesn't, unless he's saying that rich people require supernatural intervention on the order of squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

It's the only way one can interpret the passage as meaning anything. It's either that or Jesus is spouting meaningless inanities -- which speaks against the text being the divinely inspired revelation of 𝕲𝕺𝕯.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Champagne socialism? Hmmm.

Now a cahmpagne high coloinc? It tickles.
posted by stormpooper at 1:36 PM on April 16, 2013


People can often recognise that it would be good if everyone did x, even though they themselves are too lazy/selfish to do x without being made to.

Indeed. It could, in fact, be true that "the conservative view that humans are naturally acquisitive and self-seeking" (to quote from the article) is accurate; this doesn't mean that rich socialists (or any socialists) don't think government should intervene to help societies overcome this urge and ensure a more equal distribution of wealth. In fact, it could be argued as proof that government intervention is necessary to ensure a more equal distribution of wealth.

In a weird way, rich socialists could act as poster children for why systemic socialism is necessary: "Look, I believe in a more equal society, but I'm too selfish and weak-willed to stop accumulating more than my fair share. If we legislate wealth redistribution, then I will be required to pay my fair share and ensure that I don't get rich off the backs of the rest of society."
posted by asnider at 1:54 PM on April 16, 2013


valrus: the point is well taken that not many believe Jesus literally counselled such extreme charity as necessary for salvation.

On the other hand, Christian history is filled with examples of people who took this advice seriously, such as the namesake of the current Pope, and indeed, all of the Mendicant Orders. It is impossible to argue that a rejection of wealth and a dedication to the poor are not extremely common themes in Christian belief and practice. The New Testament (especially the account of Christ's ministry in the Synoptic Gospels) is constantly admonishing the accumulation of riches and the comforts of wealth, and praising the virtue of voluntary poverty. Vows of poverty have been important from before they were codified by the Rule of St Augustine, and will continue to be long after the wedding of Mammon and Christ that is the modern conservative movement is a footnote in history.

That said, I don't actually believe that rich Christians are necessarily hypocrites any more than rich socialists, though I admire people who totally forego wealth to better serve the poor. In this regard, I hold the American nuns currently in trouble with the Vatican and the atheist President of Uruguay in equally high esteem.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:34 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


[S]o now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movements as a whole. These individuals, who ordinarily would not identify themselves with the proletariat, gladly throw themselves into the struggle, and together with the proletariat exert themselves to effect the desired change. This was in substance the answer that Jesus gave to his disciples when they asked him "Who then can be saved?" With man individually it is almost impossible that he should forsake his material possessions and betake himself to the propertyless and together with them work, not only for the future, but also against the present, with which he is so firmly bound up. According to the ordinary run of things, Moses should have remained in the house of Pharaoh, enjoying princely honors and pleasures; or Marx should have remained with the bourgeoisie, achieving material success. But, such is the order of things that, when the material conditions of existence are ripe for a change, and the proletariat manifests a spirit of discontent and a readiness to rise against the upholders of the existing order, such men are summoned to the front — men, who, by virtue of their great gifts and rare opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge and experience, have attained to great light and deep truth, and who, therefore, are most able to lead the struggling masses out of darkness into light, and out of bondage into freedom.--The Philosophy of Marx / Harry Waton
posted by No Robots at 3:58 PM on April 16, 2013


wealthy and/or famous ... otherwise powerless people

"But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln...."


Hah! Yeah, I meant to say "BECOMING wealthy and/or famous", not "BEING wealthy and/or famous" -- meaning people who are not born into wealth or fame or any other position of power, but manage to obtain wealth and/or fame during their lifetime. My bad.
posted by davejay at 4:49 PM on April 16, 2013


Perhaps I've missed it, but I didn't catch a single mention of actual state ownership of the means of production among all of the defenses of socialism raised in this thread. Real champagne socialists would be inviting the state to run their industries, not to tax them at higher marginal rates, no?
posted by lambdaphage at 5:44 PM on April 16, 2013


Perhaps I've missed it, but I didn't catch a single mention of actual state ownership of the means of production among all of the defenses of socialism raised in this thread. Real champagne socialists would be inviting the state to run their industries, not to tax them at higher marginal rates, no?

Socialism is a pretty broad term.
posted by asnider at 7:48 PM on April 16, 2013


But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

There's a funny metaphor here about how "The Eye of The Needle" was the small door near the larger city gates, which were closed at sunset. If a merchant arrived at night, the only way he could push his camel through the small door was to make it kneel down and take off it's baggage.
posted by ovvl at 8:27 PM on April 16, 2013


Socialism is a pretty broad term.

It is, and none of the various definitions encompass what everyone in this thread is discussing, namely a market economy buttressed by social welfare programs financed by progressive taxation, which is plain old modern liberalism.

When you further consider that there is broad support for most liberal policies, but practically zero support for things like permanent nationalization of industries, I don't understand the resistance to getting the names straight.

Socialism is not the preferred nomenclature.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:07 PM on April 16, 2013


Socialism is not the preferred nomenclature.

Tell it to the Parti socialiste.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:12 PM on April 16, 2013


There's a funny metaphor here about how "The Eye of The Needle" was the small door near the larger city gates, which were closed at sunset. If a merchant arrived at night, the only way he could push his camel through the small door was to make it kneel down and take off it's baggage.

So I feel compelled here to dive in and point out for anyone who is confused that there is in fact no such door in the Jerusalem city walls, there has never been any such door, tour guides think it is very, very annoying when American Protestant evangelicals demand to be shown the Eye of the Needle gate, because, of course, they can't take them there, due to said gate being fictional.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:17 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tell it to the Parti socialiste.

...which belongs to the Socialist International and came into power on a platform of nationalizing like half the French economy? Does what it says on the tin, as they say.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:31 PM on April 16, 2013


Marx made this perfectly clear. Socialism means nothing less than the abolition of the wages system, the abolition of exploitation, and the abolition of the proletariat.--A Program for Jews and Humanity / Harry Waton.
The economic system under which the whole of mankind now lives is state capitalism, which is the precursor to socialism. State capitalism will give way to socialism once the proletariat attains a sufficient level of self-emancipation.
posted by No Robots at 9:33 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


For whatever it's worth, Marx uses the word "proletariat" like not at all in Capital, which IMO stands head and shoulders above the earlier stuff that people quote from more often.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:46 PM on April 16, 2013


...which belongs to the Socialist International and came into power on a platform of nationalizing like half the French economy? Does what it says on the tin, as they say.

Thirty, forty years ago? Yes.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:17 PM on April 16, 2013


Can't tell if this is serious

It was an attempt at parody, but I guess you don't need much reducto before you get to the absurdum.
posted by liquidindian at 11:24 PM on April 16, 2013


It is, and none of the various definitions encompass what everyone in this thread is discussing, namely a market economy buttressed by social welfare programs financed by progressive taxation, which is plain old modern liberalism.

When you further consider that there is broad support for most liberal policies, but practically zero support for things like permanent nationalization of industries, I don't understand the resistance to getting the names straight.

Socialism is not the preferred nomenclature.


I think social democrats would disagree. Although, some people would say it's arguable whether social democrats are "true" socialists.
posted by asnider at 7:07 AM on April 17, 2013


Marx uses the word "proletariat" like not at all in Capital

This is an odd claim. Interested parties can do a search for "prole" in a pdf version of Capital vol. 1, which includes the afterward to the 2nd German edition (1873) where Marx writes, "the class whose vocation in history is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes – the proletariat."
posted by No Robots at 8:21 AM on April 17, 2013


The entire point of calling yourself a social democrat for the last 150 years has been to distinguish yourself from Marxists, and particularly from their vision of transforming "the whole of society...[into] a single office, a single factory". The fact that social democrats take such pains to distance themselves from the big S Socialists who got to run with the ball in the 20th century would tend to suggest that the conventional meaning of the term is something other than what social democrats endorse.

Look, obviously the meaning of words is determined by their use, but if you try to define socialism by taking a census of all of the groups whose names contain the word "social", you might not be pleased with the results. (Is National Socialism socialism? Ingsoc? An ice cream social?...) The first sentence of the wikipedia article on socialism contains a definition that is difficult to disagree with:
Socialism is an economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy.
and no one in this thread except No Robots seems to be talking about that.

I'm not trying to quibble about this. It just strikes me as bizarre that folks would willingly apply to their political views the name of a different, well-established political ideology with a track record that is less appealing than that of their own position. Usually when people mischaracterize their politics, they try to make it sound better then it actually is.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:08 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get what you're saying, lambdaphage, and I largely agree. But I think things are little bit more grey when talking about social democrats. Most social democratic parties are affiliated with the Socialist International; the same cannot be said about National Socialists (what with them actually being fascists and all).

And most social democrats support the nationalization of at least some industries (particularly social services), they just tend to prefer a mixed economy and don't go all in, as it were.

Still, the focus on progressive taxation in this thread (of which I am guilty) is certainly a very watered down sort of socialism and, really, is more liberalism than socialism.
posted by asnider at 9:52 AM on April 17, 2013


lambdaphage, part of the problem is that Marxists no longer exist as a politcal force in the West. The Overton Window has shifted to the right, and nomenclature along with it. What was once Social Democracy is now Socialism as political parties have kept their names but moved to the right, which is why the article linked in the FPP is about the Parti socialiste under François Hollande, a nominally socialist party that would be more accurately described today as social democratic.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:00 AM on April 17, 2013


Champagne socialists and limousine liberals* are far, far less of a problem than blue collar corporatists. Not that it's their fault, but false consciousness in the working class is why the Reaganite/Thatcherite revolution could happen, and has perpetuated itself to this level.

*"Liberal" actually doesn't mean what people think it means, so I'm just using it as it was used in this thread. In reality a "limousine liberal" makes perfect sense, because liberalism in its actual meaning is all about capitalism and property rights.
posted by LukeLockhart at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


because liberalism in its actual meaning is all about capitalism and property rights.
Hence why the conservative party in Australia is called the Liberals.

blue collar corporatists. Not that it's their fault,
Why isn't it their fault? If you are voting for outcomes against your best interests you are certainly getting the consequences, so why be excused of the blame?
posted by bystander at 2:29 PM on April 17, 2013


Privilege. It would be arrogant for me to judge folks who haven't had access to the same educational opportunities as me for not making decisions in their own interests, not when such a powerful system is designed to keep them in a state of false consciousness.
posted by LukeLockhart at 2:32 PM on April 17, 2013


So I feel compelled here to dive in and point out for anyone who is confused that there is in fact no such door in the Jerusalem city walls, there has never been any such door, tour guides think it is very, very annoying when American Protestant evangelicals demand to be shown the Eye of the Needle gate, because, of course, they can't take them there, due to said gate being fictional.

Doesn't actually say which city this gate was in, so it must be purely metaphorical. But I did see a photo of a gate like this.
posted by ovvl at 7:26 PM on April 17, 2013


tour guides think it is very, very annoying when American Protestant evangelicals demand to be shown the Eye of the Needle gate, because, of course, they can't take them there, due to said gate being fictional.

Those don't sound like the Israeli tour guides I know about. "They want to see an Eye of the Needle gate? B'seder, we'll show them an Eye of the Needle gate!"
posted by benito.strauss at 8:02 PM on April 17, 2013


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