Micro-socialism: unpacking and analyzing an error

It might seem like flogging a dead horse, but there’s an important conceptual point that I failed to make in my last post. Or rather, I ran out of time and space, and it didn’t seem central to my thesis there. I want to make it my central point here. Look again at this passage from Sirico’s article in Crisis:

What about the Soviet Union? We are told that this wasn’t really socialism. And what about Nazism–the German word for national socialism? Oh, that’s not socialism either. What about the growing impoverishment in once-rich countries with social democratic governments? The failure of micro-socialism in the United States, where entire communities have lived on government subsidies and are plagued with frightening levels of social pathology? They say that this is not socialism either.

Focus on the last claim. Sirico’s point here feels tossed-off, but it is worth unpacking and examining in detail. What does he mean by the neologism “micro-socialism”?

Let’s start with the positive. It could be said that the term implicitly undercuts one apparently widespread assumption on the right, namely that the current administration represents the final triumph of some contemporary socialist fifth column. In other words, we’re not talking about “macro-socialism” in the United States (whatever that might look like), which in this context feels like a refreshing nod to reality.

So far so good.

From there, however, things get a bit strange. For if we don’t live in a comprehensively socialist state, the implicit point is that we do live in a state which engages in small-scale applications of socialist principles. We’re told moreover that there’s a causal connection between that application and what Sirico calls “frightening levels of social pathology.”

Here, a reality check is in order: social programs are established to address the basic needs of dislocated workers, students, single mothers, veterans, the elderly, and so on. There is no unified community or communities to speak of. What we have is a spectrum of various and variegated experiences. Since there’s no single community, neither is there a unitary mode of living “on government subsidies.” This is nothing more than a vile and divisive political trope. Similarly, reducing the struggles of middle-class and working-class Americans to an expression like “social pathology” is both risible and insulting. In the end, despite its almost-legitimate ring of social scientific authenticity, Sirico’s point is nothing more than another expression of the disastrous 47% thesis that essentially caused the Romney/Ryan campaign to derail and implode.

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.

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