You Can Call It Spinach, Bernie

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The man who would be king

In the 1966 movie, Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment, starring David Warner as Morgan and Vanessa Redgrave as his reluctant wife, the great Irene Handl plays Morgan’s perpetually outraged Cockney Communist (or Communist Cockney) mother, and throughout the movie, any time she sees or even thinks of anyone more privileged than she, she snarls about them, “…rippin’ the food from bleedin’ lips of the starvin’ poor…” 

Bernie Sanders reminds me of her. Actually, so do Elizabeth Warren, Spartacus Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Bill de Blasio, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Jay Inslee, and just about all the other Democrat candidates.

All of them have been competing with each other to offer free this and free that (with Julian Castro winning the prize by offering free abortions to transgenders; ah, would that be before or after the uterus transplant?) insisting that economic equality is a “fundamental human right” (say what? Does that mean because I was on a TV show I have contributed as much to society and should be as rich as Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos? Oh, goody.) and praising their version of socialism as the solution to all our country’s ills. But Bernie is the one who uses the “S” word most often, and I happened to catch a brief clip of a speech where he stated that evil Republicans, all those privileged, rich, angry old white men…oh, wait, no, that’s Bernie…that evil Republicans were going try and make “socialism” a dirty word.

No, Bernie, Republicans can’t make socialism a dirty word because it already is a dirty word.

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do and re-post a book review I wrote back in 2013. I’m doing so because the authors of the book—far smarter and better educated than I—summed up the problem of socialism very succinctly.

Book Review: The Lessons of History

I inherited much of my father’s library many years ago, including the entire eleven volume Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant. Included in the set was the single slim volume they wrote afterward by way of an introduction, The Lessons of History. Over the years I have frequently dipped into individual volumes of the main text for research, but I never read any entire volume until my wife came bouncing into my office one evening and thrust The Lessons of History under my nose and said, “Read this chapter!” I read it, and immediately wondered why the hell I hadn’t read the whole thing long ago. I have now rectified that. Not the whole eleven volume set, but I have read that one-volume introduction and I was blown away by it.

The Lessons of History is intended to be both an introduction and a survey of human history as a product of the human experience, of man’s essential evolutionary nature. The Durant’s do not judge; they do not say this system is better than that, or peace is better than war. They do not even bang the drum of George Santayana’s often misquoted maxim: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What they do stress is that man will, in fact, continuously repeat the past because he cannot help himself. Man has evolved to be a particular organism with particular needs and desires and drives and responses and those are the things that influence his behavior, over and over again throughout the millennia. It will be many a long day before the lion evolves into a critter capable of lying down with the lamb, and it will be just as long before man evolves into a critter not driven by, “acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride.”

So what The Story of Civilization chronicles, and The Lessons of History summarizes, is the sequence of patterns of behavior that have been repeated continuously since the first known civilization(s), with “civilization” being defined as a social order that promotes cultural creation. But it is the laws of evolution that limit civilization, so that man’s natural instincts of competition (for food, mates, power), selection (some men will always have better competitive skills than others, and so there will always be inequality), and reproduction (influenced, obviously, by competition and selection) will always be the limiting factors that cause a civilization to rise and fall. And the rise and fall of civilizations—all civilizations that have been or are yet to come—is a given. None will last forever, and the speed with which they appear and vanish can depend on a variety of factors: geological, climatological, biological, or even political. Do you doubt that last one? Consider Communism. Primitive communism, meaning a society based on communal sharing, actually worked in hunter/gatherer societies that were constantly on the move pursuing game, but those are precisely the societies that have neither the leisure nor the wherewithal to pursue the cultural creation that defines a civilization. The moment a society depends on continuous labor to feed itself with provision for the future (as in agriculture, for example, as opposed to hunting and gathering) selection comes into play, along with its concomitant concept of private property (this patch of earth is more fertile and productive than that patch) with some men being more successful than others, and communism ceases to be an effective tool for societal survival. After all, if everything is going to be shared equally, I might as well just kick back here a take nap and let you do the heavy lifting.

Competition between individuals means I run faster, fight harder, or outwit you. In a society, that translates into war, and since man is what he is, wars will continue as long as man exists. To quote the Durants (writing in 1968): “In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.” The only silver lining in that dark cloud is that war does stimulate the tool-using animal’s creative impulses, and occasionally those instruments designed for destruction are converted to creative and beneficial uses. Reproduction among individuals means… Well, I hardly think we need go there, but in a society, it means pretty much that he who has the most children wins, which goes a long way to explaining why there are currently 7,132,780,410 people on earth, and that number will be over 7,132,800,000 before I finish this blog.

But it was the repetitive evolution of different political structures that really caught my eye. The Durants used China under Wang An-shih (1068-85 AD) as an example of the failure of socialism. Wang An-shih decided the state should own and control everything, commerce, industry, agriculture, and “[succor] the working classes [by]

preventing them from being ground into the dust by the rich.” For a while, everything was hunky-dory, with great feats of engineering, pensions for the elderly and unemployed, an overhaul of the educational system, governmental boards in every district to administer to administer every damn thing in the world. Sounds a little like America today, doesn’t it? But it fell apart (the Durants cite as reasons high taxes, an enormous army, and bureaucratic corruption, also much like America today), as socialism always has throughout all of history because, to quote the late Margaret Thatcher, “Sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.” That’s me quoting her, obviously, not the Durants. Instead, they wrote: “The experience of the past leaves little doubt that every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity.”

As I was reading all this, I happened to watch the movie, Meet John Doe, with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, and its theme of Christ’s message in today’s world, and I started thinking about America today. In the movie, the success of the John Doe Clubs that spring up across the nation is due to people and communities coming together to create work for their less fortunate neighbors. Not once in the movie is there any mention of a handout or any form of money given away as opposed to earned.

The Lessons of History stresses that selection and the inevitable superiority of some people means that there will always be inequality, but not necessarily inequity. There are two forms of equality that no society can ignore without fatal consequences: equality under the law; and equal opportunity for education, because education provides the opportunity for every man to rise according to his ability. However, even if the law and educational opportunity are available for all, if the gap between rich and poor widens too much, and if there is no bridge of middleclass with which the poor can hope to overcome that gap, violent redistribution of wealth will inevitably occur. It’s one of the lessons of history.

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7 thoughts on “You Can Call It Spinach, Bernie”

  1. You could also mention that Bernie Sanders spent his honeymoon in the former “soviet union.”

  2. Thanks for another good read.

    It is amazing and scary how much those who advocate the mythical world of “fairness and justice” as they view it should be have infiltrated the educational and news/entertainment world. A Northwest University I both attended and worked at for a time had open Marxists/Communists/Socialists/Progressives in the faculty. Some proudly had pictures hanging up of Marx, Castro and the like (their heroes). I know that is not an unusual thing to discover anymore…

    Unfortunately “young skulls of mush” (with credit to what I seem to recall is a favorite expression of a certain radio guy who while I agree with many things he has to say I can’t listen to because I can’t stand his narcissism) just eat up the fantasy of “free everything” and “let’s kill all the rich people to make the world fair and just.” That seems to be what the DNC now represents….I wonder how JFK would feel about what his party has become!

    While I am a devout Capitalist in many ways I agree that a bad storm is brewing across the land. It is too bad those with the control or at least influence of that system don’t seem to see that or at least don’t seem to be trying to resolve it. I reject the few billionaires that are pushing for some leftists solutions to the problem. I suppose they’ll escape to their private islands, high walled compounds, or opulent underground bunkers to escape it.

    I am curious about your final paragraph along those lines. Not sure how to resolve the legal question. Those who can hire the best lawyers always have the advantage. Force all lawyers to work for free! I confess the idea has some appeal as I tend to dislike them because of bad experiences and how they seem to be screwing up our country.

    As for how much education opportunity should be available am wondering what that would be. Should college now be free? Our K-12 system is often failing and now college has become remedial in many cases so that a BA is the new High School Diploma…thereby making a Masters or PhD the minimum to be called educated…

    What I find especially amazing and sad is we now live in a time were there is an astonishing amount of information freely available (and I mean the good and useful information and conceding there is a vast amount of bad info—garbage out there). Many great works of literature, scientific and technical material readily available. University’s now make lectures freely available, course materials, textbooks, etc. All of this is there for the taking (of course that just means the knowledge and not the academic credentials).

    But yet this tool is wasted on watching the latest pop music star shake her booty or whatever people are doing so somehow I don’t think we will get improvement if college could be made free. SIGH!!!!

    So how do we increase the opportunity of education?

  3. Hi JP,

    Your definition of socialism is incorrect, so most of your article is spent arguing against a straw man. The correct definition of socialism is that the workers of a business share the means of production and profits of a business.

    For example, if two brothers named Rick and A.J. started a private detective agency called Simon and Simon Investigations, then they would share the “means of production” – desks, telephones, the Power Wagon, the parabolic listening device Rick bought, etc., as well as any meager profit left over after paying expenses. A.J. would continue to own his house and Rick would continue to own his boat because they are not part of the “means of production”.
    Clearly in this case the harder A.J. works the better the business does and the more money he earns. If A.J. doesn’t work, then the business fails under Rick’s poor management skills and he gets nothing.

    On the other hand, capitalism envisions that a capitalist owns the means of production and profits of a business. For example, A.J. could work for a private detective business named Peerless Detectives, where someone named Myron Fowler owns all of the “means of production” and all of the profits. If A.J. works harder Myron may decide to promote him, but he does not necessarily benefit from working harder. If A.J. doesn’t work, he still gets paid until Myron fires him.

    Socialism is the best system for workers like A.J. because they directly benefit from working harder. Capitalism works as well until Myron realizes he can increase his profit by paying A.J. less or moving the business to China and replacing him with someone who will work for much less. State capitalism as practiced in the USSR doesn’t work at all because Myron is replaced by a government-appointed manager who does not care whether the business succeeds or fails, and will pay A.J. the same whether he works hard or not at all.

    Gerald from Canada

    1. Gerald from Canada,
      Absolute rubbish. I’ll give you the definition of socialism straight from the OED:
      1) A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all.
      2) A state of society in which things are held or used in common.
      There is no third definition.
      Will and Ariel Durante (and by extension I) were discussing a form of government, not a private detective agency or a kibbutz. In case you missed it, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Spartacus Booker, and all of the rest of the pandering fools who are gleefully discussing destroying our democratic republic and its Constitution and reducing America to the level of equality and prosperity of Cuba or Venezuela, are all running for the office of president of the greatest nation on earth, not co-ownership of a company. Bill de Blasio was at least honest enough to make it clear to the meanest intelligence when he explained how he was going to pay for his workers’ paradise by saying, “There’s plenty of money [to do it], it’s just in the wrong hands.”
      There are only two reasons for writing the kind of egregious and dishonest sophistry you have engaged in. One is ignorance, and your letter clearly shows you are not stupid enough to be that ignorant. The other reason is an intent to deceive readers. Honest differences of opinion and courteous debate are welcome on this site any time, but ad hominem attacks, America-Bashing, profanity, and dishonesty will not be tolerated. Your comments are deceptive at best and dishonest in their representation of socialism. Do not write another such piece of casuistry (second definition).

      1. Hi JP,

        No dishonesty nor attempt to deceive here – I am using a different dictionary because I am not subscribed to OED. The third definition of socialism (the one originated by Karl Marx) in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is:

        a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

        So the people who work hardest get the most goods and pay – sounds like a good incentive to me.
        An instructive article I came across is the “Socialism vs. Social Democracy Usage Guide”, available here:

        The countries mentioned here are not Cuba and Venezuela, but Denmark and Sweden, both vibrant democracies still going strong 30 years after the Soviet Union collapsed.

        I want to finish with a couple of points. First, I am flattered that an actual writer considers me educated based on reading what I wrote. I don’t feel I deserve this honour. Second, no sane Canadian would ever bash America. A strong America benefits Canada in far too many ways. If the people you mention really do want to turn America into another USSR, they need to be voted out of office immediately, if not sooner. I just don’t think you can assume this based on the label “democratic socialism”.

        Gerald from Canada

  4. You’ve written some outstanding blogs, JP, but this must rank among the best. I’ve been reading Asimov lately and one thing that strikes me about his FOUNDATION series is its grasp of the patterns of history, how things repeat themselves. I was born in 1972 and spent my youth and teenage years watching Communism crumble into the black hole of its own fatally flawed ideas. I thought the world had learned its lesson in that regard but unfortunately a whole generation of college professors managed to keep the spirit alive in multiple generations of students, who don’t remember what happened and, being told, don’t seem to care.

    I will be reading The Lessons of History forthwith.

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