The arc of Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy coincided with an effort to rehabilitate the word “socialism.” It was somewhat successful, in that, nowadays, it’s not nearly as off-putting a term as “fascism” or “communism,” its ideological brothers. Moreso, its definition has been fuzzed up, both with the “democratic socialism” farce and with the reduced fidelity to its core premise of government ownership of the means of production. Someone recently used the phrase “small-s socialism” to speak to the mindset and philosophy of many of today’s big-government advocates, especially the younger ones.

With the fuzzing-up of the term, critique becomes a bit more complicated. After all, if you can’t agree on what a word means, it’s not that easy to embrace or reject it. A recent news story, however, cuts through that (deliberate?) fog and gets to the core of the matter.

A study, discussed here, found that:

Participants in a year-long study who doubted the scientific consensus on the issue “opposed policy solutions,” but at the same time, they “were most likely to report engaging in individual-level, pro-environmental behaviors.”


Conversely, those who expressed the greatest belief in, and concern about, the warming environment “were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions.”

While the referenced article averred that this was a dissonance or disconnect, it is quite understandable and predictable – if you understand the difference between those who are skeptical of big government and those who embrace it. That is, non-statists vs statists. Or, more colloquially, those who embrace small-s socialism and those who reject it.

Playwright-turned-conservative David Mamet defined socialism as “the abdication of responsibility.” If we apply this definition to the aforementioned study, everything makes sense. Not wanting the government to do something isn’t the same as not wanting to do something. That’s a lesson that big government types never want to learn or understand. Conversely, big government types often feel that, if they vote for government to address a problem, they’ve done all they need to do, personally. If government has to impose rules on them to alter their behavior, so be it, but they’re not likely, as the study demonstrates, to alter their behavior on their own without external mandates.

This coincides with a common expectation from these small-s socialists. Karl Marx’s dogma “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is often viewed as “From others according to their ability, to me according to my needs.” Talk to many small-s socialists, and you’ll find them to expect to be on the “benefiting” side of forced redistribution and forced behavioral modification. Whether it be big stuff like socialized medicine and global warming, or small stuff like soda and tobacco taxes, it always seems to be about making others behave differently, and if the rules end up imposing on them as well, at least everyone’s behavior is changed. It’s also why we don’t see those who want taxes and tax rates increased volunteering extra money out of their own pockets come tax time. If they’re to pay extra, everyone else should as well. Socialists, both small-s and big-S, are always the hammer, never the nail.

And, it’s exemplified in attitudes towards charity. While some studies have shown that non-liberals tend to be more charitable than liberals (especially when parsed by income level i.e. poor/working class conservatives tend to be a lot more charitable than poor/working class liberals), the real dissonance lies in the perception of how the poor get helped. Some believe that voting for big, redistributionist government is them being charitable and caring. It is not. Giving someone else’s money is not charity. Giving your money/time/effort is. Christianity teaches that we should help the poor, not that we should demand force be used to make others help the poor.

We can also understand the disconnect in mind set from a moralistic perspective. Some people behave in a moral fashion because it’s the right thing to do. Others behave in a moral fashion because of an external reward/punishment system (whether it be government laws and regulations or religious dogma). Other others only worry about whether others behave in a moral fashion, and seek to use the coercive power of the state to ensure it. Who’s the most moral, and who’s the least moral? He who does the right thing just because it’s the right thing, he who does so via soft coercion, or he who only cares about forcing others to behave in a way he thinks is moral?

So, to truly understand socialists, forget about the particulars of socialism vs democratic socialism vs fascism vs communism, and dismiss word-smithing and other forms of dissembling and sophistry that seek to excuse the horrors and body count of its many iterations in favor of some nebulous “good” socialism. Instead focus on the individual-vs-collective approach to, well, everything. Therein lies the real truth. Socialism is, indeed, the abdication of responsibility, and the embodiment of lazy selfishness.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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