On a fairly regular basis we get called capitalists by the socialists and socialists by the capitalists, which suggests there might be a little confusion around. Not on our part, but on the part of others. Last week, for example, we received the following email after someone here rejected the use of the word “capitalism”:
|Louis O. Kelso: neither capitalist not socialist|
Consider this: The Just Third Way is democratic as its entire rationale, because its purpose is to democratize ownership of capital through institutional reform of money, credit, and banking. Isn’t this the “just third way” of “democratic capitalism”?
A serious problem with the word “capitalism” is that it is of extremely vague import. That was one of the reasons Louis O. Kelso, despite the titles of the first two books he wrote with Mortimer J. Adler ( , 1958, and , 1961), eventually stopped using it.
Efforts to use the term to describe any system based on private property ultimately only create an oxymoron. As G.K. Chesterton commented, “If the use of capital is capitalism, then everything is capitalism” — a slight overstatement, perhaps, but only slight.
The current furor over the rise of “democratic socialism” illustrates the difficulties, even (in a sense) the dangers of trying to change an inherently flawed system simply by slapping an adjective in front of it. This is, in fact, more egregious with socialism than with capitalism, as the original term for socialism was “the democratic religion,” and all socialism was originally “democratic socialism” as well as religious socialism (which annoyed Marx), to say nothing of what particularly outraged Orestes Brownson, “Christian socialism”:
|Orestes A. Brownson: down on socialism.|
[Socialism] is as artful as it is bold. It wears a pious aspect, it has divine words on its lips, and almost unction in its speech. It is not easy for the unlearned to detect its fallacy, and the great body of the people are prepared to receive it as Christian truth. We cannot deny it without seeming to them to be warring against the true interests of society, and also against the Gospel of our Lord. . . . Surely Satan has here, in Socialism, done his best, almost outdone himself, and would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect, so that no flesh should be saved. (O.A. Brownson, Essays and Reviews, Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1852, 502.)
Calling socialism democratic and attempting to distinguish it from Marxist “scientific socialism” — communism — is an exercise in self-deception, to say nothing of its utter futility. As Alexis de Tocqueville commented of the “Bloodless Revolution” that overthrew the French “July Monarchy” (and which quickly became very bloody indeed),
From the 25th of February  onwards, a thousand strange systems came issuing pell-mell from the minds of innovators, and spread among the troubled minds of the crowd. . . . These theories were of very varied natures, often opposed and sometimes hostile to one another; but all of them, aiming lower than the government and striving to reach society itself, on which government rests, adopted the common name of Socialism.
To go the same route with capitalism is to try and correct the mistakes of a flawed system with the bigger mistakes of an even more flawed system. Ultimately, as in Hilaire Belloc’s Servile State, there ends up being nothing to distinguish capitalism from socialism, or vice versa.
|G.K. Chesterton: both capitalist and socialist?|
Ironically, this point is best illustrated by the comments regarding Chesterton’s and Belloc’s “distributism” by a capitalist and a socialist, both of whom missed the main point of distributism, which is broadly owned capital. Michael Novak declared in a foreword he wrote to a collection of Chesterton’s writings published by Ignatius Press that what Chesterton meant by distributism is what he, Novak meant by “democratic capitalism.” (Michael Novak, “Saving Distributism,” Introduction to G. K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Volume V, 31.)
At the same time, in a foreword he wrote for another Chesterton collection, Four Faultless Felons, Martin Gardner stated that what Chesterton meant by distributism is what he, Gardner, meant by “democratic socialism.” (Martin Gardner, “Introduction to the Dover Edition,” G. K. Chesterton, Four Faultless Felons. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1989, x.)
Obviously, if distributism is at one and the same time both democratic socialism and democratic capitalism, then logically there is no difference between capitalism and socialism, Nor can distributism be distinguished in any way from anything else. If “democratic capitalism” is the Just Third Way, then there is nothing to distinguish it from either capitalism or socialism.
It would therefore be better, in our opinion, simply to jettison the use of the terms capitalism or socialism, democratic or otherwise, in an effort to describe what Kelso and CESJ are talking about. We should restrict our term to “the Just Third Way,” and define the Just Third Way as “A free market system that economically empowers all individuals and families through the democratization of money and credit for new production, with universal access to direct ownership of income-producing capital.”