Writing in Commonweal, David Bentley Hart debunks the myths about socialism.

I graduated high school in 1956 and was politically aware during high school and college. I remember McCarthy-style Republicans denouncing every government program as “socialism,” which was the surepath to Communism and Stalinism. I grew up in Texas, where that overheated rhetoric was common. These days, I wonder if we have regressed to the toxic 1950s, as Republicans decry every social welfare program, every effort to reverse climate damage, every proposal to tax billionaires, as “socialism.” Thus I read and enjoyed this article.

Hart writes:

Not long ago, in an op-ed column for the New York Times, I observed that it is foolish to equate (as certain American political commentators frequently do) the sort of “democratic socialism” currently becoming fashionable in some quarters of this country with the totalitarian state ideologies of the twentieth century, whose chief accomplishments were ruined societies and mountains of corpses. For one thing, “socialism” is far from a univocal term, and much further from a uniform philosophy. I, for instance, have a deep affection for the tradition of British Christian socialism, which was shaped by such figures as F. D. Maurice (1805–1872), John Ruskin (1819–1900), Charles Kingsley (1819–1875), Thomas Hughes (1822–1896), F. J. Furnivall (1825–1910), William Morris (1834–1896), and R. H. Tawney (1880–1962), though I have also been influenced by such non-British social thinkers as Sergei Bulgakov (1871–1944), Dorothy Day (1897–1980), and E. F. Schumacher (1911–1977). None of these espoused any kind of statist, technocratic, secular, authoritarian version of socialist economics, and none of them was what we today think of as “liberal.” And yet their “socialist” leanings were unmistakable.

Moreover, just because a totalitarian regime happens to call itself socialist—or, for that matter, a republic, or a union of republics, or a people’s republic, or a people’s democratic republic—we are under no obligation to take it at its word. What we call “democratic socialism” in the United States is difficult to distinguish from the social-democratic traditions of post-war Western Europe, and there we find little evidence that a democracy becomes a dictatorship simply by providing such staples of basic social welfare as universal health care. At least, it is hard not to notice that the social-democratic governments of Europe have always gained power only by being voted into office, and have always relinquished it peacefully when voted out again. None of them has ever made war on free markets, even in attempting (often all too hesitantly) to impose prudent and ethically salutary regulations on business. Rather than gulags, death camps, secret police, arrests without warrant, summary executions, enormous propaganda machines, killing fields, and the like, their political achievements have been more in the line of the milk-allowances given to British children in the post-war years, various national health services, free eyeglasses and orthodonture for children, school lunches, public pensions for the elderly and the disabled, humane public housing, adequate unemployment insurance, sane labor protections, and so forth, all of which have been accomplished without irreparable harm to economies or treasuries.