The Socialist Road to Destruction amid So-Called Good Intentions

By: Wanjiru Njoya

When socialist schemes fail, as they inevitably do, our attention is immediately drawn away from the destruction they cause to the “good intentions” behind the schemes. They meant well. Their good intentions override their disastrous results. One reason why good intentions are important to both sides of the political divide is that good intentions play well to voters. A good example of this is the national debt crisis in the United States. The economist Samuel Gregg points out that while both parties pledge to resolve the growing national debt, both parties regard the measures necessary to resolve the situation as electoral suicide: “America’s National Debt challenge constitutes a political iron cage for Democrat and Republican legislators alike. While they can talk a big game about courageously tackling the problem, the political consequences of actually doing so are deeply unattractive for both parties.” The politicians’ desire to present voters with some obviously well-intentioned schemes overrides their commitment to resolving the problem. They are well-aware that any subsequent failures will be overlooked or forgiven in light of their good intentions.

In his book Socialism, Ludwig von Mises argues that socialist good intentions are “nothing but a grandiose rationalization of petty resentments.” They depict the politics of envy as a quest for justice, and they discount any cost as necessary for the pursuit of the higher goal of justice. However, as Mises points out, the assertion that socialism promotes justice is “merely an arbitrary assertion.” He explains:

In fact Socialism is not in the least what it pretends to be. It is not the pioneer of a better and finer world, but the spoiler of what thousands of years of civilization have created. It does not build; it destroys. For destruction is the essence of it. … [It] raises the consumption of the masses at the cost of existing capital wealth, and thus sacrifices the future to the present. … The increasing difficulties of maintaining the higher standard of living are ascribed to various causes, but never to the fact that a policy of capital consumption is being followed.

In highlighting the inherently destructive nature of socialism, Mises’s point is not that socialists necessarily set out to destroy society but that this is the inevitable result of their schemes: “Socialism has not consciously willed the destruction of society. It believed it was creating a higher form of society. But since a socialist society is not a possibility every step towards it must harm society.” Faced with the destruction of society, it is futile to divert our intention to the supposedly good intentions behind the destruction.

Mises’s concept of “destructionism” refers to “the consumption of capital” and ultimately the “destruction of what already exists.” He observes that “the policy of destructionism is the policy of the spendthrift who dissipates his inheritance regardless of the future.” The destructionism of socialism is pervasive: “Our whole life is so given over to destructionism that one can hardly name a field which it has not penetrated.” The contemporary significance of this concept is illustrated by Tom DiLorenzo in “Misesian Destructionism: Then and Now,” showing how destructionism takes effect through the “cultural Marxism” of the Frankfurt School. DiLorenzo observes:

One of my first observances of such idiocy was in the mid-1980s when that great intellectual giant Jesse Jackson led mob of Stanford University students chanting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go.” They wanted the university to drop its courses on Western Civilization and replace them with courses on “race, class, and gender studies.” The Stanford administration dutifully complied.

The same destructionism can be seen in attempts to “decolonize” history, art, culture, and all fields of academic inquiry. That the “decolonize” movement is destructive is clear from the violent rhetoric that accompanies it. Yet this too is spun in the language of good intentions. As explained by Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

A key project of the 21st-century left has been to revive and mainstream language associated with violent revolutionary struggle by turning it to mostly therapeutic uses. …

… insisting, as in the work of Frantz Fanon, that revolutionary violence itself was therapeutic, a means by which the colonized can achieve self-assertion, dignity and wholeness. …

… a promise that all the rhetoric is therapeutic and psychological, that when we talk about stolen land and ending “whiteness” and decolonizing everything, we are, of course, merely speaking culturally, symbolically, metaphorically.

The excesses of wokery are provocative, but wokery is by no means the only contemporary emanation of socialist destructionism. The same destructive effect is seen in welfare schemes such as labor legislation and social insurance that now threaten to bankrupt welfare states. Samuel Gregg observes that “spending on major entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and what is called Income Security … constituted 68 percent of Federal Government spending in 2023.” These welfare schemes may seem relatively beneficial compared to other forms of government spending, but they too are “a means of destructionism” as they rely on the “consumption of capital” while creating more incentives to consume and destroying all incentives to produce. Mises explains that social welfare “produces nothing, it only consumes what the social order based on private ownership in the means of production has created.”

Socialist legislative schemes are often lauded not only for their worthy social ideals and goals, but also because of the widespread fear that such well-meaning legislation is all that stands between vulnerable people and disaster. Even if it does not work, so the reasoning goes, it will signal the right aspirations and show what society stands for. This is the rationale behind “hate speech” legislation that is intended to “root out hate.” Hate may or may not be rooted out of the hearts wherein it lurks, but at least we will have signaled that hate is “unacceptable.” Similarly, employment protection and antidiscrimination legislation are supported by both political sides. All parties are resistant to abolishing the special “protection” given to various identity groups by legislation intended to “protect” them. In the absence of market opportunities and in the absence of charity, both of which are derided by socialists, it seems that welfare legislation and virtue signaling assume great importance as the means by which human life will flourish. In this way, destructive legislation is attributed with a lifesaving and life-affirming function, and the prospect of abolishing it becomes unthinkable.

The destructive effects of these measures, which are touted for their beneficial qualities, go unacknowledged. The causes of economic and social problems are not self-evident, and many people do not link cause and effect. The same destructive policies are repeatedly introduced as they are not viewed as causally linked to the disasters that lie in their wake. No lessons are learned. Mises explains:

To see the weakness of a policy which raises the consumption of the masses at the cost of existing capital wealth, and thus sacrifices the future to the present, and to recognize the nature of this policy, requires deeper insight than that vouchsafed to statesmen and politicians or to the masses who have put them into power. As long as the walls of the factory buildings stand, and the trains continue to run, it is supposed that all is well with the world. The increasing difficulties of maintaining the higher standard of living are ascribed to various causes, but never to the fact that a policy of capital consumption is being followed.

Mises argues that the fight against this destructionism requires more than simply correcting socialists concerning the facts:

Facts per se can neither prove nor refute anything. … From the socialist point of view, Capitalism alone is responsible for all the misery the world has had to endure in recent years. Socialists see only what they want to see and are blind to anything that might contradict their theory.

Thus, the rising cost of living is ascribed to corporate greed and profiteering, with the left-leaning Guardian informing its readers that inflation is caused by “energy prices and corporate profits” and the 2020 global economic recession was caused by covid. Simple explanations for economic crises play well to the voters, who are in that way well-primed to accept that all measures taken by the government to tackle the crises are well-intentioned.

In response, it is necessary to persuade our compatriots of the true causes of the destructionism they see unfolding around them by joining what Mises calls “the battle of ideas,” a battle based not only on pointing out the correct facts, but more so on “the interpretation and explanation of the facts, by the ideas and the theories.”

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The above article (The Socialist Road to Destruction amid So-Called Good Intentions) was originally created and published by MISES WIRE and is republished here with permission and attribution to author Wanjiru Njoya and mises.org.

TLB recommends you visit MISES WIRE for more articles and information.

About the Articles Author: Dr. Wanjiru Njoya, is a Scholar-in-Residence for the Mises Institute. She is the author of Economic Freedom and Social Justice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), Redressing Historical Injustice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023, with David Gordon) and “A Critique of Equality Legislation in Liberal Market Economies” (Journal of Libertarian Studies, 2021). READ MORE HERE.

Image Credit: Photo in featured Image (top) – by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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