Dear Mr. Harvey: What is the difference between communism, democratic socialism, and welfare statism?
— Sincerely Confused
Dear Sincerely Confused: First of all, Mr. Harvey is my dad. Please call me Ray.
Communism is a species of the genus socialism; it is one of the many variations on that tired theme. Communism explicitly calls for the violent overthrow of government. In theory, it is an anarchist ideology, believing that the state will one day magically “wither away,” as Karl Marx famously phrased it, though only after an unspecified period of gigantic bureaucratic control. Of course, in the long and blood-soaked history of communism, the state has never withered away, and never will. Why? Once entrenched, bureaucracy is impossible to retrogress away from.
Democratic socialism, on the other hand, doesn’t advocate the violent overthrow of government but intends to use force peacefully. By definition, by its very nature, socialism must resort to force because it must expropriate people’s money and other property in order to redistribute it. That is the distinguishing characteristic of any and all forms of socialism: government control of property and the means of production (which is one of the reasons so-called corporatism is another variation on socialism).
One must never forget: socialism is by definition an ideology of force.
Not all liberals are socialists — in large part because most of them don’t even know what “socialism” means, and it is for this reason also that many liberals, and, for that matter, many conservatives, are socialists and do not even know it.
Welfare statism is not exactly the same thing as democratic socialism. Welfare statism wants all the wealth and advantages that capitalism and private property creates, but at the same time, it wants to undermine the very things that makes all that wealth possible. Welfare statism takes for granted the advantages of capitalism — it wants to hold power over the producers of wealth — yet it wants those same wealth-producers to keep producing it for them. It is a short-sighted ideology the prevalence of which dominates academia from sea to shining sea.
The welfare state, which is what we live in today and have for some time, is the result of what von Mises called the “hampered or mixed market economy.” It is not identical to socialism proper, primarily because it is not explicit enough, but it too is a variation on the same theme.