The oldest refrain of the Right is that socialism leads to tyranny. Yet for the last four decades, it’s neoliberalism that’s been inching us closer to a police state.
People walk by a surveillance camera along a street in the Financial District on April 24, 2013 in New York City. Spencer Platt / Getty
The fear of socialism is mostly based on one idea: that the end of the road of bigger government is the totalitarian horror of the early twentieth century.
Sure, there are other objections, usually involving muttered words like “market” and “efficiency.” But for the fathers of neoliberalism like Friedrich Hayek, what it really came down to was the fear that every increase in the role of the state was just one more step toward the chimneys of Dachau: power concentrated among a know-it-all elite deaf to the problems facing its people; ever-present surveillance of the population, whether “suspect” or not; a vast, armed bureaucracy ready to stamp out dissent; countless bodies locked and tortured in prisons; and a state that asserts the power to treat its citizens as mere subjects while demanding secrecy and impunity for itself.
It wasn’t just Hayek, writing in the shadow of the Second World War, who obsessed over this fear. Right-wing, anti-government rhetoric in the Obama years was saturated with talk of Nazis, Hitler, and tyranny, until those same people embraced a wannabe authoritarian of their own in 2015. Speaking of whom, in the midst of one of his recent anti-socialist broadsides, Trump recently asserted that “socialism eventually must always give rise to tyranny.”
Halting this threat was supposedly the great promise of capitalism. You might have had the freedom to starve and die from preventable disease, but you at least had all the political freedoms denied by authoritarian states.
Reality has proven this to be nonsense. The gulag hasn’t come to Sweden or Norway just because their governments pay for people’s medical bills. Not to mention that the society envisioned by socialists devolves decision-making power, whether economic or political, to working people, rather than concentrating it in the state.
But put this to one side for the moment, because it’s now clear — more than seven decades after Hayek worried that “what was promised to us as the Road to Freedom was in fact the High Road to Servitude” — that it’s neoliberal capitalism that has put us on that high road. MORE
Milton Friedman was wrong. Capitalism doesn’t foster freedom — it produces autocratic workplaces and tyrannical billionaires.