Monday, April 21, 2014


Over at the Daily Beast, Jacob Siegel has published a provocative piece, in which he argues that the American Armed Forces are a model socialist system - implying that those who support our Armed Forces and a militarily strong America should get on the bandwagon and admit that socialism would give us all a better life:
The U.S. military is a socialist paradise. Imagine a testing ground where every signature liberal program of the past century has been applied, from racial integration to single-payer health care—then add personal honor, strict hierarchy, and more guns. Like all socialist paradises, the military has been responsible for its share of bloodshed, but it has developed one of the only working models of collective living and social welfare that this country has ever known.
He points out that members of the military work in a generally meritocratic environment, and that they - and their dependents - are beneficiaries of free medical care, a retirement program, and a lifestyle of communal living. Several conservative commentators have risen to the bait. Jonah Goldberg writes at the Corner:
Anyway, what I find interesting about the piece — again, assuming there’s any good faith to it — is what he leaves out. For starters, in this socialist paradise, members forfeit many of their constitutional rights. Or to put it more accurately, their rights are curbed and limited in ways they are not for civilians. They don’t have the same rights of speech, assembly, movement etc. Siegel is right that the military is one of the most meritocratic institutions in American life and it has often been ahead of the curve on many issues, such as desegregation. But it also discriminates — understandably — against the disabled and the elderly. You can’t sign up to be a frontline soldier or a Marine if you can’t pass certain physical or age requirements. And, for the time being at least, women still have to meet certain physical requirements for certain jobs. Oh, and then there’s the fact that you also have to follow orders from your superiors, mostly without question. That alone, one would think, would do away with the whole “paradise” part of the equation. 
Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t get the sense that the urine-recycling Bolsheviks of the Occupy Wall Street crowd were yearning for the right to be told to go on a ten-hour hike in the rain “before dawn.” 
Indeed, the whole concept of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” runs counter to the whole military ethos.
I think that Goldberg is right as far as he goes, but I think he is missing a larger and more important point: The essence of socialism, in any form, is the militarization of the economic life of society.

The militarization of civilian economic life was transparently obvious during the early years of "War Communism" in the Soviet Union, but as Hayek convincingly demonstrates in The Road to Serfdom, eliminating a free market for labor and materials necessarily requires an economic system that ultimately rests on coercion. Under socialism, everyone in society is an economic "soldier," who is required to work at the tasks set for him or her by the bureaucratic "officers" who are in command. The "broad masses of the people" are obliged to live in the housing provided for them by the State, to wear the clothing provided for them by the State, and to be entertained by the entertainment provided by the State.

 In a free society, the members of the military tolerate the discipline required in the Armed Forces because of the role which they fulfill, and because for the limited mission of defending our land, our lives, and our Liberty, a military organization is required.

The results of militarizing an entire society on the socialist model, however, have been disastrous wherever the attempt has been made.

Yes - Siegel is partially right - the US Armed Forces do have many of the aspects of socialist systems. But that is because socialist economies follow a military model, not because the military is modeled on socialism.


Pastorius said...

Boy, did you hit the nail on the head, or what?

Great post.

Punditarian said...

Thanks, Pastorius. Appreciate your comment.

Chaz said...

There is also one key difference between The Military System and most socialist nations:

1) Participation in our Military is 100% Voluntary. Everyone in the military is there primarily because s/he wants to be.

2) Participation in Socialist Nations is mandatory.

The above sounds like a not-so-important distinction but it makes the two systems worlds apart from each other.