So what differentiates socialism from “things government does”?

I have seen it quite seriously argued that anything that government does is socialism so, what are you some kind of anarchist? I have literally seen dozens of variants on that.

First of all, I don’t think the libertarian ideal of some sort of private contract enforcement (“dispute resolution”) firm is going to work. By default, any such organization that’s large enough to enforce contract for a large number of separate entities be they individuals, companies, etc., and more importantly, to enforce contracts against another large group of people managed by or represented by another firm, is going to become the de facto government, including how to handle “foreign relations“ with people managed by other firms.

And because responsibility and authority go hand-in-hand, those firms will have the authority to dictate how you deal with those other people.

Like it or not, whether it’s corporate, or otherwise, something with the function of the state shall exist. It may be smaller or more limited in scope, but by dint of giving them power to resolve conflicts and compel behavior we are also signing away some freedom of action.

Which is one reason why I refuse to be disarmed. Just in case that thing that has that function decides that he needs to go after me and abuse me instead of take care of me.

Consider the iron law of bureaucracy. All organizations, even when they actively combat against it, tend to become more concerned about perpetuating their own survival instead of simply trying to do their job the best. It’s actually part of trying to do their job, but it often grows to be a larger percentage than is absolutely necessary for doing their job, and even sometimes prevents them from doing their job.

Which is why I believe our founders were fully correct in saying that governments were necessary. And that the scope of their power, not just the sheer material quantity of it, should be sharply limited to just those things it cannot be handled by smaller organizations, local communities, individuals.

I’ve also seen that libertarians quail at the point of having some form of loyalty to community. For all that Heinlein is sometimes referred to as a quasi-libertarian, Starship Troopers not a libertarian manifesto. If anything, one of the reasons it was referred to as fascist by the same people who loved Stranger in a Strange Land, published within a year of that same book, was because of what N. N. Taleb would refer to as “skin in the game” – proof that he’s concerned about the existence and the continued perpetuation of the society that he’s in, and some proof that that is a concern for you, before giving you authority over the self same society.

There is not a damn thing in all of the libertarian utopian daydreams that prevents what Taleb calls, in the same book, the tyranny of the intolerant minority, related to the conundrum of tolerating the intolerant. The only thing that prevents a society from being taken over by a minority acting in concert is the majority also acting in concert to protect a set of values.

In short, to align around an identity of “this is what we value” and act in concert. Like a national government mobilizing to stop an invasion, or a dispute resolution org enforcing its contracts to compel members to band together to fight off a common threat. The problem in the latter case is that unless they share a common culture, set of cultural assumptions, cultural values, and identity such that betraying their neighbors would be looked at as just that – betrayal – they won’t work together as effectively.

So, we’ll always have something approximating the role of a government. What makes it socialism then?

The focus.

Sure, on one hand, hyper individualism is just as utopian as hyper communalism, but the assumption built into the west, into Christianity, is that moral choices are individual ones. There are community goods, community shared values, community sacrifice, and people should work for the good of the community as well as themselves, even at some level of self-sacrifice. This increases the odds that the community, as well as oneself, and one’s offspring, survive and thrive. There are no islands, lone wolves. We are a social species. But the assumption is that any compulsion has to be justified, the default is to leave people be to suffer the consequences of their wisdom or lack thereof, whereas in socialism, the assumption is that the good of the community is paramount, and that the good of the individual, or their desires and needs, need to be justified.

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” – who decides? That very statement assumes someone else will judge the temporal worthiness of an individual’s contribution, and what they really need.

You see a shadow of it every time a tax cut is treated as stealing from the government and community.

“You didn’t build that.” Sure, not without help, but anyone handing ten kids identical sets of legos will see at least ten different structures built (with one likely not building anything but smashing what others build, and one or more building more than one consecutively or simultaneously).