Labels. It seems that we live in a world were everything, and everyone, requires a label. We tend to stereotype people, organizations and concepts, and not take the time to dig into the details and make an informed decision/evaluation/assessment. Isn’t that a common sense requirement for meaningful and productive conversation?
It is my sense that this is particularly true when it comes to describing a government and its associated policies and workings. In particular, it is not uncommon for there to be confusion about the labels we use, in particular Libertarianism, Liberal Democracy, Social Democracy, Socialism and Communism. They are quite different. When we communicate and use an inaccurate stereotypical name (and an associated value judgement) we propagate confusion – and actually hinder our democratic process. So lets set down some definitions. According to Wikipedia, we find:
Libertarianism: … is a collection of political philosophies and movements that uphold liberty as a core principle. Libertarians seek to maximize political freedom and autonomy, emphasizing freedom of choice, voluntary association, and individual judgment. Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power, but they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling for the restriction or dissolution of coercive social institutions.
Liberal Democracy: …is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism. It is characterized by elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people. To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either formally written or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract. After a period of sustained expansion throughout the 20th century, liberal democracy became the predominant political system in the world. Liberal democracies usually have universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote regardless of race, gender or property ownership.
Social Democracy: … is a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy. The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy; measures for income redistribution and regulation of the economy in the general interest; and welfare state provisions. Social democracy thus aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes. Social democrats embraced a mixed economy based on the predominance of private property, with only a minority of essential utilities and public services under public ownership. As a result, social democracy became associated with Keynesian economics, state interventionism and the welfare state. Modern social democracy is characterized by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty, including support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, child care, education, health care and workers’ compensation. The social democratic movement also has strong connections with the labour movement and trade unions and is supportive of collective bargaining rights for workers as well as measures to extend democratic decision-making beyond politics into the economic sphere in the form of co-determination for employees and other economic stakeholders.
Democratic Socialism: … is a political philosophy that advocates achieving socialist goals within a democratic system as opposed to what it perceives as undemocratic socialist ideologies such as Marxist–Leninist-inspired socialism which is viewed as being non-democratic in practice. Democratic socialists oppose the Soviet economic model, rejecting the authoritarian form of governance and highly centralized command economy that took form in the Soviet Union in the early 20th century. Democratic socialism has promoted as economic solutions to capitalist systems public property through a democratically elected government, of major industries, utilities, and transportation systems; some limits on the conversion of public resources to private property; governmental regulation of the economy; extensive publicly financed assistance and pension programs.
Socialism: … is a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership and workers’ self-management of the means of production as well as the political theories and movements associated . with them. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective or cooperative ownership, or to citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, though social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms. Socialist economic systems can be divided into non-market and market forms. Market socialism retains the use of monetary prices, factor markets and in some cases the profit motive, with respect to the operation of socially owned enterprises and the allocation of capital goods between them. Profits generated by these firms would be controlled directly by the workforce of each firm, or accrue to society at large in the form of a social dividend.
Communism: … is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money and the state.
So what is the message? These definitions make clear that there is a broad continuum of political philosophy. It is really not productive to label an individual simply as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’; to label a ‘liberal’ as a ‘socialist’; or to label a ‘conservative’ as a ‘libertarian’. Stereotypes do not apply. We must be more thoughtful based on knowledge and understanding.
For me, a healthy democracy means accepting and capitalizing on diversity, working towards equality (all aspects) and avoidance of huge gaps (wealth, income, medical care, education, etc.). A healthy democracy means all citizens have some common values and priorities – so that we can talk to one another, discuss our goals and differences, and reach consensus on how to advance the Nation and its citizenry. Using stereotypes to label one anther is counter productive, especially if our understanding of the stereotype is false. As an example, we often hear of a person with liberal views who advocates for government assisted healthcare, being labeled as a socialist. This could be true, but very unlikely. The negative connotation of socialism is all that is heard. Let’s try to eliminate the labels from our conversations and talk specifics. We may have differences, but at least we can communicate. How else to achieve ‘government of, for and by the people’?