Bernie Sanders will likely loose the Democratic Party Primary. Despite this, I want to take a moment to discuss his ideology and his philosophy, which must be resisted -if you regard your own life and the pursuit of your own happiness as important. This is true whether you are “rich” or “poor”. I will discuss Mr. Sander’s philosophy in the context of an interview I found online. The interviewer’s name was Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Mr. Rosica is a Catholic Priest. The interview with Bernie Sanders was posted on the Washington Post web site, and can be found in its entirety at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/bernie-sanders-calls-pope-francis-a-socialist/2016/02/22/9fefd340-d9b4-11e5-8210-f0bd8de915f6_video.html
I transcribed the portions of the interview that I considered to be relevant to what I want to write about here:
Bernie Sanders: [1:00 minutes] “What the Pope has done in a very bold way is not only talk about the dispossessed…people who just don’t have enough income to survive…but what he has also done is raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about…”
Fr. Rosica: [1:40 minutes]“They call you a socialist…do you think he’s a socialist [Pope Francis]?”
Bernie Sanders:[1:54 minutes] “….Well, what it means to be a socialist in the sense of what the Pope is talking about, and what I’m talking about, is to say that we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering, uh, that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth. Uh, when he talks about wealth being used to serve people – not as an end in itself- I agree with that. In this country, and obviously the Pope is a worldwide figure, the church is worldwide, we are the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and if you go out in the street and you ask people, “Did you know that we’re the wealthiest country in the world?” They’d say “No, I’m working two or three jobs, I’m making 8 dollars an hour, I don’t know that we’re the wealthiest. I can’t afford childcare for my children.” So, what the Pope is saying is that human life, our existence, should be more than just the accumulation of more and more wealth, and everybody knows that right now we have the wealth, we have the technology, to provide at least a decent standard of living for all of our people, and so few should not have so much, and I think that’s what the Pope is talking about.”
Mr. Sanders isn’t exclusively talking about more welfare for poor people here. This is made clear when he says: “What the Pope has done in a very bold way is not only talk about the dispossessed…people who just don’t have enough income to survive…but what he has also done is raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about…” (emphasis added) Mr. Sanders claims that people “worship” money.
What is money? It is a medium of exchange used instead of the barter system. Money involves trade. It is used when people want to voluntarily exchange goods and services with each other. It presupposes that (1) Each party to the transaction has something that the other regards as valuable, and (2) that each party has a right to use and transfer what he has produced as he sees fit. Why does each person have the right to dispose of what he has produced? It can only be the case if one regards his own life as important to him -if he wants to live. Money is a tool -it is a means of satisfying your material wants and needs by voluntary trade with other people who are also interested in satisfying their material needs. We all have these material needs -we all need a certain number of material goods in order to live. We all need food, clothing, and shelter, and it isn’t provided by nature. It must be produced by someone. If some produce while other appropriate by force what they have produced, then those producers are not free to live their lives. They are slaves to those who don’t produce.
I would hasten to add that it is possible to be irrational about the pursuit of money. It’s possible to pursue it over and above other things that would be more important to a rational human being. In the novel “A Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge chooses to pursue more money over a marriage to the woman he loved (Belle):
[Belle:] “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”… [Scrooge:]“Have I ever sought release?” [Belle:] “In words. No. Never.” [Scrooge:]“In what, then?” [Belle:] “In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; [Belle:] “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!” He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle, [Scrooge:] “You think not.” [Belle:] “I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered, [Belle:] “Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl—you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.” He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed. [Belle:] “You may—the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!” (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm)
Scrooge was not truly acting in a manner that promoted his own life. He chose a little more money over love of a “dowerless girl”. (A “dowry” was money or property that a wife or wife’s family gives to her husband when the wife and husband marry.) The problem here is Scrooge had already satisfied a certain level of material well-being, but he choose a few more dollars over the love of his life (Belle). Even in this case, who did Ebenezer Scrooge hurt -in the most fundamental sense? He hurt himself. (Belle went on to find a man that valued her in a more rational manner -as shown by a later scene in “A Christmas Carroll”.) Scrooge’s own life was (presumably) of utmost importance to him, but he damaged that life by pursuing more money over Belle.
Rational egoism means making your own life your ultimate value, and recognizing that reality demands that you must take certain actions in order to further it, such as working to produce the material values you need to survive. But, rational egoism means more than just acquiring material wealth. If you want to fall in love, you actually have to go out, and try to meet people, and you have to go out on dates. If you want friends, you have to find people that you have things in common with, and make an effort to make them a part of your life. If you want knowledge, you must read books, go to school, and study new ideas. If you want to be rational, you must study logic, and learn the method of objectivity. If you want happiness, you must discover what will make you happy, and then pursue it relentlessly. The level of wealth that each of us chooses to acquire in relation to other important values is a personal matter, and will often depend on your personal context and situation. One of the values of Capitalism is that it leaves each individual free to decide what level of wealth he will pursue. If he chooses to irrationally pursue additional wealth over love or friendship like Ebenezer Scrooge, that is his choice to make, and he will live with the consequences.
But, Bernie Sanders is not talking about the irrational pursuit of money like the case of Ebenezer Scrooge, because he does not accept the morality of rational egoism. He does not want you to live your life for your own sake. He reveals this when he discusses what it means to be a “socialist”. As a preliminary matter, it must be noted that the actual, accepted, definition of “socialism” is along the lines of: “…a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies…” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism Whether governmental ownership of the means of production is actually in anybody’s rational self interest is more of a question for Economics and History. (I refer you to the old Soviet Union for an example of how socialism just makes everyone poor.) Governmental ownership of the means of production is not what Bernie Sanders is primarily talking about:
Bernie Sanders:[1:54 minutes] “….Well, what it means to be a socialist in the sense of what the Pope is talking about, and what I’m talking about, is to say that we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering, uh, that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth.”
Whose suffering is Mr. Sanders talking about here? Are we talking about you taking action to better your own life and maximize your own happiness? It’s doubtful, given the rest of what Mr. Sanders said, that this is what he means. Bernie Sanders is not advocating “socialism” per se here. He is advocating “altruism”. He does not believe that your own life is important for its own sake, or that you should pursue your own happiness -and leave others free to pursue their own as well. Mr. Sanders says we should all: “…do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering…” Service to others and self-sacrifice, i.e., altruism, is what Bernie Sanders advocates. To Mr. Sanders, your own life is secondary to the purpose of alleviating the suffering of others.
Furthermore, for Bernie Sanders, the more successful you are -the more productive you are- the more you should sacrifice yourself to others: “…right now we have the wealth, we have the technology, to provide at least a decent standard of living for all of our people…” However, “wealth” is nothing but the material means by which you maintain your life and pursue your own happiness. Imagine that you want to spend more time furthering your writing career (or painting, or sculpture, or dance). If you want to buy a washing machine so that you don’t have to spend enormous amounts of time washing your clothes by hand, so that you can pursue your career in art, according to Bernie Sanders, you can’t -unless you first buy a washing machine for all the people in inner cities, Appalachia, and the Third World. Imagine that you want to get married to the love of your life. If you want to buy your girlfriend an engagement ring as a symbol of your love when you ask her to marry you, you cannot -unless you ensure that every unmarried bachelor in the world can afford to buy one for his fiance. Imagine that you want to have children. You can’t buy that toy for your child -until you buy a toy for every child, everywhere. Furthermore, would Mr. Sanders even limit this self-sacrifice to the material realm? Once this notion is accepted, shouldn’t you go out and marry a girl you don’t love out of charity? Hell, maybe you have to find a spouse for everyone else first? Shouldn’t you spend time with your worst enemy, who does nothing but denigrate you, rather than seeking out people who would value you and your friendship? What about the “suffering” of someone who chooses to be obnoxious and boorish in any social situation, such that no one wants to be his or her friend? Shouldn’t you put up with his or her undesirable behavior and be friends, even though you gain nothing from the relationship and feel totally “drained” by their toxic friendship?
What motivates support for Bernie Sanders? For some it may be genuine envy -a hatred of those who want to live and are successful at doing so. However, I have too much faith in the good will of my fellow man, so I refuse to believe that this is anything more than a small number of people. I think most people support Bernie Sanders out of fear. They fear loosing their job, they fear getting sick and having no way to pay for it, they fear their child will get sick or starve, and they won’t be able to pay for it. There are no guarantees in life, and that is a scary thought. I understand this fear, and I feel it, too, sometimes. But, the desire to use armed force to obtain from others the goods you need for survival must be resisted -and that is what we are talking about when we talk about the welfare state and socialism. If you refuse to pay taxes for the support of others, the police will come for you and arrest you. If you resist, they will use clubs and handcuffs. If you resist with a weapon, they will shoot you. If they put you in prison for not paying taxes, and you try to escape, you will be shot by the guards. Right now, you may regard someone else as “the wealthy”. You may think that you can “get away with” expropriating the goods produced by “the wealthy”, and make your own material circumstances better. Be aware that you’re playing a risky game. Someone, someday, may decide that you are “the wealthy”. They may also decide they have a big enough voting block and the necessary government force, i.e. a big enough gang, to take it from you. Then you will be the one to have his wealth expropriated.