Plutocratic Socialism and the Corruption of Democracy

By Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell is professor of government and dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College. He is the author of “Plutocratic Socialism: The Future of Private Property and the Fate of the Middle Class.”
July 21, 2022Updated: July 27, 2022

This article is adapted from the book “Plutocratic Socialism: The Future of Private Property and the Fate of the Middle Class.”

The American constitutional order assumes a populace of property owners, a middle class with virtues that provide the necessary ballast to support our republic. Our founders imagined strong communities, strong families, and independent citizens capable of self-government. They knew if the people degenerated into an insolent plutocracy on the one hand and a disgruntled, insecure, proletarianized mass on the other, the American experiment in self-government would become increasingly fragile and eventually collapse.

This unraveling is happening before our eyes. A plutocracy—that is, rule by the wealthy and their surrogates—is emerging as large public and private entities exercise increasing power through both the law and the market. This is characterized by an incestuous union of big government and big business, neither of which has the interests of the citizen-consumer in mind.

In recent months, the government has expanded its reach to compel citizens to submit to an array of mandates, including COVID protocols, racially charged educational curricula, climate-change standards, and pervasive surveillance, all ostensibly justified by our fears. At the same time, corporations wield their power by aggressively promoting a radical social agenda and, in the process, depriving consumers of such basic goods as privacy or free speech.

Employees who don’t toe the line retreat into fearful silence or lose their jobs. As the wealth gap grows, insecure citizens clamor for economic security via government programs, subsidies, and guarantees. Political and economic insecurity provides the opportunity for the plutocrats to entrench their power by means of handouts that only temporarily mask the underlying problems. Trillions in deficit spending assuage present demands at the expense of future freedom. Indeed, we are exchanging the freedom of our descendants for the illusion of security today. They will be justified in destroying the statues we erect to honor ourselves.

Yet wealth is not sufficient for gaining access to the current plutocratic class. What is also necessary is a particular outlook, a plutocratic psychology, if you will. This illusory meritocracy is rooted in the false belief that wealth or proximity to wealth is an indication of special moral virtue. Not surprisingly, this belief manifests itself in a disposition of self-righteousness whereby those infected by it come to see themselves as superior to their fellow citizens who are, alas, not wealthy or connected. They come to see themselves as above the law, for law is necessary for controlling the common citizen, but it is certainly not something that should limit those possessing the moral superiority that wealth would seem to denote. Thus, the plutocracy in America today is characterized by both insolence and self-righteousness, and it is not conveniently confined to either the left or right.

A plutocratic class, if it is to survive in a democratic age, must placate insecure, propertyless citizens with state-sponsored benefits that provide the illusion of security. This welfare state will, in time, generate explicit calls for socialist policies and programs. Plutocratic socialism, then, is a system built on a symbiotic relationship between two seemingly opposed classes: plutocrats and socialists. We are now witnessing this in America. Moreover, the newest iteration of socialism today has joined with the regnant social justice movement, creating a toxic brew of social, political, and economic pathologies—call it “woke” socialism.

It is important to appreciate the fundamental tension inherent in the union of plutocracy and woke socialism. Woke socialism is rooted in the claim that the world is sharply divided between two classes, construed in various ways as the oppressors and the oppressed, the victimizers and the victims, the powerful and the weak. Plutocrats clearly hold the power, and those deemed oppressed or marginalized—people of color, women, the poor, those identifying as LGBT, etc.—do not. It is at this point that things get dicey.

Plutocrats must appear to make common cause with the oppressed, lest they forfeit the perception of moral authority. To do so, they must either 1) engage in a cynical charade where they merely pretend to uphold the cause of the oppressed, 2) enter into a deeply conflicted position where a sense of guilt induces acts and words of sympathy for the oppressed, all while desperately clinging to the wealth, status, and power that seems to implicate them as oppressors, or 3) convince themselves that their special virtue and status provide them with the unique opportunity to do important work on behalf of the oppressed, thereby legitimating their own relentless hold on wealth, status, and power.

In short, they must either descend into abject hypocrisy, succumb to the psychic turmoil rooted in self-hatred, or delude themselves with a vision of their own moral superiority and indispensability. The perilous nature of these gambits is glaring.

Some have taken to using the term “woke capitalism” to describe this dynamic, but that does not accurately capture the reality of our moment. We must distinguish between woke capital, which surely exists, and woke capitalism, the existence of which is less obvious. Today, corporate, cultural, and political elites harass those who do not bow to the woke agenda. They combine their power to enforce the compliance of private individuals and businesses and to bully local and state officials. The problem, then, is not capitalism run amok.

Instead, powerful elites use private capital and political positions to 1) leverage government, corporate, and cultural power to compel compliance with the woke agenda and 2) champion policies and direct public resources to placate the demands of the populace that is haunted by economic and social insecurity. The incestuous relationship between public and private power indicates the presence of something far different from a free market of goods, services, and ideas.

The combination of plutocracy and insecure, aggrieved citizens can also produce the conditions for revolution. Glaring abuses of power, inequalities widely deemed unjust, and a citizenry deeply distrustful of basic institutions are lethal ingredients and seem to justify those clamoring to dismantle the system by, among other things, abolishing private property and thereby destroying free market capitalism, both of which are seen as primary impediments to a better world.

There exists, then, a natural continuum from an ever-expanding welfare state to the abolition of private property. We might call it “the socialist continuum.” Once aggressive welfare policies are implemented (as opposed to a modest and limited social safety net), the sacred idea of property will gradually dissipate. Confiscation and redistribution undermine the status of property and kindle dreams of a world without private property. After all, if property is the most prominent and concrete expression of inequality and if inequality is seen as synonymous with injustice, one can presumably eliminate inequality—and injustice—by eliminating property.

The plutocracy naturally favors the welfare state, for it is an effective means of both pacifying insecure citizens and fostering the illusion of plutocratic virtue. However, when the people are organized and radicalized, they can seek to push the logic to its natural end, namely, the total transformation of society and the transformation of property, which if successful, would destroy the plutocracy.

Thus, the plutocrats will anxiously dole out enough baubles to keep the citizens distracted, enough services to blunt their despair, and enough fear-mongering to keep them cowering all in an effort to prevent the socialist continuum from playing out to its logical conclusion. Socialist leaders will, in the process, find ways to gain personal advantage from the immense flood of resources pouring in their direction.

Plutocratic socialism, then, represents a strange alliance that would have stunned and dismayed Marx. It is as if the bourgeoisie and the proletariat decided to strike a secret pact and work together rather than allow their rancorous animosity to ignite a full-blown revolution. The leadership of both classes have much to gain by this seemingly bizarre arrangement. Plutocrats gain moral legitimacy, and socialists gain wealth, status, and power, ironically the very things cherished by the plutocrats. Perhaps this hidden dynamic is one reason why socialist revolutions rarely, if ever, come to a successful termination but instead remain stuck in a “transitional” phase where the plutocrats—and those fortunate individuals drawn into their orbit—secure the wealth, status, and power while the revolutionary energy of the masses is allowed to burn out in frustration.

There is another way. A broad middle class, characterized by the ownership of private property, is the only real means by which citizens possess both the power to govern themselves and the virtues necessary to do so. This suggests a crucial insight: if wealth is unduly concentrated, power will be unduly concentrated as well. The inverse is also true. If property is broadly owned, power will be broadly distributed. The latter ideal is the essence of a healthy democracy.

Many utopian schemers today imagine a world where the inconvenience of private property is but an unpleasant memory and where technocratic wizards make life safe, pleasant, and worry-free for everyone, as long as they submit to the “reasonable” standards of the elites. These self-righteous planners see property, at least for everyone other than themselves, as a source of unrest, inequality, and injustice. However, a plutocratic socialism energized by a woke agenda of race ideology and climate hysteria is not a path to liberation but to certain degradation and bondage.

Today we stand at a crucial moment in our nation’s history, and our actions will determine our collective fate. We can choose dependency and servitude at the hands of plutocratic masters, or we can choose the freedom that is inseparable from a society shaped by the ownership of private property. The first step is, as always, to see clearly. We must recognize the basic facts of our condition if we hope to have any chance of providing a remedy. Our analysis must begin with a simple, yet profound, axiom: Private property and political freedom stand or fall together.

From RealClearWire

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.