Socialism and the Battle Cry of Social Justice


In the first two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, warnings against a new wave of socialism would have seemed utterly unnecessary. Yet since about a decade ago, anti-capitalism is on the rise again and the socialist dream finds new followers. ‘Social justice’ is the battle cry of the new socialists who call themselves ‘democratic’. Their call finds resonance with the so-called millennials.

Recent surveys show that a majority of the generation who are currently between 19 and 29 years old prefers socialism to capitalism. This result is shocking because of the dimension of factual ignorance of these youngsters. Looking at the survey more closely, the poll reflects the contrast between an ideal picture of socialism compared to the perceived reality of capitalism.

The young socialists believe state socialism is better than state capitalism. They fail to see that moving from state capitalism to state socialism is not the way of salvation as the declared socialist candidate of the Democratic Party claimed in his bid in the run for the presidency in 2016, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The new socialist surge is not limited to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the leader of the Labour Party is a convinced socialist whose plans call for bringing large parts of the British industry under direct governmental control.

The socialists claim they want equality and prosperity for all and one would achieve these goals by interventionism and the socialization of industry. But this assertion confounds the goal of socialism with the means. The Socialist leaders trick their followers into believing that the aim of socialism is equal to socialism as a method.

Because of failing to distinguish between socialism as an objective and socialism as a means, many people get deceived. They suppose that to achieve the socialist goal of equality and prosperity for all, one must install socialism as an economic system. Such a belief ignores the historical evidence which shows that the practice of socialism leads to the opposite of the expected prosperity. Instead of a better life, systemic misery is the consequence.

Socialism builds on the false identification of the objective with the means. The popularity of socialism comes from the illusion that goals and measures are identical and that because socialism is so good in its goals, socialism were just as preferable as a method.  The right question to ask is how socialism can qualify as a means. Put this way, the answer becomes obvious: socialism as a means has failed on all counts. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, the alternative between capitalism and socialism is not a choice between two social systems but between “social cooperation and the disintegration of society”.

In contrast to socialism, the capitalist idea does not suffer from this misperception. Capitalism is a means. Prosperity for all is the purpose of capitalism. The dispute about capitalism versus socialism does not concern the objectives, but the methods. Socialists and their followers deceive the public when they make the people believe that to obtain the socialist goals one must apply socialist means.

The Question of Justice

A further device of socialist persuasion is the claim that socialism could cure social injustice and that injustice beyond socialism is universal. When one accepts the assertion of social injustice, there is no limit of the claims that society is obliged to heal the ailments one can bring forth in the name of the idea of social justice.

Because ‘social justice’ is a utopian concept, the social justice movement is so disruptive to society. Social justice is a hierarchical concept as it does not refer to the relation among equals but to a relationship of submission. Yet who is the suppressor? The society as a whole? The social justice movement works towards the disintegration of society. It is not a movement to achieve its declared aims, which is impossible, but to destroy them. 

The social justice warriors promote specific groups and negate the principle of reciprocity as the foundation of society.  They ignore that distributive justice cannot qualify as “a right.” While the principle of reciprocal justice refers to the relationship of one person to another person and the procedural justice to the dispute resolution among dissenting individuals, social justice has not the individual at its core but the claims of groups against society. This logical contradiction makes ‘social justice’ a false construct.

‘Social justice’ is a notion that one can fill as one wishes with all kinds of demands. In the light of the ideal of social justice, injustice is universal. Once one takes up the endorsement of social justice, the Pandora’s box is open for the exigency that society is obliged to cure the plethora of the ailments one can bring forth in the name of the violation of rights to social justice.

“Social injustice” – once taken for granted – is the universal tool of indictment against the capitalist society. To ward off the false accusations by disproving their empirical contents, does not help much. The claims will persist. More effective is to refute the claim of universal injustice from the onset and reject the proposition as an empty concept void of meaning and beset with contradictions.  

In the debates to come, the defenders of prosperity and freedom must vigorously unmask the socialists’ tricky confusion between goals and means. One must cull the allegation that social justice could form the basis of a legitimate entitlement.  

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Antony Mueller

Antony P. Mueller is a professor of economics at the Federal University UFS in Brazil where he is also a researcher at the Center of Applied Economics, and Senior Fellow of the American Institute for Economic Research. Antony Mueller earned his doctorate in economics summa cum laude from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the United States and a visiting professor at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin (UFM) in Guatemala as well as a member of the German academic exchange program DAAD. Antony Mueller has recently published the book “Beyond the State and Politics. Capitalism for the New Millennium”.