Of late, many of the isms have appeared in the media in ever increasing volume. As the election draws nearer, there will be deliberate use of these words in a number of contexts. They will be used to heap scorn on an opponents. They will be used to explain our way of life, our governmental structures, our economy, our science and our mores.
In no other country does this vast array of words get tossed around with so much abandon, and I do mean abandon. There are so many views as to what these words mean that sometimes I am not even sure that I learned what I learned. Let’s take the simple word, capitalism.
You may be familiar with Adam Smith- British guy, strange way of speaking, used to come into the store and not buy anything. He wrote a book called the Wealth of Nations and he proposed a system that the means of production, the land and the wealth of the country should be in private hands. In more recent times, it has included the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few (yes, that is part of the definition) and some governmental control over excesses. The adjective, “laissez-faire capitalism,” has come to mean that government should not interfere with the market place and let things just go as they go. The laissez-fairers, believe that the market wills always even things out.
Socialism is just about the opposite- the means of production and wealth are in the hands of the community and there really aren’t any private holdings. So, let me ask you, what socialist country in the world has a real socialist state? I can’t think of any. If you are going to say, China, that doesn’t really work, because socialism is just one step in the process of getting to communism. The heyday of socialism was in the 19th century (which was the birth years of many social and economic movements).
Karl Marx is said to be the father of socialism. His early life was spent criticizing Hegel and his dialectic view of history and then using it himself in his writings. Actually Marx was not the first socialist. There were a number of Utopian Socialists, like Robert Owen, who actually started communities, such as New Lanark in Scotland, Fourier and Saint- Simon. Engels, Marx’s co-author wrote that Utopians (from Thomas More’s Utopia) were not scientific and had no idea about class struggle.
Marx’s ideas about the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and then the overthrowing of the capitalist system and the dictatorship of the proletariat, gives way to Communism. In Communism, there really is not government (it withers away) and people live happily ever after, working for their needs, not for their wants or their efforts.
Anarchism comes later in the 19th Century with Bakunin ( sometimes called Bakunism). It was the followers of anarchism, where not governments should exist at all, that many assassinations took place. The Czar of Russia and the President of the United States as well as others were done away with in order to destroy governments.
Libertarianism has had many definitions over the years. In the U.S. it is thought to be those with conservative views of government and liberal views of social issues. In other countries it is seen as left wing anarchism. It relies and mutual consent to be governed, a voluntary aggregation of people who want to do things communally or associatively. It has its roots in the arguments that ensued in the 1840’s between the socialists who did not believe in either Hegel or Marx or Proudhon. It was coined by Joseph De Jacques in 1857 to distinguish his views from other Socialists.
Nihilism is the belief in absolutely nothing. It was made popular by a book by Turgenev in Russia in which the main character negates everything that there is. Hard to understand someone who does not believe in existence (giving rise to existentialism). So, nihilists do not believe in laws, the state, governments, morals, religions and pretty much everything else including all the above definitions.