AOC and Francis Fukuyama: Reflections on social democracy and the U.S.

It's about time Americans open their minds to the core tenets of social democracy

Published March 27, 2019 3:00AM (EDT)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AP/Charles Krupa)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AP/Charles Krupa)

This piece originally appeared on The Globalist.

Let’s make one point abundantly clear at the outset. The United States is not going to engage in any experiment in socialism. In misunderstanding that point, people as diverse as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump and pundits like Roger Cohen of the New York Times are curiously united.

All three of them, AOC — the refreshingly smart and irreverent, upstart U.S. Congresswoman from the Bronx — the sitting U.S. President and the NYT’s otherwise globally well-versed columnist, betray a profound misunderstanding of what socialism is.

Notably, the one prominent politician of what goes for the American “left” who does not fall into that socialism trap is Elizabeth Warren, the 2020 presidential candidate.

The socialism inflation

In whatever form, as can be gleaned from the mouth of Jeremy Corbyn, the truly Socialist British Labour leader, socialism always involves state ownership of corporations, if not entire industries. That’s not going to happen in the United States.

What is long overdue, though, is that Americans are opening their minds to the core tenets of social democracy.

Mission Accomplished?

Contrary to the otherwise very valuable propositions developed by Francis Fukuyama in his new book on “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment,” where he ponders the waning of social democracy in Europe, that concept stands to have a good future in the United States.

How could this be? After all, from Germany to France and even Sweden, social democracy appears to be on life support throughout Europe. This is indeed so and due to a phrase that is otherwise very much associated with George W. Bush in the global debate — Mission Accomplished.

Social protections in Northwestern Europe have indeed reached a level that is singular in the world and that is going to be hard to be pushed further.

No integrated “Western” civilization

That statement, however, does not apply to the United States. There, in a telltale sign of how far removed from one another the U.S. and the European civilizations really are, social democracy has not even started.

This underscores how empty the constant talk of a “Western” civilization has long been. It certainly hasn’t been based on the same notions of social fairness.

To paraphrase Fukuyama, while the “end of history” has been reached for social democracy in Northwestern Europe, it hasn’t even begun to unfold its appeal and its political power in the United States.

That is where the substance of the message of AOC is so powerful, once she learns to use the correct vocabulary.

In her case, the references to “socialism” can only be considered a case of ill-guided youthful enthusiasm. In that regard, her case is as different from the ill-applied fascination of an old man with a pseudo-revolutionary past, Bernie Sanders and his 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

The delusions of the U.S. working class

In his book on identity, Fukuyama writes a revealing sentence that highlights the illusions of the U.S. working class: “The old American working class,” he writes, … “thought of itself as the core of the middle class.”

Exactly. They thought of themselves as belonging to the middle class — but that never meant they were really part of it, other than for a brief moment.

That moment occurred right after the Second World War, when most other major nations, from Germany and Japan to China and India, had effectively paralyzed themselves in bouts of ill-applied ideologies that justifiably came to haunt those countries for decades, if not a century.

There is one other important dimension that underscores — and indeed proves — the viability of social democracy in the United States. The U.S. military, by and large the most venerated institution in the country, reeks of social democracy.

In fact, the social protections that the U.S. military has long provided to its members — including generous early retirement benefits after just 20 years of service — are such that they would make even the Swedes proud.

Sweden, of course, has long been considered the home base of a very generous form of social democracy.

This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together.  Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And sign up for our highlights email here.

By Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, the daily online magazine, and a columnist in newspapers around the world. He is also the presenter of the Marketplace Globalist Quiz, which is aired on public radio stations all across the United States. In addition, Mr. Richter is a keynote speaker at international conferences -- and the author of the 1992 book, “Clinton: What Europe and the United States Can Expect.” Follow him on Twitter @theglobalist.

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