As Dinesh D’Souza points out in the preface of his most recent book, United States of Socialism, the idea of socialism has remarkable appeal despite failing spectacularly time and time again. Nowhere is this more true than in America today, where “Democratic Socialists” continue making inroads in the government and popular culture. Otherwise unserious politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have become influential icons, in spite of this historical failure and evidence that advocating socialism has been broadly harmful to the Democratic Party in recent elections.
Observing this, D’Souza attempts to answer the questions he poses in his preface: “Why doesn’t the failed track record of socialism deter today’s socialists? What keeps socialism alive for them?” Rather than examining the economic tenets (or lack thereof) of socialism, D’Souza considers what he calls “the socialist dream.” This dream continues to delude millions of people into adopting destructive policies that inevitably end in mass poverty and enslavement.
D’Souza begins his book by defining socialism today, a rather difficult task when definitions range from death camps in North Korea to snow-white welfare states in Scandinavia. While he addresses these popular images, he determines that what has arisen in the U.S. is a kind of “identity socialism.” Identity socialism unites together the many strands of identity politics, environmentalism, and class warfare, and pits these marginalized groups against traditional American norms. According to D’Souza, identity socialists have two goals: to confiscate property, but also “to make traditional Americans feel like foreigners in their own country.”
Uniting Interest Groups Like Ticks on a Dog
As D’Souza argues, identity socialism accounts for so many seemingly unrelated issues like environmentalism and gender theory filtering into discussions of oppression and economic justice. It is not so much an attack on capitalism, but an attack on the American system –D’Souza explains how identity socialists have subverted the values of the U.S. Constitution and economy to serve their agenda. He uses the example of Ben Franklin, a “self-made man” who worked in many trades and made huge contributions to his country, and contrasts him with Sanders, a man who sponged off others for most of his life and became a multimillionaire despite producing nothing but hot air.
Evidently, the identity socialists are trying to move the country away from the system that produced Franklin to one that elevates demagogues like Sanders. In the political sphere, this is done by championing the cause of majoritarian democracy.
D’Souza quotes heavily from the founding fathers, who understood that a politics of direct majority rule will result in an unjust system that robs and enslaves the productive class: “For socialists, this is what democracy means: the collective right to appropriate.” This should serve as a warning to Americans who hear so many calls for “democracy” by prominent Democrats; these elites are not thinking of how to empower all people, but really of empowering one group of people to dominate over others.
Naturally, there’s precedent for this to be found in American history, although one would never know it due to the work of revisionists who hide this truth. D’Souza notes how progressive presidents such as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt dissociated with early American socialists like Eugene Debs only to implement their agenda anyway.
Unlike the Bolshevik revolution in Russia that instituted socialism through violence, American progressives introduced a “creeping socialism” that would form over time with FDR’s implementation of Social Security, confiscatory taxation, and useless public projects. D’Souza points out this is broadly the same agenda pushed by today’s democratic socialists, and increasingly the Democratic Party at large.
Still, the creeping progressive socialism of FDR is a far cry from the identity socialism of today. Newfangled academic theories would soon make an impact in the turbulence of the ‘60s. D’Souza tells the story of post-modernism colliding with socialism to make a weird smorgasbord of civil rights activism, sexual liberation, class warfare, environmentalism, and hippie culture.
The godfather of this movement was the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who made socialism palatable for affluent Americans. Marcuse was also “the philosopher of Antifa” who essentially argued that “it is perfectly fine to be intolerant against [opponents], to the point of disrupting them, shutting down their events, and even preventing them from speaking.”
Unfortunately, D’Souza gets distracted from this insight by playing wack-a-mole with the current iterations of Marcuse’s philosophy and spending the rest of this particular chapter debating environmentalists, gender theorists, and advocates for open borders. Although he intends to show the connection between these debates and socialism, this only blurs the focus of his argument. Socialism for him becomes anything on the left more than a coherent theory that can be clearly recognized and rebutted.
Nevertheless, D’Souza finds the thread again in the strongest chapter of his book, discussing the Scandinavian welfare state that socialists like to point to, while dismissing the Venezuelan authoritarian state that is more representative of socialism. He starts with the Nordic Socialism, calling it “Sven Socialism,” named after the 21st century metrosexual man who “carries a feminine handbag, rides a bicycle to work, recycles his trash, and is into some weird sexual stuff he’d rather not talk about.” (Alas, such jabs at leftist stereotypes comes up fairly often in the book. It might turn off those on the other side of the political spectrum.)
Usually, the counterargument to Nordic Socialism is that it isn’t really socialism: industries aren’t nationalized, businesses aren’t subject to high taxation, and property rights still exist. But D’Souza recognizes that this argument doesn’t go anywhere since these countries still tax individuals heavily in return for the social entitlements American socialists demand, like universal college and health care. Rather than play semantics, he accepts the welfare state as a model for socialism and instead explains why it can’t work in the U.S.
In short, the model of Nordic socialism completely contradicts the model of identity socialism. It is predicated on a tiny homogenous society that is practically allergic to immigrants and offers no economic mobility. The high trust in social institutions and the willingness to accept heavy taxation only happens because everyone is fundamentally alike and understands their role in the community. They have what D’Souza calls “asabiyah,” a strong sense of solidarity drawn from a common identity. Americans—a vastly larger, more diverse, and dynamic group of people—do not have this asabiyah and cannot realistically import Nordic socialism on any level.
For this reason, socialists often look to Venezuela, a formerly rich country with a diverse demographic and similar history to the U.S. D’Souza ironically notes how so many celebrities and politicians have lauded Venezuela and Hugo Chavez’s revolution, only to see the country now eviscerated by authoritarianism. It’s a story that even Americans today could heed.
First, Chavez marketed himself as a mainstream politician with respect for democracy to get elected. Soon after, he fomented division through racial politics to thwart his opposition. Then he continually violated the constitution of his country to stay in power. Finally, he seized people’s property, nationalized key industries, and taxed political opponents into oblivion. All throughout he terrorized average Venezuelans with armed militias known as colectivos, which D’Souza dubs “Venezuela’s answer to Antifa.”
D’Souza’s description of Venezuela is essential because it shows exactly how such a corrupt ideology can bring down even the most prosperous nation. Younger people are usually not fazed by the examples of Cuba, North Korea, or the Soviet Union. These were regimes that arose from desperate circumstances many decades in the past. However, Venezuela’s failure is quite recent and close to home. All it takes is a Hugo Chavez-type to promise free benefits, punish the rich, overturn constitutional protections, and fix elections to put the U.S. in the same downward spiral.
In Defense of Capitalism
D’Souza concludes his main argument in the fifth chapter, which explains the truth behind wealth creation and the morality of capitalism. In doing so, he tries to answer the core concern of socialists: economic inequality. According to socialists, people become billionaires because they are looters on a mass scale or are unfairly privileged.
The first claim makes no sense if one considers the fact that nearly all billionaires become so because they offer something of value. Consumers make them rich by choosing to buy their product; they do not steal or appropriate it from others. In this way, D’Souza illustrates how free market capitalism “involves a level of popular participation and democratic consent that politics can only envy.” It is a far cry from the billionaire Chavistas who really do steal from their starving population without anything close to consent.
But what about entrepreneurs who make billions while their employees make pennies? Surely this is unjust. Unable to resist provoking his opposition into hysteria, D’Souza handles this objection by telling the story of Donald Trump’s first real estate venture – acquiring and renovating the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan.
Far from being an entitled rich guy who put money into a business that other people made successful, Trump took an enormous risk on an idea that no one else had. Moreover, he competently organized the project and successfully marketed it. As D’Souza puts it, “the parking attendant [at Trump’s resort] did none of this. So Trump, not the parking guy, deserve the lion’s share of profit.”
This chapter then concludes with a discussion of why the rich today make so many billions in profits, leading D’Souza to discuss the “supply-side entrepreneur.” Rather than responding to a demand, these people come up with a product or service that creates its own demand.
During times of technological revolutions, these ideas are enormously profitable—he compares today’s digital revolution to the industrial revolution that happened a century ago. Rather than dismiss such innovation as the product of luck and unfairness, he argues that everyone has an opportunity to strike it rich and should not be compelled to have their fortune redistributed to everyone else, which would be even more unfair.
Now if D’Souza finished his book here, he would have produced a fine apologetic for modern capitalism at a time it is sorely needed. But, for whatever reason, he adds one final chapter that launches a full-scale screed against Democrats coupled by a full-throated endorsement of Trump.
Understandably bitter about Obama’s administration going after him for a minor campaign finance violation, D’Souza unloads the many abuses and crimes of Democrats and why they should thoroughly be destroyed and Trump should be reelected. Apparently, this is the way to stop socialism in America. Even for the most fervent Trump-supporting conservative, this partisanship seems out of place and unnecessary.
Nevertheless, D’Souza’s book as a whole more than compensates for this lackluster final chapter. It is funny, comprehensive, insightful, and brilliantly argued. Despite his conversational style and sometimes off-color jokes, he makes surprisingly sophisticated arguments that instruct as well as persuade.
Although he’s known for his hit pieces (documentaries and books) against people such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, United States of Socialism proves that D’Souza is a tremendously talented writer and thinker. Conservatives would do well to read this book, make the case to their friends and family, and save the country from the socialist nightmare.