Prager: Why socialism makes people selfish

I didn’t know very much about Dennis Prager two weeks ago. I had heard his name and had seen a couple of his videos from Prager University. But I didn’t even know that he has been a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host for 35 years. 

So, I’m truly thankful that the Wyoming Tribune Eagle publicized the “Protest Dennis Prager” Facebook page (Conservative Firebrand Dennis Prager to Visit UW, Nov. 3, 2017). It gave me a reason to listen to Dennis Prager himself and compare that with how he was characterized in the newspaper.

I am also thankful to the University of Wyoming chapter of Turning Point USA and its president, Jessica Leach. Given the vitriol that was aimed at the group and the physical violence experienced by both guest and host at Middlebury College, bringing Prager to Wyoming required considerable bravery on her part.

Credit should also be given to UW President Laurie Nichols. A protester wrote, “This will be another Milo situation,” invoking the vandalism, riots and costly property damage that happened at Berkley. Whether these were being threatened or merely predicted, the administration was put in a hard place. Thankfully, it did not cower. Bravo!

Nichols wrote, “I encourage our university community to consider that the principles of free speech and campus inclusiveness should not be mutually exclusive; that is, they should not conflict with, but rather reinforce each other. Inclusiveness is about widening the circle of voices, including more perspectives from different backgrounds, all free to speak, free to disagree, free to discuss and debate.”

Wyoming can be proud of the way our students and administration handled themselves. The handful of protesters at the event were respectful and caused no property damage. The event was filled to capacity by an attentive and appreciative audience. The Q and A following Prager’s speech was thoughtful and measured.

Prager began his speech by talking about the rhetoric from the Protest Dennis Prager Facebook page, which called him “a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, red-baiting, anti-academic, climate-denying, rape apologist.” Not only did he call out the slander, he addressed the bigger problem.

“[We have] a crisis in America,” Prager said. “The crisis is the creation of lies about decent people. And it needs to be acknowledged for what it is — lies about decent people.” Differing with others is not the problem, he said. “But there is a very big difference between differing with people and throwing the worst possible labels onto a human being who doesn’t deserve it.” 

He went on: “Aside from smearing decent people, which is in itself a terrible thing, what [these people] are doing is they are completely undermining the fight against real racism, real white supremacy, real misogyny, real xenophobia.”

“When the real Nazis and anti-Semites and racists and misogynists and white supremacists show up, there will be no vocabulary left.” By using such terms as weaponized labels, stripped of their real meaning, it strips us all of the ability to fight against real evil.

After an extended discussion of these points, Prager got to the main theme of his talk, “Why Socialism Makes People Selfish.” His answer to this question begins with a simple observation: “The only thing that has ever raised large numbers of people from abject poverty is capitalism.” 

Nothing else in the history of humanity has had such widespread positive impact on people. This fact can be established by pages of statistics, historical data and sociological theories. But the simplest way to see it is to remember that immigrants from all over the world seek to enter America because of her freedom.

Capitalism, after all, is not some economic theory devised by eggheads and taught in universities. Capitalism is simply a name for what happens when people are free. It is not imposed from top down. It is the form that freedom takes in the marketplace.

If you are interested in lifting the greatest possible number of people out of abject poverty, you will be interested in free markets. But socialism is interested in something else. Socialism is interested in equality. For socialists, inequality of any kind is a problem to be solved.

Here’s the problem: The freedom to be different is the very freedom that makes inequalities — differences. The only way to solve the problem of inequality is to take away the freedom to be different. Similarly, capitalism is full of inequalities because capitalism is full of freedoms. 

Prager said, “Inequality only bothers people who are bothered by inequality.” Of course, that’s redundant. But it is profoundly true. The mere fact that someone may have more than I have need not bother me in the least. I can choose to covet, but I don’t have to and it serves no good purpose. 

Socialism’s obsession with equality cannot help but lead to covetousness. Karl Marx was not ignorant of this. He counted on it. The Marxist state depends on people set against each other, and fostering covetousness does this better than anything.

The God of the Bible, on the other hand, explicitly teaches us not to be covetous. He teaches people to be content with what they have and to live at peace with all people. It is precisely for this reason that the communist state was at perpetual war with Christianity. How can you foment class warfare when people are content with what they have?

This theological observation creates observable results in free nations. Citing statistics from a long-term study of charity, Prager pointed out that “Americans give more to charity per capita than any other people in the world.” Conversely, according to Forbes (Dec. 26, 2008), “Among developed nations, those with higher taxes and bigger social safety nets tend to have lower rates of giving.”

This is a fascinating fact, which deserves an explanation. Prager answers that America was founded on a basic hierarchy of needs: “I have to first take care of me, then my family, then my community, then my whole society. … Socialism kills all four. The state will take care of me. The state will take care of my family. The state will take care of my community. The state will take care of my society.”

According to this explanation, socialism doesn’t make people selfish because of its failures. It does so because it is effective. Whether or not socialists intend to make people selfish, socialism as a system does just that. It is extremely effective at doing what it sets out to do. 

But socialism does not set out to lift the maximum number of people out of poverty. That’s simply not its goal. Its goal is equality, achieved at the price of freedom. In order to accomplish this, it sets out to teach selfishness. At this it is very good.

Prager gave a challenging and invigorating talk. There is much here to ponder and still more to research. President Nichols’ words are worth hearing again: “Inclusiveness is about widening the circle of voices, including more perspectives from different backgrounds, all free to speak, free to disagree, free to discuss and debate.”

I am thankful to have heard Prager’s speech. It was recorded and posted on YouTube. I would encourage you to hear it for yourself.

Jonathan Lange has a heart for our state and community. Locally, he has raised his family and served as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Evanston and St. Paul’s in Kemmerer for two decades. Statewide, he leads the Wyoming Pastors Network in advocating for the traditional church in the public square.