I am taking an independent reading on political economy with a member of the economics department at the institution where I am working on a doctorate in political science. The readings focus on theories of capitalism and socialism with a particular focus on socialist critiques of capitalism. While I am very much on the socialist side of the capitalist-socialist divide, I officially label myself as a liberal because of my joint commitment to individual liberty and economic justice. Yet, my belief that a redistribution of wealth is vital to ensuring liberty to all makes me in many ways fit within what many might call socialism.
I often refer to myself as a socialist when talking politics with my wife. I also refer to myself as a socialist around others both for shock value and to emphasize that I really am on the left and not just another “Democrat” (though I am one of those too).
I mention all this because a few years back my wife and I went to stake center for the stake portion of our temple recommend interviews. I was interviewed by a counselor in the stake presidency and my wife met at the same time with the stake president. The stake president is an active conservative Republican in Utah and a former speaker of the House of Representatives in the Utah State Legislature. He knew that I was Democrat and that I was in graduate school at the Univ. of Utah studying political science. He often stopped to exchange political small-talk when we ran into each other.
As we walked to the car, I asked how her interview went (we both passed). She said that politics had come up while discussing my schooling and then she said “I told him you are a socialist, just like my dad.” I was a bit stunned. While she was more or less right, about both her dad and I, neither of us would have presented it that way to the stake president (my father-in-law was a bishop in the stake at the time). This left me with an appreciation of my wife’s candor. I feel ashamed that my reaction to my wife’s comment was one of embarrassment and not pride.
The Canadian political philosopher Wil Kymlicka, states in his textbook on contemporary political philosophy, that most Marxists and Socialist today are in many ways more liberal egalitarians than they are Marxists. I tend to agree with him. Yet I feel that the socialist voice is an important one. Is it a label that I should try to revive and wear with pride? I will let you know what I discover over the next semester.