Another Option: Civic Socialism
Sometimes the health care reform debate appears to be limited to two options: libertarianism or socialism. There are more options. Just as there are two different kinds of libertarianism: property based and civic based, one could also speak of a property and a civic socialism.
The difference between property libertarianism and civic libertarianism is that the first sees ownership as the foundation of freedom, while the second believes membership in a civic society as the foundation for individual rights (See my blog on January 9). Historically, of course, socialism is a reaction to the exploitation of workers by property owners, and in some ways, it can be seen as remaining in the framework of an economics of property. At least for property-based libertarians, a primary threat of socialism is the rejection of private property.
A civic socialism, on the other hand, would use membership as foundation rather than ownership. In this framework, property rights are protected by and for members of civil society. Furthermore, people have rights to those provisions necessary for living one’s life, such as food, shelter, security, and education. Civic Socialism begins with the recognition that we live together in social systems and that these systems should be managed by citizens so all have access to basic provisions.
So, when Republicans call President Obama a socialist, maybe they could reflect on what kind of socialism they mean. If they ignore the civic dimension of public life, then they are probably thinking in the framework of an economics of property, and fear that the government will take theirs. If they acknowledge that we are a nation of citizens, on the other hand, then they may see that their membership in the Republic is just as important as everyone else’s, but not more so. A civic socialism is based on moral equality, and actually allows citizens (through representative government) to design the various systems of provision (water, food, housing, health care, and so on) in which we live.
Actually, a key difference between civic libertarianism and civic socialism is the idea of systems. All too often civic libertarianism ignores that almost all provisions come to us through complex systems. Drinking water in an urban area is a good example. Health care is also embedded in complex systems, and the challenge is not only to manage the system so citizens receive the provisions they need, but also to manage it democratically. After all, we are all in this together. At least that is the beginning of a civic socialism.