Van: Why Does Democratic Socialism Appeal to The American People?

The word “Democratic Socialism” did not have any significant impact in American political culture until Bernie Sanders brought it up in the public sphere in 2016. When Bernie Sanders spoke about it during his rallies, he was talking about Democratic Socialism as a prophecy where all Americans would be equal to one another without any prejudice and with the exact same opportunities. What truly attracts the American people about Democratic Socialism is the “free stuff” that Bernie has promised to deliver if he were to become the next ruler of America. Free healthcare, free education, $15 minimum wage, job guarantee…etc., are all proposed policies that Mr. Sanders is selling to the American people. They all sound good because it looks like the taxpayer will have access to these free stuff without spending a dime. Moreover, it looks like a $15 minimum wage will improve the life of everyone regardless of where they live.  The youngsters are thrilled about Bernie’s platform because they believe that their student loans would be canceled and that they will be all guaranteed to get a job as soon as they graduate college.  

Interestingly, in one of his speeches that he delivered in 2015 at Georgetown University when he was a seeking the nomination for the Democratic Party; Bernie defined Democratic Socialism in a very unclear but utopian way. He goes by saying this: 

“It means building on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guarantee economic rights to all Americans.  And it builds on what Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1968, and he said it and I quote: ‘This country has socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.’ My view of Democratic Socialism builds on the success of many other countries around the world who have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, their elderly citizen, their children, their sick and their poor. Democratic Socialism means that we must reform a political system which is corrupt, that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.”

In this broad definition, Mr. Sanders, however, has not given a clear and precise elucidation of Democratic Socialism as a political ideology. What he expressed was not a definition but a sentiment. A definition and a sentiment are two different things. The way one may feel about something does not necessarily define what that thing is. The definition of Democratic Socialism that Bernie Sanders gave is not what Democratic Socialism is. Democratic Socialism is a branch of socialism. It combines political democracy with the means of production being owned by the government. Political democracy in the sense that the people get to elect their leader, but they don’t get to control the means of production. Doesn’t it sound like straight-up socialism? Bernie leaves that crucial detail out of the public sight. Bernie’s speech was very similar to that of Lenin a century ago when Lenin became the ruler of Soviet Russia. Lenin preached equal economic opportunity for everyone as well as free access to good and services. We, nonetheless, saw how his Democratic Socialist regime quickly escalated into a brutal dictatorship. Those who are enamored with Democratic Socialism ignore that once the government is in charge of the means of production, they are no longer free to decide for themselves. The government will control all aspects of their lives like Big Brother did to its citizens in 1984 of George Orwell. Bernie’s intentions may be genuine, but painting socialism into Democratic Socialism to better appeal to the masses then blindsiding them in the long-run is an inevitable outcome if the American people were to choose that kind of political regime. Whether it is Democratic Socialism, socialism or communism; wherever it was tried, it has brought economic stagnation, despair, decay, and death. Democratic Socialism is in no way different than socialism in its substance. They are just different in shape. One imposes a dictator or a one-party system to rule while the other gives the option to the masses to elect the person who will eventually drag them into the abyss.

Germinal G. Van is an independent author, essayist and libertarian writer. He has published four books. Mr. Van’s writings mainly focus on political philosophy, political economy, and social theory. He has published articles with the Foundation for Economic Education and the Libertarian Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America and a master’s degree in political management from the George Washington University. 

Share this

Guest Submissions can be sent to Please provide links to any sources cited in your submission. Every variety of libertarian thought is welcomed. We look forward to your contributions!

Further reading