The Marie Antoinette Appreciation Society

Venezuela’s collapse into poverty and starvation, and the indifference to suffering shown by all the “progressives” who have supported that system, is no surprise. It would be a surprise if it weren’t happening, because that’s how socialism always works everywhere: the political elites live in luxury while the people starve.

Socialism is probably the worst political system ever. (There’s a lot of competition.) It has all the vices of absolute monarchy—the arrogance, the opulent excess, the oppression, the contempt for its powerless subjects—but with the extra insult of claiming to rule in the name of “the people.” The starry-eyed college kids who embrace it because they want to be “progressive” and “idealistic” might as well sign up for the Marie Antoinette Appreciation Society.

This has been demonstrated over and over again, but if you want just another small sample, consider the case of Jane O’Meara Sanders, the wife of Bernie Sanders, the great idealistic figurehead of “democratic socialism” in America.

While her husband has been out promising everyone free college, she used to run a $25,000-per-year private college—which just announced it will be closing down due to the crushing weight of debt it incurred under her leadership. The debt was backed by fraudulent claims about millions of dollars in pledged donations to the college.

The case of Burlington College is a nice little microcosm of what we can expect from her husband’s economic agenda: grandiose schemes for expansion and improvement and lavish benefits offered to everyone—based on lies and financed by reckless, unsustainable borrowing, resulting in eventual collapse.

It’s a microcosm of socialism in one other respect, too, which is that Jane Sanders and her friends and family did pretty well skimming the gravy off the top of the system while she ran it into the ground.

On the basis of mail-order Ph.D. in “leadership studies,” whatever that means, Mrs. Sanders got a $160,000 a year job as president of Burlington College. When she was fired in 2011, she received a $200,000 severance package. In between, she directed college funds to family and friends. One report drily notes that both of these nepotistic programs—a “semester abroad” at a Caribbean resort purchased for that purpose by the son of an old friend, and a woodworking school hosted at a shop run by her daughter—were discontinued a year after Jane Sanders departed. It’s almost as if personal favoritism was the only reason these programs ever got any college money.

Again, this is no mystery. It always happens. But why?

Part of the reason is that any movement or organization that cloaks itself in a loudly proclaimed aura of superior virtue is an ideal smokescreen for hucksters, who can deflect uncomfortable inquiries by portraying them as attacks on The Cause. Try digging into Al Sharpton’s suspicious finances, and you’ll find that suddenly you’re just opposed to civil rights.

But that doesn’t seem enough to explain the stressed self-righteousness of characters like Bernie and Jane Sanders. I suspect that the same aura of virtue that is supposed to suppress outside critics also suppresses the promptings of one’s own conscience. They’re the right people fighting for the right cause. They want to help the poor, unlike those greedy capitalists. So if they stuff their own pockets a little along the way, it’s not that bad. It’s OK if good people like them want to live a little of the good life, isn’t it? In short, working for “the revolution” breeds the very sense of privilege and entitlement they claim they’re trying to fight.

Here’s another small example of the same phenomenon from a different perspective. Matt Breunig is a young far-left blogger whose main claim to fame is that he’s a raging jerk on Twitter, because that’s what the socialist “revolution” demands. Recently, he finally went too far by going into “attack mode” against other, more conventional, leftists. Because in his world, Joan Walsh and the Center for American Progress are way too far to the right. This got him fired from his side job with the think tank Demos, so he opened a GoFundMe campaign to compensate him for his martyrdom.

What I find interesting in this case is not the sense of financial entitlement (though if you dig into it—Bruenig still has a full-time government job, and his wife was recently hired by the Washington Post—it sure looks like our brave tribune of the proletariat is rattling the tin can to maintain a six-figure family income). What I find more interesting is the sense of moral entitlement, the idea that all things are permitted to you if you claim to be fighting for “the people.”

Breunig expresses this entitlement in his argument that being a raging jerk and abusing people on Twitter isn’t just a personal foible. It’s a requirement of the class struggle, since being “vulgar” is a class-appropriate response to one’s “bourgeois” opponents.

All of this derives from the model of the man who came along after Marie Antoinette and laid down most of the precedents for the modern socialist revolutionary who overthrows the corrupt old system, only to resurrect all of its worst aspects: “the humanitarian with the guillotine,” Robespierre. He is the one who established the premise that so long as you believe you are working for the collective future good of mankind, you are entitled to be rotten toward actual individual people here in the present.

There is an old and not very good argument for capitalism which holds that “private vice makes for public virtue.” The idea is to accept the assumption that profit and money-making are evil, but to argue that they end up benefiting society as a whole by producing increased wealth. The irony is that in practice, nobody accepts this idea more thoroughly than socialists, in their own way. For them, the “public virtue” of fighting for socialism excuses and validates every possible private vice, from Internet bullying in the case of Matt Bruenig to corrupt self-dealing in the case of Jane Sanders.

Of course, as we can see in Venezuela, socialism never actually achieves the “good of society,” so its private vices are thoroughly matched by its public ones. Like I said, it’s the worst political system ever.

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