Human nature is complicated, as humans often have conflicting traits and characteristics. However, if we boil human nature down to its most basic element, we can say with a high degree of certainty that humans tend to act in their own self-interest.
While it is absolutely true that humans occasionally engage in what could be deemed “naked self-interest,” wherein one person’s self-interest may come at the expense of another’s, it is more accurate to say that most people operate via “enlightened self-interest,” in which both parties benefit equally.
For example, in the Stone Age, if one person had an apple and another person wanted the apple, it is highly likely that the two would have engaged in physical combat over the apple. This is called a zero-sum game because one person wins and the other loses.
However, in modern times, we have evolved well beyond zero-sum thinking and behaviors. For example, when you enter a coffee shop, you purchase a product using money that you have earned. You value a cup of coffee or a donut more than your money. Likewise, the owner of the coffee shop is more than happy to supply you with a product in return for an agreed-upon sum. This is the epitome of enlightened self-interest. Both parties engage in a voluntary and mutually beneficial transaction, and both parties (the customer and coffee shop owner) are better off as a result.
Free-market capitalism and enlightened self-interest go hand in hand. In a free-market economy, if one wishes to make more money, they need only work harder or invent a product or service that people want to buy. In both cases, the market rewards the extra effort.
Socialism, on the other hand, does not rely on self-interest. Rather, it relies on coercion.
Consider a collectivist farm operating under socialism versus a privately owned farm operating under free-market capitalism.
On the socialist farm, self-interest does not exist. In other words, there is little to no motivation for the workers to perform above and beyond the bare minimum, as they will not be rewarded for hard work. Predictably, this leads to stagnation. In fact, the only way to increase production is to force the workers to work harder. Absent the threat of physical violence or imprisonment, why would an individual be incentivized to work harder? This is the inherent problem with socialism, as history has documented time and again.
On the privately owned farm, there is ample motivation to work harder because more work results in more crops to sell and more profit to be made. This is perhaps the most fundamental difference between socialism and free-market capitalism.
The “New Man” and “New Woman”
Because socialism does not align with one of human nature’s most vital components, its architects have reiterated again and again that human nature must be transformed for socialism to be successful.
Socialist leaders spanning from Joseph Stalin to Mao Zedong to Pol Pot have championed the necessity of employing all arms of government to produce the socialist “new man” and “new woman.”
According to Adolf Hitler, “National socialism is the determination to create a new man. There will no longer exist any individual arbitrary will, nor realms in which the individual belongs to himself. The time of happiness as a private matter is over.”
“To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman,” wrote Che Guevara in Socialism and Man in Cuba.
In Literature and Revolution, Leon Trotsky wrote that Soviet communism would “create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.”
Instead of leaving people to their own devices, to learn from their mistakes, and to pursue their own course in life, a key tenet of socialism has been the creation of a new human mindset and set of behaviors that reflects socialist ideology.
To transform ordinary people into “new men” and “new women,” who unflinchingly support socialist values, socialist governments have relied on massive indoctrination campaigns and the use of Pavlovian conditioning to socially engineer the population as they see fit.
Like the top-down centralized control of the economy, which is a keystone of socialism, it is also necessary to initiate top-down centralized control of society at large. How else could people be “convinced” to abandon their private property and individual freedom in favor of becoming automatons—mere cogs in the vast socialist system?
To this end, controlling education has historically been one of the key strategies employed by socialist regimes to remake and reshape the human experience so that it aligns with socialism.
As Joseph Stalin put it, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”
Likewise, Mao Zedong wrote, “Our educational policy must enable everyone who receives an education to develop morally, intellectually and physically and become a worker with both socialist consciousness and culture.”
In socialist nations, education is not about teaching children how to think; it is solely about teaching children–the most malleable portion of the population on whom the future depends– what to think.
Through brainwashing, indoctrination, and social conditioning, socialist leaders throughout history, including modern China, have sought to create a “new man” and “new woman.” However, as history has shown, it is not easy to “convince” people to radically change their behaviors so that they align with an ideology that directly contradicts human impulse.
Human beings long for freedom, which is why history is littered with countless examples of people risking life and limb to escape from socialist nations and chart their own course in life. Moreover, it is not a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of those who have attempted to escape from socialist regimes (Cuba being a prime example) have set their sights on the United States and like-minded nations.