Socialism is a term that, even in the 90s people would have shied away from. And in the 70s or 80s it would have been unthinkable for a political candidate to run as a “Democratic Socialist.” But that is precisely what several popular Democrats—including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—have done and have done so successfully. They have “gotten away” with this because many of the younger, Millennial voters are less afraid of the Socialist label and, in fact, embrace major parts of the political theory. Namely, free education, free healthcare, and higher taxes on the rich. A staggering 70% of Millennials answered that they would be willing to vote for a Socialist candidate. This is more than just a flash-in-the-pan—it says something about how Millennials view the world.
Why are Young People More Liberal?
Young people have always been more liberal than old people. The reasons why are not entirely clear. But the phenomenon was even clear enough for famous British conservative Winston Churchill to comment on it, saying “If you are young and are not a liberal, then you have no heart. And if you are old and are not a Conservative, then you have no brain.” While the merits of this statement can be debated, it does illustrate a popular opinion about why so many young people lean farther left than the rest of the population. The opinion being that younger people simply do not understand.
Whether they call it historical amnesia or short-term memory, there is nothing new about older generations criticizing younger ones for forgetting about the past. This, some claim, is why more and more Millennials and members of Gen Z are “okay” with Socialism: They don’t remember the times when Socialist wreaked havoc on the sociopolitical state of the world.
Such standpoints are patronizing. The pros and cons of Socialism versus capitalism should be considered on their own merits on not hidden being the veil of “you don’t understand” or “you can’t remember.” The reasons for this are plentiful. For example, arguments against Millennials understanding (or lack thereof) of history rely on the claim that Boomers and other generations know far more about history and the true nature of things than they do. But is it genuinely true that with age comes wisdom? Yes, certainly, some people improve and get wiser with age. But many others just get more stubborn and narrow-minded. Even if they disagree with socialist tactics, it seems that the wisest of the older generation (like Churchill) at least have an appreciation for why young people are drawn to the political theory. They do not, in other words, walk around calling Millennials fools for having any kind of attraction to socialism.
Likely, there are things socialism can teach a democratic society just as there is much democracy can teach a socialist one. There are good arguments to be made that many of the formerly socialist governments the world saw fall in the Soviet Union and elsewhere were not truly socialist—they were a corrupt form of communist. Thus, it is not necessary that we totally throw the baby out with the bathwater as, perhaps, there are still some good things about socialist ideals.
For example, many Millennials today struggle with student loan debt. The socialist solution is free education. Maybe that is a good, feasible idea, and maybe it isn’t. But the middle-ground approach that both sides can certainly agree on is that student loan costs have gotten out of hand. Whether the government starts offering free college education may be irrelevant, maybe the solutions is as simple as finding a way to reduce costs. Both older and younger generations must be willing to compromise and hear each other out if they are going to arrive at any kind of solutions greater than those that amount to more than just rolling your eyes and saying “Okay, Boomer.”