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I want to cheer Brian Kahn’s op-ed in the Aug. 26 IR, and offer a perspective that builds on and complements his.

For too long Republicans have gotten away with the false dichotomy of portraying “socialism” and “freedom” as opposites. Socialism does not equate with Stalinist tyranny, and freedom is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. As a matter of fact, socialism requires democracy and freedom to function.

Bryan does an excellent job of illustrating what socialism is, and of how pervasive it is in American life, from public lands to public education to the military. I won’t repeat that here, but I urge people who haven’t done so to read Bryan’s piece.

People differ in how we conceptualize freedom. Those of us on the left think of freedom in terms of civil rights and civil liberties, such as those embodied in the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and freedom from an official dogma, religious or secular.

Too often, those on the right think of freedom as the freedom to pollute for profit; the freedom to discriminate and deny freedom to others on arbitrary and capricious grounds, such as gender, skin color, ethnicity, citizenship, sexual orientation, etc.; the freedom to own and brandish assault weapons that have no known purpose other than to kill a large number of humans in a short period of time; the freedom to block public access to public lands; the freedom to ignore the public good while pursuing private gain; the freedom to impose their particular religion on the rest of society; and so forth.

We might add another contemporary notion of freedom as the right to rig the system in order to establish permanent white minority rule through voter suppression, gerrymandering and dark money in politics – the latter being girded by defining corporations as “people,” and money as “speech.”

It isn’t “socialism” that undermines democracy and liberty. Rather, what we need to fear in the present context is the concentration of power in an alliance of corporations and authoritarian government – one that hoodwinks right-wing populists into serving as its political storm troops. This is what Russia has today, with rule of oligarchs who have their wealth and power as allies of an authoritarian president and where “the people” own nothing and the ruling party effectively owns everything. And this is what our president aspires to for the United States as he sides with Russia in undermining Western democracy and its alliances that have served the world well since the end of World War II. On the other hand, “socialism” when joined with democracy and well-regulated capitalism is a form of freedom, and it has created the most contented societies on earth.

Lawrence K. Pettit of Helena is a former university educator and administrator and the first Montana Commissioner of Higher Education.

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