A Different Kind of American Exceptionalism: "Socialism"

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When Francis Fukuyama declared an end to history, he inexplicably failed to foresee that from the rubble of the Soviet Union would emerge Roman Abramovich, whose entrenchment of the absolute dominance of money over football would one day cause us to ask again, as we often did before history's death was greatly exaggerated, whether it is fair that some are vastly richer and more powerful than others.

A thoughtful and delightfully verbose op-ed from the Evening Standard titled "Can Soccer Go Socialist?" A short piece in the Times points out the obvious solution to soccer's oligarchical structure: revenue sharing. In this regard, it is the Americans that have been the unlikely "sporting socialists."


It made me wonder what James Bopp -- a key figure in the move to rename the Democrats the "Democratic Socialist Party" -- would say about this. And I only mean this half-jokingly. As people like Louis Hartz argued decades ago, perhaps American exceptlonalism (if such a thing truly exists) is best described as a lack of ideology, as a climate inhospitable to ideology, as the unique inability for things like class warfare or socialism to truly stick here in America. Whether you agree with this or not, one thing that seems somewhat exceptional about America nowadays is our tendency to lose our marbles at the mere mention of "socialism."

Even this seemingly innocuous NYT tech column on new LED-based light sources turned into a referendum on American socialism. From the Comments section:

What we will bet is that like the Socialist Apprachniks of the hayday of Socialism, the members of the eco special interest groups will be insulated from the realities of what we will have to suffer under...thanks to them..

Which resulted in the obligatory "Hey dude--try living in Cuba" reply.

Which is actually a useful reply, in a way. Consider the ways in which Communist regimes (few of which are truly Communist) have co-opted the language of the non-Communist world. Words like "democratic," "market" and even "capitalist" have been re-claimed and re-articulated in ways that dull the impact of the ideas. China, for example, has been masterful at describing their national aims in terms of "Western" ideas.

Obviously all of that semantic shifting-of-goalposts isn't done with the common good in mind. But why has it been impossible to have meaningful conversations about "troublesome" ideas like socialism here? The last time it happened was probably around the Great Depression--who knows what else from the 1930s will soon be making a comeback? In any case, it might be useful to consider what this actual socialist living in America has to say about Bopp and the true aims of American socialists. And it has nothing to do with light bulbs, footballers' salaries or party politics.

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.
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