Howard Zinn's Personal Philosophy
Howard Zinn is a historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright, best known as author of the bestseller A People's History of the United States.
Zinn has been active in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in the United States.
The author of some 20 books, Zinn is currently Professor Emeritus in the Political Science Department at Boston University. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, the artist Roslyn Zinn. The couple have two children, Myla and Jeff, and five grandchildren. Both artist and editor, Roslyn has had a role in editing all of Zinn's books and many of his articles.
Question: What is your philosophy?
Howard Zinn: I believe, I suppose, in what could be called democratic socialism. I believe that we need a society where the motive for the economic system is not corporate profit, but the motive is the welfare of people, health care, jobs, child care, and so on. But that is dominant. Where there is a greater equalization of wealth and a society which is peaceful, which devotes its resources to helping people in the country and elsewhere.
I believe in a world where war is no longer the recourse for the settling of grievances and problems. I believe in the wiping out of national boundaries.
I don’t believe in visas and passports and immigration quotas. I think we need to move toward a global society. They use the word “globalization,” but they use it in a very narrow sense to mean the freedom of corporations to move across boundaries. But what we need is a freedom of people and things to move across boundaries.
When I talk about socialism in our jails, I mean greater societal intervention into the economy, but without deprivation of civil liberties. Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood writer, put it very simply. He said, “Socialism without jails.”
Question: How do you blend anarchism, socialism and communism?
Howard Zinn: I like to think of taking the best elements of all of them. If you separate communism from the Soviet Union and from those bureaucratic and totalitarian countries that call themselves Marxist or communist, and just treat communism as it was envisioned by Marx and Engels, ultimately a society where there would be a freedom of the individual and a rational use of the world’s resources. That’s something to take from communism.
From socialism I would take what I just described and that is the use of a democratically-elected government to equalize resources and help people.
I would take from anarchism the suspicion of authority and suspicion of all governments and the readiness to criticize and rebel against any government that may have started out in a humanitarian way, but they can easily become ossified and dictatorial. Anarchism has as its goal the idea of a decentralized society where individuals are free from the oppression of government and corporate power and the church.
I think there are elements in all three that are useful.
Question: Is that a practical way of thinking?
Howard Zinn: It’s certainly not practical in the sense of something that’s immediately achievable. But I think it’s very important to hold as a goal. It’s philosophical, but not in a utopian sense that makes it simply theoretical and unworkable. It’s philosophical only in the sense that it’s long term. So although it’s not an immediate possibility or probability, I think it’s very important to have an idea of what a good society would be like so that you can measure what is happening today and what the policies are today against that goal.
Recorded On: July 5, 2008
Howard Zinn explains democratic socialism.
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