Moreover, just because a totalitarian regime happens to call itself socialist—or, for that matter, a republic, or a union of republics, or a people’s republic, or a people’s democratic republic—we are under no obligation to take it at its word. What we call “democratic socialism” in the United States is difficult to distinguish from the social-democratic traditions of post-war Western Europe, and there we find little evidence that a democracy becomes a dictatorship simply by providing such staples of basic social welfare as universal health care. At least, it is hard not to notice that the social-democratic governments of Europe have always gained power only by being voted into office, and have always relinquished it peacefully when voted out again. None of them has ever made war on free markets, even in attempting (often all too hesitantly) to impose prudent and ethically salutary regulations on business. Rather than gulags, death camps, secret police, arrests without warrant, summary executions, enormous propaganda machines, killing fields, and the like, their political achievements have been more in the line of the milk-allowances given to British children in the post-war years, various national health services, free eyeglasses and orthodonture for children, school lunches, public pensions for the elderly and the disabled, humane public housing, adequate unemployment insurance, sane labor protections, and so forth, all of which have been accomplished without irreparable harm to economies or treasuries.
I suppose a social-democratic state could begin to gravitate toward true authoritarianism, in the way that any political arrangement can lead to just about any other. The Third Reich, after all, was born out of a functioning parliamentary democracy. The 2016 U.S. election proved that, even in a long-established democratic republic, just about anyone or anything, no matter how preposterously foul, can achieve political power if enough citizens are sufficiently credulous, cowardly, and vicious. In just the past few years, we have seen bland American neoconservatism rapidly evolving into populist, racist, openly fascist, mystical nationalism. Anything is possible. But to this point, it seems fair to say, the Western European democracies—as well as the Oceanian states and Canada—have all acquitted themselves fairly well on the civil liberties and “rule of law” fronts. And surely no one would deny that, approve of them or not, eyeglasses and milk are not gulags and summary executions.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller