While the socialists no longer have a clear-cut plan as to how their goals are to be achieved, they still wish to manipulate the economy so that the distribution of incomes will be made to conform to their conception of social justice.
The most important outcome of the socialist epoch, however, has been the destruction of the traditional limitations upon the powers of the state. So long as socialism aimed at a complete reorganization of society on new principles, it treated the principles of the existing system as mere encumbrances to be swept away. But now that it no longer has any distinctive principles of its own, it can only present its new ambitions without any clear picture of the means.
As a result, we approach the new tasks set by the ambition of modern man as un-principled, in the original meaning of this word, as never before.
What is significant is that, in consequence, though socialism has been generally abandoned as a goal to be deliberately striven for, it is by no means certain that we shall not still establish it, albeit unintentionally. The reformers who confine themselves to whatever methods appear to be the most effective for their particular purposes and pay no attention to what is necessary to preserve an effective market mechanism are likely to be led to impose more and more central control over economic decisions (though private property may be preserved in name) until we get that very system of central planning which few now consciously wish to see established.
Furthermore, many of the old socialists have discovered that we have already drifted so far in the direction of a redistributive state that it now appears much easier to push further in that direction than to press for the somewhat discredited socialization of the means of production. They seem to have recognized that by increasing governmental control of what nominally remains private industry, they can more easily achieve that redistribution of incomes that had been the real aim of the more spectacular policy of expropriation.
It is sometimes regarded as unfair, as blind conservative prejudice, to criticize those socialist leaders who have so frankly abandoned the more obviously totalitarian forms of “hot” socialism, for having now turned to a “cold” socialism which in effect may not be very different from the former. We are in danger, however, unless we succeed in distinguishing those of the new ambitions which can be achieved in a free society from those which require for their realization the methods of totalitarian collectivism.