It’s not uncommon, when the topic of socialism comes up, for someone to say something like, “Do you know how many millions of people died in the name of socialism?”

I’ve heard this said, but the conversation almost always move on without anyone really addressing it.

Historically, we know that it’s true (at least most over the age of 25 do, anyway). Or at least we know that when there have been mass murders of populations, ethnicities or communities, the reigning government was collectivist, in nature.

So, how does the one lead to the other?

In simplest terms, socialism depends on the suppression of dissent. It can’t work if there is individual freedom of thought, because socialism leads to misery for the majority of people under it’s rule, and riches for those in the ruling class. If the governing body allows dissent, socialism turns to capitalism and freedom very quickly. And once that fire is lit, it’s difficult to extinguish.

In a socialist regime, there is always a strong, centralized governing body being led by an individual (ironic) strong leader. (Think Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Castro, etc.) For that leader to stay in power, they either need a military to prevent the masses from rising up, or they need some other way for people to fear voting against them in “elections.”

The best way to promote the necessary fear is to jail or kill anyone who dissents. But it’s not enough to jail them, the people need to know if you dissent in public, you could end up jailed or killed, too. And if there are communities of enough people who may dissent or rise up, then the entire community needs to be exterminated, just to be sure.

What it all comes down to is freedom of speech, which is why the First Amendment affirms a persons right to say or worship as they wish. It’s an amendment designed to restrict our government from exercising power. (Which, not coincidentally, the Second Amendment allows the citizenry to own guns, enabling them to fight back against an oppressive government.)

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself you know all of this. And many think it can’t happen here. But I think there are many signs we’re on our way.

The most obvious is the elections of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kshama Sawant, both socialists.

But more sinister is how violent socialists (and progressives) are getting. May Day protests, which are socialist events, make no bones about destroying public and private property. The physical threats against conservatives speakers across the country continue to worsen. This newfound acceptability of harassing public servants when they’re on their private time is  most concerning.

Disagreement is healthy and leads to better educated people and policy. But intimidating people who don’t think like you and preventing them from speaking is the road to socialism. And when we lose the decency and decorum required to civilly disagree, a police state isn’t that far behind.

Happy Fourth of July. Take a minute to think about the price of freedom, because listening to alternative opinions and disagreement is one of the core tenets of maintaining that freedom.