Good News to the Poor (#10) — the sinister nature of socialism

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You may remember that I said early on that the Christian was not simply to ally to the better of evils, that we are not to submit to dualistic thinking. Since then I have begun reading From Under the Rubble, a book of essays edited by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In it, he and his friends wrote against the communist system of the U.S.S.R. while at the same time offering genuine critique of corruption of western life and culture. One essay in particular by Mikhail Agursky argues that:

Many people believe that there are only two socioeconomic systems–the capitalist one in western countries and the socialist one in communist countries and that all today’s conflicts merely reflect the contradiction between them. This view is mistaken.

In fact there are more resemblances than differences between these two systems, the reason being the existence of large-scale industry as the economic base of both.

Once it exists, whatever system directs it, large industry becomes an active influence on society in its own right. This applies particularly to such branches of mass production as automobiles, light industry, construction and electronics. [Note: this was published in 1974, yet the truth of it is that much clearer now.]

I may in future threads trace out similarities and the tendencies in both to corporatism, but for our purposes here it is important to see that Socialism and Capitalism are not merely similar in issues of industrial influences. Rather, from the perspective of our interest in spiritual life it should be noted that they both create idols. In fact these idols are but two cultural versions of the same god. Like Zeus and Odin playing the same role as chief deity in their respective pantheons, capitalism and socialism are but cultural masks on the god Mammon.  Both systems justify and encourage a grasping, greedy, covetous life.

Capitalism must create desires for more in order to maintain growth. There is no understanding of “enough.” It skews our understanding of needs. It trains us to covet what our neighbor has.

Socialism also teaches us to covet our neighbors possessions. The very foundation of socialist thinking is built upon the idea of fairness. Equality means no one can have what is not available to others. It is based in class envy and jealousy.

Still, while both ideologies lead us into the religion of Mammon, I have said socialism is more sinister. There are three main reasons for saying so.

First, socialism justifies covetousness under terms like fairness, equality, and justice. The devout capitalist may say “greed is good,” but most people simply cannot buy that. If they accept it at all it is in an “end justifies the means” compromise, not with the devotion of a true believer. But the socialist can feel morally superior in their love of “justice” that is nothing more than disguised jealousy.

More sinister still, while capitalism thrives on covetous greed, its processes are often creative and inventive. Yes, it can lead a person to steal or swindle; it can inspire jealousy. But quite often it inspires ingenuity and hard work, which are things good and valuable in themselves and idolatrous only insomuch as they take undue priority in life. Socialism, on the other hand,  quite often produces a jealous nature that is satisfied to not have so long as no one else has either. It is a destructive force often producing mediocrity and laziness which are things bad in themselves.

Finally,  the fact that socialism uses the power of the state to achieve its ends promoted the most horrible abuses.  A wealthy capitalist may have means to abuse the system; many have done so. But there is always a chance that the system will check the powers of such a corrupt capitalist. There is always a chance that even the most corrupt official can be moved to act for justice when the wealthy become abusive. History of “Christianized” nations seems to argue for the fact that social convention and the tender hearts of certain conscientious wealthy people have served to temper the abuses done by their own class, or in the most jaded, worst case understanding of the workings of the capitalist system the potential oppressor may be checked by the greed of another.

Meanwhile, the socialist system places capital in the hands of the state system. There is no outside power to check the abuses of an official in such a system. And often, the more well-intentioned and interested in “equality” or security such an official is, the worse the tyranny. As C. S. Lewis says:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

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7 thoughts on “Good News to the Poor (#10) — the sinister nature of socialism

  1. So, government can act when capitalism becomes abusive? Who measures the abuse, the state? I would argue that the entire system and its ideology is abusive (destroy each other to get to the top), but not being an economist I’m hard pressed to think of a preferable system (and you outlined the dangers of socialism). Also, isn’t there a spectrum here? Socialism has many different forms, from Marxism to Christian Socialism, to Democratic Socialism, etc. Do you think all forms succumb to the problems you listed above? I have no real dog in the fight either way, but I do have major misgivings about capitalism and wish Christians wouldn’t treat it as sacred dogma.

    • Well, to start, I note in earlier posts in the series that those are not the only choices. I would argue that a relatively free market governed by a limited government system based on Judeo-Chritsian morality is ideal. Such a system, to exist as more than ideal must be more localized on some levels. However, what I note in a much ealier segment is any ideal of humanly ridding the world of poverty is impossible (as Jesus himself says) and ripe for abusive use of power (note the Lewis quote).

      What I have noted here is that historically, in a Christianized society, general moral sensibilities have (albeit slowly) brought pressure to bear on abuses and encouraged govenment to act for justice. Now, however, we are far from any such remaining civilization. We are returning to an age of barbarity (forgive my pessimistic outlook). That being said, I still think the church is far more capable to act and speak in aid of the oppressed when the oppression comes from private sector rather than from the government system. Worst case scenerio–the greed of competitors acts as a check on power, and the church can speak prophetically to the modern robber baron. But the abusive government system is a beurocracy, which Newbigin (who you would probably enjoy reading) calls the tyranny of no one. Such tyranny is difficult to contend with.

      I do not think (as you have seen in other segments) that Christians have any business treating capitalism as a dogma. Yet, Freedom is something we can treat as something of a dogma. I think all forms of socialism eventually move towards two ends–the idolization of government and the oppression of common citizens. The process may seem innocent at first, but it eventually happens.

      Take for instance universal healthcare. It sounds good, but If it is universal it becomes a problem if someone wants to opt out. I have trouble morally depending on government for provision. God has provided in the past through doctors who work with me privately to reduce costs and accept payments and sometimes even treat for free when I had no money. That takes place in the context of local relationship–not industrialized, centralized, coorporatized medicine. But universal healthcare makes those relationships illegal and “unfair.” So, if I refuse the government treatment is the hospital to turn me away. Well, that can’t be allowed to happen, so I am force to violate concience. At the same time, we like raw milk or french fries, or organic produce, or to smoke a pipe, or …, but if they pose any risk to our health they now pose a ristk to the whole government system because the system is responsible for our health. Our freedom is lost and we end up oppressed–not in one fell swoop–but by a process. And what of private charitable work. Every Dr. is suddenly becoming an employee of the state, so-long to Christian inspired generosity from something like Drs. without borders of medical missions in poor communities.

      Capitalism as a philosophical system is not Christian, but if liberty allows capitalists in an abusive form to exist, liberty is worth it. The church can contend with such a system. But a system that eventually demands the position of God as provider (as opposed to the position given biblically–God’s minister of justice) we face serious difficulty. Again, I’m not for either or. I’m thinking in line with Chesterton and Solzenitsyn.

  2. Thank you for providing the most cogent argument I’ve ever heard against universal healthcare (most of what I’ve heard against it has been a lot of fear-mongering, which I find distasteful no matter what side of an issue someone is on). I’ll have to think about that some more.

  3. Really – that is the most cogent argument you’ve heard? I have universal health care (excluding dental) and a parallel private system (in Australia). I am free to choose my provider – government or private. I think it is a very strange argument that universal provision = universal enforcement.

    Also interesting is your suggestion that universal health care would put an end to Medics San Frontiers (and other similar). My question would be – does MSF support the idea of universal health care? Sure they would be happy to have an end to their mission if it was no longer required.

    • Sorry for the very long delay–I was on a blogging sabbatical.

      I really, really don’t feel like a long drawn out discussion here. Government is already mandating abortion drugs be provided by healthcare providers, which is a problem of conscience for some companies and providers. But conscience isn’t a concern–it is a “right” therefore the government mandates it. Honestly, it amazes me how many liberals here in the US can’t see their own inconsistency in such matters; they use mantras like “the government has no place in the bedroom” to criticize things like older sodomy laws but don’t see the fact that the more the government pays for the more government can control. Healthcare paid by the government invites the gov into your kitchen and eventually your whole house. IF the government is responsible to provide you with health, if health is a “right” for all citizens, then it is a short road to “health” as a mandate for all citizens. In fact, to return to my initial point, the fact that the “right” to contraception is now a mandate supports my point. Our government can’t seem to view a thing as a right without forcing it on everyone–even those that want nothing to do with it.

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