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.