May
31

Socialism is not Christian

By

By Edmund Opitz, author of The Libertarian Theology of Freedom and Religion and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies. This article originally appeared in the March 1974 issue of The Freeman.

The trend away from ecclesiastical authoritarianism in the post-Reformation period gave rise in the eighteenth century to popular sovereignty in the political realm, with such characteristic documents as The Federalist Papers and The Wealth of Nations. A different kind of dream gathered momentum during the nineteenth century, contemplating the perfected temporal life of man in a planned society, to be achieved by governmental direction of economics and technology. Socialism is the appropriate generic term for this movement.

The quintessence of modern Socialism is government ownership of productive property and the centralized management and direction of economic life. Socialists are divided into parties, sects and hostile factions, but beneath the clash of labels they all advocate the planning of economic affairs by political authority — control over production and exchange being the key to leverage over other sectors of life and the means of achieving national goals.

Such practices as voluntarily pooling goods, sharing the common tasks of a community, working with the hands, reviving interest in folk arts, do not constitute Socialism. And it goes without saying that concern for justice is not limited to socialists; the noblest work in behalf of slaves, prisoners, the sick, the handicapped, children, and animals has been done by non-Socialists. When it comes to improving man’s lot on earth, the influence of Adam Smith probably did more to upgrade the poor than any other single factor, and the major thrust of Classical Liberalism maximized civil, intellectual, and religious liberty for all men by limiting government to the tasks of policing.

To Appreciate Freedom, Consider the Alternative

Socialism is in contention against the Free Society, and we know a thing better if we understand its adversary. To insist that centralized political planning of the economy is the essence of Socialism may plant the misleading suggestion that the Free Society — call it the free economy, the market economy, or capitalism —is characterized by lack of planning. Such is not the case. There is individual planning of all sorts in the Free Society, but no centralized economic planning. The Rule of Law is not a random development; it is intentional, the result of generations of planned effort by men seeking to establish institutions which maximize human freedom. The market economy operates within the framework of the Rule of Law, and is regulated by millions of consumers making billions of decisions as they carry out their private plans for the achievement of their personal goals — as well as by other millions who plan ahead for their businesses, their churches, their schools, their hospitals and other corporate ventures.

There are two radically opposed ways of life here, Socialism versus the Free Society, and they lock horns over the questions:

Who shall plan? and For whom? Socialism has an overall plan which the handful of men who wield political power must impose on the mass of citizenry in order that the intended national goals and purposes may be realized. But, millions of people have billions of plans of their own, and because many of these private plans do not fit into the government’s plan they must be annulled; and if persuasion does not suffice punishment must be invoked. The ideal blueprint for ordering the life of a beehive may be identical with the private plans of the last little bee; but it is not so in human society, where each person is a unique self. Socialism means a nation with two kinds of men; the few who have the power to run things and the many whose lives are run by other men.

The Worst Get to the Top

What kind of men are best adapted to the task of fitting the lives of other men into the Plan? Men possessed by an ideology which convinces them they are carrying out History’s mandates when they conform the lives of citizens to the social blueprint. As History’s vice-regent, the Planner is forced to view men as mass; which is to deny their full stature as persons with rights endowed by the Creator, gifted with free will, possessing the capacity to order their own lives in terms of their convictions. The man who has the authority and the power to put the masses through their paces, and to punish nonconformists, must be ruthless enough to sacrifice a person to a principle. The operational imperatives of a socialist order demand this kind of action; a commissar who believes that each person is a child of God will eventually yield to a commissar whose ideology is consonant with the demands of his job.

The ideology which facilitates the Planned State was not invented by Marx; it was at hand in the form of nineteenth century materialism. Man, in terms of this ideology, is a mere end product of natural and social forces, inhabiting a universe which does not reflect the handiwork of the Creator, but is reducible instead to the mechanical arrangement of material particles. There is no transcendent end for men to serve, and no soul needing salvation; mankind will be regenerated by altering its environment so as to put men fully into the service of the State. In Socialist eschatology the State will finally wither away and men will enjoy an earthly paradise.

The skewing of the Christian vision here is obvious; Socialism needs a secular religion to sanction its authoritarian politics, and it replaces the traditional moral order by a code which subordinates the individual to the collective. This inversion of values is intended to enhance economic well-being, but in vain. Socialism promises to distribute abundance but is at a loss as to how to produce it. A classic study by the eminent economist, Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (1922), demonstrates the impossibility of economic calculation in a planned economy, and experience attests to the chronic shortages of goods which afflict Socialist nations.

Read more from the Edmund Opitz Archive.

Norman Horn

Norman is the founder and editor of LibertarianChristians.com. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology.

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  • http://www.fether.net SaberTruth

    Good article… but.

    I’m as anti-political correctness as anyone, but the “man men men men man men” is really over the top, IMHO. “People” is what you mean of course, but I’m just suggesting that next time you might want to use that word, if it is indeed what you mean. A good exercise to conduct at times is to substitute “woman/women” throughout and see how a man might feel as he reads it. “Man/men” as a generic term is outdated, and as foreign-sounding as “thee/thou”. I realize this is aimed at Christians, but not all of us think the language of the past is better. Just something you might want to consider, as a libertarian and a Christian. :-)

  • http://libertarianchristians.com Norman Horn

    Hi Saber, I get where you are coming from and I am sensitive to this in my own writing. In this case, Mr. Opitz was writing in 1974 when such language was still commonly used. I am reticent to make these sorts of editorial changes in all of the reprints I have of his work. Is that fair?

  • http://www.fether.net SaberTruth

     Yes, fair enough, thanks.

  • http://www.makemenfree.com makemenfree

    And yet most atheists will deny that their belief system was critical for establishing socialism in the USSR, China, etc.  Hard to understand.

  • Hatzifam

    Socialism is not Christian and neither is the Social Gospel. I hear socialistic rhetoric taught at many a pulpit wrapped in the guise of the social gospel.

    Our Lord Jesus told us the poor would be with us ALWAYS – we are to love them as we love ourselves, esteem all people better than ourselves, our highest aim being the sharing of the one true Gospel that affords eternal life. Eternal life…think about that.

    That is the very heart of God.

  • Amyrlyn

    Norman Horn,

    I do not know if you are aware of it, though I am sure that you are, but there are two different kinds of socialism. Many “left libertarians” are Christians, including myself, and while I am more of an individualist, I happen to agree with anarcho-socialists on many issues, to the point that I have aligned myself with them in recent weeks because they are receiving so much hatred from the “libertarian right.” If you are not familiar with anarcho-socialism, or libertarian-socialism, or left libertarianism, I recommend the book, “Instead of a book by a man too busy to write one” by Benjamen Tucker. You might also subscribe to c4ss, which is a publication that presents many of the ideas of the libertarian left. For now, here is this,

    “There are two Socialisms.
    One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.
    One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.
    One is metaphysical, the other positive.
    One is dogmatic, the other scientific.
    One is emotional, the other reflective.
    One is destructive, the other constructive.

    Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.

    One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be
    happy in his own way.
    The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence,
    the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society,
    with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second
    considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed
    worse than others.
    The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no
    sort of sovereign.
    One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the
    abolition of all monopolies.
    One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes
    the disappearance of classes.

    Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.

    The first considers revolutions as the indispensable agent of evolutions; the
    second teaches that repression alone turns evolutions into revolution.
    The first has faith in a cataclysm.
    The second knows that social progress will result from the free play of
    individual efforts.

    Both understand that we are entering upon a new historic phase.

    One wishes that there should be none but proletaires.
    The other wishes that there should be no more proletaires.
    The first wishes to take everything away from everybody.
    The second wishes to leave each in possession of its own.
    The one wishes to expropriate everybody.
    The other wishes everybody to be a proprietor.

    The first says: ‘Do as the government wishes.”
    The second says: ‘Do as you wish yourself.’
    The former threatens with despotism.
    The latter promises liberty.
    The former makes the citizen the subject of the State.
    The latter makes the State the employee of the citizen.

    One proclaims that labor pains will be necessary to the birth of a new world.
    The other declares that real progress will not cause suffering to any one.
    The first has confidence in social war.
    The other believes only in the works of peace.
    One aspires to command, to regulate, to legislate.
    The other wishes to attain the minimum of command, of regulation, of legislation.
    One would be followed by the most atrocious of reactions.
    The other opens unlimited horizons to progress.
    The first will fail; the other will succeed.

    Both desire equality.

    One by lowering heads that are too high.
    The other by raising heads that are too low.
    One sees equality under a common yoke.
    The other will secure equality in complete liberty.
    One is intolerant, the other tolerant.
    One frightens, the other reassures.
    The first wishes to instruct everybody.
    The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.
    The first wishes to support everybody.
    The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.

    One says:
    The land to the State
    The mine to the State
    The tool to the State
    The product to the State

    The other says:
    The land to the cultivator.
    The mine to the miner.
    The tool to the laborer.
    The product to the producer.

    There are only these two Socialisms.
    One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.
    One is already the past; the other is the future.
    One will give place to the other.

    Today each of us must choose for the one or the other of these two Socialisms, or else confess that he is not a Socialist.”

    ~ Ernest Lesigne

    Personally, I find it really difficult to see how the desire for social justice, the end of exploitation and tyranny, and the desire for every human being to be able to live in liberty is not Christian.

  • http://libertarianchristians.com Norman Horn

    Amyrlyn: I understand what you’re saying, but that is not the “socialism” that Opitz is speaking of here. The strict economic definition of socialism, and the definition used in this article, is that *the means of production are owned by the state.*

  • Amyrlyn

    “The strict economic definition of socialism, and the definition used in
    this article, is that *the means of production are owned by the state.”

    Of course. In the modern lexicon that is what is meant by the term. However, that is not what is meant by the term when used by anarcho-socialists. I realize that the article does not address the historic meaning, or distinction between state socialism and anarcho-socialism, I only brought it up as the title “Socialism is not Christian” is a bit inflammatory at the moment considering how much debate is going on at the present time about this subject all over FB in the libertarian community.

    Personally, I find such language to be rather non-productive as it tends to close doors rather than open them. Consider; in the modern lexicon the word “socialism” means the public, or state, ownership of the means of production. But whether anyone likes it or not, in the mind of the public, ordinary people who identify as socialists are also anti-war and, while their desire for state funded welfare and medicine are misguided, their hearts are in the right place in their desire to help people. On the other hand, “capitalists” are seen in the eyes of the general public as greedy war mongering exploiters who will sit on their piles of billions while they gripe about someone receiving food stamps.

    I just thought the timing of this article was a bit odd and, as I am an anarcho-socialist, or anti-capitalist libertarian to be more precise, as well as a Christian, I am becoming somewhat weary of the divisive rhetoric.

    Thank you for your response. The Lord bless and keep you.

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  • authentic8

    How would you expect “anarcho-socialism” to come about if not by force? If we are to value individual freedom, the above would just as easily be obtainable under capitalism should each person choose that approach based on their own moral values.

    It is the mischaracterization and misunderstanding of Capitalism that leads others to believe that Capitalism is about greed and war-mongering. The people who engage in those things should be punished either by legal redress (if they infringe on others’ rights) or by being shunned by society either socially or by the free market rejection of their goods. If this does not happen it is because of the lack of morals of those who do it and those who turn a blind eye to it. Capitalism was never posited as a system of morals or a replacement for it.

    It sounds to me like you don’t actually disagree with Capitalism at all but, rather, have not understood and mischaracterized it as something it is not.

  • authentic8

    How would you expect “anarcho-socialism” to come about if not by force? If we are to value individual freedom, the above would just as easily be obtainable under capitalism should each person choose that approach based on their own moral values.

    It is the mischaracterization and misunderstanding of Capitalism that leads others to believe that Capitalism is about greed and war-mongering. The people who engage in those things should be punished either by legal redress (if they infringe on others’ rights) or by being shunned by society either socially or by the free market rejection of their goods. If this does not happen it is because of the lack of morals of those who do it and those who turn a blind eye to it. Capitalism was never posited as a system of morals or a replacement for it.

    It sounds to me like you don’t actually disagree with Capitalism at all but, rather, have not understood and mischaracterized it as something it is not.

  • authentic8

    Thank you for posting this article. It says something that I felt I needed to say, but much more eloquently than I would have been able to say it.

    Where most Christian socialists and anti-Capitalists have erred where they try to find justification for their beliefs in Scripture, is to take Jesus’ words as applied to individuals and applied it to governments. In doing so, they in fact rob individuals of the force of those commands by allowing them to “obey” them by proxy (which, of course, is not obeying them at all) and, additionally, causing them to break other commands such as stealing and, in some cases, idolatry (by putting the State in place of God).

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