Sunday, 10 July 2011

The error of Christian Socialism

*

Many Liberal Christians nowadays take it for granted that Christianity (as they understand it) entails socialism; entails a powerful redistributive state.

Entails, more specifically, a state based on 'compassionate' values - contrasted with a state based on capitalism.

For Liberal Christian Socialists, the primary role of the state should be alleviation of misery by equalization of goods - from those that have too much from those that do not have enough.

*

This error seems to have arisen around the time of the Reformation, and to have become noticeable in England mid-seventeenth century, during the Civil War with proto-Communist groups like the Diggers and Levellers.

But socialism, and Christian socialism, only became a major force after the Industrial Revolution was underway, and during the 19th Century.

So, the timing was all wrong for any genuinely Christian link between Christianity and socialism; socialism was nearly two thousand years late, and arose during an era of rapid secularization, modernization, and economic growth.

*

The (genuine) impulse for socialism seems itself to have been based on a factual error: the false (but common) belief that the Industrial Revolution led to increased poverty and inequality. 

Yet the industrial revolution benefited the poor more than the rich, as can be seen from the undeniable fact of rapid and sustained population growth, driven by the tremendously reduced mortality rates among the poorest.

Presumably the early Christians who adopted socialism mistook the new obviousness of poverty (on public display in new cities) for an increase in the prevalence of poverty. Their ignorance of rural poverty was taken as evidence for its absence.

(So we see the Dickensian idea that the new industrial cities had created poverty on a massive scale - when the net reality was the opposite.)

*

There are two strands inspiring socialism:

1. relief of poverty (and misery in general) and

2. egalitarianism.

*

1. Relief of poverty has a genuine Christian link, in the sense that Christian individuals are expected to be compassionate, and voluntarily to give alms to 'the poor'.

(The duty of almsgiving is not at all distinctive to Christianity, being the case for Islam, and some other religions.)

The emotion of compassion and the act of almsgiving are therefore intrinsically individual spiritual acts.

For the impersonal state to usurp compassion and almsgiving, to coercively confiscate resources from one group of people and (keeping some for the state) to allocate these resources to other people is very obviously not equivalent to voluntary almsgiving by act of choice.

*

2. The egalitarianism of socialism is refuted by Christianity, at least as Christianity was understood everywhere for 1500 years plus.

Traditional Christianity was always about hierarchy; hierarchy in heaven and on earth. 

Therefore to derive egalitarianism from Christianity entails re-writing Christianity to suit modern secular aspirations - which has, of course, been done, wholesale.

*


But commonly socialism has conflated 1. and 2.; conflated Almsgiving and Egalitarianism: to regard equalization as the primary method of abolishing poverty.

To hold this error in the face of experience requires a further conflation, that of inequality with poverty.

So that for modern Christian Socialists (as for Leftists in general) 'the poor' are redefined as 'the poorest'.

Material poverty, having in fact been eradicated in The West as a consequence of the industrial revolution (there have been essentially no poor in The West, as poverty was understood in ancient times, for many decades); 'poverty' has long since been redefined from "not having enough of X" to "having less X than/ poorer quality X than."

*

But the persistence of Christian socialism is not completely irrational: it survives because in a secular political system (i.e. in the secular system created by Leftism) there is no perceived spiritual alternative.

The perception is that socialism is somewhat moral as a political system - it has some values; whereas the secular right wing parties are perceived as being amoral, value-free: focused purely on economic growth ("capitalism"), military power, individualism and competition.

Individual Rightists may be religious or will have positive values as individuals, but positive values are not intrinsic to mainstream secular Right politics.


***


So, how could such a situation arise? 
The Good is the highest goal in life; but The Good as a unitary entity is hard to understand and to think about - and most people usually focus on three component transcendental Goods of Truth, Beauty and Virtue (T, B and V).
However, there is a problem in splitting up the Good - which is that people begin to evaluate the world using separate modalities of thought.
Truth becomes the province of first philosophy, then later science. Beauty becomes the province of art.
*
And Virtue? Virtue becomes religion - the whole thing!
Virtue – or ‘morality’ - can become the whole of a religion - such that people cannot see that religion has anything to do with either Truth or Beauty.

*
Morality becomes the whole thing – the sole legitimate aim of human endeavor.
In which circumstance religion becomes legalistic, inevitably.
Virtue is then a matter of following a set of rules, of Laws.
Virtue is reduced merely to obedience. 
*
Having broken the Good into T, B and V; and made religion purely a matter of V; we then observe that ‘morals’ and ‘ethics’ seem to be autonomous from religion – forming an apparently independent realm of discourse.
And this free-floating, continually-changing secular morality is then turned-around and used to judge and evaluate the Virtuousness of those systems of religion from which it originated, which provided its original foundations – and secular morality finds religion deficient.
*
But once religion is reduced to the pursuit of Virtue, and once Virtue is conceptualized in terms of Laws, and obedience to these Laws - then secular morality can dispense with religion, or take-over and use religion for its own purposes.
Secular socialism (liberalism, political correctness) is the destruction of Christianity take-over of Christianity by socialism...
That is the only difference between them.
 *