Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

Ludwig von Mises
Mises, Ludwig von
(1881-1973)
CEE
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Editor/Trans.
J. Kahane, trans.
First Pub. Date
1922
Publisher/Editor
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Pub. Date
1981
Comments
Foreword by Friedrich A. Hayek not available online
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PART IV

SOCIALISM AS A MORAL IMPERATIVE

CHAPTER 27

Socialism and Ethics

1 The Socialist Attitude to Ethics

IV.27.1

For pure Marxism Socialism is not a political programme. It does not demand that society shall be transformed into the socialist order, nor does it condemn the liberal order of society. It presents itself as a scientific theory which claims to have discovered in the dynamic laws of historical development a movement towards the socialization of the means of production. To say that pure Marxism pronounces itself in favour of Socialism or that it desires Socialism or wishes to bring it about would be just as absurd as to say that Astronomy wishes or thought it desirable to bring about a solar eclipse which it had predicted. We know that Marx's life and even many of his writings and sayings sharply contradict his theoretic outlook and that the Socialism of resentment is always showing its cloven hoof. In practical politics at least, his supporters have long since forgotten what they owe strictly to his doctrine. Their words and deeds go far beyond what the "midwife theory" permits.*1 This, however, is of secondary importance for our study, which here deals only with the doctrine pure and undefiled.

IV.27.2

Besides the pure Marxist view that Socialism must come of inexorable Necessity, there are two other motives which guide the advocates of Communism. They are socialists either because they expect socialist society to increase productivity, or because they believe that a socialist society would be more just. Marxism is unable to reconcile itself to ethical Socialism. But its attitude to economic-rationalist Socialism is quite different: it is possible to interpret the materialistic conception of history as meaning that the trend of economic development naturally leads to the most productive type of economy, that is to say Socialism. Of course, this view is very different from that held by the majority of Marxists. They are for Socialism, firstly because it is bound to come in any case, secondly because it is morally preferable, and finally because it involves more rational economic organization.

IV.27.3

The two motives of non-Marxian Socialism are mutually exclusive. If a man advocates Socialism because he expects it to increase the productivity of social labour he need not try to bolster up his demands with a higher moral valuation of the socialist order. If he elects to do so, he is open to the question whether he would be prepared to advocate Socialism if he discovered that it was after all not the morally perfect order. On the other hand it is clear that one who advocates the socialistic order for moral reasons would have to go on doing so even if he were convinced that the order based on private ownership in the means of production yielded greater productivity of labour.

2 Eudaemonistic Ethics and Socialism

IV.27.4

To eudaemonism, which looks at social phenomena rationalistically, the very way in which ethical Socialism states its problems seems unsatisfactory. Unless Ethics and "Economy" are regarded as two systems of objectivization which have nothing to do with each other, then ethical and economic valuation and judgment cannot appear as mutually independent factors. All ethical ends are merely a part of human aims. This implies that on the one hand the ethical aim is a means, in so far as it assists in the human struggle for happiness, but that on the other hand it is comprised in the process of valuation which unites all intermediate aims into a unitary scale of values and grades them according to their importance. The conception of absolute ethical values, which might be opposed to economic values, cannot therefore be maintained.

IV.27.5

Of course one cannot discuss this point with the ethical apriorist or the intuitionist. Those who uphold the Moral as ultimate fact, and who rule out scientific examination of its elements by referring to a transcendental origin, will never be able to agree with those who are dragging down the concept of Right into the dust of scientific analysis. Ethical ideas of duty and conscience demand nothing less than the blindest submission.*2 A priori ethics, claiming unconditional validity for its norms, approaches all earthly relations from the outside and aims at transmuting them into its own form with no concern whatever for the consequences. Fiat iustitia, pereat mundus (let justice be done even though the world be destroyed) is its motto, and it is when it becomes honestly indignant about the eternally misunderstood plea, "the end justifies the means," that it is most sincere.

IV.27.6

Isolated man settles all his ends according to his own law. He sees and knows nothing but himself and arranges his actions accordingly. In society, however, he must temper his actions to the fact that he lives in society and that his actions must affirm the existence and progress of society. From the basic law of social life it follows that he does not do this to achieve aims lying outside his own personal system of ends. In making the social ends his own he does not thereby subordinate his personality and his wishes to those of a higher personality or renounce the fulfilment of any of his own desires in favour of those of a mystical universe. For, from the standpoint of his own valuation, social ends are not ultimate but intermediate in his own scale of values. He must accept society because social life helps him to fulfil his own wishes more completely. If he denied it he would be able to create only transitory advantages for himself; by destroying the social body he would in the long run injure himself.

IV.27.7

The idea of a dualism of motivation assumed by most ethical theorists, when they distinguish between egoistic and altruistic motives of action, cannot therefore be maintained. This attempt to contrast egoistic and altruistic action springs from a misconception of the social interdependence of individuals. The power to choose whether my actions and conduct shall serve myself or my fellow beings is not given to me—which perhaps may be regarded as fortunate. If it were, human society would not be possible. In the society based on division of labour and co-operation, the interests of all members are in harmony, and it follows from this basic fact of social life that ultimately action in the interests of myself and action in the interest of others do not conflict, since the interests of individuals come together in the end. Thus the famous scientific dispute as to the possibility of deriving the altruistic from the egoistic motives of action may be regarded as definitely disposed of.

IV.27.8

There is no contrast between moral duty and selfish interests. What the individual gives to society to preserve it as society, he gives, not for the sake of aims alien to himself, but in his own interest.*3 The individual, who is a product of society not only as a thinking, willing, sentient man, but also simply as a living creature, cannot deny society without denying himself.

IV.27.9

This position of social ends in the system of individual ends is perceived by the individual's reason, which enables him to recognize aright his own interests. But society cannot always trust the individual to see which are his true interests. If it left everyone to judge of his own it would expose itself to the caprice of every foolish, sick, and weak-willed person, leaving him free to put its very existence into question, thus imperilling the continuity of development. This is what led to the creation of powers of social coercion which, vis-à-vis the individual, appear as external constraints because they demand imperative obedience. And here we see the social significance of the State and the Law. They are not something outside the individual, demanding from him actions which run counter to his own interests, forcing him to serve alien purposes. They merely prevent the misguided, asocial individual, blind to his own interests, from injuring his fellow men by a revolt against the social order.

IV.27.10

It is therefore absurd to maintain that Liberalism, Utilitarianism and Eudaemonism are "inimical to the State." They reject the idea of Etatism, which under the name State adores as God a mysterious being not comprehensible to human understanding; they dissent from Hegel, to whom the State is "divine will"; they reject the Hegelian Marx and his school who have replaced the cult of "State" with the cult of "Society"; they combat all those who want the State or "Society" to perform tasks other than those corresponding to that social order which they themselves believe the most proper to the end in view. Because they favour private ownership in the means of production they demand that the State coercive apparatus shall be directed to maintain this, and they reject all proposals intended to restrict or abolish private property. But never for a moment do they think of "abolishing the State." The liberal conception of society by no means omits the apparatus of the State; it assigns to this the task of safeguarding life and property. Anybody who calls opposition to State railways, State theatres, or State dairies "enmity to the State" must be deeply enmeshed indeed in the realistic (in the scholastic sense) conception of the State.

IV.27.11

Occasionally society can prevail against the individual even without coercion. Not every social norm requires that the most extreme coercive measures shall at once be put into force. In many things, morals and custom can wring from the individual a recognition of social aims without assistance from the sword of justice. Morals and customs go further than State law in so far as they protect more extensive social aims. In this respect, there may be a difference in extent between them, but no incompatibility of principle. Essential contrasts between the legal order and moral laws occur only where the two derive from different conceptions of the social order, that is, where they appertain to different social systems. The contrast is then dynamic, not static.

IV.27.12

The ethical valuation "good" or "evil" can be applied only in respect of ends towards which action strives. As Epicurus said: "Greek Adicia ou caq eauthn cacon" ("Vice without injurious consequences would not be vice.")*4 Since action is never its own end, but rather the means to an end, we call an action good or evil only in respect of the consequences of the action. It is judged according to its place in the system of cause and effect. It is valued as a means. And for the value of the means the valuation of the end is decisive. Ethical, like all other, valuation proceeds from valuation of ends, of the ultimate good. The value of an action is the value of the end it serves. Intention, too, has value in so far as it leads to action.

IV.27.13

Unity of action can exist only when all ultimate values can be brought into a unitary scale of values. If this were not possible, man would always be finding himself in a position where he could not act, that is, work as a creature conscious of his striving towards a goal; he would have to abandon the issue to forces beyond his control. Conscious scaling of values precedes every human action. The man who chooses to attain A while renouncing B, C, D, etc., has decided that in the given circumstances the attainment of A is more valuable to him than the attainment of the others.

IV.27.14

Philosophers had been arguing about this ultimate Good for a long time before it was settled by modern investigation. At the present day Eudaemonism is no longer open to attack. In the long run all the arguments which philosophers from Kant to Hegel brought against it were unable to dissociate the concept Morality from that of Happiness. Never in history has more intellect and ingenuity been expended in defending an untenable position. We are lost in admiration of the magnificent performance of these philosophers. We might almost say that what they have done to prove the impossible elicits more admiration than the achievements of the great thinkers and sociologists who have made Eudaemonism and Utilitarianism a permanent possession of the human mind. Certainly their efforts were not in vain. Their gigantic struggle for anti-eudaemonistic ethics were necessary to expose the problem in all its wide ramifications and so enable a conclusive solution to be reached.

IV.27.15

Since the tenets of intuitionist ethics, which are irreconcilable with scientific method, have been deprived of their very foundations, anyone who recognizes the eudaemonistic character of all ethical valuation is exempt from further discussion of ethical Socialism. For such a one the Moral does not stand outside the scale of values which comprises all values of life. For him no moral ethic is valid per se. He must first be allowed to inquire why it is so rated. He can never reject that which has been recognized as beneficial and reasonable simply because a norm, based on some mysterious intuition, declares it to be immoral—a norm the sense and purpose of which he is not entitled even to investigate.*5 His principle is not fiat iustitia, pereat mundus, (let justice be done, though the world perish), but fiat iustitia, ne pereat mundus (let justice be done, lest the world perish).

IV.27.16

If nevertheless it appears not entirely superfluous to discuss separately the arguments of ethical Socialism, this is not merely because it counts many adherents, but, what is more important, because it provides an opportunity of showing how eudaemonistic ideas lie concealed in every train of aprioristic-intuitive ethical thought, and how this system can be traced back, in every one of its utterances, to untenable notions of economic conduct and of social co-operation. Every ethical system built up on the idea of duty, even though it exhibits itself as strictly as Kant's, is finally obliged to yield so much to Eudaemonism that its principles can no longer be maintained.*6 In the same way every single requirement of aprioristic-intuitive ethics displays ultimately an eudaemonistic character.

3 A Contribution to the Understanding of Eudaemonism

IV.27.17

Formalist ethics takes its differences with Eudaemonism altogether too lightly when it interprets the happiness of which the latter speaks as satisfaction of sensual desires. More or less consciously, formalistic ethics foists upon Eudaemonism the assertion that all human striving is directed solely towards filling the belly and the basest forms of sensual enjoyment. It is of course not to be denied that the thoughts and endeavors of many, very many people are concentrated on these things. This, however, is no fault of social science, which merely points it out as a fact. Eudaemonism does not advise men to strive after happiness; it merely shows that human striving necessarily tends in this direction. And after all, happiness is not to be found only in sexual enjoyment and a good digestion.

IV.27.18

The energistic conception of the Moral sees the highest good in fulfilling oneself, in the full exercise of one's own powers, and this is perhaps only another way of saying what eudaemonists have in mind when they speak of happiness. The happiness of the strong and the healthy certainly does not lie in idle dreaming. But when this conception is contrasted with Eudaemonism it becomes untenable. What are we to make of Guyau when he says: "Life is not calculation, but action. In every living being there is a store of strength, a surplus of energy, which strives to spend itself, not for the sake of the accompanying pleasurable sensations but because it must spend itself ... Duty derives from strength, which necessarily urges towards action."*7 Action means working with a conscious end, that is, on a basis of reflection and calculation. Guyau is guilty of a lapse into intuitionism, which he otherwise rejects, when he represents a mysterious urge as the guide of moral action. In the idées-forces of Fouillée the intuitionist element is still more clearly revealed.*8 What was thought is supposed to urge towards realization. But presumably this is only when the end, which the action serves, seems desirable. To the question why an end appears good or evil, however, Fouillée offers no reply.

IV.27.19

Nothing is gained when the teacher of morals constructs an absolute ethic without reference to the nature of man and his life. The declamations of philosophers cannot alter the fact that life strives to live itself out, that the living being seeks pleasure and avoids pain. All one's scruples against acknowledging this as the basic law of human actions fall away as soon as the fundamental principle of social co-operation is recognized. That everyone lives and wishes to live primarily for himself does not disturb social life but promotes it, for the higher fulfilment of the individual's life is possible only in and through society. This is the true meaning of the doctrine that egoism is the basic law of society.

IV.27.20

The highest demand that Society makes of the individual is the sacrifice of his life. Though all other restrictions of his action which the individual has to accept from society may be considered ultimately in his own interests, this, says the anti-eudaemonistic ethic, can be explained by no method which smooths over the opposition between individual and general interests. The hero's death may be useful to the community, but that is no great consolation to him. Only an ethic based on duty could help one over this difficulty. On closer considerations we see that this objection may be easily disproved. When society's existence is threatened, each individual must risk his best to avoid destruction. Even the prospect of perishing in the attempt can no longer deter him. For there is then no choice between either living on as one formerly lived or sacrificing oneself for one's country, for society, or for one's convictions. Rather, must the certainty of death, servitude, or insufferable poverty be set against the chance of returning victorious from the struggle. War carried on pro aris et focis (for our altars and our hearths) demands no sacrifice from the individual. One does not engage in it merely to reap benefits for others, but to preserve one's own existence. This of course, is only true of wars in which individuals fight for their very existence. It is not true of wars which are merely a means of enrichment, such as the quarrels of feudal lords or the cabinet wars of princes. Thus Imperialism, ever covetous of conquests, cannot do without an ethic which demands from the individual "sacrifices" for the "good of the State."

IV.27.21

The long fight carried on by moralists against the convenient eudaemonistic explanation of the Moral finds its counterpart in the efforts of economists to solve the problem of economic value otherwise than through the utility of consumption goods. Economists had nothing nearer to hand than the idea of value as reflecting in some way the significance of a commodity to human welfare, nevertheless the attempt to explain the phenomena of value with the help of this concept has been given up again and again and other theories of value have been persistently sought. This is because of the difficulties presented by the problem of the quantity of value. There was, for instance, the apparent contradiction that precious stones, satisfying an obviously minor want, have a higher value than bread, which satisfies one of the most important needs, and that air and water, without which man simply cannot live, are generally without value. The basis for erecting a theory of value on the utility of goods was laid only when the idea of a scale of importance of classes of wants was separated from that of the concrete wants themselves, and the fact recognized that the scale according to which the importance of the wants depending on the power to dispose of goods is judged, is that of the concrete wants themselves.*9

IV.27.22

The difficulty which the utilitarian-eudaemonistic explanation of the Moral had to overcome was not less than that with which economic theory had to fight in the effort to trace economic values back to utility. No one could discover how to bring eudaemonistic doctrine into harmony with the obvious fact that moral action consists just in the individual's avoiding actions which seem directly useful to him and doing that which seems directly harmful to him. Liberal social philosophy was the first to find the solution. It showed that by maintaining and developing the social bond each individual serves his highest interest, so that the sacrifices made in the fulfilment of social life are only temporary ones. He exchanges a smaller direct advantage for a considerably greater indirect advantage. Thus duty and interest coincide.*10 This is the meaning of the harmony of interests of which the liberal theory of society speaks.


Notes for this chapter


1.
How little the Social-Democrats have made this fundamental doctrine of Marxism their own, one sees from a glance at their literature. A leader of German Social-Democracy, the former German Minister of National Economy Wissell, confesses succinctly: "I am Socialist and shall remain Socialist, for I see in socialist economy, with its subordination of the Individual to the Whole, the expression of a higher moral principle than that which lies at the basis of individualistic economy." Praktische Wirtschaftspolitik (Berlin, 1919), p. 53.
2.
Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer Wissenschaft, Vol. II, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, 1921), p. 450.
3.
Izoulet, La cité moderne, pp. 413 ff.
4.
Guyau, Die englische Ethik der Gegenwart, trans. Peusner (Leipzig, 1914), p. 20.
5.
Bentham, Deontology or the Science of Morality, ed. Bowring (London, 1834), Vol. I, pp. 8 ff.
6.
Mill, Utilitarianism (London, 1863), pp. 5 ff.; Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer Wissenschaft, Vol. II, p. 36.
7.
Guyau, Sittlichkeit ohne "Pflicht," pp. 272 ff.
8.
Fouillée, Humanitaires et libertaires au point de vue sociologique et moral, pp. 157 ff.
9.
Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, 3rd ed., Part II (Innsbruck, 1909), pp. 233 ff. Publisher's Note: This is pp. 135 ff. in Volume II of the English edition.
10.
Bentham, Deontology, Vol. I, p. 87 ff.

End of Notes


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CHAPTER 28

Socialism as an Emanation of Asceticism

1 The Ascetic Point of View

IV.28.1

Withdrawal from the world and denial of life are, even from the religious point of view, not ultimate ends, pursued for their own sakes, but means to the attainment of certain transcendental ends. But though they appear in the believer's universe as means, they must be regarded as ultimate ends by an inquiry which cannot go beyond the limits of this life. In what follows, we shall mean by asceticism only that which is inspired by a philosophy of life or by religious motives. With these restrictions, asceticism is the subject of our study. We must not confuse it with that kind of asceticism which is only a means to certain earthly ends. If he is convinced of the poisonous effects of liquor, a man abstains from it either to protect his health generally or to steel his strength for a special effort. He is no ascetic in the sense defined above.

IV.28.2

Nowhere has the idea of withdrawal from the world and denial of life been manifested more logically and completely than in the Indian religion of Jainism, which is able to look back on a history of 2500 years. "Homelessness," said Max Weber, "is the fundamental idea of salvation in Jainism. It means the breaking off of all earthly relations, and therefore, above all, indifference to general impressions and avoidance of all worldly motives, the ceasing to act, to hope, to desire. A man who has only the capacity left to feel and think 'I am I' is homeless in this sense. He wishes neither life nor death—because in either case it would mean desire, and that might wake Karma. He neither has friends nor raises objections to the actions of others towards him (for example, to the usual washing of feet which the pious person performs for the saint). He behaves according to the principle that one should not resist evil and that the individual's state of grace during life must be tested by his capacity to bear trouble and pain."*11 Jainism prohibits most strictly any killing of living beings. Orthodox Jains burn no light during the dark months because it would burn the moths, make no fire because it would kill insects, strain the water before boiling it, wear a mouth and nose veil to prevent themselves from inhaling insects. It is the highest piety to let oneself be tortured by insects without driving them away.*12

IV.28.3

Only a section of society can realize the ideal of ascetic living, for the ascetic cannot be a worker. The body that is exhausted by penitential exercises and castigations can do nothing but lie in passive contemplation and let things come to it or consume the rest of its strength in ecstatic trances and thus hasten the end. The ascetic who embarks on work and economic activity to earn for himself only the smallest quantity of the necessities of life abandons his principles. The history of monasticism, not only of Christian monasticism, reveals this. From being abodes of asceticism the monasteries sometimes became the seat of a refined enjoyment of life.

IV.28.4

The non-working ascetic can only exist if asceticism is not obligatory for all. Since he cannot nourish himself without the labour of others, labourers must exist on whom he may live.*13 He needs tributary laymen. His sexual abstinence requires laymen who will bear successors. If this necessary complement is lacking, the race of ascetics quickly dies out. As a general rule of conduct asceticism would mean the end of the human race. The holocaust of his own life is the end towards which the individual ascetic strives, and though this principle may not include abstinence from all actions necessary to maintain life with the object of putting a premature end to it, it implies, by suppression of the sexual desire, the destruction of society. The ascetic ideal is the ideal of voluntary death. That no society can be built on the ascetic principle is too obvious to need closer explanation. For it is a destroyer of society and life.

IV.28.5

This fact can be overlooked only because the ascetic ideal is seldom thought out, and still more seldom carried out, to its logical conclusion. The ascetic in the forest who lives like the animals on roots and herbs is the only one who lives and acts according to his principles. This strictly logical behaviour is rare; there are, after all, not many people who are prepared to renounce light-heartedly the fruits of culture, however much they may despise them in thought and abuse them in words, few who are willing to return without more ado to the way of life of the deer and the stag. St. Aegidius, one of St. Francis's most zealous companions, found fault with the ants because they were too much preoccupied with collecting supplies; he approved only of the birds, because they do not store food in barns. For the birds in the air, the animals on earth, the fish in the sea, are satisfied when they have sufficient nourishment. He himself believed that he lived according to the same ideal when he fed himself with the labour of his hands and the collection of alms. When he went gleaning with the rest of the poor at harvest-time, and people wanted to add to his gleanings, he would refuse saying: "I have no barn for storing. I do not wish for one." Yet this saint did derive advantages from the economic order he condemned. His life in poverty, possibly only in and by this economic order, was infinitely better off than that of the fishes and birds he believed he was imitating. He received income for his labour out of the stores of an ordered economy. If others had not gathered in barns the saint would have gone hungry. Only if everybody else had taken the fish as their example, could he have known what it was to live like a fish. Critically disposed contemporaries recognized this. The English Benedictine, Matthew Paris, reports that Pope Innocent III advised St. Francis, after listening to his rule, to go to the swine, whom he resembled more than men, to roll with them in the mud, and to teach his rule to them.*14

IV.28.6

Ascetic morals can never have universal application as binding principles of life. The ascetic who acts logically passes voluntarily out of the world. Asceticism which seeks to maintain itself on earth does not carry its principles to the logical end; it stops at a certain point. It is immaterial by what sophistry it tries to explain this; it is sufficient that it does so and must do so. Moreover, it is compelled at least to tolerate non-ascetics. By thus developing a double morality, one for saints, one for worldlings, it splits ethics in two. The only truly moral folk are the monks, or whatever else they may be called, who strive for perfection by asceticism. By splitting morality in this way asceticism renounces its claim to rule life. The only demand that it still ventures to make upon laymen is for small donations to keep the saint's body and soul together.

IV.28.7

As a strict ideal, asceticism knows no satisfaction of wants at all. It is therefore non-economic in the most literal sense. The watered-down ideal of asceticism, conceived by the laymen of a society that reveres the asceticism of the perfect, or by monks living in a self-sufficient community, may demand only the most primitive hand to mouth production, but it by no means opposes the extreme rationalization of economic activity. On the contrary, it demands this. For, since all preoccupation with worldly matters keeps people away from the only purely moral way of life and is to be tolerated at all only as a means to an intermediate—unfortunately unavoidable—purpose, then it is essential that this unholy activity should be as economical as possible, so as to reduce it to a minimum. Rationalization, desirable to the worldling in his efforts to reduce painful and increase pleasant sensations, is imposed upon the ascetic, to whom the painful sensations aroused by work and privation are valuable castigations, because it is his duty to devote himself to the transitory no longer than is absolutely necessary.

IV.28.8

From the ascetic point of view too, therefore, socialistic production cannot be preferred to the capitalistic unless it is held to be more rational. Asceticism may recommend its devotees to limit the activities by which they satisfy their wants because it abhors a too comfortable existence. But within the limits which it leaves for the satisfaction of these wants, it cannot regard as right anything but what rational economy demands.

2 Asceticism and Socialism

IV.28.9

Socialist thought at first cold-shouldered all principles of asceticism. It harshly rejected any consoling promise of a life after death and aimed at an earthly paradise for everybody. Neither the world to come nor any other religious inducements have any interest for it. Socialism's one aim was to guarantee that everyone should reach the highest standard of well-being attainable. Not self-denial, but enjoyment was its criterion. Socialist leaders have always definitely opposed all those who show themselves indifferent to the increase in productivity. They have pointed out that, to lessen the hardships of labour and increase the pleasures of enjoyment, the productivity of human labour must be multiplied. The grandiose gestures of degenerate scions of wealthy families in praise of the charms of poverty and the simple life made no appeal to them.

IV.28.10

But on looking into this more closely, we may detect a gradual change in their attitude. In proportion as the uneconomic nature of socialistic production becomes apparent, socialists are beginning to transform their views on the desirability of a more abundant satisfaction of human wants. Many of them are even beginning to show some sympathy with writers who praise the Middle Ages and look with contempt on the riches which Capitalism adds to the means of existence.*15

IV.28.11

The assertion that we could be happy, or even happier, with fewer goods can no more be refuted than it can itself be proved. Of course, most people imagine that they have not enough material goods; and, because they value the increase of well-being that greater exertions on their part can bring more than they value the leisure which they would gain by renouncing it, they exhaust themselves by laborious work. But even if we admit the assertions of those semi-ascetics whose outlook we have been discussing, this by no means commits us to giving the socialist method of production precedence over the capitalist. For supposing too many goods are produced under Capitalism, the matter could be remedied quite simply by reducing the quantity of work to be done. The demand that we should reduce the productivity of labour by adopting a less fruitful way of production cannot be justified by such arguments.


Notes for this chapter


11.
Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie (Tübingen, 1920), Vol. II, p. 206.
12.
Ibid., p. 211.
13.
Weber, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 262.
14.
Glaser, Die franziskanische Bewegung (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1903), pp. 53 ff., 59.
15.
Heichen, "Sozialismus und Ethik" in Die Neue Zeit, Vol. 38, Vol. l, pp. 312 ff. Specially remarkable in this context are also the remarks of Charles Gide, "Le Matérialisme et l' Économie Politique" in Le Matérialisme actuel (Paris, 1924).

End of Notes


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CHAPTER 29

Christianity and Socialism

1 Religion and Social Ethics

IV.29.1

Religion, not merely as a church but as a philosophy too, is like any other raft of spiritual life, a product of men's social co-operation. Our thinking is by no means an individual phenomenon independent of all social relations and traditions; it has a social character by reason of the very fact that it follows methods of thought formed during millennia of co-operation between innumerable groups. And we, again, are able to take over these methods of thought only because we are members of society. Now, for exactly the same reasons, we cannot imagine religion as an isolated phenomenon. Even the mystic, who forgets his surroundings in awestruck joy as he experiences communion with his God, has not made his religion by his own efforts. The forms of thought which have led him to it are not his own individual creation; they belong to society. A Kaspar Hauser*16 cannot evolve a religion without help from outside. Religion, like everything else, has grown up historically, and is subject to the constant change that affects every social phenomenon.

IV.29.2

But religion is also a social factor in the sense that it regards social relations from a special angle and sets up rules for human conduct in society accordingly. It cannot refuse to state its principles in matters of social ethics. No religion which sets out to give its devotees an answer to the problems of life, and to console them where they most need consolation, can rest content with interpreting the relations of man to Nature, to becoming, and to passing away. If it leaves out the relations of man to man, it can produce no rules for earthly conduct but abandons the believer so soon as he starts thinking about the inadequacy of social conditions. Religion must provide him an answer when he asks why there are rich and poor, violence and justice, war and peace, or it will force him to look for an answer elsewhere. This would mean losing its hold on its adherents and its power over the spirit. Without social ethics religion would be dead.

IV.29.3

Today the Islamic and Jewish religions are dead. They offer their adherents nothing more than a ritual. They know how to prescribe prayers and fasts, certain foods, circumcision and the rest; but that is all. They offer nothing to the mind. Completely despiritualized, all they teach and preach are legal forms and external rule. They lock their follower into a cage of traditional usages, in which he is often hardly able to breathe; but for his inner soul they have no message. They suppress the soul, instead of elevating and saving it. For many centuries in Islam, for nearly two thousand years in Jewry, there have been no new religious movements. Today the religion of the Jews is just as it was when the Talmud was drawn up. The religion of Islam has not changed since the days of the Arab conquests. Their literature, their philosophies continue to repeat the old ideas and do not penetrate beyond the circle of theology. One looks in vain among them for men and movements such as Western Christianity has produced in each century. They maintain their identity only by rejecting everything foreign and "different," by traditionalism and conservatism. Only their hatred of everything foreign rouses them to great deeds from time to time. All new sects, even the new doctrines which arise with them, are nothing more than echoes of this fight against the foreign, the new, the infidel. Religion has no influence on the spiritual life of the individual, where indeed this is able to develop at all against the stifling pressure of rigid traditionalism. We see this most clearly in the lack of clerical influence. Respect for the clergy is purely superficial. In these religions there is nothing which could be compared to the profound influence which the clergy exercises in the Western Churches—though of a different order in each church; there is nothing to compare to the Jesuit, the Catholic bishop, and the Protestant pastor. There was the same inertia in the polytheistic religions of antiquity and there still is in the Eastern Church. The Greek Church has been dead for over a thousand years.*17 Only in the second half of the nineteenth century did it once more produce a man in whom faith and hope flared up like fire. But Tolstoy's Christianity, however much it may bear a superficially Eastern and Russian hue, is at bottom founded on Western ideas. It is particularly characteristic of this great Gospeller that, unlike the Italian merchant's son, Francis of Assisi, or the German miner's son, Martin Luther, he did not come from the people but from the nobility which, by upbringing and education, had been completely Westernized. The Russian Church proper has produced at most men like John of Kronstadt*18 or Rasputin.

IV.29.4

These dead churches lack any special ethics. Harnack says of the Greek Church:*19 "The real sphere of the working life whose morality is to be regulated by the Faith, falls outside its direct observation. This is left to the state and the nation." But it is otherwise in the living Church of the West. Here, where faith is not yet extinct, where it is not merely external form that conceals nothing but the priest's meaningless ritual, where, in a word, it grips the whole man, there is continuous striving after a social ethic. Again and again do its members go back to the Gospels to renew their life in the Lord and His Message.

2 The Gospels as a Source of Christian Ethics

IV.29.5

To the believer Holy Writ is the deposit of divine revelation, God's word to humanity, which must forever be the unshakable foundation of all religion and all conduct controlled by it. This is true not only of the Protestant, who accepts the teaching of the pulpit only in so far as it can be reconciled with Holy Writ; it is true also of the Catholics who, on the one hand, derive the authority of Holy Writ from the Church, but, on the other, ascribe Holy Writ itself to divine origin by teaching that it came into being with the help of the Holy Ghost. The dualism here is resolved by entitling the Church alone to make what is the finally authentic—infallible—interpretation of Holy Writ. Both creeds assume the logical and systematic unity of the whole of the sacred writings; to bridge over the difficulties arising from this assumption must, therefore, be one of the most important tasks of ecclesiastical doctrine and science.

IV.29.6

Scientific research regards the writings of the Old and New Testament as historical sources to be approached in the same manner as all other historical documents. It breaks up the unity of the Bible and tries to give each section its place in the history of literature. Now, modern biblical research of this order is incompatible with theology. The Catholic Church has recognized this fact but the Protestant Church still tries to delude itself. It is senseless to reconstruct the character of an historical Jesus in order to build up a doctrine of faith and morals on the results. Efforts of this kind hamper documentary research of a scientific kind by deflecting it from its real aim and assigning to it tasks which it cannot fulfill without introducing modern scales of value; moreover they are contradictory in themselves. On the one hand they try to explain Christ and the origin of Christianity historically; on the other, to regard these historical phenomena as the eternal source from which spring all the rules of ecclesiastical conduct, even in the totally different world of today. What is it but a contradiction to examine Christianity with the eye of a historian and then to seek a clue to the present in the results of the study. History can never present Christianity in its "pure form," but only in its "original form." To confuse the two is to shut one's eyes to two thousand years of development.*20 The error into which many Protestant theologians fall in this matter is the same as that committed by a section of the historical school of law when it attempted to impose the results of its researches into the history of jurisprudence upon present-day legislation and administration of justice. This is not the procedure of the true historian but rather of one who denies all evolution and all possibility of evolution. Contrasted with the absolutism of this point of view, the absolutism of the much condemned "shallow" eighteenth-century rationalists, who stressed precisely this element of progress and evolution, seems genuinely historical in its outlook.

IV.29.7

The relation of Christian ethics to the problem of Socialism must not therefore be viewed through the eyes of Protestant theologians whose research is directed towards an unchangeable and immovable "essence" of Christianity. If one looks on Christianity as a living, and hence a constantly changing, phenomenon—a view not so incompatible with the outlook of the Catholic Church as one might at first imagine—then one must decline a priori to inquire whether Socialism or private property is more in keeping with its idea. The best we can do is to pass the history of Christianity in review and consider whether it has ever shown a bias in favour of this or that form of social organization. The attention we pay to the writings of the Old and New Testament in the process is justified by their importance even today as sources of ecclesiastical doctrine, but not by the supposition that from them alone can one glean what Christianity really is.

IV.29.8

The ultimate aim of research of this kind should be to ascertain whether, both now and in the future, Christianity must necessarily reject an economy based on private property in the means of production. This question cannot be settled merely by establishing the fact, already familiar, that ever since its inception close on two thousand years ago Christianity has found its own ways of coming to terms with private property. For it might happen that either Christianity or "private property" should reach a point in its evolution Which renders the compatibility of the two impossible—supposing that it had ever existed.

3 Primitive Christianity and Society

IV.29.9

Primitive Christianity was not ascetic. With a joyful acceptance of life it deliberately pushed into the background the ascetic ideals which permeated many contemporary sects. (Even John the Baptist lived as an ascetic.) Only in the third and fourth centuries was ascetisism introduced into Christianity, from this time dates the ascetic re-interpretation and reformation of Gospel teachings. The Christ of the Gospels enjoys life among his disciples, refreshes himself with food and drink and shares the feasts of the people. He is as far removed from asceticism and a desire to flee the world as he is from intemperance and debauchery.*21 Alone his attitude to the relations of the sexes strikes us as ascetic, but we can explain this, as we can explain all practical Gospel Teachings—and they offer no rules of life except practical ones—by the basic conception which gives us our whole idea of Jesus, the conception of the Messiah.

IV.29.10

"The Time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." These are the words with which, in the Gospel of Mark, the Redeemer makes his entry.*22 Jesus regards himself as the prophet of the approaching Kingdom of God, the Kingdom which according to ancient prophecy shall bring redemption from all earthly insufficiency, and with it from all economic cares. His followers have nothing to do but to prepare themselves for this Day. The time for worrying about earthly matters is past, for now, in expectation of the Kingdom, men must attend to more important things. Jesus offers no rules for earthly action and struggle; his Kingdom is not of this world. Such rules of conduct as he gives his followers are valid only for the short interval of time which has still to be lived while waiting for the great things to come. In the Kingdom of God there will be no economic cares. There the believers will eat and drink at the Lord's table.*23 For this Kingdom therefore, all economic and political counsel would be superfluous. Any preparations made by Jesus must be regarded as merely transitional expedients.*24

IV.29.11

It is only in this way that we can understand why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recommends his own people to take no thought for food, drink, and clothing; why he exhorts them not to sow or reap or gather in barns, not to labour or spin. It is the only explanation, too, of his and his disciples' "communism." This "communism" is not Socialism; it is not production with means of production belonging to the community. It is nothing more than a distribution of consumption goods among the members of the community—"unto each, according as any one had need."*25 It is a communism of consumption goods, not of the means of production, a community of consumers, not of producers. The primitive Christians do not produce, labour, or gather anything at all. The newly converted realize their possessions and divide the proceeds with the brethren and sisters. Such a way of living is untenable in the long run. It can be looked upon only as a temporary order which is what it was in fact intended to be. Christ's disciples lived in daily expectation of Salvation.

IV.29.12

The primitive Christian's idea of imminent fulfillment transforms itself gradually into that conception of the Last Judgment which lies at the root of all ecclesiastical movements that have had any prolonged existence. Hand in hand with this transformation went the entire reconstruction of the Christian rules of life. Expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God could no longer serve as a basis. When the congregations sought to organize themselves for a prolonged life on earth they had to cease demanding that their members should abstain from work and dedicate themselves to the contemplative life in preparation for the Divine Kingdom. Not only did they have to tolerate their brethren's participation in the world's work, they had to insist upon it, as otherwise they would have destroyed the conditions necessary to the existence of their religion. And thus, Christianity, which began with complete indifference to all social conditions, practically canonized the social order of the declining Roman Empire once the process of adapting the Church to that order had begun.

IV.29.13

It is an error to speak of the social teachings of primitive Christianity. The historical Christ and his teachings, as the oldest part of the New Testament represents them, are quite indifferent to all social considerations. Not that Christ did not sharply criticize the existing state of affairs, but he did not think it worth while to consider how matters could be improved or even to think about them at all. That was God's affair. He would set up his own glorious and faultless Kingdom, and its coming would be soon. Nobody knew what this Kingdom would look like, but one thing was certain: in it one would live carefree. Jesus omits all minuter details, and they were not needed; for the Jews of his time did not doubt the splendour of life in the Kingdom of God. The Prophets had announced this Kingdom and their words continued to live in the minds of the people, forming indeed the essential content of their religious thought.

IV.29.14

The expectation of God's own reorganization when the time came and the exclusive transfer of all action and thought to the future Kingdom of God, made Jesus's teaching utterly negative. He rejects everything that exists without offering anything to replace it. He arrives at dissolving all existing social ties. The disciple shall not merely be indifferent to supporting himself, shall not merely refrain from work and dispossess himself of all goods, but he shall hate "father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life."*26 Jesus is able to tolerate the worldly laws of the Roman Empire and the prescriptions of the Jewish Law because he is indifferent to them, despising them as things important only within the narrow limits of time and not because he acknowledges their value. His zeal in destroying social ties knows no limits. The motive force behind the purity and power of this complete negation is ecstatic inspiration and enthusiastic hope of a new world. Hence his passionate attack upon everything that exists. Everything may be destroyed because God in His omnipotence will rebuild the future order. No need to scrutinize whether anything can be carried over from the old to the new order, because this new order will arise without human aid. It demands therefore from its adherents no system of ethics, no particular conduct in any positive direction. Faith and faith alone, hope, expectation—that is all he needs. He need contribute nothing to the reconstruction of the future, this God Himself has provided for. The clearest modern parallel to the attitude of complete negation of primitive Christianity is Bolshevism. The Bolshevists, too, wish to destroy everything that exists because they regard it as hopelessly bad. But they have in mind ideas, indefinite and contradictory though they may be, of the future social order. They demand not only that their followers shall destroy all that is, but also that they pursue a definite line of conduct leading towards the future Kingdom of which they have dreamt. Jesus teaching in this respect, on the other hand, is merely negation.*27

IV.29.15

Jesus was no social reformer. His teachings had no moral application to life on earth, and his instructions to the disciples only have a meaning in the light of their immediate aim—to await the Lord with girded loins and burning lamps, "that when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightaway open unto him."*28 It is just this that has enabled Christianity to make its triumphant progress through the world. Being neutral to any social system, it was able to traverse the centuries without being destroyed by the tremendous social revolutions which took place. Only for this reason could it become the religion of Roman Emperors and Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs, of African negroes and European Teutons, medieval feudal lords and modern industrial labourers. Each epoch and every party has been able to take from it what they wanted, because it contains nothing which binds it to a definite social order.

4 The Canon Law Prohibition of Interest

IV.29.16

Each epoch has found in the Gospels what it sought to find there, and has overlooked what it wished to overlook. This is best proved by reference to the preponderant importance which ecclesiastical social ethics for many centuries attached to the doctrine of usury.*29 The demand made upon Christ's disciples in the Gospels and other writings of the New Testament is something very different from the renunciation of interest on capital lent out. The canonic prohibition of interest is a product of the medieval doctrine of society and trade, and had originally nothing to do with Christianity and its teachings. Moral condemnation of usury and the prohibition of interest preceded Christianity. They were taken over from the writers and the legislators of antiquity and enlarged as the struggle between agriculturists and the rising merchants and tradesmen developed. Only then did the people try to support them with quotations from Holy Writ. The taking of interest was not opposed because Christianity required it, but rather, because the public condemned it, people tried to read into the Christian writings a condemnation of usury. For this purpose the New Testament seemed at first to be useless, and accordingly the Old Testament was drawn on. For centuries no one thought of quoting any passage from the New Testament in support of the prohibition. It was some time before the scholastic art of interpretation succeeded in reading what it sought into that much quoted passage from Luke, and so finding support in the Gospels from the suppression of usury.*30 This was not until the beginning of the twelfth century. Only after the decree of Urban III is that passage quoted as proof of the prohibition.*31 The construction then put on Luke's words was, however, quite untenable. The passage is certainly not concerned with the taking of interest. It is possible that in the context of that passage Greek Mhden apelpixontez may mean "do not count on the restitution of what is lent." Or more probably: "you shall lend not only to the well-to-do, who can also lend to you at some time, but also to him from whom there is no prospect of this, to the poor."*32

IV.29.17

The great importance people attached to this passage contrasts sharply with their disregard of other Gospel commands and prohibitions. The medieval Church was intent on carrying the order against usury to its logical conclusion, but it wilfully omitted to enforce many clear and unambiguous commands of the Gospels with a fraction of the energy devoted to stamping out this particular practice. In the very same chapter of Luke other things are ordained or forbidden in precise words. The Church has never, for example, been seriously at pains to forbid a man who has been robbed from demanding back his own, nor has it deprecated resistance to the robber, nor tried to brand an act of judgment as an unchristian act. Other injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount, such as indifference to food and drink, have similarly never been whole-heartedly enforced.*33

5 Christianity and Property

IV.29.18

Since the third century Christianity has always served simultaneously those who supported the social order and those who wished to overthrow it. Both parties have taken the same false step of appealing to the Gospels and have found Biblical passages to support them. It is the same today: Christianity fights both for and against Socialism.

IV.29.19

But all efforts to find support for the institution of private property generally, and for private ownership in the means of production in particular, in the teachings of Christ are quite vain. No art of interpretation can find a single passage in the New Testament that could be read as upholding private property. Those who look for a Biblical ukase must go back to the Old Testament, or content themselves with disputing the assertion that communism prevailed in the congregation of the early Christians.*34 No one has ever denied that the Jewish community was familiar with private property, but this brings us no further towards defining the attitude towards it of primitive Christianity. There is as little proof that Jesus approved the economic and political ideas of the Jewish Law as that he did not. Christ does say, indeed, that he has not come to destroy the Law but to fulfil it.*35 But this we should try to understand from the standpoint which alone makes Jesus' work intelligible. The words can hardly refer to the rules of the Mosaic Law, made for earthly life before the coming of the Kingdom of God, since several of his commands are in sharp contrast to that Law. We may admit that the reference to the "communism" of the first Christians proves nothing in favour of "the collectivist communism according to modern notions,"*36 and yet not deduce from this that Christ approved of property.*37

IV.29.20

One thing of course is clear, and no skilful interpretation can obscure it. Jesus' words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor. The only reason why Jesus does not declare war against the rich and preach revenge on them is that God has said: "Revenge is mine." In God's Kingdom the poor shall be rich, but the rich shall be made to suffer. Later revisers have tried to soften the words of Christ against the rich, of which the most complete and powerful version is found in the Gospel of Luke, but there is quite enough left to support those who incite the world to hatred of the rich, revenge, murder and arson. Up to the time of modern Socialism no movement against private poverty which has arisen in the Christian world has failed to seek authority in Jesus, the Apostles, and the Christian Fathers, not to mention those who, like Tolstoy, made the Gospel resentment against the rich the very heart and soul of their teaching. This is a case in which the Redeemer's words bore evil seed. More harm has been done, and more blood shed, on account of them than by the persecution of heretics and the burning of witches. They have always rendered the Church defenseless against all movements which aim at destroying human society. The Church as an organization has certainly always stood on the side of those who tried to ward off communistic attack. But it could not achieve much in this struggle. For it was continually disarmed by the words: "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the Kingdom of God."

IV.29.21

Nothing, therefore, is less tenable than the constantly repeated assertion that religion, that is, the confession of the Christian Faith, forms a defence against doctrines inimical to property, and that it makes the masses unreceptive to the poison of social incitement. Every church which grows up in a society built on private property must somehow come to terms with private property. But considering the attitude of Jesus to questions of social life, no Christian Church can ever make anything more than a compromise here, a compromise which is effective only as long as nobody insists on a literal interpretation of the words of the Scriptures. It would be foolish to maintain that Enlightenment, by undermining the religious feeling of the masses, had cleared the way for Socialism. On the contrary, it is the resistance which the Church has offered to the spread of liberal ideas which has prepared the soil for the destructive resentment of modern socialist thought. Not only has the Church done nothing to extinguish the fire, it has even blown upon the embers. Christian Socialism grew up in the Catholic and Protestant countries, while the Russian Church witnessed the birth of Tolstoy's teachings, which are unequalled in the bitterness of their antagonism to society. True, the official Church tried at first to resist these movements, but it had to submit in the end, just because it was defenseless against the words of the Scriptures.

IV.29.22

The Gospels are not socialistic and not communistic. They are, as we have seen, indifferent to all social questions on the one hand, full of resentment against all property and against all owners on the other. So it is that Christian doctrine, once separated from the context in which Christ preached it—expectation of the imminent Kingdom of God—can be extremely destructive. Never and nowhere can a system of social ethics embracing social co-operation be built up on a doctrine which prohibits any concern for sustenance and work, while it expresses fierce resentment against the rich, preaches hatred of the family, and advocates voluntary castration.

IV.29.23

The cultural achievements of the Church in its centuries of development are the work of the Church, not of Christianity. It is an open question how much of this work is due to the civilization inherited from the Roman state and how much to the idea of Christian love completely transformed under the influence of the Stoics and other ancient philosophers. The social ethics of Jesus have no part in this cultural development. The Church's achievement in this case was to render them harmless, but always only for a limited period of time. Since the Church is obliged to maintain the Gospels as its foundation, it must always be prepared for a revolt on the part of those among its members who put on Christ's words an interpretation different from that ordained by the Church.

IV.29.24

Social ethics applicable to earthly life can never be derived from the words of the Gospels. It matters little whether they are a true and just report of what, as a matter of history, Jesus taught. For to every Christian Church these, together with the other books of the New Testament, must represent the foundation without which its essential character is destroyed. Even should historical research show, with a high degree of probability, that the historical Jesus thought and spoke about human society otherwise than he is made to do in the New Testament, its doctrines would still remain unaltered for the Church. For the Church, that which is written in the New Testament must forever remain the Word of God. Here, apparently, only two things are possible. Either the Church may renounce, in the manner of the Eastern Church, the responsibility of taking up any attitude to the problems of social ethics, at which point it ceases to be a moral force and limits itself to purely decorative action in life. Or it may follow the other path taken by the Western Church, which has always incorporated in its teachings those social ethics which best served its interests at the moment and its position in state and society. It has allied itself with the feudal lords against the serfs, it has supported the slave-economy of American plantations, but it has also—in the case of Protestantism and especially in Calvinism—made the morals of the rising Rationalism its own. It has promoted the struggle of the Irish tenants against the English aristocrats, it has fought with the Catholic trade unions against the entrepreneurs, and with the conservative governments against social democracy. And in each case it has been able to justify its attitude by quotations from the Bible. This too amounts in fact to an abdication by Christianity in the field of social ethics, for the Church becomes thus a volitionless tool in the hands of time and fashion. But what is worse: it attempts to base each phase of partisanship on the teaching of the Gospels and in this way encourages every movement to seek scriptural justification for its ends. Considering the character of the scriptural passages so exploited, it is clear that the more destructive doctrines are bound to win.

IV.29.25

But even if it is hopeless to try to build up an independent Christian social ethic on the Gospels, might it not be possible to bring Christian doctrines into harmony with a social ethic that promotes social life instead of destroying it, and thus to utilize the great forces of Christianity in the service of Civilization? Such a transformation would not be unprecedented in history. The Church is now reconciled to the fact that modern research has exploded the fallacies of the Old and New Testaments with regard to natural science. It no longer burns at the stake heretics who maintain that the world moves in space, or institutes inquisitional proceedings against the man who dares to doubt the raising of Lazarus and the bodily resurrection of the dead. Even priests of the Church of Rome are today permitted to study astronomy and the history of evolution. Might not the same be possible then in sociology? Might not the Church reconcile itself with the social principle of free cooperation by the division of labour? Might not the very principle of Christian love be interpreted to this end?

IV.29.26

These are questions which interest not only the Church. The fate of Civilization is involved. For it is not as if the resistance of the Church to liberal ideas was harmless. The Church is such a tremendous power that its enmity to the forces which bring society into existence would be enough to break our whole culture into fragments. In the last decades we have witnessed with horror its terrible transformation into an enemy of society. For the Church, Catholic as well as Protestant, is not the least of the factors responsible for the prevalence of destructive ideals in the world today; Christian Socialism has done hardly less than atheist socialism to bring about the present state of confusion.

6 Christian Socialism

IV.29.27

Historically it is easy to understand the dislike which the Church has shown for economic liberty and political Liberalism in any form. Liberalism is the flower of that rational enlightenment which dealt a death blow to the regime of the old Church and from which modern historical criticism has sprung. It was Liberalism that undermined the power of the classes that had for centuries been closely bound up with the Church. It transformed the world more than Christianity had ever done. It restored humanity to the world and to life. It awakened forces which shook the foundations of the inert traditionalism on which Church and creed rested. The new outlook caused the Church great uneasiness, and it has not yet adjusted itself to even the externals of the modern epoch. True, the priests in Catholic countries sprinkle holy water on newly laid railways and dynamos of new power stations, but the professed Christian still shudders inwardly at the workings of a civilization which his faith cannot grasp. The Church strongly resented modernity and the modern spirit. What wonder, then, that it allied itself with those whom resentment had driven to wish for the break-up of this wonderful new world, and feverishly explored its well-stocked arsenal for the means to denounce the earthly struggle for work and wealth. The religion which called itself the religion of love became a religion of hatred in a world that seemed ripe for happiness. Any would-be destroyers of the modern social order could count on finding a champion in Christianity.

IV.29.28

It is tragic that it should have been just the greatest minds of the Church, those who realized the significance of Christian love and acted on it, who took part in this work of destruction. Priests and monks who practiced true Christian charity, ministered and taught in hospitals and prisons and knew all there was to know about suffering and sinning humanity—these were the first to be ensnared by the new gospel of social destruction. Only a firm grasp of liberal philosophy could have innoculated them against the infectious resentment which raged among their protégés and was justified by the Gospels. As it was, they became dangerous enemies of society. From the work of charity sprang hatred of society.

IV.29.29

Some of these emotional opponents of the liberal economic orders stopped short at open opposition. Many, however, became socialists—not, of course, atheistical socialists like the proletarian social-democrats, but Christian Socialists. And Christian Socialism is none the less Socialism.

IV.29.30

It was no less a mistake for Socialism to seek a parallel with itself in the early centuries of the Christian Era as in the first congregation. Even the "consumers communism" of that early congregation vanished when expectation of the coming of the Kingdom began to recede into the background. Socialist methods of production did not, however, replace it in the community. What the Christians produced, was produced by the individual within his own farm or shop. The revenues which provided for the needy and met the cost of joint activities came from contributions, voluntary or compulsory, of members of the congregation, who produced on their own account with their own means of production. A few isolated instances of socialist production may have occurred in the Christian congregations of the first centuries, but there is no documentary evidence of it. There was never a teacher of Christianity, whose teachings and writings are known to us, who recommended it. We often find the Apostolic Fathers and the Fathers of the Church, exhorting their followers to return to the communism of the first congregation, but this is always a communism of consumption. They never recommend the socialistic organization of production.*38

IV.29.31

The best known of these exhortations in praise of communism is that of John Chrysostom. In the eleventh of his homilies to the Acts of the Apostles the Saint applauds the consumers' communism of the first Christian congregation, and with all his fiery eloquence advocates its revival. Not only does he recommend this form of communism by reference to the example of the Apostles and their contemporaries, but tries to set forth rationally the advantages of communism as he conceives it. If all the Christians of Constantinople were to hand over their possessions to a common ownership, then so much would be amassed that all the Christian poor could be fed and no one would suffer want, for the costs of joint living are far smaller than those of single households. Here St. Chrysostom adduces arguments similar to those brought forward today by people who advocate one-kitchen houses or communal kitchens and try to prove arithmetically the economies which a concentration of cooking and housekeeping would achieve. The costs, says this Father of the Church, would not be large, and the enormous fund which would be amassed by uniting the goods of individuals would be inexhaustible, especially as God's blessings would then be poured yet more lavishly on the faithful. Moreover, every newcomer would have to add something to the general fund.*39 These sober, matter of fact expositions show us that what Chrysostom had in mind was merely joint consumption. His comments on the economic advantages of unification, culminating in the statement that division into fragments leads to diminution, while unity and co-operation lead to increase, of well-being, do credit to their author's economic perception. On the whole, however, his proposals reveal a complete lack of understanding of the problem of production. His thoughts are directed exclusively to consumption. That production comes before consumption had never occurred to him. All goods were to be transferred to the community (St. Chrysostom presumably thinks here of their sale, following the example of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles) after which the community was to begin consuming in common. He had not realized that this could not go on for ever. He believed that the millions which would be gathered together—he estimates the treasure at between one and three million pounds weight of gold—-could never be used up. One notices that the saint's economic insight ends just where the wisdom of our social politicians also tends to end, when they try to reorganize the whole national economy in the light of experience gained in charitable work in the field of consumption.

IV.29.32

St. Chrysostom explains that people fear to risk the change to the communism, which he recommends, more than a plunge into the ocean. And so the Church, too, soon dropped the communistic idea.

IV.29.33

For monastic economy cannot be regarded as Socialism. Monasteries which could not subsist on private donations usually lived on the tithes and dues of rent-paying peasants and the yields of farms and other property. Very occasionally the monks themselves worked, on a sort of producers' cooperative basis. The whole monastic existence is an ideal of life accessible only to the few, and monastic production can never be taken as a standard for the whole commonwealth. Socialism, on the other hand, is a general economic system.

IV.29.34

The roots of Christian Socialism are found neither in the primitive nor in the medieval Church. It was the Christianity that emerged revitalized from the tremendous struggles of faith in the sixteenth century which first adopted it, though only gradually and in the face of strong opposition.

IV.29.35

The modern Church differs from the medieval Church in that it has continually to fight for its existence. The medieval Church ruled unchallenged; all that men thought, taught, or wrote emanated from it and eventually returned to it. The spiritual inheritance of classic antiquity could not shake its dominion, for its ultimate meaning was beyond the understanding of a generation cramped by feudal concepts and ideas. But in proportion as social evolution progressed in the direction of rational thought and action, men's efforts to shake off the fetters of traditional thought in respect of ultimate truths became more successful. The Renaissance strikes at the root of Christianity. Based on classical reasoning and classical art, its influence inevitably tended to lead away from the Church or at best to leave it out of account. Far from trying to stem the tide, churchmen became the most zealous protagonists of the new spirit. At the beginning of the sixteenth century no one was further removed from Christianity than the Church itself. The last hour of the old faith seemed to have sounded.

IV.29.36

Then came the great revulsion, the Christian counter-revolution. It did not come from above, from the princes of the Church or from the monasteries, in fact it did not come from the Church at all. It was forced upon the Church from outside, springing from the depths of the people where Christianity still survived as an inner force. The assault on the moribund Church with a view to its reformation came thus from outside and below. The Reformation and the Counter-reformation are the two great expressions of this ecclesiastical rebirth. They differ in origin and in method, in their forms of worship and prescribed doctrines, above all in their presuppositions and achievements in political affairs; but they are at one in their ultimate aim: to base the world order once more on the Gospels, to reinstate faith as a power controlling the minds and hearts of men. It is the greatest revolt of faith against thought, of tradition against philosophy known to history. Its successes were enormous, and it created Christianity as we know it today, the religion that has its seat in the heart of the individual, which controls conscience and comforts the soul. But complete victory has been denied it. Though it warded off defeat—the fall of Christianity—it could not destroy the enemy. For ever since the sixteenth century this struggle of ideas has been pursued almost without intermission.

IV.29.37

The Church knows that it cannot win unless it can seal the fount from which its opponent continues to draw inspiration. As long as rationalism and the spiritual freedom of the individual are maintained in economic life, the Church will never succeed in fettering thought and shepherding the intellect in the desired direction. To do this it would first have to obtain supremacy over all human activity. Therefore it cannot rest content to live as a free Church in a free state; it must seek to dominate that state. The Papacy of Rome and the Protestant national churches both fight for such dominion as would enable them to order all things temporal according to their ideals. The Church can tolerate no other spiritual power. Every independent spiritual power is a menace to it, a menace which increases in strength as the rationalization of life progresses.

IV.29.38

Now independent production does not tolerate any spiritual over-lordship. In our day, dominion over the mind can only be obtained through the control of production. All Churches have long been dimly aware of this, but it was first made clear to them when the socialist idea, rising from an independent source, made itself felt as a powerful and rapidly growing force. It then dawned upon the Churches that theocracy is only possible in a socialist community.

IV.29.39

On one occasion this idea was actually realized. This was when the Society of Jesus created that remarkable state in Paraguay, which was not unlike an embodiment of the ideal Republic of Plato. This unique state flourished for more than a century, when it was destroyed by external forces. It is certain that the Jesuits did not found this society with the idea of making a social experiment or of setting up an example for other communities of the world. But ultimately they were aiming in Paraguay at no more than what they have everywhere tried to achieve, but without success, on account of the great resistance encountered. They have tried to bring laymen—as children needing the guardianship of the Church—under the beneficial government of the Church and of their own Order. Neither the Jesuit order nor any other ecclesiastical body has since tried anything like the Paraguayan experiment. But it is plain that all Western Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, are aiming at the same goal. Remove all the obstacles which hamper the Church to-day, and nothing will prevent it from repeating the Paraguayan achievement everywhere.

IV.29.40

That the Church, generally speaking, takes up a negative attitude to socialist ideas does not disprove the truth of these arguments. It opposes any Socialism which is to be effected on any other basis than its own. It is against Socialism as conceived by atheists, for this would strike at its very roots; but it has no hesitation in approaching socialist ideals provided this menace is resumed. The Prussian Church stands at the head of Prussian State Socialism and the Roman Catholic Church everywhere pursues its special Christian social ideal.

IV.29.41

In face of all this evidence, it would seem that only a negative answer can be made to the question asked above: whether it might not be possible to reconcile Christianity with a free social order based on private ownership in the means of production. A living Christianity cannot, it seems, exist side by side with Capitalism. Just as in the case of Eastern religions, Christianity must either overcome Capitalism or go under. Yet, in the fight against Capitalism today, there is no more effective war-cry than Socialism, now that suggestions of a return to the medieval social order find few supporters.

IV.29.42

But there may be an alternative. No one can foresee with certainty how Church and Christianity may change in the future. Papacy and Catholicism now face problems incomparably more difficult than all those they have had to solve for over a thousand years. The world-wide Universal Church is threatened in its very being by Chauvinist nationalism. By refinement of political art it has succeeded in maintaining the principle of Catholicism through all the turmoil of national wars, but it must realize more clearly every day that its continuance is incompatible with nationalist ideas. Unless it is prepared to succumb, and make way for national churches, it must drive out nationalism by an ideology which makes it possible for nations to live and work together in peace. But in so doing the Church would find itself inevitably committed to Liberalism. No other doctrine would serve.

IV.29.43

If the Roman Church is to find any way out of the crisis into which nationalism has brought it, then it must be thoroughly transformed. It may be that this transformation and reformation will lead to its unconditional acceptance of the indispensability of private ownership in the means of production. At present it is still far from this, as witness the recent encyclical Quadragesimo anno.*40


Notes for this chapter


16.
The first fact known positively about Kaspar Hauser is that he appeared in Nuremberg in 1828 with a letter purporting to give some of his background. According to the letter, he had been found in 1812, when only a few months old, by a German laborer who had raised him. The boy said that he had been confined in a dark room all his life until he was sent forth into the world. In time he was placed in the care of the German poet and philosopher, Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875). Hauser died in 1833 from a wound inflicted, he said, by a stranger who had promised information about his origin. Many myths and romances developed over the years as to Hauser's true identity and ancestry (Pub.).
17.
Compare the characterization of the Eastern Church given by Harnack, Das Mönchtum, 7th ed. (Giessen, 19o7), p. 32 ff.
18.
John of Kronstadt (1821-1908), real name Ioann Sergiev, an orthodox Russian priest and popular idol, alleged performer of miracles, carried on charitable work and ministered to the poor, sick and needy.
19.
Harnack, Das Mönchtum, p. 33.
20.
Troeltsch, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. II (Tübingen, 1913), pp. 386 ff.
21.
Harnack, Das Wesen des Christentums (Leipzig, 1907), pp. 50 ff.
22.
Mark, 1, 15.
23.
Luke, XXII, 30.
24.
Harnack, Aus Wissenschaft und Leben, Vol. II (Giessen, 1911), pp. 257 ff.; Troeltsch, Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, pp. 31 ff.
25.
Acts of the Apostles, IV, 35.
26.
Luke, XIV, 26.
27.
Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum, Vol. I, pp. 649 ff.
28.
Luke, XII, 35-36.
29.
"The doctrine of the medieval law of trade is rooted in the canonic dogma of the barrenness of money and in the sum of corollaries which are to be understood under the name of the usury law. The history of the trade law of those times cannot be anything except the history of the rule of the doctrine of usury in legal doctrine." Endemann, Studien in der romanisch-kanonistischen Wirtschafts-und Rechtslehre his gegen Ende des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1874-83), Vol. I, p. 2.
30.
Luke, VI, 35.
31.
C. 10. X. De usuris (III, 19). See Schaub, Der Kampf gegen den Zinswucher, ungerechten Preis und unlautern Handel im Mittelalter (Freiburg, 1905), pp. 61 ff.
32.
The passage is thus interpreted by Knies, Geld und Kredit, Part II (Berlin, 1876), pp. 333-5 note.
33.
On the latest legislation of the Church, which in c. 1543, Cod. iur. can., has come to acknowledge conditionally the legality of the taking of interest, see Zehentbauer, Das Zinsproblem nach Moral und Recht (Vienna, 1920), pp. 138 ff.
34.
Pesch, Lehrbuch der Nationalökonomie, pp. 212 ff.
35.
Matthew v, 27.
36.
Pesch, op. cit., p. 212.
37.
Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum, Vol. I, p. 652, explains Jesus' pessimistic judgment of earthly possessions by the apocalyptic expectation of the near world catastrophe. "Instead of trying to reinterpret and adapt His rigoristic expressions on this subject in the sense of our modern social ethics, one should make oneself familiar, once and for all, with the idea that Jesus did not appear as a rational moralist but as an enthusiastic prophet of the impending Kingdom of God and has only thus become the source of the religion of salvation. He who wants to make the eschatological enthusiasm of the prophet the direct and permanent authority for social ethics does just as wisely as he who would wish to warm his hearth and cook his soup with the flames of a volcano." On May 25th, 1525, Luther wrote to the Danzig Council: "The Gospel is a spiritual law by which one cannot well govern." See Neumann, Geschichte des Wuchers in Deutschland (Halle, 2865), p. 618. Also Traub, Ethik und Kapitalismus, 2nd ed. (Heilbronn, 2909), p. 71.
38.
Seipel, Die wirtschaftsethischen Lehren der Kirchenväter (Vienna, 3907), pp. 84 ff.
39.
Migne, Patrologiae Graecae, Vol. LX, pp. 96 ff.
40.
Issued in 1931, by Pius XI (Pope, 1922-1939) (Pub.).

End of Notes


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