Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
By Ludwig Mises
Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) first published
Socialism in German, in 1922. The edition presented here is that published by Liberty Fund in 1981. It follows the text, with correction and enlargement of footnotes, of the Jonathan Cape, Ltd., edition published in London in 1969. The edition was based on the 1951 edition by Yale University Press which slightly enlarged the first English edition published by Jonathan Cape in 1936, translated from the German by J. Kahane. Only a few corrections of obvious typos were made for this website edition. One character substitution has been made: the ordinary character “C” has been substituted for the “checked C” in the name Cuhel.
J. Kahane, trans.
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
First published in German. Foreword by Friedrich A. Hayek not available online
The text of this edition is under copyright. Picture of Ludwig von Mises: file photo, Liberty Fund, Inc.
- Part I,Ch.1
- Part I,Ch.2
- Part I,Ch.3
- Part I,Ch.4
- Part II,Ch.5
- Part II,Ch.6
- Part II,Ch.7
- Part II,Ch.8
- Part II,Ch.9
- Part II,Ch.10
- Part II,Ch.11
- Part II,Ch.12
- Part II,Ch.13
- Part II,Ch.14
- Part II,Ch.15
- Part II,Ch.16
- Part III,Ch.17
- Part III,Ch.18
- Part III,Ch.19
- Part III,Ch.20
- Part III,Ch.21
- Part III,Ch.22
- Part III,Ch.23
- Part III,Ch.24
- Part III,Ch.25
- Part III,Ch.26
- Part IV,Ch.27
- Part IV,Ch.28
- Part IV,Ch.29
- Part IV,Ch.30
- Part IV,Ch.31
- Part IV,Ch.32
- Part V,Ch.33
- Part V,Ch.34
- Part V,Ch.35
1 Religion and Social Ethics
Christianity and Socialism
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
5 Christianity and Property
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Praktische Wirtschaftspolitik (Berlin, 1919), p. 53.
Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer Wissenschaft, Vol. II, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, 1921), p. 450.
La cité moderne, pp. 413 ff.
Die englische Ethik der Gegenwart, trans. Peusner (Leipzig, 1914), p. 20.
Deontology or the Science of Morality, ed. Bowring (London, 1834), Vol. I, pp. 8 ff.
Utilitarianism (London, 1863), pp. 5 ff.; Jodl,
Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer Wissenschaft, Vol. II, p. 36.
Sittlichkeit ohne “Pflicht,” pp. 272 ff.
Humanitaires et libertaires au point de vue sociologique et moral, pp. 157 ff.
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.
Deontology, Vol. I, p. 87 ff.
Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie (Tübingen, 1920), Vol. II, p. 206.
op. cit., Vol. I, p. 262.
Die franziskanische Bewegung (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1903), pp. 53 ff., 59.
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).
Das Mönchtum, 7th ed. (Giessen, 19o7), p. 32 ff.
Das Mönchtum, p. 33.
Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. II (Tübingen, 1913), pp. 386 ff.
Das Wesen des Christentums (Leipzig, 1907), pp. 50 ff.
Aus Wissenschaft und Leben, Vol. II (Giessen, 1911), pp. 257 ff.; Troeltsch,
Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, pp. 31 ff.
Das Urchristentum, Vol. I, pp. 649 ff.
Studien in der romanisch-kanonistischen Wirtschafts-und Rechtslehre his gegen Ende des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1874-83), Vol. I, p. 2.
De usuris (III, 19). See Schaub,
Der Kampf gegen den Zinswucher, ungerechten Preis und unlautern Handel im Mittelalter (Freiburg, 1905), pp. 61 ff.
Geld und Kredit, Part II (Berlin, 1876), pp. 333-5 note.
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.
Lehrbuch der Nationalökonomie, pp. 212 ff.
op. cit., p. 212.
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.
Die wirtschaftsethischen Lehren der Kirchenväter (Vienna, 3907), pp. 84 ff.
Patrologiae Graecae, Vol. LX, pp. 96 ff.