Friday, March 5, 2010

Voluntary versus Involuntary Socialism

Since my conversion to a conservative perspective on political economy over the past few years, I have thought a lot about why so many theologians and Christian academics in general are so head over heels in love with the ideas of Karl Marx and the continual expansion of the welfare state. Here is the beginning of an answer.

I think they are guilty of a simply mistake in logic that goes unnoticed most of the time. It is the confusion of voluntary with involuntary socialism. As a system socialism purports to be about sharing, equality and concern for the downtrodden. Now, who could possibly object those ideals? Surely, only a hard-bitten, selfish, rich person could do so. Notice that the entire emphasis is on the willingness of the virtuous person voluntarily to do something to help the poor. It is easy to argue that the Bible commands us to be willing personally to help the poor because it does so over and over again.

But socialism, when it is implemented in a given country, is not about voluntary sharing. That is called charity and it exists already as a vehicle for anyone who is honestly willing to share his goods with those in need. And many of us conservatives do just that. Socialists are not really into charity, however.

Socialism is not about charity, but rather about what is called "justice." Socialists actually tend to despise charity as an impediment to justice. Now, justice in a socialist worldview is not what it has traditionally been in past centuries. Justice for socialists means the rightness of the state taking from the rich(er) and giving to the poor(er). In other words, justice does not mean respecting private property and forbidding stealing (as the Bible does), but rather no respect for private property and the institutionalization of stealing as government policy.

If you ask the average Christian if it is important, biblical, and right to help the less fortunate among us, he will, of course, say yes. If you ask if it is imperative for us to support a socialist program, he will likely be led to say yes again because otherwise it sounds (in a superficial sense) like he is not wanting to do his bit to help after just having admitted that helping the less fortunate is a biblical mandate. But he has not noticed the subtle shift from a voluntary obedience to biblical commands to an endorsement of an involuntary imposition of an oppressive, top-down, statist political regime upon the nation.

Monastic orders and various types of radical Christian communities are examples of voluntary socialist communities. Some Christians think that if we admire such communities, why not apply the principle to society as a whole? But there is a great deal of difference between a voluntary socialist community and an involuntary one: the voluntary one is one that you can leave.

Many socialists refuse to take responsibility for all the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the great socialist regimes of the 20th century, such as Nazism, the USSR, Chinese Communism and a host of smaller ones, because they style themselves as "Democratic Socialists," as if the mere fact that a majority voted for the socialist government makes its immoral actions moral. Hitler was voted in democratically but that does not legitimize his rule. Governments that set themselves against the natural law and the moral law of God and institutionalize injustice and immorality render themselves illegitimate no matter how many votes they can accumulate from the population. Popular majority rule is not capable of making evil into good.

Socialism always involves the use of coercion by government to interfere with the natural freedom and dignity of persons made in the image of God. That is what is wrong with it. If you feel called to help the poor, by all means do so but not by imposing tyrannical government on your fellowman. If you feel strongly that a socialist lifestyle is Christian, then set up a Christian community modeled on socialist principles such as a co-op or even a full-blown socialist commune like the Hutterites have. Or you can enter a monastic lifestyle. But do not vote or agitate for a statist, top-down, tyrannical and inefficient bureaucratic monstrosity.


Peter Dunn said...

Hi Craig:

Absolutely right on every count.

I wonder if you've been following the discussion at City of God and Nathan Calquhoun's blog, and now my recent posts at the Righteous Investor ( )? There I've taken on one of the major community organizers, Regent adjunct Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice, as well as PoserorProphet. Your post here is a strong affirmation of many of the points I've made.

In particular, this post ( ) started the debate, and in one of the comments I wrote: "But why would a ministry like Streams of Justice want to alienate the investor? Is it because they believe they can use the government to force them to give? Then they don’t need to convince the wealthy of their cause or have the Holy Spirit move on their hearts to give. They will give or go to prison."

While giving is characterized in the NT as a charismatic gift, in the scheme of these socialist Christians, it is forced by the state, because frankly, I would not pay even a penny of tax if it were not for fear of punishment. Their position is not a Christian alternative, but a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means that the love of God has been poured out into our hearts making us want to give, not agitating so that the government will beat others (i.e., "rich" people) into submission in order to provide social justice.

I find fault also with Diewert et al. because they say that Jesus stood in solidarity with poor. But the gospels are clear; not only did he associate with the tax collectors, the very wealthy that had exploited the poor in the first place, but when he stood before Pilate, he stood alone because the poor had cried out, "Crucify him!" See my post:

Thanks so much.

Nathan said...

Well said. I think the "voluntary v. involuntary" distinction is spot-on when describing this issue. It is the critical difference between the early church's communal living and the socialist state.