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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

NON-CHRISTIAN ROOTS: The Sadness of Socialism

By Christopher Ziegler

Find Christopher Ziegler
@CZWriting on Twitter
Socialism is the most likely political position of the man who takes Darwin’s theory of evolution seriously; whereas belief in free enterprise is the most likely political position of the Gospel-believing Christian. This is my thesis.

Now, the reader has probably already raised an objection along these lines: “Isn’t it the capitalist who believes in what is called ‘Social Darwinism’?” The short answer to this objection is—No. Anyone remotely familiar with the reigning political coalitions in the United States knows that my thesis is a roughly accurate description of the situation. 

Nevertheless, I understand the nature of the objection, and I understand that the logical connections contained in my thesis are less than obvious. This essay will endeavor to explain those connections.

Government appeals to liberals because they honestly believe that it is the only available means of escaping the cruelties of the Darwinian state of nature. By “Darwinian” I mean any way of interpreting the world where natural selection (survival of the fittest) is the dominant theme. Darwin premised his theory of natural selection on the pessimistic ideas of English Cleric Thomas Malthus (1766-1834).  

Malthus believed that the growth of populations of organisms is constantly outpacing the growth of available natural resources. Consequently, there is constant competition between living beings over scare resources where some live and others die. This non-stop competition is the engine that drives natural selection. 

Darwinism is a disease of the mind. 

Liberal View of Capitalism
Once it is seriously entertained it inevitably winds up coloring all areas of a person’s belief system, damaging the brain. Liberals have a dog-eat-dog understanding of how capitalism works 
(in fact, Dog Eat Dog Films is the name of Michael Moore’s movie production company). This is the thinking behind the demonization of the rich. According to the Darwinian/Malthusian view, one man’s gain can only come at another man’s loss. If one man is very rich he must be
"It has appeared that from the
inevitable laws of our nature,
some human beings must suffer
from want. These are the unhappy
persons who, in the great lottery
of life, have drawn a blank."
(Thomas Malthus)

responsible, albeit indirectly, for making another man very poor. 

This is not how liberals want things to be but how they honestly believe things to be. Hence they embrace socialism as a remedy to spread the wealth around and to manage these Darwinian forces. This is why Socialist Author Jack London (1876-1916) said the cardinal tenet of socialism is “the materialistic conception of history.”

But this interpretation of the economy, like Darwinism itself, is complete bunk. 

Darwinism has absolutely nothing to do with classical economic theory. In fact, these ideas are antithetical to each other. But the term “Social Darwinism”  has proven a useful tool in the hands of enemies of free enterprise. 
The reigning classic of the genre is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Published in 1904, it describes capitalism as a “war of each against all, and the devil take the hindmost.” Liberals have used this mischaracterization as a cudgel against conservatives ever since. In the 2012 presidential election campaign, for example, the Obama campaign consistently smeared Mitt Romney as a man who, if elected, would “put ya’ll back in chains.”

For the liberal, to intervene in the free market in such a way that decreases individual freedom in the narrow sense of the term is to actually increase individual freedom in the broader sense. This is because he sees these actions as being undertaken to protect people from Darwinian predation by the capitalist class. He believes the rich must be restrained lest they gobble up the little fish. This is why
Liberal View: Rich gobbling up little fish 
liberals cannot escape their 
naiveté about the great things government can accomplish. They have to believe in it because they see no other option. The liberal does not usually regard his own opinions as pessimistic, he just thinks they are an honest assessment of the way things are.

But that is not the way things are—at least not according to the theories of capitalism. Capitalism is based on the idea that nature and human society clearly show evidence of being designed by a benevolent Creator. God has designed man, programmed him if you will, to pursue his natural good, which is most often found in marriage and family life. 

His pursuit of happiness redounds to the benefit of all even if the greater good never enters into his thinking. It simply works because this is how God has preordained things to work. The “invisible hand” of the market place gives rise to organized complexity without the need of outside interference. Our first responsibility is personal responsibility

According to Malthus/Darwin, life is a zero-sum game like chess, where one player can only improve his position by weakening the position of the other player. But this is not true. Just because my neighbor achieves success does not rob me of anything. In fact, his gain is my gain as well, even if only to a lesser extent. 

Capitalism works more like a game of Scrabble, where when one player spells out a word they not only benefit themselves but they might also create an opportunity for another player that did not exist before. This is how human relations work when people are free to make transactions with only enough outside interference to ensure transparency and fairness. So long as the transactions are not coerced, all parties will partake in some degree of mutual benefit. This is part of God’s providential design for human society.

The free market theories of Scottish Moral Philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) are well expressed by a line from Robert Frost: 

             Men work together, I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart

Men have already been designed to work together for each other’s mutual benefit in spite of themselves because this is God’s plan. This process of symbiosis is at work in the natural world no less than in human
society. The bee does not know it is helping to pollinate the flower, nor do the bacteria inside of us know they are helping to digest our food. Things cooperate despite themselves.

The conscious intention of living beings has nothing to do with these symbiotic designs in nature. Nor can these designs be explained by anything resembling natural selection. It is the providence of a wise and loving God. If the world were not governed by this providence, and if life were in fact a Darwinian war of each against all, the human race would have already destroyed itself a long time ago.

American businessman and economist Edward Atkinson castigated the materialistic theories of Malthus and Darwin as being based on a false law of diminishing returns. Materialism is ignorant because it upholds the primacy of matter over mind. But capitalism gives us the ability to leverage the power of human minds to bring forth ever more abundance from nature. There is no theoretical limit on this process because mind is stronger than matter. That is why Malthusian doomsday predictions have always failed to materialize, and why capitalist societies have lifted more and more people out of poverty over the centuries. As Atkinson explains:

"Through competition among capitalists, capital itself is every year more effective in production, and tends ever to increasing abundance. Under its working the commodities that have been the luxury of one generation become the comforts of the next and the necessities of the third…The plane of what constitutes a comfortable subsistence is constantly rising, and as the years go by greater and greater numbers attain this plane."

But if you believe in Darwin’s theory then you do not believe that there is any intelligent design in nature. The loss of faith in a benevolent design will necessarily entail a loss of confidence that the market will naturally produce beneficial results, and you will no longer have any basis for assuming that an individual’s pursuit of happiness will automatically redound to the general good. If individual pursuits are insufficient to produce the general welfare, then there is a necessity for central planning to provide for the general welfare. The only collective instrument through which to execute central planning is the government. Hence the specter of socialism arises and, with it, the justification for some degree of economic coercion (ranging from income taxes to forced collectivization).

But everywhere socialism has been seriously tried it has failed spectacularly. The cases of North and South Korea and East and West Germany are most telling. In each of these cases we had nations with the same history, culture and language which were split in half and subjected to competing economic visions. Hence, circumstantial factors cannot be blamed for the separate results. And those results were unambiguous. It is not just that the socialist policies did less well than the capitalist policies—it’s that they failed spectacularly.

I see no need here to retell the horror story which is the history of twentieth century socialism, although that story must be told and retold so that we never forget.  Forced collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union caused a  famine 1932-33 that  killed six million people. That it was covered up for years by liberal Western journalists, should serve as a chilling case in point. Man cannot improve on God’s design. He can, however, screw it up royally. And never does he screw up worse than when he thinks he knows more than his neighbor about what is best for his neighbor.

By living a virtuous life and following my pursuit of happiness, I do in fact indirectly benefit my neighbor. If we as a society want to help the poor, we have to let people keep more of the money they earn and not steal it from them through income taxes. The idea that someone else knows how to spend my money better than me is unjust. The idea that someone else will be more responsible than me with my money is ludicrous. Governments cannot be more rational than individuals, because they are only mere collections of (usually idiotic) individuals. And whereas when an individual screws up the damage is limited, when governments screw up the results can be catastrophic. 

Sometimes liberals will even quote Jesus to justify their demonization of the rich. This is hypocritical of them since, as a group, liberals are either outright hostile to Christianity or lukewarm and skeptical about its claims. It is curiously selective to quote Jesus in this regard while ignoring the rest of his teachings—on marriage, for example. Sometimes they even try to claim that Jesus was a Marxist, which is laughable. If they actually read the Gospel with the intention of understanding it on its own terms they might realize why the vast majority of Christians are conservative. In fact, this is what happened to me and why I  am now proud to call myself an ex-liberal.

The gospel does not present a pessimistic view of nature, and certainly not a materialistic one. It  does presents a pessimistic view of man. This is why government, or any other body where power is concentrated, should always be regarded as untrustworthy.  But the natural world is good, being the creation of a loving God. Consider the lilies if the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin

Hunger and poverty are the result of man’s greed and ignorance, not the inevitable result of the ways things are. This same God who made nature good also set up human society to allow for the possibility for human flourishing. Capitalism is a product of the Christian West. It could only have arisen in a Christian society because it is predicated on the peculiar Christian worldview of a God who is good and who, in his goodness, gave people the ability to flourish by following their best judgement.

There is no valid reason for me to despise or resent the rich just for being rich. That attitude would be sinful on my part as well as counter-productive to my own interests. Jesus never called on us to hate the rich. He called on us to sacrifice our love of riches and status for the sake of the Kingdom of God. But this renunciation is predicated on the recognition of the generosity of God which Jesus revealed to us. Hence, it is a renunciation which can be possible for us only through faith in Him. On the other hand, the materialist outlook which is apt to find evidence of scarcity and impending disaster everywhere becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

What many liberals simply lack is hope and faith. It was a struggle for me to finally come to accept the words of the Gospel, and to see that to have heaven, all you have to do is hope for it; and that to have faith, all you have to do is ask. Ask and ye shall receive.

To expect great things from the Lord is to receive greater things. It is painful to see how much hopelessness there is today in our secular society. Despair is the norm. The world is constantly trying to drag us down to its level.

To accept the goodness of God does 
at times require a leap of faith. But it is a leap we must make. As Christ says to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John: If you do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world, how will you ever believe me when I tell you about the things of heaven?

Did you enjoy this piece? Mr. Ziegler has written also

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  1. Thank you Mr. Zeigler, that was most encouraging and edifying. Thank you, would that my brilliant, self-professed 'Darwinian' daughter read this, she is so lost, wish you could meet her. She is also very politically fired up, so to speak. God bless you abundantly, hope many young people hear you.

  2. That is one of the best pieces I have ever read defending the free-enterprise system.