Socialism is in vogue again, particularly among younger Americans. But does socialism really help society?
In this video, Dr. David Koyzis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Redeemer University College, presents a lecture on “How Socialism Suppresses Society” as a part of the Kern Lecture Series.
Watch the video above, or read an excerpt below (edited for clarity).
On the socialist vision for economic equality.
What exactly is socialism? Definitions vary widely, of course, and it is probably more accurate to speak of socialisms in the plural. Yet, despite the differences, most manifestations of socialism have a number of characteristics in common.
First of all, socialism is a powerful vision of economic equality. From the earliest of times, poverty has been a persistent ill, plaguing either a majority or a substantial minority of the human population. Yet, alongside that poverty, some people have experienced great wealth, shielding them from the burdens of economic necessity. Kings, nobles, dictators, successful entrepreneurs and, let’s face it, criminals have lived lives of luxury amid the penury of commoners and ordinary people.
Down through the ages, right thinking people have found such maldistribution of wealth a scandal, and have sought to rectify this economic imbalance. The Bible itself recognizes the dangers of wealth, not only to the poor but to the stewards of this wealth who are likely to let it go to their heads and to forget their dependence on God. The Old Testament law, as codified in the first five books of the Bible, contains numerous provisions for ensuring that the poor would not become a permanent fixture in the life of ancient Israel, most notably in mandating the series of Sabbath Years, culminating in the great Year of Jubilee, when all the land would return to its original owners.
Obviously, the literal practice of Sabbath Years and Jubilees is impractical in an advanced post-industrial economy, in which productive property is no longer connected exclusively with agriculture. Consequently, our societies have had to come up with other means to address what is euphemistically called the Social Question.
Over the past two centuries, socialists have sought to resolve the issue by trying to extend the logic of democracy into economic life. Democracy gives the right to vote to all citizens equally, irrespective of their social standing. The manual labor has the same vote as the graduate of Oxford or Cambridge. The employer has no greater say than his employees. This means that every segment of the citizenry has input into political decision-making, or, more likely, in putting in place the public officials charged with making these decisions. Why not extend democracy to the economic realm, as well? Indeed, socialism is often called economic democracy. It’s followers seeking to break the power of unaccountable private concentrations of corporate economic influence and to bend them towards seeking the greater good.
On socialism’s alternative redemptive story.
Socialism posits an alternative redemptive story to what we find in the Scriptures. The Bible is a grand narrative that tells the whole world’s story, beginning with creation and moving on through the fall into sin, the redemption in Jesus Christ and culminating in the final consummation of the Kingdom of God at his return.
By contrast, socialism’s redemptive narrative bypasses Jesus Christ and offers its own way to salvation. We ourselves will bring about all the blessings of God’s promised kingdom, but on our own terms. This story is most evident in Karl Marx’s writings. There is no creation, of course, because it assumes the existence of a Creator, which Marx’s atheism could not permit him to accept. But there is an original state corresponding to the Garden of Eden. This Marx labels primitive communism, a hypothetical condition in which everyone works together but without a division of labor. Perhaps this represents something close to the hunter-gatherer societies of pre-historic times, with everyone foraging for a means of subsistence.
For Marx, the counterpart for this fall into sin occurs when the first division of labor is introduced into the productive process. Men and women do different things. Some work with their brains, others with their brawn. This results in society’s division into economic classes which are defined by their relationship to the means of production. This division inevitably produces conflict between the classes, and inevitably history takes off with conflict being the motive force in the motive force in the historical process.
But eventually this will come to an end, as the final class, the proletariat, the working class, assumes a messianic role, achieving a victory over the bourgeoisie, or the capitalists, thereby ushering in the classless society. Marx’s counterpart to the eschatological vision of the coming kingdom. Admittedly, not all professed socialists buy into the Marxian story. For most democratic socialists (or socialist democrats, as many prefer), socialism is just about helping the disadvantaged through public policy.
Here’s what would be the end result in a classless society:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. (Marx and Engels)