The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Mises on ‘Christian Socialism’

Posted on | March 19, 2011 | 6 Comments

“Christian Socialism, as it has taken root in the last few decades among countless followers of all Christian churches, is merely a variety of State Socialism. … Agriculture and handicraft, with perhaps small shopkeeping, are the only admissible occupations. Trade and speculation are superfluous, injurious, and evil. … It is the duty of legislation to suppress these excesses of the business spirit. …
“In the economic system which they have in mind there is no entrepreneur, no speculation, and no ‘inordinate’ profit. The prices and wages demanded and given are ‘just.’ …
“[Christian socialists] have anxiously avoided drawing the logical conclusions of their premises. They give one to understand that they are combating only the excrescences and abuses of the capitalist order; they protest that they have not the slightest desire to abolish private property; and they constantly emphasize their opposition to Marxian Socialism. …
“It can be seen at once how the Christian Socialism of today corresponds to the economic ideal of the medieval Scholastics. The starting point, the demand for ‘just’ wages and prices, that is, for a definite historically attained distribution of income, is common to both.”

Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (1922)

This is something I had been meaning to cite since Friday, when the subject of Althouse-hating Madison radical Jim Shankman’s “distributivism” came up in Dan Riehl’s interview. Shankman’s particular species of opposition to market capitalism is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, as Mises shows, it is a fundamentally medieval concept.

Yet reading Mises is a challenging task: Socialism is more than 500 pages long, and not written in a glib or entertaining style. So it is hardly surprising that, among the many who have read The Road to Serfdom by Mises’s disciple F.A. Hayek, only a comparative handful have gone on to tackle Socialism (my copy of which includes a foreword by Hayek, written in 1978).

In 21st-century America, of course, the language of politics is much different than it was in early 20th-century Europe. When Socialism was first published, the Bolshevik takeover in Russia was only four years old, and various socialist parties were popular and influential. Whereas here and now, any attempt to analyze the American Left’s agenda must avoid the term “socialist,” which is always rejected and condemned as an outrageous accusation by the Left, no matter how socialistic their agenda may actually be.

Nevertheless, the rhetoric of “just” wages and “fair” prices, along with the condemnation of “excess” profit and so forth, has a clear political pedigree and Jim Shankman’s Facebook references to Dorothy Day and Rerum Novarum connect Shankman’s ideology to the “Christian Socialism” that Mises analyzed so astutely nearly 90 years ago.



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