Thursday, August 14, 2008

Socialism and Christianity


[Before I begin, lest any Socialist, Communist, Chomsky admirer, etc., is inclined to take offense at what follows, let me say that the elements in my note that impact Socialism are in the category of thinking out loud. I’m very familiar with Marxist-Communism, especially what was called Dialectical Materialism, at a point in time, but I haven’t kept up. My pre-understanding, to use Jonathan Culler’s expression is that the good things that Marx advocated have been, or can be, taken up by Liberal-Democracy. But any goals requiring the acceptance of a non-Liberal-Democratic authoritarian form of government are to be avoided. If someone can “flesh out” Bloch’s melding of Socialism and Christianity in some way I haven’t thought of, I would be interested in hearing about it. This isn’t a challenge. I’m not trying to antagonize anyone. New information will be appreciated.]

I read the Bloch quote you recommended. It is a speech he gave in 1968 entitled “Man as Possibility.” John Cobb like Walter Capp has a chapter in his book, Christ in a Pluralistic Age, 1975, and in it he writes (p. 180) “But a third group, largely inspired by the creative imagination of the Marxist revisionist Ernst Bloch, reacted against the deeschatologization of Christianity and recovered within the Christian tradition the centrality of the theme of hope. Jurgen Moltmann gave name and content to this movement with his book The Theology of Hope.”

Bloch concludes his speech with “Socialism and Christianity have many kinds of concordance, especially in the most important matters. It is good that this is so, both to give depth to the avowal of socialism and, even more importantly, to give a sign of genuineness to the avowal of Christianity. Eventually this can signify that a new era of Christianity has begun, lighting the way ahead by a beacon of hope – a new aeon in which the kingdom of the Son of man will dawn, but not merely as something ‘above.’ If the salvation in the gospel is to become flesh – for us here or for our successors – it is not enough that something is above us. There must be that which is before us.”

I can agree with the last two sentences, but not what precedes them. And it is interesting that this speech occurred in 1968 for that was an important year in France. In May 1968 there emerged (according to Ferry and Renaut) “a new political force – youth – inspired by simultaneously individualist and democratic ideals that are incompatible in every respect with the authoritarian images and symbols traditionally associated in the political arena with Marxism.”

I have read discussions about May 1968, what it meant, what it means today. It didn’t sweep away all of French Marxism, but perhaps the erosion could be said to have begun. It inspired Ferry and Renaut to write their book which in turn seems to have inspired a group of Social Philosophers to explore a new, democratic, direction for France. It would be misleading to call this group “neo-conservative,” for that smacks of American Neo-conservatism, the hallmark of which is a desire to export Liberal-Democracy wherever possible. Ferry, Renaut, and others would be happy to abandon Marxism and seek a new beginning in Classical Democracy. Thus, various writers are mining Constant, Tocqueville and other pre-revolutionary Social philosophers. The term “Conservative,” is apparently not one they would apply to themselves (I read this some place, perhaps in one of Lilla’s books -- it smacks of both the Monarchy and the Vichy period).

Ferry and Renaut refer to the collapse of the Marxist dream of a radiant future. Bloch as a Marxist Revisionist seems to hope for a radiant future in which Socialism and Christianity will be melded in some way.

Fukuyama in his The End of History and the Last Man, 1992, groups the entire West together and says it shares the Liberal-Democratic form of government and society. Thus, he groups the American style of Liberal-Democracy with the Welfare-State Liberal Democracy of Europe. The fact that France can vote less or more Welfare support for itself doesn’t make it a Socialistic state. It is still a democracy. And it is still free, i.e., liberal.

Fukuyama has his detractors. Some thought that the EU would become America’s greatest rival. That hasn’t happened. Some assumed that Western Europe would want to rival America militarily, but it thus far has no enthusiasm for that – not even in France where the people seem more concerned with entitlements than military competence.

Samuel P. Huntington, one of Fukuyama’s detractors, doesn’t in his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of World Order, see Europe coming into serious conflict with America. We are all the West and we are a unique Civilization according to Huntington. Liberal-Democracy will not be exported in the way that Fukuyama suggested. Or if it is it will be submerged in the greater issues of the other Civilizations. We need, Huntington would say, to understand that we in the West will be clashing with the other civilizations from now on. At the moment we are clashing with the Muslim Civilization but next it might be the Sinic.

To get back to Bloch, perhaps there is some melding of Socialism and Christianity in Liberal Churches, but these Churches seem to be losing ground to the more dynamic Pentecostal and Charismatic groups who don’t care about Socialism but instead view “that which is before [them]” as the leading of the Holy Spirit. There is no such melding in any church I am personally familiar with.

Beyond that, what element of Socialism do we wish to meld with Christianity? A number of issues that Marx addressed such as the shorter work week are now standard parts of all Liberal-Democratic societies. Taking care of the poor, the sick etc are all being addressed by them. It’s debatable which approaches are best, but this is moot. They all address them. What other Socialistic elements need to be melded with Christianity?

In an earlier note someone mentioned a redistribution of wealth, but that would require the abandonment of Liberal Democracy and the institution of an Authoritarian regime that would impose this redistribution. Perhaps there are some who think that Bill Gates has too much money and it would be a good thing if he and his fellow billionaires had their money taken away and distributed to the poor, but what sort of government would we need to accomplish that? We have had wars with governments that could do that.

The Leftist Democrats in America seek to come as close as possible to a redistribution of wealth by attempting to impose more taxes on the rich and give more entitlements to the poor, but they aren’t seeking to abandon Liberal-Democracy.

Lawrence Helm

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