Monday, October 25, 2010

Honest question

Seriously, this is an honest question:

Why is socialism considered a dirty word?

<idle musing>
I've heard people spit it out of their mouth like it is a nasty four-letter profane word. I'm really curious why it is considered so terrible...

Please keep your answers civil; I'm not looking for a fight—really! I honestly don't understand and am seeking to learn.
</idle musing>

10 comments:

Andrew Vogel said...

I've always assumed it is a carryover from the cold war era. The word seems charged with negative feelings and words such as atheism, evil, and no personal property (everything is government owned).

My perspective as a 28 year old...

jps said...

Andrew,

Thanks for commmenting. A few thoughts:
That might be true, but those are all confusing totalitarian government with an economic system. Or, a belief system with an economic system. Capitalism doesn't necessarily imply democracy, neither does socialism necessarily imply totalitarianism. Just as capitalism doesn't say what type of religious viewpoint the system has, neither does socialism.

James

John Cook said...

I heard a good comparison relevant to your question: "Abrahamic" vision of society sees people as rocks—made by God, each inestimably unique, and each contributing in its own way to society; the "Tower of Babel" vision of society is to make people bricks—each identical with the next, each a man-made piece of a humanly engineered society. Plainly put, socialism is of the later variety and capitalism, for all its faults, at least began in America along the lines of the former. Burke has some wonderful insights on this distinction in his Reflections on the French Revolution.

jps said...

John,

Thanks for the word picture. It helps, but at the same time raises more questions. If each is a rock, which I think is true, does that mean that rocks have no responsibility for each other? Or, did I just find the fourth leg of the analogy? (all analogies run on three legs; find the fourth and they collapse)

James

John Cook said...

James,

But of course there is social responsibility, and that is not denied even if left unaddressed by the word picture. But with regard to socialism, the question becomes at what point does social responsibility become the domination of one person's will over another. After all, even Paul said "expel the immoral brother" not "chain him in a back room and cut off all contact with his father's wife until we persuade him of what we know is right!"

Socialism has become a dirty word (at least in my limited experience) because it smacks to much of the latter approach and not enough of the former. In large part this is because every modern attempt at socialism has resulted in a "ruling class" that lords its authority over the rest of society to make them in their own image—a far cry from anything like the "social responsibility" we find in, say, the early church.

James

John

jps said...

John,

I suspect you are correct about the association with totalitarian regimes. The definition I was given for socialism (many years ago!) is "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." Sounds great—until you bring in the fallen state of humanity :(

Of course, we saw where (relatively) unfettered capitalism will take us in the late 19th century. Not a pretty sight, which is why government got involved.

James

John Cook said...

Yes, your definition does make it sound great, as far as it goes. However, it begs the question of who exactly determines ability and need! Socialism as a principle of a voluntary association (e.g., local manifestation of the body of Christ) is great. As a political machine it demands a ruling elite decide ability (and so confiscate property and goods) and need (and so redistribute). Such power, unregulated as it always is, corrupts.

Do we really only have two choices—socialism or capitalism?

jps said...

John,

Good question! Do you have an answer? The only two that seem to be bandied about today are those two.

James

John Cook said...

Well, isn't the answer simply that Christian ethics is not fully compatible with any particular political system? I hold certain political ideals because of what Scripture teaches me, and I may carry them out in my voting and political involvement to the extent that my particular political context allows me, but ultimately I have to live out those principle in both the personal and social sphere regardless of what "political" context I happen to find myself in. In every case what must be avoided is throwing around abstract notions (e.g., liberty, equality, fraternity; from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs ) without attention to exactly how such laudable concepts are to be applied to a particular social context (as Burke was so fond of pointing out).

I suppose this is starting to seem like a to get out the vote ad!

jps said...

John,

I definitely agree with you there! People, made in the image of God, are more important that any economic or political philosophy. And Christianity is not compatible with any system yet devised by mankind.

James