A short time ago we got a request to comment on Karl Marx as “the second economic reductionist.” In the context of the discussion this referred to the socialist movement which, to make a very long story short and oversimplify greatly, began in the early nineteenth century with Henri de Saint-Simon’s declaration in his posthumous book, Le Nouveau Christianisme (1825) that what would in a few years be known as “socialism” was “the New Christianity.”
|Henri de Saint-Simon|
Although capitalism and a few other things created the conditions that led to the development of socialism, socialism itself began as a proposed replacement for Christianity, specifically Catholicism, the most organized and visible Christian body in Europe at the time. Some of the early socialists were themselves capitalists, while most of the others actively sought out wealthy capitalists as patrons to fund their various schemes. Socialism was first known as l’démocratie religieuse — “the Democratic Religion” — and the idea was to abolish all older forms of social organization and replace them with a single monolithic entity.
It was only after the capitalists didn’t come across with the cash that socialism added capitalism to the “Enemies List” that was initially confined to traditional forms of Church, State, Family, and other socialists. The only time socialists were not going after targets in Church, State, and Family is when they were going after each other hammer and tongs.
And the justification? This is where “the first economic reduction” comes in, reductionism being a simplification or “reduction” of a complex idea or system into a few elements that almost inevitably go off in a wrong direction.
This is a little complex, but the human person is, as Aristotle noted, a “political animal” by nature. That means people by nature ordinarily live in consciously structured environments that Aristotle called “the pólis” (hence “political”). As “political animals,” sovereign people have individual inherent rights and identities, but realize them most fully in a social setting.
Nonsense! declared the socialists (or the New Christians or Neo-Catholics, if you prefer). According to the socialists, individual human beings do not have inherent rights. God gave rights to humanity as a whole, not to individual human beings. People do not carry out the complicated task of delegating rights to the community, defining them, and exercising them in a manner to maximize individual benefit without harming others.
No — and this is the “First Economic Reduction” — the community or State as the representative of the People has all rights (especially life, liberty, and private property), and doles them out to individuals as necessary or expedient. All rights are to be exercised not for individual benefit, but for the overall good of the community. If anyone’s rights get in the way of the needs or desires of the community as a whole, then those rights can (and in some cases must) be taken away.
In economic terms, if private ownership of capital best serves the needs of the community, then private ownership may be permitted. If not, then private ownership of capital will not be permitted. Whatever is best for the community is what God wills, not the selfish needs of any individual. At no time, however, are inherent rights a factor. No individual has any claim to life, liberty, or private property except as it serves the community as a whole.
“Useless eaters” who do not contribute to the community may be liquidated. Anti-social individuals and those exhibiting insufficient revolutionary fervor or contrary to sound popular feeling may be incarcerated, enslaved, or killed. As noted, if private ownership does not meet the needs of the community, it must be abolished.
(Of course, by shifting rights from the human person to the collective, the right to private property was already abolished, as was life and liberty. As John Locke pointed out in § 140 of his Second Treatise of Government, “what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?” Admittedly, Locke claimed that God gave the Earth to men “in common,” but that error does not change the fact that he understood that you don’t really own something that someone else can take whenever he likes.)
Now we come to Karl Marx and the “Second Economic Reduction.” Before we begin, however, it must be understood that many of Marx’s ideas were not original with him, and much of what came out under his name might actually have come from his capitalist patron, Friedrich Engels. For convenience, however, we will refer to Marx instead of his sources, for even if he didn’t come up with the ideas, he popularized them. From the point of view of the Just Third Way of Economic Personalism, then, Marx’s reductionism consists of four “fatal errors”:
· The elimination of God and organized religion in his theory of “scientific socialism.”
· His adoption of the labor theory of value which had previously been advanced by David Ricardo.
· His failure to understand that the private ownership of property, including capital instruments, is indispensable to political freedom; in short, his failure to understand the menace to human freedom of the ownership of the means of production by the state.
· His mistaking the wealth produced by capital for “surplus value”, i.e., value which he thought was created by labor and stolen from the laborer by the capitalist.
These last three are examined in detail in Louis Kelso’s article, “Karl Marx, the Almost Capitalist,” so we won’t go into them in any depth. The first, though, is — directly and indirectly — the root of the whole problem, and the fundamental basis of Marx’s great “Second Reduction”: taking God out of the equation.
Marx was not the first to advocate the abolition of organized religion. He seems, in fact, to have gotten it (and many other ideas) from Robert Owen, the English socialist. The influence of Owen was so great that Marx and Engels even felt that they could not use the term “socialism” for their theory of scientific socialism, as it had been preempted by Owen’s followers. They selected the slightly older term “communism” instead.
In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx went after (other) socialists for trying to incorporate religion into their theories instead of just getting rid of God altogether. All the talk of “the New Christianity” and “the Democratic Religion” was, as far as Marx was concerned, a complete waste of time, as bad as drug addiction. Religion was, in fact, the opiate of the masses, and the sooner it was eliminated, the better.
|David Émile Durkheim|
And the source of the rights the collective presumably has to complete and total control of life, liberty, and property? They didn’t come from a God that doesn’t even exist, but were self-generated by the collective for the collective. In that sense, the State as the visible manifestation of the collective is a god, something that the French solidarist sociologist David Émile Durkheim would develop into the theory that “religion” is a social, not a spiritual phenomenon, and consists of the group’s worship of itself, and that “God” is a “divinized society.”
So, in sum, the two great economic reductions of the nineteenth century that continue to haunt us today are:
· That God grants rights to the collective, not to individual human beings, and
· God doesn’t exist, and doesn’t grant rights to anybody or anything.
Once these two simple reductions are understood, then socialism/communism makes perfect sense.#30#