We got into a little argument a short time ago about socialism, capitalism, and Christianity. Coming across a FaceBook placard or whatever you call ’em that proclaimed, “Capitalism causes socialism”, we made the mistake of putting our two-and-a-half cents in, although you would have thought that by now we would have learned our lesson about trying to argue with people who think assertion is argument and personal insults are proof.
|GKC: Warned of a new religion using the Christian label.|
Anyway, knowing full well that socialism did not evolve as a direct (or even closely indirect) response to capitalism, we made so bold as to say so:
Actually, socialism was first touted not as a replacement for capitalism, but for Christianity. It was sold as “the Democratic Religion” and labeled “the New Christianity” and “Neo-Catholicism” before the term socialism came into use around 1832 or so. “Capitalism” as a term appears to have been first used by the socialist Louis Blanc in 1850. The invention of a new religion under the name of Christianity was what Chesterton warned against in his book on Saint Francis of Assisi.
We figured — wrongly — that no one could object to what is a series of factual statements that can be verified very easily by going to original sources as well as some rather in-depth recent research and analysis. Still, we should have known that someone wasn’t going to like it.
Sure enough, somebody piped aboard with the statement, “CS [sic] Lewis spoke approving [sic] of Christian Socialism.” To this, we responded: “Doesn’t change the facts, even if he did.” To this witty repartee, we got the somewhat limited yet assertive response, “1. He did. 2. Christian Socialism is simply an extension of the Gospel to the realm of economics.”
|"I approved of socialism? First I've heard about it."|
We forbore to point out that hauling in C.S. Lewis had nothing to do with anything we had said. It was a non sequitur — “It does not follow.” We contented ourselves by restating our previous statement in more stately terms:
On the contrary: socialism of all kinds was intended from the beginning to replace Christianity. Before the term socialism was coined in 1832 by the Saint-Simonian Pierre Leroux, socialism was known as “the Democratic Religion.” Various forms went by different names, such as “the New Christianity” (Henri de Saint-Simon) and Neo-Catholicism” (Felicite de Lamennais), but all (as de Tocqueville observed) shared a common principle: the shift of sovereignty from the human person created by God, to some form of the collective created by man. As Fulton Sheen observed in his doctoral thesis in 1925, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), this demotes God to being the servant of man, and elevates collective man to the status of God. All of the “new things” (socialism, modernism, and the New Age) were condemned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832 and 1834, and reiterated by almost every subsequent pontiff (John Paul I didn’t get a chance — as pope, although he did issue condemnations as Archbishop of Milan). It is irrelevant that C.S. Lewis “spoke approvingly of Christian socialism.” It does not change truth.
|"It may be elementary, my dear Watson, but I still don't see it."|
This did not satisfy the interlocutor (although we hoped he might give it up as a lost cause), but we did start wondering where C.S. Lewis ever said anything “approving” of socialism. We have read many of Lewis’s books, but don’t remember anything of the sort.
We decided to do a little googling with our goo-goo-googly eyes, and came up with a short passage from Mere Christianity (1952) that some people with a low level of reading comprehension or an ax to grind might be tempted to interpret as approval of socialism. As Lewis stated,
The New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like . . . a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist . . . If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, “advanced,” but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned . . . That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out those bits and pieces and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further; and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
Now another point. There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest — what we call investment — is the basis of our whole system.
|"Socialism is safe. I am not."|
There is at least one glaringly obvious error that Lewis made here, but it doesn’t change anything. It just indicates a distaste for capitalism. “Usury” is not all interest, but interest on a loan of money not used for a productive purpose, i.e., taking a share of profits when no profit is due. Investment is the last thing that involves usury . . . unless the lender doesn’t assume part of the risk, in which case, yes, it’s usury. Otherwise, it’s a rightful share of the profits.
But we’re interested in Lewis’s thoughts about socialism, not capitalism. If this is the passage to which our critics referred, it’s a rather weak “approval” of socialism, all things considered. It is confined to a single phrase, unless you interpret “leftist” as necessarily meaning socialist . . . and even that is a pretty weak “approval.” To say that something “would be what we now call Leftist” is “approval” is stretching things a rather large mite.
|It may look like socialism to the modern pagan, but it isn't.|
Stretching things past the breaking point is the only mention of socialism in the passage: “We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced.’”
In other words, from the perspective of a society that Lewis believed to be largely non-Christian and socialist, people would think that a society modeled on Christian values was acceptable in certain “advanced” respects, but unacceptable in others. They would approve what they believed to be its socialist aspects, but not its family life and code of manners.
Taken as it stands, this actually says nothing about socialism except that “we should feel” that a “Christian society” would appear to be socialist in some respects to non-Christians and yet the opposite of socialism in others. Even kicking out the qualifier “we should feel” doesn’t actually turn this statement into “approval” of socialism. Lewis clearly implied that appearances are deceiving and we should not assume that what appears to be socialism is actually socialism. Why? Because —
That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out those bits and pieces and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further; and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
|Evelyn Waugh's vision of socialism.|
In other words, a “Christian society” would be neither socialist nor capitalist, despite appearances, and that is why things have ground to a halt (in Lewis’s opinion). As he clearly stated, “people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity” — obviously implying both the capitalists and the socialists are wrong!
The only other mention of socialism by Lewis we found that could be twisted into some sort of approval of socialism is in a letter he wrote in 1954 to a friend who had been sending him “little luxuries” for which he had no ration coupons and wanted to know if he still wanted them. As he said,
I’m afraid it would be sheer dishonesty to pretend that we now have any kitchen needs; this government has done a magnificent job in getting us on our feet again, and a few weeks back, we solemnly burnt our Ration Books. Everything is now “off ration,” and though at first of course, prices went up with a rush, they are now dropping.
But cheer up, if our friends the Socialists get back into power, you will be able to exercise your unfailing kindness once more by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!
Translation: if the socialists get into power, things would — in Lewis’s opinion — immediately go from “magnificent” to bad in short order, and he would require that his friend send him not merely a few “little luxuries,” but “the necessities of life.”
This is hardly “approval” of socialism in any form . . . at least, in our opinion. . . .#30#