Do you support your local fire department, your local public schools, your local law enforcement? Do you enjoy the benefits of Social Security and public highways? By the most conservative of definitions, all of these are socialist programs. Such a realization should destroy any notion that socialism is equal to communism.
In a perfect world neither of these economic philosophies would be necessary. In the absence of greed, dishonest business dealings and stringent governmental regulations, we would have compassion, generosity and unquestionable honesty at all levels of business dealings, including the corporate level.
Some politicians and some of our clergy declare the “divine” virtues of capitalism while pointing out the evil and demonic nature of socialism. It is as though the very concept of capitalism was birthed at the throne of God, and socialism was birthed in the devil’s Hades.
It might be wise to take a look at the actual foundations of both of these “isms” and their human origins. It should be noted that neither sprang from “divine” origins.
“The Wealth of Nations,” written by Adam Smith in the late 1700s, became the bible of capitalist theory. He basically accepted the idea that man was inherently selfish. However, this selfishness could work for the common good if the market was left alone to regulate production and commerce without governmental interference.
Smith’s writing came at a time of tremendous social and economic upheaval. In addition, there were already signs of what was to come with the advent of the 19th century industrial revolution. This would give birth to young children working in mines for 12-hour days, as did women, including pregnant women who sometimes gave birth in mine shafts. Conditions in some manufacturing towns weren’t much better, with children working machines around the clock for 12 to 14 hours at a time.
Yet, during this period of history, government was entirely in the hands of the merchant and landed classes, which did nothing to change any this
Smith believed that the forces of the market would counter the greed via competition. Thus he coined the phrase “the invisible hand of the market,” which he claimed would ensure that the general public would not be cheated and that living standards would rise. He has been proven partly correct and partly incorrect by the flow of the history of economics.
The concept of socialism is almost as old as recorded history and can be found in the writings of Plato and even as far back as Moses and the early life of Christian communities. However, as a political movement, its origins sprang from the industrial revolution.
The Ana-Baptists of Germany, in the Westphalian city of Munster, actually set up a system of common ownership, seeking to overcome the sins of greed and hoarding of goods necessary for human survival and for the betterment of all its citizens.
Talleyrand’s writings in the 1790s were studied by Henri de Saint-Simon in the 1820s. Out of these minds came the concept that all of society would be organized like a single factory, and “socialism” was the word they chose to represent it. This, in essence, was the birth of socialism in the contemporary world, the conception of a continually planned society run like a business.
To attach the Marx-Lenin brand of Communist socialism to all forms of socialism is not only inaccurate but demonstrates a high degree of ignorance of the history of this issue.
The early Christians got it right. “No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own, but they shared everything they had (so) that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales … and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” Acts 4:32-35.
The was not done because governmental regulations but because of a higher ethic that transcended greed and selfishness. Yet many insist on calling ours a Christian nation.
The writer makes his home in Princeton.