Churchpeople, Socialism, and Capitalism

The Reverend Doctor John K. Williams has been a teacher and currently does free-lance writing and lecturing from his base in North Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

In 1908, some three decades before he was to become Archbishop of Canterbury, the English churchman William Temple contributed an article to the prestigious journal, Economic Review. He had no doubts as to what economic system should commend itself to Christians. Wrote Temple: “In the epistle of the Ephe-sians . . . [Paul] preaches the fullest scheme of evolutionary socialism, so far as all fundamental points are concerned, that has yet to be con ceived by man. Socialism is the economic realization of the Christian Gospel . . . . The alternative stands before us—Socialism or Heresy; we are involved in one or the other.”[1]

William Temple was not alone in his espousal of socialism in the name of Christianity. In 1915 Karl Barth, one of the theological giants of the twentieth century, asserted that a “true Christian must be a socialist.”[2] Barth’s thinking on this issue did not change: in 1951, for ex ample, he wrote that capitalism “not only allows, but demands in principle, that men make a mere instrument, a means to their own ends, of other men and their work.”[3] In 1919 Paul Tillich, another revered twentieth century theologian, called upon Christians “to enter into the socialist movement in order to pave the way for a future union of Christianity and the socialist social order”;[4] near the end of his life, when asked by a student whether he still supported socialism, Tillich reported that he did, insisting that socialism “is the only possible economic system from the Christian point of view.”[5] Reinhold Niebuhr, probably the most influential Protestant theologian in the United States of America for many decades, insisted in 1931 that he espoused the revolutionary socialism of Marx rather than the reformist, evolutionary socialism of the early Christian socialists. He denounced Christians who did not regard a Marxist “class struggle” as a “fact of history”[6] as either naive or willfully perverse.

Recent Pronouncements

More recent theologians have continued the tradition of linking Christian theology and values to socialism. “Liberation theologians” such as the Latin Americans Juan Luis Segundo[7] and Gustavo Gutiérrez[8] have explicitly incorporated Marxist categories and theories into their theological systems. “Political theologians” such as Johann Baptist Metz,[9] Jurgen Molt-mann,[10] and Dorothee Sölle[11] have done the same. Publications of such ecumenical bodies as the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, the British Council of Churches, and the Australian Council of Churches, are, when political and economic issues are addressed, invariably antagonistic to capitalism and sympathetic to socialism.[12]

Recently, however, voices of dissent have been raised in many mainstream churches and beyond. In 1983 a publication of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis, was castigated by many informed economists for the eccentric economic theories therein embraced.[13] Some seventeen English economists and sociologists of stature contributed, in 1984, to a volume arguing that numerous studies and reports issued by Christian denominations in England and by the British Council of Churches were “sloppy, ill thought out, ignorant, one-sided, addicted to secular fashions, uncritical of conventional wisdom, hysterical . . . and uncharitable to those who disagree.”[14] An Australian publication bearing the ecumenical imprimatur of four church organizations, Catholic and Protestant, and urging the creation of a socialist Australia was, also in 1984, subjected to close examination and devastating criticism by several Australian economists, philosophers, and political scientists.[15] Scholarly defenses on religious grounds of political freedom have proliferated in the last decade, seriously challenging the claim that Christian believers must embrace and advocate a socialist economic order.[16]

The debate continues. That what until recently was a virtual monologue has become a debate is encouraging. It is important, however, that Christian people and other men and women of goodwill continue to challenge those who assume or assert that religious commitment and moral seriousness lead to support for socialism and opposition to capitalism. Too much is at stake for men and women who value the freedom philosophy—in particular church-people numbered among such men and women—to rest their case or to assume that religious enthusiasts for socialism can now be ignored. The moral case for a market economy and the free society needs constant statement.

Defining Terms

“How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had defined their terms.” So commented the philosopher Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. While many of the disputes between supporters of a socialist economy and those supporting a capitalist economy cannot, for the most part, so be deflated, many churchpeople critical of capitalism have not displayed much rigor in defining the economic system they so abhor—or, indeed, the economic system they prefer. Some clear thinking as to what a capitalist or a socialist economic system is necessarily precedes a moral evaluation of the systems. In fact, such thinking may well be a prerequisite for moral reasoning: the great French mathematician, philosopher, and theologian Pascal was not far off the mark when he wrote, “Travaillons donc a penser bien; voilà le principle de la morale.” (“Let us work hard at trying to think clearly; herein lies the source of moral conduct.”)

An economy or economic system, be it primitive or modern, socialist or capitalist, is a social system through which people cooperate in using what they have (in terms of raw materials, land, labor, skills, tools, and so on) to produce what they want. All such systems face the same problem: what people have is limited, but what people want is limitless. The use of scarce re sources to produce one good “costs” alternative uses of the same resources to produce other goods. How, then, so to allocate scarce resources that what people value more is produced at the “cost” of what people value less?

Human beings have devised only three means whereby scarce resources are allegedly so allocated: tradition, political processes, and market forces.

Tradition as the determiner of resource allocation is typical of small, closely-knit, essentially static tribal societies. The reason for this is simple. The information necessary for the allocation of resources is readily available and slow to change. Members of the tribe know, by and large, what raw materials are available, what skills the tribe possesses, and what the tribe wants.

Comparable information is not, however, easily obtained in a large, complex society. In such a society people’s wants are many and varied. Individuals possess different skills, and specialize in producing different goods and services. Rapidly changing technologies make some skills redundant and the acquisition of new skills an imperative. The raw materials available are many, are distributed globally, and are constantly changing in their relative scarcities. How to know, given such complexity, what people want? How to know the totality of skills upon which a society can draw? How to know what new skills are appropriately developed? How to know what raw materials are available and their changing relative scarcities? How, in sum, to collate, synthesize, and relate production to rapidly changing information diffused not simply among the members of a given society but among the countless people making up a global network of interdependent societies?

A Task for Government

The socialist answer is that only government can conceivably carry out such a mammoth task. The sheer complexity of a modern society makes expert centralized planning an utter necessity. A tribal society may be able to allocate scarce resources and coordinate its economic activities by tradition. A moderately complex society may be able to entrust resource allocation and economic coordination to private individuals. Today, however, the information needed to allocate resources and coordinate productive effort is so unspeakably complex and so widely diffused that detailed planning by full-time experts is required. A politically determined allocation of resources, and politically coordinated productive enterprises, are demanded if people’s wants are to be satisfied. A society allocating scarce resources by political processes alone, a society coordinating its economic life by political processes alone, is a purely “socialist” society.

The defenders of a capitalist economic system retort that such a solution to the problem posed by diffused and constantly changing information fails even to grasp the immensity of that problem. The information required to coordinate a modern economy is so complex and so diffused that no one can collate or synthesize it. Indeed, much of this information takes the form of a “knowing how” rather than a “knowing that,” and in principle defies systematization. Information as to individuals’ wants is essentially private, and while past wants may be capable of being inferred from a detailed record of individuals’ past behavior, present wants cannot be so determined. Paradoxically, the more complex a society becomes, the less manageable its economic activities are.

Yet, an unmanageable system can work very well indeed! In and through the seemingly random activities of individuals seeking to ira-prove their own situations, what people want encounters what people are willing and able to do. The resulting possibilities are summarized in a huge catalogue of alternatives, with a price appended to each available option. Information diffused through the members of a given society, and even beyond that society, is thus made available to all decision-makers, from the humblest consumer to the most “exalted” business executive.

To Obtain Optimum Use of Scarce and Valuable Resources

The ever-changing relative money prices generated by the ongoing processes of supply and de mand make available, in an appropriately distilled form, a totality of information no experts could ever acquire. A rise in the relative price of a good informs consumers that a good is becoming scarce and should therefore be used more sparingly; the same signal informs producers that more of the good, or some substitute for the good, should be produced. This information as to what ought to be done to accommodate the new social situation is linked with incentives so to act: a rising relative price encourages consumers to be more frugal in their use of a good or to seek out an alternative, and encourages producers to make available more of the good, or a substitute for the good. People, in short, are able to discover what to do, and are encouraged to do what is required, if the resources they possess are to produce the goods and services they want.

The notion of a system which is the creation of intelligent action but not the outcome of deliberate design is to some people (especially intellectuals) a distressing notion. The claim that such a system can draw upon a totality of information no experts could collate or synthesize is an affront to human vanity. Yet the notion is familiar. No “experts” met, meditated, and produced language. “Experts” have yet fully to understand or systematize the subtlety and order—the “deep grammar”—of language. Yet ordinary people (whose forebears, by experiment and experience, gave birth to language) use it, with great effectiveness, every day.

So with the market. The market is not, despite the name, a place. It is rather the total set of possible exchanges of goods and services human beings can engage in, the voluntary cooperative endeavors in which they engage, and the humble reality of the ever-changing relative money prices these myriad events generate. A society allocating scarce resources by market forces alone, a society coordinating its economic life by market forces alone, is a purely “capitalist” society.

Assessing “Socialism” and “Capitalism” in Theory

The most obvious, albeit frequently neglected, contrast between a socialist and a capitalist economy has already been made. Socialism presupposes Promethean figures capable of acquiring knowledge beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Capitalism presupposes that all human beings are finite creatures who know but in part. There are no all-wise führers or class-conscious workers or liberated intellectuals capable of mastering the information necessary to coordinate the productive efforts of the masses. Fallible human beings who attain political office remain fallible human beings, no more capable of directing a modern economic system than is the humblest citizen wise enough to know how little he knows. Those who make the plans in a so- called “planned economy” or who give the commands in a so-called “command economy” simply do not, and cannot, know enough to make plans or issue commands drawing on the information informing and guiding a capitalist economy. For these people are but people. They are not gods.

“But do not the managing directors of large companies make plans and issue orders? Are not the captains of industry ‘really’ in charge of capitalist nations, determining where the ship of state shall sail and dictating the destination to which the passengers shall be taken?”

The questions are familiar. The answers should be obvious. How do managing directors make their plans or decide upon their orders? How do captains of industry set their course? They commune with changing relative money prices and seek to optimize their profits. They heed, in other words, the instructions of the masses. For it is the fickle masses who, by their decisions to buy or to abstain from buying, ultimately generate these prices. They demand more of some good; the alert “captain of industry” perceives that the relative price of this good is rising and feverishly redirects his crew’s efforts to comply with the demands he correctly has decoded. Consumers tire of a good; the managing director perceives that the relative price of this good is falling and sets himself to redirect the resources his company possesses. In each case, the “leader” knows what to do, and if not led by that knowledge, loses his position. The ostensible leader is, in truth, the led.

The Capitalist Economy

Indeed, this insight suggests the second contrast between a socialist and a capitalist economy. Not only does capitalism begin with the stark fact of human ignorance, it begins with equally stark fact of human selfishness. It challenges not simply the socialist assumption that somewhere, somehow, some person or set of people is capable of knowing what ordinary mortals could never know, but the further assumption that such people would, if controlling an economy by political means, direct production so that it benefited the multitudes no less than themselves. The all-wise planners are also all-good.

Not so the decision-makers in a capitalist economy. They are assumed to be no better and no worse than anyone else. They will put their own interests, and the interests of those nearest and dearest to them, before the interests of anyone and everyone else. Yet, as noted, men and women immediately responsible in a capitalist economy for the deployment of resources must, if they successfully are to further their own interests, heed and obey what other people pursuing their own interests demand, as revealed in and through changing relative money prices. No paragons of unearthly virtue, impartially noting the preferences of all and directing production without giving undue prominence to their own preferences, are presupposed.

Indeed it is possible to read Adam Smith’s justly famous attack on the politically controlled economy of mercantilism and defense of the market-controlled system of capitalism, as a commentary upon human frailty and sinfulness. Businessmen “seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”[17] Politicians are but “insidious and crafty animal[s]” incapable of considering long-term goods, being addicted to short-term benefits, “the momentary fluctuations of affairs.”[18] Ordinary people foolishly “enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies . . . [and] are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement . . . .”[19] Truly, “all have sinned.”

Human beings are finite and human beings are “fallen.” So asserts Christian orthodoxy, and so, in other terms, assert most of humanity’s religious traditions. Socialism denies this assertion. It postulates virtually omniscient, omnibenevo-lent beings who know what ordinary mortals could never know and are marked by an impartiality ordinary mortals cannot attain. Capitalism, conversely, begins with human beings as they are, coordinating the self-interested actions of self-interested people so as to produce an unintended beneficial outcome, and enabling the actions of ignorant people to be informed by more knowledge than such people could ever individually acquire. It seems odd for churchpeople to applaud a system presupposing the falsity of a basic Christian teaching—indeed odd for any person to applaud a system presupposing the falsity of what seems so evidently true.

Assessing “Socialism” and “Capitalism” in Practice

When William Temple asserted that “socialism is the economic realization of the Christian Gospel,” socialism was, by and large, a pipe-dream. Today some fourscore regimes describing themselves as socialist exist. The bare bones of theory have taken on flesh; the ideal has become incarnate.

It should, indeed must, be conceded that no purely socialist societies exist, the allocation of scarce resources being determined solely by political processes. Nor for that matter do any purely capitalist societies exist, this allocation being ef-fected solely by market forces. The purely socialist and purely capitalist society are, in Max Weber’s expression, “ideal types.” Yet existing societies approach one or the other of the two models. In thissense the United States of America, Australia, and Hong Kong can be spoken of as essentially capitalist societies and the Soviet Union, mainland China, and Tanzania be spoken of as essentially socialist societies. Hence, even granting the non-existence of pure socialism or pure capitalism, comparisons can still be made.


The argument was proffered earlier about the impossibility of socialist planners collating, synthesizing, and directing production by reference to the totality of information diffused throughout a society, but available, in a capitalist society, in the distilled form of relative money prices. If that argument holds, one would expect socialist economies to be grossly inefficient in so allocating scarce resources that people’s wants are satisfied. Observation does not disappoint this expectation!

In the late 1960s Paul Ehrlich lamented in The Population Bomb[20] that men and women “acquainted with the available evidence” agreed that India could never be self-sufficient in food. He quoted, and agreed with, Louis H. Bean, who said, “My examination of the trend on India’s grain production over the past eighteen years leads me to the conclusion that the present 1967-1968 production . . . is at maximum level.”[21]

Today India is self-sufficient in grain. During the 1970s massive institutional reforms were implemented. From 1947, when achieving independence, India’s leaders have been avowedly anti-capitalist, opting for a centrally planned, socialist economy. Tariffs and quotas have controlled imports; extensive subsidies have controlled exports. Wage and price controls have been ubiquitous. Steeply progressive taxation rates have allegedly redistributed wealth. “Five year” plans have prescribed detailed programs of investment and economic development. And most people have gone hungry.

Hence, during the 1970s agriculture was deregulated and essentially entrusted to market forces. Price controls were lifted, food products being allowed to find their market pricing levels. Farmers were allowed to determine what they would produce by reference to anticipated returns, rather than being required to comply with the edicts of central planners. Taxation reforms were implemented so that farmers could retain more of the income their planning and efforts created. Production increased, being sufficiently large to keep the general food price reasonably low. Farmers’ incomes simultaneously increased. By 1977 India was actually exporting grain and agonizing over the welcome problem of how best to store surplus crops.

Simply, the market worked.

The Market in Sri Lanka

It worked also in Sri Lanka. When Sri Lanka achieved its independence it, like India, opted for a socialist economy. By 1977 the nation stood on the brink of ruin. Yet in that year’s presidential elections the United National Party’s leader, J. R. Jayawardene, called for an abandonment of socialist policies. When he and his party assumed of-rice, government was consuming 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s wealth, as measured by the so-called Gross National Product. Tax cuts and drastic reductions in government spending reduced that amount to under 40 per cent. Agriculture was restored to the free market; the government’s monopoly on transportation was ended; even part of the postal system was sold to private enterprise. Over one hundred and twenty foreign investment projects were approved. In five years Sri Lanka was enjoying vastly increased agricultural production, a 50 per cent increase in that admittedly strange measure the National Standard of Living, and in 1982 a return of Mr. Jayawardene’s government with an 80 per cent majority and a mandate further to move the Sri Lankan economy toward capitalism. Again, the market had triumphed.[22]

It is therefore little wonder that in socialist states—in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, mainland China, and even Soviet Russia—the most interesting and promising economic experiments relate to an increased reliance upon the market forces. In particular, food production has been deemed, it would seem, too important to be entrusted to “scientific socialism”! As is well known, the main productive units of Soviet Russia’s state and collectivist agricultural sectors—the Sovkhoz and the Kolk-hoz respectively—have long been notoriously inefficient, the tiny three per cent of cultivated land returned to private control producing thirty per cent of the meat, milk, and green vegetables, thirty-three per cent of the eggs, and sixty-one per cent of the potatoes available to feed the men, women, and children of Soviet Russia.

Perhaps the most startling manifestation of such experiments is a volume of essays recently published by mainland Chinese economists: China’s Search for Economic Growth.[23] The contributors redefine “authentic socialism” in terms of the principle, “From each according tohis ability; to each according to his work,”[24] laud the virtues of saving and of capital accumulation,[25] and deride egalitarianism as an evil doctrine which “protects the backward, obstructs the advanced, frustrates the enthusiastic, lowers working efficiency, and is, in general, a hindrance to the realization of socialist modernization.”[26]

Four Little Dragons

Perhaps the productive efficiency of capitalism is best perceived by comparing the economic situation of the “four little dragons”—Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea—with the sorry plight of Tanzania.

The “four little dragons,” capitalist societies, are surging ahead. During the 1970s they posted an annual growth rate of 9.4 per cent. With only 1.4 per cent of the world’s population, these nations—enjoying sparse natural resources—produce 6 per cent of the world’s manufacturing exports. In Singapore, real per capita income has doubled every decade; in Hong Kong, real per capita income has increased sevenfold since 1946; and South Korea’s per capita income is double that of resource-rich North Korea.

Yet, compare the situation in Tanzania. Prior to the advent of President Julius Nyerere and his particular version of socialism, Tanzania enjoyed a robust economy and thriving agricultural bases, actually exporting maize. Agriculture was collectivized in the name of “agrarian reform”; the country, as a result, is now utterly dependent upon foreign aid (of which socialist Tanzania has received more per capita than any other Third World Nation) for the most basic of foodstuffs. Output per worker has declined 50 per cent over a single decade. The government bureaucracy, however, has increased by 15 per cent per annum, doubling in under a decade. Of the more than three hundred industries socialized by president Nyerere, nearly half were bankrupt by 1975; most of the others now operate at a loss, consuming more scarce resources than their output warrants. Life for the masses has become, if not brutish, certainly nasty[27]

Such “materialistic” concerns may seem a matter of indifference to many churchmen extolling the virtues of socialism. But man—adam—is of the earth—adamah; the book of Genesis has it right. People do not live by bread alone, but they need bread if they are to live at all. The hungry cannot be fed until food is produced; the naked cannot be clothed until clothing is created; the destitute cannot be sheltered until bricks are made and houses are built. Talk about an “ethic of distribution” is at best self-indulgent and at worst sheer impertinence if divorced from an ethic of production. And the evidence is clear, the evidence is concise, the evidence is conclusive: a socialist economy is simply unable so to allocate scarce resources that the most basic of human needs can be met. An alleged concern for the needy inexorably leads to the espousal of that economic system which historically has produced sufficient wealth to transform the very nature of poverty. And the name of that system is capitalism.

Socialist churchmen who read to their congregations the parable of the judgment of the nations found in Matthew chapter twenty-five might do well to commune with the plethora of evidence available as to the relative success of a capitalist economy and a socialist economy in producing food and clothing and shelter sufficient for all, quietly read the parable yet again, and reconsider their commitment to socialism. Minimally, they might ask why it is they are consumed with an abhor-fence of the very economic system which, to date, has best done what they profess to value most.

Yet, economic efficiency is not and cannot be the entire story. As it happens (and as Adam Smith pointed out over two hundred years ago) the institution of slavery is a singularly economically inefficient social institution. Suppose, however, it contributed to economic efficiency. What then? If Egypt’s Pharaoh had established to the satisfaction of Moses that the continuing enslavement of the children of Israel was necessary for Egypt’s economic well-being, would Moses have thanked him for the information, sighed with relief that he had not unintentionally wrought great harm, and composed a little song entitled, “Don’t Let My People Go!”?

Clearly, further issues have to be considered.


Not all capitalist societies are free societies, Indeed, not all people who have defended the view that only market forces can allocate scarce resources so that people’s wants are least inadequately met, have even defended the free society. The Phy-siocrats who preceded Adam Smith and who coined the motto, “Laissez-faire, laissez-passer” (“Let things alone, let things pass”) advocated absolute monarchy: such a form of government, they argued, would be consolidated and made more stable if the monarch recognized the inexorable laws which govern economic affairs, did not intervene in the market, and thereby allowed wealth to be created and his people to enjoy prosperity.

Societies can be identified today, which, although numbered among those nations clustering around the ideal type of economic system described above as “pure capitalism,” do not respect a body of civil rights, both in government and against government, enjoyed by all. More precisely, not all capitalist societies existing in the past or in the present enjoy institutional provisions for political opposition and for a change in government by universal franchise and a body of civil liberties protected from the whims of any given government.

Yet, while not all capitalist societies are free societies, all free societies are capitalist societies. No socialist societies are free societies. More: if non-free societies are divided into authoritarian societies and totalitarian societies, all totalitarian societies turn out to be, or to have been, socialist societies. Authoritarian capitalist societies do exist and have existed, but no totalitarian capitalist societies do exist or have existed.

Socialism enjoys a negative correlation with political liberty and a positive correlation with totalitarianism. Capitalism, however, seems to be a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for political liberty.

It is obvious why capitalism is incompatible with totalitarianism. Capitalism demands, by definition, forces and institutions detached from government. It depends upon individual men and women seeking to improve their own situation in their own ways. It depends upon the free meeting of what people want with what people are willing and able to do. It depends upon people being free to perceive opportunities to improve their situation and to devise and implement means which, they believe and hope, will enable them to avail themselves of these opportunities. It depends upon people being able to form voluntary associations and to devise forms of cooperation that will enable them to achieve together what they could not have achieved alone.

Total Political Control

Totalitarianism demands the subordination of all human activities to political control. Indeed politics, in a totalitarian society, are omnipresent. No social institutions are, ideally from the totalitarian’s viewpoint, non-politicized. Religious institutions, social institutions, legal institutions, academic institutions, the family—nothing falls outside the province of political action and control. The totalitarian state ascribes to itself the attributes of God: omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Authoritarianism does not seek to make the political omni present; rather, it seeks to make the political taboo! So long as an individual’s actions do not impinge upon the political, considerable liberty can be enjoyed. Economic exchanges can be made. Voluntary associations can be formed. Newspapers and books can be published. The one proviso is that no attempt is made to challenge the political status quo.

Yet, while a capitalist economy is compatible with political authoritarianism, a tension exists. The existence of institutions not directly controlled by government makes opposition to a given government possible, albeit dangerous. More importantly, people begin to desire in the political sphere the sovereignty they enjoy in the economic sphere. Why should not those people immediately controlling political institutions be as subject to the wants of the people as are those enjoying immediate control of resources in the economic sphere? The seed of liberty planted in the economic field increases and multiplies and soon takes root in the political field. The authoritarian regime either drifts toward totalitarianism or is supplanted by the free society.

Vital Economic Liberty

Economic liberty and political liberty strengthen and reinforce each other. They are twins, although not “Siamese twins.” One twin—economic liberty—can exist without the other—political liberty—although strangely, political liberty cannot exist without economic liberty. Authoritarianism is threatened by the presence of economic liberty. Totalitarianism cannot tolerate the presence of such liberty at all.

The Christian believes in a God Who made man in His own image, a God Who endowed His creature with something of the perfect freedom that is God’s alone. Made in the imago Dei human beings are free: free to dream their own dreams and struggle to make them come true, free to formulate their own visions of the “good life” and strive to realize them, free to set their own goals and seek to achieve them. It is strange when those who profess to serve that God—a God Who simultaneously loves His creature yet so reveres that creature’s autonomy that He allows him to choose damnation—willingly disregard human liberty, claiming, in effect, the “right” coercively to “correct” dreams they judge foolish, to veto visions of the “good life” they judge inadequate, and to proscribe goals they judge unworthy. It is stranger still when one remembers that such churchmen claim to follow One Who prefers to “stand at the door and knock”[28] rather than use the battering ram of coercion. Strangest of all is the assumption of churchmen advocating a “planned” or “command” economy that they shall be numbered among the mighty who draw up the plans and issue the commands rather than among the planned and the commanded.[29]

Socialism is, for many, the appropriate stance of the revolutionary spirit which yearns for what could be and is discontent with what is. Yet, rule by proud people who claim to know what no one can know and promise to do what no one can do is not new. Rulers dining at tables laden with the produce of those they have enslaved are not new. The tired masses waiting in queues for bread are not new. The suppression of human liberty is not new. One law for the rulers and another law for the ruled is not new. If this be revolution it is the revolution of the full circle and the return to what was before the dream of freedom burst into flame and the tyrants fell and the “rights” of all people were proclaimed.


There is a revolution men and women of goodwill can seek. Other revolutions ended in terror or tyranny, or resulted in Napoleonic empire. This revolution is never finally realized. It is ongoing, continuous, dynamic. It challenged at its beginning, and has challenged ever since, all dominations and tyrannies, all bigotries and prejudices, all predatory institutions debasing and enslaving the free spirit of humanity. It cries that people are not chattels, not pawns on a planner’s chessboard. It is therefore sacrilegious to enslave them, infamous to engineer them, criminal to degrade them and rob them of the liberty that burns within their being.

In truth no tyrant can expropriate that liberty. If it die, people have themselves quenched it; if it be absent, people have themselves thrown it away; if it be not perceived, people have closed their own eyes. For that liberty is the gift of the Creator, and its destruction can be wrought only by those to whom it was given.

God help us not so to destroy it. God help us and our children’s children if we do! []

1.   Quoted in Marxism and Christianity, ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York: Humanities Press, 1968), p. 203.

2.   Quoted in Forderungen der Umkehr. Bei-träge zur Gesellschafi, Helmut Gollwitzer (Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1976), p. 173.

3.   K. Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik III/[4] (Munich and Zurich: 1951), p. 623.

4.   P. Tillich et al., “Der Sozialismus als Kirchenfrage,” in Gesammelte Werke, Vol. H, Paul Tillich (Stuttgart: Evangelisches Verlasgwerk, 1962), p. 19.

5.   Quoted by J. P. Wogaman, The Great Economic Debate (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p. 133.

6.   R. Niebuhr, “Socialism and Christianity,” Christian Century (August 19, 1931).

7.   J. L. Segundo, The Liberation of Theology (New York: Orbis Books, 1976).

8.   G. Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1973).

9.   J. B. Metz, Theology of the World, trans. William Glen-Doepel (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971).

10.   J. Moltmann, The Experiment Hope (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).

11.   D. Sölle, Political Theology, trans. John Shelley (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974).

12.   An admirable discussion of the World Council of Churches is provided by Amsterdam to Nairobi, Ernest W. Lefeber (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1979); an equally admirable discussion of the U.S. National Council of Churches is found in The Coercive Utopians, R. J. and E. Isaac (Chicago: Regnery-Gateway, 1983), chap. 2.

13.   See, for example, “Economics and the Canadian Bishops: A Symposium,” This World, Spring/Summer 1983, pp. 122ff. and “On Economics and the Canadian Bishops,” Walter Block, Focus Number Three (Vancouver, B. C.: The Fraser Institute, 1983).

14.   The Kindness That Kills, D. Anderson (ed.) (London: S.P.C.K., 1984), p. 9.

15.   SChaining Australia, G. Brennan and J. K. Williams (eds.) (St. Leonards: Centre for Inde pendent Studies, 1984).

16.   Two such works are The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, M. Novak (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982) and The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism, R. Benne (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981).

17.   A. Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (New York: Random House, Modern Library Edition, 1937), p. 128.

18.   Ibid., p. 435.

19.   Ibid., p. 872.

20.   P. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine, 1968).

21.   Ibid., p. 40f.

22.   An admirable study of the Sri Lankan dalliance with socialism is found in L. J. M. Cooray, The 1983 James Peiris Memorial Lecture (The Sri Lanka Foundation Institute).

23.   X. Dixin (ed.), China’s Search for Economic Growth (Beijing: New World Press, 1982).

24.   Ibid., pp. 19, 102, 104, 107.

25.   Ibid., p. 109.

26.   Ibid., p. 122.

27.   T. Sowell, The Economics and Politics of Race (New York: William Morrow, 1983), p. 240.

28.   Revelation 3:20.

29.   Matthew 23:12. Philippians 2:6-11 also merit contemplation.