By Joel McDurmon
Last week I wrote on the Planks of Communism as they have manifested in America. I have to admit that their manifestation is, in some cases, not total, but that they have begun to manifest should be almost as worrying. I ended the piece with the promise that this week I would reveal the surprising reason why Marx succeeded in America, and the Christian culture that let him in. I offer this analysis in hopes of enlightening us all to the reasons why humanism advances, and to emphasize the need for a Biblically-centered social program.
Why did Marxism succeed as it did? I understood the reason simply after reading the Communist Manifesto itself. It is clear to me from that reading that Marx was reacting against two things primarily. One is obvious to all: the horrible conditions of factory workers at the time. Marx, even if he himself had never even set foot in a factory, nor hardly even held a job, could leverage the publically perceived evil of oppressive factory conditions. He had the rhetorical ability-like certain modern politicians-to agitate feelings of resentment and call for “change.” In Marx’s social climate those feelings needed little goading, and the abysmal conditions are a well established aspect of the story.
The second point of reaction for Marx-and this is more implied than explicit-is the right-wing of enlightenment rationalism embodied in the conservative writers at the time. This is clear from Marx’s interactions in the Manifesto to the standard responses of conservatives at the time. These interactions appear on at least four issues on which Marx anticipated alarm: abolishing of property, abolishing the family, the socialization of education, communal sharing of women. On each Marx stood ready with a counter-attack that exposed the hypocrisy of status quo ideology.
On property Marx argued that the present system denied the ability for nine-percent of the population to acquire private property. Thus, it had been abolished in practice for most people anyway. On family, Marx decried the exploitation of children by their parents who sought to gain from child labor in factories. Marx argued that the same forces of industry allowed many children to be denied education as they were forced to work. In the light of common practice, Marx denounced the “claptrap” about “the hallowed co-relation of parent and child,” since “by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.”[i] Likewise, on the radical-sounding issue of “community of women,” Marx argued that it in fact already existed among them in the forms of prostitution, exploitation of the working class “wives and daughters at their disposal,” and rampant adultery with each other’s wives.
Even if all of Marx’s arguments are a stretch, the common thread that runs through them is hypocrisy. Except for the property issue (and even this can be nuanced to be understandable), Marx was absolutely right about the hypocrisy of those who defended the contemporary society using conservative arguments. There was no defense of the status quo. These political issues were moral issues, and thus issues of religious law. Where was the church? Where was the preacher? Society was morally bankrupt, and the trusted institutions that should have provoked change did not. Even though his system was consciously atheistic, Marx’s humanism took the place of religious law by default.
The truth is that the churches and preachers did denounce the immorality: but they provided no practical alternative. The church’s message needs more study and elucidation than I am ready or able to present here, but you will be hard pressed to find any system of social law at the time coming from a biblical perspective. As far as I can tell, there were few Christian writers who presented a clear alternative, certainly not a distinctly biblical alternative. The church’s responses merely echoed the common responses of the two parties, both of which derived from some form of humanistic rationalism as their philosophical basis, or fell into ancient ritualism. Parts of the church were, indeed, active on social issues. In fact, the evils of the new industrial technology and factory provoked countless sermons during the time.[ii] You will certainly find appeals to charity and helping the poor, you will find abundant claims about the centrality of religion, but what law was appealed to? What social theory backed it?
There were Christian activists working on social issues. The Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Chalmers reformed and reinvigorated education and the economy in his parish, and reduced poverty and government expenditure on poverty through ecclesiastical organization. Likewise, William Wilberforce famously worked to end the slave trade. But action without theory explaining it is easily ignored or reinterpreted by opposing groups-a technique Marx was expert at.
The great problem was this: conservatives did not have a workable and compelling answer for the social ills, while socialists at least presented one.
Conservatives are always at a disadvantage to liberals for this reason: conservatives generally don’t want change, and thus rarely present a viable program for social change. Their answers thus become defensive and ad hoc. Socialists look competent and promising in comparison simply because they count on change, even if that change is not necessarily good in the long run. The only change conservatives appear to offer is a return to the way things used to be, and this rarely takes the form of thought-out, concrete, practical, helpful steps-it strongly smacks of nostalgia. But it seems apparent to all that whatever social ills afflict us at the time will not go away by doing nothing, nor by merely lamenting that the present is not like the past. Thus whatever specie of “change” is presented sounds better than the present condition. This is rarely true, but the rhetoric of “change” is persuasive nonetheless. Unless conservative Christians can present a forward-looking, optimistic vision for society, then they will continue to allow socialism and other unbiblical political systems to succeed.
This, once again, leaves us with the question: “So, what are we supposed to do?” It is easy to say “the churches and Christians have failed,” “we have to point the finger at us.” It is easy to say, “We need to pray,” and we must pray. But I think the beginning step is to reclaim our children: reclaim them from a host of educational evils that don’t need to be relisted here. This reclamation and reformation can take place, and is at the heart of American Vision’s mission. We already have one complete 12-part instructional course on history-From Terror to Triumph. With our Mandate 28 program we will be producing materials concentrated on education for reinvigorating man and society. Based on the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, and the great commission of Matthew 28, our program will eventually produce an entire curriculum aimed at recapturing the hearts and minds of the next generation. It is possible. It has begun. It can only help. Your donation can only further the impact.
[i] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. Lewis S. Feuer (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1959), 25.
[ii] Robert A. Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993 ), 29-30.
From American VIsion