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December 19, 2006

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Huw Richardson

Communism as fundamentally evil on a spiritual level

Forgive me if I laugh outright. There's so many theological claims in those 8 words that you would need something at least as long as the XXXIX Articles to defend them all. If you mean the application of Marxism in the soviet states was done in an evil way... then I can agree with you.

But if you mean what you seem to be saying, then wow - I see what went wrong w/ political conservatism from the very beginning.

Chris Jones

Huw,

You are quite right that there is a great deal of thought packed into that little phrase. I certainly don't intend to persuade anyone who does not already believe it, simply by asserting it. Indeed, my point was one of intellectual history: not that the phrase is true, but simply that it formed the intellectual core of the 20th century conservative movement.

A very great deal has in fact been written in defense of that proposition, by folks much smarter than myself. For a start, I should refer you to the essay collection From Under The Rubble edited by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; and Socialism In Our Past And Future by Igor Shafarevich.

I will say that when I used the term "Communism" I did mean "the political ideology which formed the basis of the Soviet state", not "any and all forms of Marxism or socialism". Nevertheless, I cannot regard Marxism as somehow a fundamentally good and true political philosophy which was unfortunately "done in an evil way" in the Soviet Union. I believe that Marxism is fundamentally false, and that the evils which were done in its name (in the Soviet Union and elsewhere) were not alien to it, but rather proceeded from its premises. My thinking on this has been deeply influenced by the two works I referred to above (in particular the essay "As Breathing and Consciousness Return" by Solzhenitsyn).

That is not to say that I could not be wrong about this. But if I am wrong, I am in good company.

What is it that you think "I seem to be saying"? and what, then, is it that "went wrong w/ political conservatism from the very beginning"?

Huw Richardson

I have to say first that I've not read the works you've cited, so too, can be horribly wrong here.

Thank you for clarifying (a) the claims of the movement; and (b) your own point.

You say, "I believe that Marxism is fundamentally false, and that the evils which were done in its name (in the Soviet Union and elsewhere) were not alien to it, but rather proceeded from its premises. " That is close enough to what I "thought you seemed to be saying" for my notes. (Gack, I think that's correct grammar!)

I'd question how one can say "fundamentally false" which, to my thinking, implies there is a human form of economic theory and government that is "fundamentally true". If you had said "fundamentally flawed" I'd agree - and might even be directed to seeing how other things "proceeded from its premises." But "false" (with the implication of something else being "true") seems to me a theological statement that has implications in salvation and ecclesiology. In so far as this political claim is a theological claim, it seems counter to "my kingdom is not of this world" which I read to mean (among other things) that all human systems are fundamentally flawed. This doesn't mean some are not flawed more than others, but it does mean none are True - and thus none can really be false, I think - save as all are false.


Chris Jones

No implication that there is a human form of economic theory and government that is "fundamentally true" was intended. I don't think that an assertion that "X is false" ever implies "there exists Y (in the same universe of discourse) that is true". Even if all human forms of economic theory and government are in some sense false, it remains true that Marxism is false. If "flawed" expresses that better than "false", I am down with that.

I can see where this raised a red flag (no pun intended) for you: if I was implying that "there must be a true ideology", then I must have been endorsing unbridled capitalism as that "true ideology". And there are some quarters of the conservative movement that are guilty of that. (Indeed, there is a discussion at the National Review blog over the last couple of days over one writer's use of the phrase the redemptive power of the free market. To their credit, the Christians among the NR folks rejected this phrase, and gently corrected the writer (an agnostic) for failing to recognize the theological freight of the word "redemptive".)

If Marxism is regarded as an ideology or a social and economic system, then I would agree that it is one of many more or less false (or flawed) such system; and there is no such system that is "true". But Marxism (especially in its Leninist form) may also be regarded as a religion, one that is designedly anti-Christian. When viewed in that manner, it does make sense to say that it is "fundamentally false", because it may indeed be contrasted with another that is "fundamentally true".

Chris Jones

BTW if you would be interested, I have (somewhere) a copy of From Under The Rubble which I should be glad to lend you. It really is outstanding; it is not so much a political work as a spiritual work in a political context, from a deeply Orthodox perspective.

If you are interested, drop me an e-mail and give me your physical address, and I will mail it to you.

Huw Richardson

As we're both agreed on "flawed" (and no "true") I'm down with this post. Although I think the "traditional" conservatives of NRO, etc, might be more inclined to agree with my "creedal" interpretations of the line.

I'd love another book. Thank you deeply for your gracious offer. But It will be the 3rd time in 2007 I've turned down the chance: I'm so far behind in reading that I think I shall take a 2-week vacation just to get back in the habit of opening a book! It's hard to read living in a place where I don't have 1 hour + a day sitting on a train or bus for reading.

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