Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Dangers of Socialism (article in The Homiletic Review) 1913

The Dangers of Socialism (article in The Homiletic Review) 1913

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The prime, fundamental, and far-reaching danger of socialism is generally believed to be its minimizing of the individual and of personal responsibility. Yet error here is fatal. The supreme object of human existence is probably the training and development of individuals. Under socialism this seems reduced to a minimum. A man's life under socialism is not his own to guide. The individual is but a part of a cooperative government, in which he may have a voice, but which, according to the socialist theory, will control his economic life, and, as a result, largely his whole life. This, to say the least, reduces individual responsibility to a minimum. The private ownership of wealth may produce serious ills and the struggle with poverty for self and family entail untold hardship, but both these conditions at least furnish probably the supreme means in life for personal discipline, and for the development of character and of mind. If socialism fails here, it fails in the most important thing in life.

A danger only less than the foregoing is that while, as previously stated, the theories of socialism are not necessarily materialistic, they nevertheless put such stress upon the economic basis, upon outward circumstance, and material condition, that they tend at least to minimize, if not to ignore, the spiritual in man. Given the philosophy of economic determinism developed in a purely economic cooperative state, it is difficult to see how spirituality can be developed. Yet to ignore the spiritual in man is certainly to make almost, if not quite, as serious an error as to ignore the individual altogether.

Coming to lesser, but yet serious evils, socialism appears dangerous on account of its program. It proposes a large and revolutionary plan for society, a plan so vast and far-reaching that, even were its eventual realization possible, the danger is that it would first cause serious disaster to civilization. Its adherents appeal to the interests of working people, to passion, and to prejudice. The danger is not imagined that, even granting their ultimate theories to be desirable and practicable, they may raise a spirit which they can not control, and in practise give the world mob rule and anarchy in place of socialism.

The thoroughgoing socialist believes that "class consciousness" is necessary to his movement. By this, the thoughtful socialist tells us, he does not mean class hatred; he means, he is anxious to explain, that there is to-day a class strife between the wage-payer and the wage-earner; that whether we like this or not, such is the fact; that the interests of employer and employee are fundamentally and necessarily divergent; that it can be ended only by the abolition of the wage system, and that only men conscious of this, chiefly of the wage-earning class, can really and intelligently bring in socialism. Socialists say they develop class consciousness only to abolish class strife. In practise, however, to the large majority of people this means a class hatred and class struggle from which come some of the direst dangers of the movement.

Coming to economic dangers, it is at least questionable whether socialism could work successfully, even if it could be tried. Many economists believe that it would so lessen production that it would mean in practise "not an equal distribution of a common wealth, but an equal distribution of a common poverty." It is private initiative, personal interest, and individual action which have thus far been the main elements in successful production. Cooperation has been successful, increasingly so indeed, whenever it has been associated with motives of private Interest and individual advancement; but whether a vast state could economically succeed where these individual motives would be almost wholly eliminated seems more than doubtful.

A very large share of successful modern production, too, is due to men of daring and of large initiative who have made bold ventures and done great things for the advancement of the world. They have been in part moved to this by the possibility of large personal returns. Under a socialistic state this could not be allowed, and socialism would therefore deprive production of one of its greatest mainsprings.

Again, government, however democratic or fraternal, must after all in its practical details be managed by a comparatively few men. How any body of men, however wise and well meaning, could possibly manage the vast undertakings required by socialism, it is impossible for most men to see. They consequently believe socialism to be undesirable in principle and impossible in practise.

All that is good in socialism, its opponents claim, is being slowly developed to-day under the present conditions of civilization; that deep reforms are needed is not denied; but that such far-reaching changes as socialism would involve, based upon "colossal dogmas, unverified and unverifiable," can be put in practise without disaster to civilization thoughtful people at least must question.

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