Editor’s Note: This limited series is adapted from the 2021 Defender book by Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis, Give Me Liberty, Not Marxism.
The election of Joe Biden to the American presidency was accompanied by the banter of a number of ideological terms used in a variety of derogatory or supportive ways. We must define those terms, their origins, and consequences to establish a starting point.
These descriptive “isms” were used as both nouns and adjectives in the 2020 political discourse—capitalism, Marxism, communism, socialism, and progressivism—but too few Americans really understand the differences, much less the background and implications of each, especially from a Christian worldview perspective.
For most people, these isms became throw-away labels meant as adjectives modifying personalities (e.g., “She’s a socialist” or “He’s a progressive”), and ideas more often than not used in a derogatory fashion. Certainly in 2020, the political class at all levels used these isms to describe political philosophies and political figures or movements to gain support for or scandalize their opponents. However, these terms have serious meanings and implications for America’s future as well as for other societies that may embrace them as the basis for governance or for influencing their way of life.
For me, an evangelical Christian, I will define and describe each of these isms from my biblical worldview perspective. These definitions and my Christian perspective suggest the consequences of their impact for the American experiment going forward into the middle of the twenty-first century, especially the immediate dangers posed by a Biden administration that may embrace or excuse the most dangerous of these isms.
Now you know my credo: Free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity. And let me add to that from our Founding Fathers: Our Creator endowed us with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, freedom.[i]—Lawrence Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council
We begin with perhaps the most commonly understood ism associated with the American experience: capitalism. It might surprise the reader that many Americans are ignorant concerning capitalism, and many prefer alternatives like socialism.
A 2019 Pew Research poll found that 39 percent of Americans have both a positive view of capitalism and a negative view of socialism, “a quarter have positive views of both terms and 17% express negative opinions about both. Another 16% have a positive opinion of socialism and a negative opinion of capitalism.”[ii]
While two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans have a positive view of capitalism, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the system. One middle-age man spoke truth to Pew by paraphrasing a famous quote attributed to the World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “Capitalism is the worst way to set up a society, except for all the other ways.… Free markets allow for more innovative solutions and for more people to succeed.”[iii] That man was the exception, however.
Criticism of capitalism among those polled included the allegation that it creates an unfair economic structure, whereby only the few benefit from the system. Others claim that capitalism “has an exploitative and corrupt nature, often hurting either people or the environment.” And yet others (8 percent), according to Pew, mentioned that “corporations and wealthy people undermine the democratic process by having too much power in political matters. And 4% of those with a negative view say that capitalism can work, but to do so it needs better oversight and regulation.”[iv]
What is capitalism? It is the engine (economic system) that made and keeps America prosperous. I also believe it is the best economic system known to man and closest to the biblical prescription for mankind. In other words, I begin this volume with a description of the biblical “right way” to understand how wealth and means for creating wealth are controlled and owned. Capitalism is the vehicle that fuels free enterprise, allowing individuals to operate businesses with minimal government interference, but the state does have a role in enforcing laws that protect property rights and maintaining a stable currency.
David Landes, an economic historian and nonbeliever, explained that religion provided the engine behind the West’s great economic success. Specifically, Landes said the Judeo-Christian religions provided the individual with the “joy in discovery” granted him by the Creator; acknowledged the value God attaches to hard and good manual work; subordinates nature to the will of man without reservation; prescribes linear time, which can result in progress for one’s efforts; and grants respect for the market.[v]
Capitalism—the essence of what Landes described above—came about thanks to the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, according to historian Randall Collins. The Church found the correct mixture of rule of law and bureaucracy to resolve economic disputes, the specialization of labor and investment, and allowed for the accumulation of wealth empowered by the individual’s zest for enterprise and wealth creation.[vi]
Capitalism really began to fully blossom under the tutelage of the Catholic Church at the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which together transformed the world of enterprise. That marvelous marriage—of Church and Industrial Revolution—sparked competition and created markets for products like mechanical clocks, grist mills, ship rudders, and eyeglasses, and the production of iron and much more came to fruition thanks to human innovation and the engine of capitalism.
The coincidence of invention and the steady hand of the dominant, bureaucratic, rule of law by the Catholic Church which owned at the time nearly a third of all Europe, provided the environment for capitalism to flourish. The Church administered its resources via Church-based bureaucracies of arbitrators, negotiators, and judges and a common law that impacted every aspect of life to include economic, known in Latin as the jus canonicum or canon law.[vii]
The Cistercians, a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns, gave capitalism the spark to encourage entrepreneurs by creating a system of cost accounting, practicing the reinvestment of their profits back into their businesses, moving capital among their various businesses to optimize their return, and even cutting their losses in order to pursue better investment opportunities. In fact, the Cistercians came to dominate iron production in France; as historian Randall Collins wrote, they were the first founders of “the Protestant ethic without Protestantism.”[viii]
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The Catholic Church also brought “spontaneous order” to the emergent markets, explained Friedrich August von Hayek, one of the most influential economists and social theorists of the twentieth century. This was essential, because it gave way to predictable economic activity, a necessity for markets to develop. That concept of stability thanks to economic rules meant that if France needs wool, “prosperity can accrue to the English sheepherder who first increases his flock, systematizes his fleecers and combers, and improves the efficiency of his shipments,” according to Michael Novak, writing for the Acton Institute.[ix]
The evidence is undeniable: The Catholic Church played a critical role in the creation and success of capitalism, especially in the Western world. However, just because the Church helped create capitalism as an economic system does not necessarily mean that capitalism per se has a biblical endorsement. After all, economics influences many of our life choices, and those decisions should be governed for the Christian by a biblical worldview.
It is true the Bible nowhere mentions capitalism, but it does address characteristics and behaviors that are consistent with biblical principles. For example, the book of Proverbs deals extensively with economic matters and attitudes toward acquiring and handling wealth (e.g., Proverbs 10:15; 11:28; 14:20; 18:11; 19:4; 22:2; 28:11).
The Bible acknowledges the worth and dignity of every individual in the eyes of God. Capitalism as an economic model affords each person the best opportunity (dignity) to succeed subject to their talents, skills, intelligence and effort. That doesn’t mean it promises equal outcomes, but it does offer equal opportunity and encourages hard work.
A number of Scripture passages address man’s sin nature, which provides caution to believers when applied to their economic realm. For example, God grants to humans the right to own property, and as Genesis 1:28 states, to exercise dominion over the earth. That translates to property ownership and the opportunity to use it as one sees fit, such as exchange it for other goods and services—evidence of a free market.[x]
The Bible calls us to be good stewards of our property. After all, God committed the world’s resources to humanity (Genesis 1:28–29). Obviously, capitalism grants to men, who are made in the image of God, the opportunity to be good stewards of those God-given resources that allow them to exercise their judgment to grow His property, albeit honestly. Yes, that outcome is evidence of exercising self-interest, which is supported by New Testament obligations to be accountable for ourselves and our actions (e.g., Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:2).
We are also instructed to exercise wise stewardship within the free market, but that opportunity risks the emergence of sinful behaviors such as laziness and neglect. That is why biblically we are each held accountable for our own productivity.[xi]
Capitalism also embraces the scriptural principles of equality and liberty, which influence our treatment of others (e.g., Galatians 3:28–29; Acts 2:1-47). Liberty is a key biblical principle that must not be flaunted as warned about in verses like Romans 14:22 (CSB):
Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God.
Individually, each person enjoys the freedom to use his or her talents and gifts through entrepreneurial efforts, thanks to capitalistic economies, and without government interference. Success is more often than not a product of personal effort.
Admittedly, modern capitalism has its flaws, which are mostly attributable to the sinful nature of man. Specifically, sometimes government interferes in the marketplace by granting exclusive rights to certain entities, thus creating unfair monopolies. There are also instances of people in positions of power who use their stature for improper gain. That’s a sin in God’s Word, such as in Ephesians 6:9 (NASB):
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
The Bible calls on believers to be generous, especially to the less fortunate. This issue comes up most often when considering the human flaw of greed (Jeremiah 17:9), which is often highlighted by critics—especially when Christians appear to be greedy, thus spoiling their witness. What’s not disputed in the free market capitalistic system or by the Bible is that some people use capitalism to satisfy their lust for greater wealth—but that’s a moral issue, not the fault of the system. What’s true, however, is that capitalism grants both the moral person and the immoral person equal opportunity.[xii]
Finally, Christian charity is the opposite of greed and is encouraged for believers. The biblical concept of charity is infused in capitalism by what Dante Alighieri describes in his narrative poem The Divine Comedy as caritas, “the love that moves the sun and all the starts.” Caritas is the glue that holds families and nations together and promotes honesty and mutual respect, which are biblical concepts and key ingredients in a functioning capitalistic economy.[xiii]
Also, there’s nothing biblically wrong with exercising self-interest, which is starkly different from being selfish. An adult with a family to feed exercises self-interest by earning wages in a capitalistic system to support his/her family.
In conclusion, capitalism is successful because, when properly implemented, it employs the principles of liberty, equality, and numerous biblical values. Admittedly, it is abused by man’s sinfulness, which is a human flaw, not a system flaw. What’s clear and will become more evident as we review the other economic-related isms is that capitalism is the superior system from a biblical, productivity, and sociological perspective.
My object in life is to dethrone God and destroy capitalism.[xiv]
—Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a Marxist movement, according to Carol Swain, a Black conservative and former professor at Vanderbilt and Princeton universities. Ms. Swain said, “Now, the founders of Black Lives Matter, they’ve come out as Marxists.”[xv]
Patrisse Cullors, one of the three cofounders of BLM, said in a 2015 interview:
We do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia, in particular, are trained organizers; we are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories. And I think what we really try to do is build a movement that could be utilized by many, many Black folks.[xvi]
Black Lives Matter is known for race-based violence and alignment with the Democrat Party’s radical leftist agenda. But what is Marxism that these radicals are “trained Marxists”? BLM is not the garden-variety Marxism, as I’ll explain below. No, it’s neo-Marxism that redefines today’s fight to incorporate biological sex, race, ethnicity, and much more.
These neo-Marxists distort original Marxism to mean most everything and reduce it to a war between “oppressors” versus the “oppressed.” The BLM neo-Marxists target “oppressors” for punishment. But it’s important to realize as we explore Marxism to appreciate that not everyone who claims to be a Marxist is true to Marx’s original intent, which is radical enough.
What is classical Marxism? It is a political philosophy developed by Karl Heidrich Marx, a nineteenth-century German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Marx’s philosophy focuses on class struggle to ensure an equal distribution of wealth for all citizens and illustrates that the inequality created by the ruling class in a capitalistic system that historically oppresses the lower (working) classes triggers a social revolution that creates a classless society, where there is no private property and every citizen gives selflessly to the good of all persons. This ideal model is variously called socialism (communism) or progressivism, examples of Marxism explored in this chapter.
Marx’s theory is perhaps best known for its sharp critique of capitalism, which claims that workers in a capitalist system are little more than a commodity, “labor power.” This economic clash, which is set forth in Marx’s 1859 book, Das Kapital, creates a conflict between the proletariat (workers who transform raw commodities into goods) and the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production), which has a “built-in” inequality. The bourgeoisie, with the help of government, according to Marx, employ social institutions against the proletariat. Marx argues in his writings that capitalism creates an unfair imbalance between the bourgeoisie and the workers whom they exploit for gain and those inherent inequalities, and exploitative relations ultimately lead to revolution that abolishes capitalism and reconstructs society into a socialist form of government.
Of course, Marxism addresses more than just the inequalities between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It is a comprehensive ideology, some say a religion, that expresses a broad worldview about most aspects of ordinary life and society that are contrary to a Christian, biblical worldview.
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