Socialism seems to be popular among the current field of Democrat presidential candidates. We thought it might be productive to explore what socialism is and the assertion by some that Jesus was a socialist. In the 2016 election avowed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders came close to capturing the Democrat Party nomination for president. In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC), who describes herself as a Democratic Socialist won election to the Unites States House of Representatives, loudly proclaiming that she is “The Boss”, whatever that means. Both are empowered by throngs of young people who are attracted to socialism. This trend begs two questions:
Is socialism compatible with a constitutional republic?
Is socialism compatible with a Biblical worldview?
Socialism and The Constitution of the United States
So, what is socialism? Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises provides a concise description: “It is the aim of Socialism to transfer the means of production from private ownership to ownership of organized society, to the State. The socialistic state owns all material factors of production and thus directs it.” (von Mises 1981) Thus socialism is incompatible with a free market, as all economic activity is directed by the State. Given that socialism aims to control all economic activity, it is logical to conclude that socialism, while proclaiming “freedom”, is actually incompatible with Liberty.
Karl Marx said: “The Theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” (Brainy Quote n.d.) Without a right to property, the individual’s life is subject to the whims of the State. Friedrich von Hayek reminds the reader that both Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton warned us that “socialism means slavery.” (Hayek 2007) The Preamble to the United States Constitution states that one of the purposes of the Constitution is to “Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” (Congress of the United States 1789) Thus, we can readily see that if indeed Socialism means slavery, then it must be incompatible with the objectives of the United States of America.
Why is this so? While Liberty allows each individual the maximum freedom of action (within limits prescribed by law), Socialism requires everyone to surrender his or her property and labor to the State, so the State may direct its use. But what if some individuals choose to not participate? Hayek tells us. Individuals will willingly comply with the State as long as they agree with the ends. But the ends on which all will agree are very few (e.g. defense against a common enemy or the need for police and courts). Therefore, as the State determines more of the ends, it must of necessity resort to coercion to achieve those ends on which the individuals disagree. “… as there is less community of views, the necessity to rely on force and coercion increases.” (Hayek 2007) Hayek goes further, “To undertake the direction of the economic life of people with widely divergent ideals and values is to assume responsibilities which commit one to the use of force; it is to assume a position where the best intentions cannot prevent one from being forced to act in a way which to some of those affected must appear highly immoral.” (Hayek 2007) Thus, despite the charitable and beneficent intentions of AOC and her ilk, they will have to resort to force and coercion to impose their socialist Utopia on the citizens of the United States.
Hayek groups the various Utopian economic schemes, such as: Fabian Socialism, Welfarism, National Socialism, Fascism, Communism, Democratic Socialism, and so on, under the term “collectivism”. “The various kinds of collectivism, communism, fascism, etc., differ among themselves in the nature of the goal toward which they want to direct the efforts of society. But they all differ from [classical] liberalism and individualism in wanting to organize the whole of society and all its resources for this unitary end and in refusing to recognize autonomous spheres in which the ends of the individuals are supreme. In short, they are totalitarian in the true sense of this new word which we have adopted to describe the unexpected but nevertheless inseparable manifestations of what in theory we call collectivism.” (Hayek 2007) Thus while these schemes differ in their ends, and in where they begin on the scale of coercion, they must all inexorably march forward to totalitarianism. Liberty and collectivism, i.e. Socialism, cannot coexist. Since one of the key objectives of the Constitution is to “secure the blessings of liberty”, we must also conclude that our constitutional republic cannot coexist with Socialism. We must choose one or the other.
Jesus and Socialism
It is one of the tenets of Liberation Theology that Jesus espoused socialism, but is that supported by scripture? Certainly, Jesus spoke directly about the poor:
- “’So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,’” (Matthew 6:2-3)
- “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” (Mark 10:21) See also Matthew 19:21 and Luke 18:22.
- “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.’” (Mark 14:7)
- “And he would answer and say to them, ‘The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.’” (Luke 3:11)
- “’But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…’” (Luke 14:13)
The Apostle Paul also provides direction about how the Church should model generosity:
- “For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:26)
- “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10)
- “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” (1 Timothy 6:18)
Clearly the New Testament commands followers of Jesus to give to the poor, but notice that in every case cited, and in all other Biblical examples, the gift is a moral choice. That is, the believer may choose voluntarily to give or not to give. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” So, the New Testament view is that giving is not under compulsion, but indeed should be carried out cheerfully!
What the New Testament does not say, is:
- That the State should control all private property, including the means of production.
- That the State should control the material factors of production.
- That the State should force one citizen to give to another.
So, while Jesus advocates generosity to the poor, He does not ordain the State to compel generosity. Indeed, it is exceedingly rare to find a cheerful giver among those compelled to give by force or by other forms of coercion. My father used to summarize this in a pithy statement: “Jesus said you should help your fellow man, and if you don’t you will answer to God. The Socialist says you will help your fellow man and if you don’t, you will answer to the State.” No, Jesus was NOT a Socialist!
Socialism is compatible neither with a constitutional republic that values Liberty, nor with a Biblical worldview.
n.d. Brainy Quote. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/karl_marx_157954.
Congress of the United States. 1789. The Constitution of the United States of America. New York, NY: Congress of the United States.
Hayek, F. A. 2007. The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents–The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) . Routledge, London: The University of Chicago Press.
von Mises, Ludwig. 1981. Socialism, An Ecomonic and Sociological Analysis. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics.