Liberty and collectivism are not merely competing political systems; at a deeper level, they are rival theologies. Each has its own depiction of God and, with it, differing assessments of human dignity.
Sir Roger Scruton’s new book, On Human Nature, notes that modern fascism and socialism begin with the premise that mankind is captive, either to its biology or its social circumstances. My review of the book dwelled upon the first, and the racially discriminatory societies that biological determinism produces. But the second is no less misleading.
True, Marxism rooted itself in a misguided reading of science. Its adherents regularly touted the system of “scientific socialism” and its inevitable triumph. Marx and Engels believed the evolutionary process contained an economic component that forecast the arc of every society. Moreover, they fought against any supernatural interpretation of the process.
However, socialism’s most alluring message promotes the morality of helping the least fortunate, decrying inequality, and appealing to spiritually based beliefs in fairness and compassion. Such a message captivated generations of those who believed in the Social Gospel, or who replaced religion with statist ideology altogether.
“Marxism is not a product of scientific observation: it is theological,” Janet Daley, a columnist for the London Telegraph, writes in the April issue of Daniel Hannan’s new publication, The Conservative. “Once you accept the premises, it realigns your perception of the human condition.” (Scruton himself has an article on Communism’s destruction of community, which he calls “the true origin of Communist enslavement,” in the same issue.)
Casual adherents of the Social Gospel would be shocked when socialism unveiled its true theology, though they should not have been. Marx’s rival in the First International, Mikhail Bakunin, wrote that into the midst of the Garden of Eden “steps in Satan,…