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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. We finished our background on Marxism and neo-Marxist ideologies last time. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to examine today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to take a look at capitalism and, along the way, contrast it with socialism. But in order to explain why we, as Christians, should be concerned about this topic at all, and since the economic system of a country is a part of the form of government, I first want to remember a couple of things we have said about governments and the relationship Christians have to them.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 the apostle Paul wrote that “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”[1]

Marc Roby: That passage does a good job of illustrating what we have said before is the main purpose for which God ordained earthly governments; namely, to safeguard personal liberty. In other words, our ability to, as Paul wrote, “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And the purpose for our being able to do that is to shine the light of God’s gospel into this dark world so that people will be saved. As Paul wrote, God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And that happens as a result of the witness of Christians. When we began this special series, in Session 161, I noted that God gives us our purpose, place and priorities in life. Our purpose is to glorify God.

Marc Roby: Which mirrors God’s own purpose. We have noted a number of times that his purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory.

Dr. Spencer: And we glorify God by doing the work he has given us to do; first and foremost, the work of sharing the gospel. In doing that we must know our place. Which means, first, that we are creatures and, second, that we are under authority.

Marc Roby: And we have noted several times that there are three God-given spheres of authority: the family, the church and the state.

Dr. Spencer: And we, as Christians, have different roles and responsibilities in each of these spheres, and our roles change over the course of our lifetime as well. And in all of our roles, God sets the priorities. We are his adopted children. We read in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”. We are, first and foremost, citizens of heaven. God alone is the ultimate King and we owe him our absolute unquestioning obedience. All earthly authorities are delegated authorities and have limited spheres of authority and limited scope of authority.

And one of the things that falls within the scope of authority of civil government is the economy. So with all that review in mind, I want to discuss capitalism. As Christians, we must evaluate any economic system by how well it supports God’s priorities for his creatures.

Marc Roby: Very well. Perhaps it would be good to start with a clear definition of what we mean by capitalism. According to Webster’s dictionary, capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good definition. And we see right away that it is a system that is, at the very least, consistent with Christian principles. It affirms two important biblical principles. First, the right to private property. The definition speaks about private ownership of property, either individually or collectively through a corporation.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted before, the Bible consistently assumes and confirms the right to personal property. For example, by giving us the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal.”[3]

Dr. Spencer: Right. We aren’t to steal the property of others, but as Christians we are also required to remember that God owns everything, we are really just stewards. We will talk about the implications of that in our next session. Secondly, the definition affirms human responsibility in making private decisions about what to invest in, about what to buy, and we could add that making free decisions about what we as individuals do for a living is also included. The right to make personal choices for which we can be justly held accountable is, again, a fundamental biblical principle.

Marc Roby: Yes, I recall that we quoted Deuteronomy 30:19 before, where, after going over God’s commands and his blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, Moses told the people, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we quoted that verse in Session 165. If we disobey, we can be subject to punishment at times in any of the three spheres of authority, the home, church or state. But ultimately, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” There are many sins for which none of these three earthly spheres of authority can hold us accountable. But God is able to judge “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” as we learn from Hebrews 4:12. He can hold us accountable for example, for unkind and selfish thoughts and attitudes, for ungratefulness, greed and jealousy.

Marc Roby: All of which are things earthly authorities can only infer from outward words and actions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. Now remember that Marx viewed the possession of personal property as the fundamental problem plaguing mankind. But that is simply wrong. Property itself isn’t the problem, sin is the problem. It is the fact that human beings are sometimes greedy, jealous, covetous and cruel, to name just a few sins. People are willing to steal and kill to gain the property of others. People are willing to take advantage of others in all sorts of ways. They cheat with dishonest scales for example.

Marc Roby: Which is something the Bible speaks against in many places. For example, we read in Deuteronomy 25:15 “You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes. God will not be pleased if a merchant has one weight to use when buying something and another weight to use when selling.

Marc Roby: Like the proverbial butcher’s thumb on the scale!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. So, the problem with capitalism is sin, not the right to own private property. And as we saw in Session 167, sin shows up in socialist systems as well. In that case it often shows up in bribery and other types of corruption, which people use to get ahead.

Marc Roby: Well, people are always tempted to do what is best for them individually.

Dr. Spencer: They are. And if you build a system that only works when everyone is completely selfless and dedicated to working their hardest for the benefit of others, even if they get nothing in return, you are building a system that is bound to fail. You are ignoring human sin. Humans do sometimes act in selfless and generous ways, but they will not always do so.

One of the reasons that capitalism has been so successful is the incentives that it establishes. When a business or individual does what is best for the business, that is also in general what is best for the overall economy, which means it is best for the prosperity of society as a whole. Let me give just one short example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: This is taken from Thomas Sowell’s excellent book Basic Economics. He tells of a delegation of American farmers who visited the old Soviet Union. He wrote, “They were appalled at the way various agricultural produce was shipped, carelessly packed and with spoiled fruit or vegetables left to spread the spoilage to other fruits and vegetables … American farmers had no experience with such gross carelessness and waste, which would have caused somebody to lose much money needlessly in the United States, and perhaps go bankrupt.”[4]

Marc Roby: It sounds like they needed someone to monitor what was going on.

Dr. Spencer: Well, Sowell considers that and points out that monitoring is not free, it wastes resources. In addition, the monitors would have incentive to accept bribes, so you introduce more corruption. In the end, having the farmer in charge of packing his own produce makes a much better system. His own self interest is to see that his fruit handled properly in order to maximize his own profit, but this also maximizes his output and the efficiency of the whole system, so everyone benefits.

Marc Roby: There is always the possibility of the farming going out of business though.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, that’s true. The prospect of failure, either partial loss or completely going out of business, is an important part of a capitalist system. If you have the freedom to succeed, you also necessarily have the freedom to fail. And, as a result, there will be people who need help. Their failure may or may not have been their own fault. But a capitalist society will always need some safety net.

But socialism can’t prevent crop failures due to floods, droughts, storms or whatever either. The real question we need to consider is, “Which system provides the greatest overall economic output and provides individuals with incentives to do what is right?” And the answer is that capitalism wins hands down. At each step along the line from production to purchase, the individual business has an incentive to do the job as well as possible and as efficiently as possible. The net result is much higher overall output and employment.

Marc Roby: That’s a valid point. And that explains why, for example, Communist China abandoned true socialism many years ago.

Dr. Spencer: And Sowell uses that example, among others. Mao died in 1976 and China moved away from socialism soon after that. Sowell notes that “the subsequent freeing up of prices in the marketplace led to an astonishing economic growth rate of 9 percent per year between 1978 and 1995.”[5] And he also notes that “In China, the number of people living on a dollar a day or less fell from 374 million – one third of the country’s population in 1990 – to 128 million by 2004, now just 10 percent of a growing population.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is astonishing.

Dr. Spencer: It truly is. And he gives many more examples in his book of countries like India, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where creating or doing away with free markets have produced dramatic results; always in favor of free markets.

In addition to the lack of proper incentives, there is another very serious problem with socialism, and one of the many reasons it simply doesn’t work; we don’t all want the same things. We each buy different kinds of food, clothing, cars, houses and so on.

Marc Roby: I can’t imagine anything that could be more obvious. All you have to do is look around to see the vast differences in what people want to buy.

Dr. Spencer: And yet, in a socialist economy, choice is often done away with in the interests of efficiency. There may be only one kind of bread available. Or only one kind of TV, or car, or whatever. Because the state decides what is needed, not a free market. And history has taught us very clearly that the state often gets it wrong. In fact, given the complexity of a large economy in terms of the sheer number of items produced and all of the resources that go into producing them, it is simply beyond reason to think that central planning can work. Allowing supply and demand and free-market pricing to work solves the problem without central planning. Sowell again uses the old Soviet Union as an example and quotes from some Soviet economists to make his point. But I’ll let interested listeners check the reference for that.[7]

And there is a second aspect of this same problem. Not only can central planners not determine how much of each commodity will be needed, but central planning of the economy removes individual choice in lifestyle. We don’t all value the same things. Let me illustrate that with one of my former graduate students.

Marc Roby: Alright. Please do.

Dr. Spencer: I had many graduate students who were extremely driven and competitive. They were very driven to do research that would be highly regarded and valued, finish their PhD degrees and then go to work for companies that were well known for their high-pressure, long hours, but concomitant high pay. These students liked the technical challenge, the prestige and, yes, being able to drive a really nice car and so on. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But I had others who made different choices. One in particular, who was very good and could certainly have taken the route I just described had he wanted to, chose not to go on for a PhD, but instead to graduate with a Masters degree and go to work in a manufacturing firm where he worked 8 to 5 Monday through Friday and even punched a time clock. His job was not nearly as technically demanding, he wasn’t going to a bunch of publish papers and become well known, and it didn’t pay nearly as much. But he didn’t want to work 60- to 70-hour work weeks. He wanted to have his evenings and weekends free to pursue other activities and to live in a place he thought was nice to live. His choice was just as valid as the others, but different. That kind of freedom is not available in socialist countries with planned economies.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. But what about all of the evils people often associate with capitalism? For example, the income gap. Some people make a great deal more money than others do, and some of them make way more money than any one person could possibly need.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is certainly true. And before I address this issue directly, let me note that the Bible often speaks about the poor and commands us to be generous and to help those who are in need. God will hold the rich accountable for how they use their wealth. They may think the money is theirs because they worked hard to develop their knowledge and skills and then worked hard to use them and earn the money, but the reality is that God gave them their skills and opportunities. Now, it’s commendable if they did work hard and made good use of them, but ultimately, their riches come from God.

Marc Roby: As one of many examples we could quote, Proverbs 21:13 says that “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a good verse. And, as you said, there are many more.

There is no doubt that we should help those who are poor. But there is also an issue of personal responsibility here. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica he wrote, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, that “when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” The poor should be helped locally, not by a distant federal government who has no idea why they are poor. They should be helped with education, medical care, food, shelter and other needs, but always with an eye to getting them to be self-sufficient. And capitalism has proven itself time and time again to be the very best system for creating an economy where a person can improve him or herself by working hard.

Marc Roby: But not everyone has the ability or opportunity to be a PhD student in Electrical Engineering. So, going back to your example, not everyone has the choice your students had.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is absolutely true. And not every one of those PhD students had the ability or opportunity to start his own company and become exceptionally wealthy either. But we have to ask, “Is there something inherently wrong with that?” I never had the ability to play professional sports or to be a professional musician either, so is it wrong that others do have that ability and make much more money than I ever did? And is there somebody who’s at fault?

There is a fundamental issue here. Call it ingratitude, or jealousy, or whatever, but if I am not happy with my lot in life, even after allowing for the ways in which I may have failed to properly make use of the abilities and opportunities I have been given, then I am, ultimately, unhappy with God. God decides what gifts and opportunities to give to each individual person. In Acts 17:26 the apostle Paul was speaking to the Athenians and said that God “made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Marc Roby: I see your point. We can’t all be the best no matter what system we have. People are not all equal in ability or how hard they work.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, capitalism is not the problem. In fact, as we noted in Session 164, and as Sowell makes very clear in the book I quoted from earlier, capitalism has been the most successful economic system in history for bringing prosperity and freedom to the greatest number of people.

But free markets are competitive places and that competition is precisely the mechanism that makes them work so well. If I have a company, I can’t sell my products or services for more than people are willing to pay. And if I look for a job, I can’t sell my services as an employee for more than my abilities and experience will justify. An employer won’t stay in business very long if he pays me more than my labor is worth, nor will he stay in business very long if pays people too little, he won’t be able to find employees. In both cases, the selling of a product and the selling of labor, a free market says that the price will be set by supply and demand.

Marc Roby: In other words, any time there is a supply of some commodity that is larger than the demand, the price will drop. And, conversely, whenever the supply is less than the demand, that price will go up.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And that feedback loop works extremely well to regulate the markets; both for goods and for labor. Whenever governments try to control these things the net result is virtually always a poorer economy, which means that everyone suffers.

Marc Roby: Of course, in this kind of competitive system, there will always be winners and losers.

Dr. Spencer: But when someone “wins” in capitalism we all get a better product or service for a lower price or in some other way society as a whole gains.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s an important point.

Dr. Spencer: And, in addition, the “losers” aren’t punished or required to stay down. And those who start at the bottom don’t have to stay there. If, for example, I am only capable of menial labor, then there are a lot of people who can do the same work, so the supply is large and for any given demand the wages I can get will be lower. But I always have the opportunity to work hard, learn, gain experience and move up to a higher-paying job. It requires that I have the right attitude and depends on my effort. The employer is not my enemy. He isn’t trying to oppress me and get rich off of my labor, he’s also governed by supply and demand. If he pays too much, then his products will be too expensive, he won’t sell many of them, and he will go out of business and I will lose my job altogether. Sowell points out that the real minimum wage is always zero.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting and obviously true way to look at it. But, of course, there have been situations where employers have taken advantage of employees.

Dr. Spencer: Well, of course there have. People are sinners. And so some degree of government regulation is not necessarily wrong; but it must be done very carefully and sparingly.

Marc Roby: Now I want to get back to the income gap. Isn’t that a real problem?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me give a three-part answer to that. First, in Session 164 I gave an example of how a company can do very well and the owner, employees and customers all benefit even though the owner may benefit proportionally more. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that and, in fact, it provides an incentive for people to pursue excellence, from which we all benefit. And their motivation doesn’t have to be pure greed, it can simply be wanting to do something very well and the money is then, as a friend of mine once put it, like the grade you receive in a class. The more you make, the better you did. Now that may not be the most noble motivation in the world, but it isn’t inherently sinful either.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is the second part of your answer?

Dr. Spencer: When people talk about the income gap, the implication always is that the poor are worse off than they used to be. But in Session 166 I gave a number of statistics to show that simply isn’t the case. There are still truly poor people in this country and in other free-market nations as well of course, but capitalism has done far more to alleviate real poverty than any other economic system in history. You have to be careful how you define poverty. In general, the “poor” today are better off in many ways than the middle class was 60 years ago, and they are certainly better off than the average person was 150 years ago.

Marc Roby: Very well. What is the third part to your answer?

Dr. Spencer: That it is easy to tell a lie using statistics. All you have to do is use the wrong statistic. Sowell points this out in his book. He notes that “it is a widely publicized fact that census data show the percentage of the national income going to those in the bottom 20 percent bracket has been declining over the years, while the percentage going to those in the top 20 percent has been increasing”[8]. But you cannot conclude from that data that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer!

Marc Roby: Now, why is that conclusion invalid?

Dr. Spencer: Because people don’t stay in the same brackets. A young person may start his career in the lower 20% bracket, but then move up during his career. And a person may be in a high bracket during the peak of his career and then come down. What you need to look at is what happens to specific individuals over time, and when you do that you find the exact opposite result.

Sowell writes, “A University of Michigan study found that, among working Americans who were in the bottom 20 percent in income in 1975, approximately 95 percent had risen out of that bracket by 1991 … The largest absolute amount of increase in income between 1975 and 1991 was among those people who were initially in the bottom [20 percent] in 1975 and the least absolute increase in income was among those who were initially in the top [20 percent] in 1975.”[9]

Marc Roby: That is exactly the opposite of what you usually hear.

Dr. Spencer: And it isn’t just one study. The IRS also did a study and found similar results as did another study in Canada. Sowell also noted that “Among those Americans who were in the bottom 20 percent in 1975, 98 percent had higher real incomes in 1991 – and two-thirds had higher real incomes in 1991 than the average American had back in 1975”[10]. The bottom line is that while poverty is still a real problem, the statistics you hear about it are often wrong and capitalism is not the fundamental cause of the problem.

So, to conclude for today, capitalism is the best economic system ever developed for allowing human freedom and for providing prosperity to the largest number of people. It has built-in incentives that encourage people to do what is good, rather than what is corrupt. The problems we see with it are caused by human sin, not capitalism.

Marc Roby: That has been very enlightening. I look forward to continuing our discussion about societal issues next time, for now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Comp., 1979

[3] Exodus 20:15

[4] Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, 5th Ed., Basic Books, 2015, pg. 400

[5] Ibid, pg. 25

[6] Ibid, pg. 6

[7] Ibid, pp 16-17

[8] Ibid, pg. 204

[9] Ibid, pg. 205

[10] Ibid, pg. 204

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Last week we showed that critical theory challenges cultural norms because it views them as part of an oppressive power structure. This anti-Christian theory has taken over our university system and our public K-12 system as well. It must be opposed by Christians. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by highlighting the seriousness of the problem. In Mark 3:25 Christ said that “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Now this is a self-evidently true statement, but it gets at the root of the issue with neo-Marxist ideologies of all flavors. Their purpose is to divide and conquer. They seek to destroy this country from within.

Marc Roby: Surely that can’t be true of all the people who support these different ideologies.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, no, it isn’t. Most of the people who join with these different movements or espouse their views do so innocently enough, they have come to believe that the ideas are good for one reason or another, often because the stated goals deliberately hide the real purpose. But in each of the movements there are some number of individuals, typically those driving and guiding the movements, who are very conscious of what they are doing. They literally want to destroy this country.  

Marc Roby: That probably sounds like a right-wing conspiracy theory to many.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it does, but there is no need for a conspiracy theory. As I have been laboring to show in these podcasts, you can read things these people published or said publicly and you can trace their connections to each other and see what they’ve done and why they’ve done it. Whether or not it meets the standard of being a “conspiracy” is another matter. 

But that is also why I pointed out that most of the people who accept or promote these neo-Marxist ideologies in one way or another are not doing so from bad motives. They simply don’t know the true motivations behind the movement. Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement, which we will talk about in detail in a later session. They chose that name for a good reason. Who is going to deny the truth of the statement that black lives matter?

Marc Roby: No one that I want to associate with.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why they chose that name. Only a wicked person would deny it. But the Black Lives Matter organization is very different from their name. It is not focused on saving or improving black lives as I will clearly show later. It is a Marxist organization whose real fundamental goal is the destruction of this country in order to create the conditions necessary for communism to come in and to move us closer to a world-wide utopia. And that is what you are supporting if you have a Black Lives Matter T-shirt or lawn sign.

Marc Roby: I look forward to that discussion. 

Dr. Spencer: And so do I, but we have a little more background to cover first. I just wanted to emphasize what is at stake here. Remember back in Session 165 when we were discussing the voluntary socialist experiment of Robert Owen, called New Harmony? I mentioned that Marx and Engels had nothing but contempt for the idea that communism could be brought about by peaceful means. True communism requires that the entire world become communist, it can’t be just be one country. No truly communist nation, or group, is ever going to peacefully coexist with other forms of government, their theory demands that the whole world become communist before it is possible to reach heaven on earth. So they will always be working for the destruction of other forms of government. We need to understand that as individuals and as a nation or we are going to be taken advantage of and, eventually, destroyed because of our own naivete.  

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But remember that in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. … Workingmen of all countries, unite!” 

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point about how dangerous this is. Although it does appear that not all communists disdain to conceal their views, the real motives behind much of what they are doing in this country are not openly stated.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although they don’t work too hard to hide them. You just have to look and you can find them. We have seen that a number of people have realized that capitalist societies like ours have become too successful for the working class to want revolution. Therefore, Marxists needed to find a way to weaken our country, and others like it, in order to create a situation in which revolution is possible. 

Marc Roby: And that is why we spent the last two sessions discussing Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse and critical theory, the theory that virtually every aspect of our culture is a part of a huge system of oppression. That theory is being used in our school systems and elsewhere to divide our country and create that revolutionary situation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. And we are seeing the bitter fruit of that movement right now with the riots that have been plaguing many of our major cities night after night for months. 

Marc Roby: And we see it in the calls to abolish or radically reduce the police and the burning of police buildings and other symbols of authority.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. In Session 168 I noted that Gramsci was the first to publish the realization that capitalism is too successful. Working class people are able to achieve a comfortable lifestyle and don’t see the need for revolution. Gramsci called this giving them a “false consciousness.” And we noted that Marcuse built on Gramsci’s ideas. Let me quote from Marcuse’s most famous work, a book called One-Dimensional Man, which was published in 1964.

Marcuse wrote that “The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.” He then went on to write that “The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood.”

Marc Roby: That explains the phrase “false consciousness”, he is referring to the false idea that someone could become fully satisfied in life as a result of material prosperity.

Dr. Spencer: And, in a way, we would agree with this. To be materially comfortable and to think that is all that is important is to completely miss the true purpose of life. Christ himself said, in Luke 10:42, that there is only one thing needful, and he wasn’t speaking about material prosperity, he was speaking about our salvation. 

Marc Roby: Jesus also told us in the Sermon on the Mount, as we read in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Dr. Spencer: And those verses make the same point. So, we would agree with Marcuse and others that material prosperity alone cannot fully satisfy man’s needs, not even in this life. But, strangely, Marcuse should have been happy with a comfortable life if he was a truly consistent materialist. I mean, what else could really matter? You live, you die, and that’s the end of it. But we know, because God has told us, that man is not just a physical animal, he has a spirit as well. And everyone, even an avowed materialist like Marcuse, has a sense that there is more to life than the physical. That is why many novels, short stories and plays have been written in the last century about how a person can lose his or her soul by being completely consumed with material prosperity.

Marc Roby: It is certainly a common theme. Especially since the industrial revolution.

Dr. Spencer: And I personally think the reason is that society has been so successful at supplying everyone’s physical needs that people have more leisure time and are less consumed with the task of providing for their material needs. And from the perspective of a Marxist, who wants to bring about revolution, that is a problem. Marcuse wrote the following about the capitalist way of life, “It is a good way of life – much better than before – and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.”

Marc Roby: In other words, successful people get lulled into a comfortable life that prevents them from thinking about more important things. Which is exactly what Jesus Christ warned about.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. But Marcuse saw an opportunity to attack cultures that are materially successful. He wrote in the concluding chapter of One-Dimensional Man that “The totalitarian tendencies of the one-dimensional society render the traditional ways and means of protest ineffective – perhaps even dangerous because they preserve the illusion of popular sovereignty. … However, underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployable. … their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.”

Marc Roby: Ah! So this is where the idea of needing to raise their consciousness comes from.

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. According to Marcuse, you need to take those people who are not doing well in society, and there will always be some, strip them of the idea that they are capable of working hard, living honest lives and moving up in that society, and get them to see themselves as an oppressed class. They must be convinced that they are victims. And society itself is the oppressor, so society needs to be changed. Mike Gonzales does a good job of describing this whole process in his book The Plot to Change America.

Marc Roby: That all starts to bring many of the problems we see in our country today clearly into focus. The Marxist idea of class conflict, along with neo-Marxist ideologies of race have generated an almost endless list of groups who are supposedly oppressed and in need of liberation.

Dr. Spencer: And it isn’t just in terms of race relations or work environments. The whole sexual revolution is part of this plan to destroy America as well and has generated an almost endless list of supposedly oppressed groups needing to be liberated, the LGBTQIA and on and on. 

In a second very influential work published in 1955, entitled Eros and Civilization, Marcuse argues, essentially, that sex in virtually any form should be freely used for pleasure. He concedes that this would be a reversal of what we normally think of as civilized culture, but he views it as a move forward, not backward. He wrote, “It would still be a reversal of the process of civilization, a subversion of culture – but after culture had done its work and created the mankind and the world that could be free.” He explains further, and his basic idea is that once civilization has reached the point of easily supplying our material needs, man should be freed from the constraints imposed upon him and be totally free sexually.

Marc Roby: Which is, yet again, an attack on biblical morality. God created sex and he defines the proper role of sex in human life. It is meant to be something shared only between a husband and a wife. It is the glue in a marriage and also brings about families. So this idea of total sexual freedom is really an attack on the biblical family structure, which is the core of our civilization.

Dr. Spencer: And Marcuse knew that he was attacking the family. In that same work he wrote that this change in sexual mores “would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.”

Marc Roby: Which disintegration, I assume, he viewed as a good thing.

Dr. Spencer: He did. He viewed anything that would help destroy our culture and country as good. And his student, Angela Davis, wrote in 2018 that “Marcuse’s ideas can be as valuable today as they were 50 years ago.” 

Marc Roby: And, of course, 50 years before she wrote that was 1968. The late 60’s were a time of violent student protests all over this country.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they were. And those protests had a lot to do with the destruction of our universities. Those protests brought about the creation of a number of so-called ethnic studies departments in the universities and the creation of a number of new faculty positions to fill them. In general, these departments are really nothing more than a platform for activism. There is precious little, if any, meaningful scholarly activity in these departments. And whatever worthy scholarly activity there may be, could have already been accommodated in other, existing, programs like history, language, philosophy and so on. And these ethnic studies departments, once created, needed to make sure they had enough students, so they often pushed to have some sort of diversity requirement added to the general education requirements, which meant that all students typically had to take one or more of these courses.

Students can now get college credit, a minor and even bachelors and graduate degrees in things like Queer studies, Chicana/Chicano studies, African American and African Studies and Sexuality Studies.

Marc Roby: And what does one do with a degree in Queer studies for example?

Dr. Spencer: Well, not much useful. I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to land you a well-paying job or make a well-rounded citizen. As I said, these programs are really all about activism and trying to change, or I should really say destroy, our culture. There are college courses, for example, on pornography. Students literally get college credit for watching, or they would contend, studying pornography.

Marc Roby: That is outrageous. And all of this has made its way down into our K-12 curricula as well.

Dr. Spencer: Not in quite as blatant a form, but yes. In Thomas Sowell’s eye-opening book Inside American Education he carefully explains how our K-12 schools have been taken over by these neo-Marxist, or as they are sometimes called, cultural Marxist ideologies. In the K-12 schools they take on a psychological form, rather than an ideological form. 

Marc Roby: Now, who is Thomas Sowell?

Dr. Spencer: He is an American economist who is currently a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has spent many years seriously looking into our nation’s educational system and has written a number of intelligent, well-researched articles and books on the subject.

Marc Roby: And what did you mean when you said that these neo-Marxist ideologies show up in the K-12 schools in a psychological, rather than an ideological form?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that the schools focus on changing the attitudes and beliefs of our children. Chapter Three of Sowell’s book is called Classroom Brainwashing. It begins with the following statement: “A variety of courses and programs, under an even wider variety of names, have been set up in schools across the country to change the values, behavior, and beliefs of American youngsters from what they have been taught by their families, their churches, or the social groups in which they have grown up.” 

He goes on to explain how tactics that are  mild versions of the brain-washing techniques developed in China under Mao are used in these courses. I don’t want to spend much time on this, interested listeners are encouraged to read his book, but as just one simple example, it is common in grade schools to give assignments where the students are asked to write about family problems and other personal issues and to not tell their parents about the assignment, which produces a feeling of isolation in the student and makes him more susceptible to the teacher’s ideas, even if they contradict what he is being taught at home.

Marc Roby: That’s frightening, and an obvious attempt to undermine the family.

Dr. Spencer: It is. There has been a real shift in our schools away from the idea of educating students by providing them with basic skills like reading, writing, mathematics and science, and to focus instead on indoctrination. The results are astonishing. For example, Sowell wrote, “the results of an international study of 13-year-olds … found that Koreans ranked first in mathematics and Americans last. When asked if they thought they were ‘good at mathematics,’ only 23 percent of the Korean youngsters said ‘yes’—compared to 68 percent of American 13-year-olds.” So we are creating young people who are confident, but wrong.

And look at the currently popular NY Times 1619 project. It is an ideological pack of lies about our country’s founding that is being adopted by a number of public schools. I could quote all kinds of results that are very depressing, but I don’t think there is much point. Anyone who is really interested can find the data easily. Sowell’s book is a good place to start. But I would like to read one more statement to show that this problem has been growing for a long time.

Marc Roby: Alright, what statement is that?

Dr. Spencer: I want to quote from the famous 1983 report of the U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education, entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. In that report they said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Marc Roby: Wow. That’s an amazingly strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: And it led to a nation-wide movement to reform our schools. But, unfortunately, that reform movement was led by the very people we have been talking about. People like Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the 1960’s violent revolutionary group called the Weather Underground, which was responsible for numerous bombings in this country and is famous for declaring war on “AmeriKKKa” – spelled with three capital K’s – in 1969. He is a graduate of the Columbia University Teachers College that we noted before as the center of the critical theory movement. He is a retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and formerly held the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar. 

As just one indication of his wide influence, if you look at a Teachers College Press catalog from 2019-2020, you will find some of his books for sale and you will also see that he is the editor of “The Teaching for Social Justice Series” of books.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible.

Dr. Spencer: If you look through that catalogue you will be shocked. Let me just quickly give three examples. You can buy a book entitled Same as It Never Was: Notes on a Teacher’s Return to the Classroom and we read that “this book invites readers into an award-winning teacher’s classroom as he struggles to teach toward equity and justice.” We can also get a book called Letting Go of Literary Whiteness and we are told the book will “challenge us to develop racial literacy in our students through the teaching of literature.” And finally, we all need a copy of Race, Justice, and Activism in Literacy Instruction, which “includes examples of student activism from across the United States”.

Marc Roby: Now that is truly shocking. I’m willing to bet that most of our listeners thought K-12 education was mostly about reading, writing, math, science, history and so on. Not about teaching equity and justice, racial literacy or student activism.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly hope you’re right. But the fact that our schools are failing at teaching our children reading, history, math, science and so on, as noted by the 1983 report A Nation at Risk is far from the worst part of the story. Remember that the report said that if this had been the activity of an unfriendly foreign power we might have considered it an act of war?

Marc Roby: Yes, I remember that statement.

Dr. Spencer: And remember that Bill Ayer’s group, the Weather Underground, declared war on America? 

Marc Roby: Yes.

Dr. Spencer: Well, he and a lot of others, like Angela Davis, have followed through on that declaration of war by their long march through the institutions. The worst part of the failure of our public schools is the indoctrination that takes place instead of education. 

Sowell gives a number of examples in his book of how the schools teach our children to hate the United States of America and to hate the Judeo-Christian values on which our nation was built. As just one example, so-called sex education curricula are used to push LGBTQ values. And this problem is dramatically worse now than it was when he published Inside American Education in 1993. Any student who is bold enough to disagree with these modern views and espouse a Christian view of sex and marriage is in for a very rough time in our public schools.

Marc Roby: That’s a sad statement. But I’ve seen enough examples to know that it is true.

Dr. Spencer: And I encourage all Christian parents, in fact all parents, who have children in the public-school system to be extremely vigilant. Find out what is being taught. I think you’ll be shocked. But be prepared to have dig a bit, these programs use deceptive names and really don’t want parents to know what is being taught. The parents are often viewed as the enemy.

Marc Roby: That is again very sad.

Dr. Spencer: Very sad indeed. But the anti-Christian bias in our schools is not new. We don’t have time to go through the whole history, but in our next session I will begin with a very brief and selected sketch of that history because it will be useful to make one final point before we move on to examine the modern problems that are, in large measure, a result of this war on America. 

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to that. And now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we started looking at Karl Marx and his ideology, which is behind a number of modern movements. We made the point that since Marx had a materialist worldview, he did not recognize that the real source of all human conflict is sin. And since his diagnosis of the problem was wrong, his cure was also wrong. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to make explicit something about Marx and his ideas that was only implicit in what we said last time.

Marc Roby: And what is that?

Dr. Spencer: That Marx was not thinking about ethics when he did his work. In other words, he didn’t start by thinking that capitalism was bad and then look for what he thought would be a more ethical alternative. Rather, he analyzed history to try and discover some law that would explain what has happened in the past and would predict what will happen in the future. And he thought he had found that law with his theory about conflict between the classes. His lifelong co-worker, benefactor and friend, Friedrich Engels, said essentially that in his eulogy at Marx’s funeral. He said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history”.[1]

Marc Roby: That’s quite a claim – that Marx discovered the law that describes the development of human history! And did Engels say what that law is?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did. Let me complete the sentence I quoted from before. Engels said, “Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”[2]

Marc Roby: OK, that’s quite a mouthful. Let me try and give a simple summary. Engels said that Marx discovered that we should analyze all of human history in terms of how people satisfied their most basic physical needs; food, shelter and clothing. Only then can we understand their ideas about everything else, including religion.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary. But it is also important to note that he implicitly assumed that religion is something created by man, rather than being an expression of the fact that man is created by God.

Marx thought that the simple material needs were the most important thing. And we should note that that it is virtually the opposite of what Jesus Christ said.[3] We read in Matthew 6:31-33 that Christ said, “do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[4]

Marc Roby: Yes, Marx’s theory proves Jesus’ point fairly well. Marx was a pagan, the Greek word translated as pagan here just means a non-Jew, in other words, one who rejects the true and living God. And Marx’s theory is based entirely on people running after these things.

Dr. Spencer: Marx does nicely demonstrate Christ’s teaching, although it is ironic that Marx was a Jew! Just not a practicing Jew. Because he was a materialist, he completely ignores the spiritual dimension. Christ tells us that, as Christians, we are not to be focused primarily on the things of this world, although God knows that we have physical needs. Look at the original creation. God provided for all of Adam and Eve’s needs in the garden. They had to work, but their labor was sweet and productive, not frustrating. We aren’t told about shelter, but we know they didn’t have clothing.

Marc Roby: We probably don’t need to pursue that any further.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. But my point is that the most important thing in the garden was fellowship with God and with one another. He is the Creator, we are his creatures made in his image. We have a spirit as well as a body and our physical needs are not the most important.

We now live in a fallen world. It was as a part of the curse following the fall that God told Adam, as we read in Genesis 3:17-19, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Marc Roby: That paints an accurate picture of the fallen world we live in. Our work is often times frustrating and hard and we labor for so many years and then die.

Dr. Spencer: And yet there is also grace evident in this world. God knows our basic physical needs better than any human being does; after all, he made us. And he has arranged things so that even in this fallen world, if we walk in obedience to him, our labor will produce what we need. But Jesus is telling us here that seeking God’s kingdom is of first importance.

Marc Roby: Which makes perfectly good sense given the fact that we are only on this earth for a short time, but we will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell.

Dr. Spencer: And God is in charge of all that happens during this life, so seeking him first makes sense even for this life. Although your point is the most important; what happens during our 70 or 80 years here doesn’t really matter in comparison with eternity.

In any event, Marx’s materialism caused him to ignore the most important being in reality, God, and to reject what God has told us about human nature. Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth about God. In Romans 1:21-22 we read that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools”. Marx’s thinking was futile because he was, using the Bible’s definition, a fool.

Marc Roby: And we find the Bible’s definition of a fool in Psalm 14:1, where we read that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So Marx ignored the fact that we are all sinners and that no change in the structure of society is going to change that basic fact. We don’t need a new form of government, we need to be freed from sin. And only God can accomplish that. But we do still live in this world and so the form of government we have is a legitimate concern for Christians.

The most important thing is that Christians be free to glorify God by obeying his commands to share the gospel, to work, to give to the poor, to be honest, to worship him and so on. And so it is important for us to look at Marx’s theory. And we really don’t need to debate whether his theory is right or wrong, we have all of the evidence we need to know for sure that his theory is wrong.

Marc Roby: Now, how would you back that statement up?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Marx believed that capitalism would simply collapse in failure and that socialism and then communism were inevitable outcomes. But he published Das Kapital in 1867, so we now have over 150 years of history to look back on and evaluate whether or not he was correct. And the verdict is in, Marx was wrong. There has not been a single instance of the historical progression that Marx predicted occurring anywhere on earth. We don’t really want to take time to go through all of the reasons why he was wrong, but I’ll mention one because it is so important in some of the discussions going on today.

Marc Roby: What reason is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Marx essentially assumed a fixed amount of wealth. He assumed that if the bourgeoisie, that is the owners of the factories and so on, get richer, it must be that the workers get poorer. But that is simply false. New and better products and services lead to an increase in the overall wealth in the world. In fact, the worldwide gross domestic product, or GDP, which is a measure of total production, is estimated to have been abut $183 billion at the time of Christ. It increased to about $643 billion by the year 1700, which is a 251% increase over that 1700-year span. The industrial revolution increased the rate of growth so that by 1870 the GDP was $1.92 trillion, or $1,920 billion, which is almost a 200% increase in just 170 years. In 2015 the GDP was $108 trillion, which is more than a 5,500% increase in the last 145 years.[5]

Marc Roby: That’s astonishing.

Dr. Spencer: It is astonishing, and the biggest reason for the massive increase in capital over the last roughly 150 years is, as Ben Shapiro notes, “the enshrinement of individual rights, and the advent of protection for private property – the roots of capitalism”.[6]

So it is entirely possible for both the workers and the owners of industry to see their wealth increase. It isn’t like you and me sharing a pie by dividing it into two pieces. In that case, the only way for my piece to get larger is for your piece to get smaller, or vice versa. But that isn’t what is going on in terms of wealth. It is not a zero-sum situation. And capitalism has arguably increased the wealth of more people far more than any other development in human history.

Marc Roby: And yet we certainly hear a lot these days about the 1% and the 99%.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. And we may return to that topic in more detail in a later session, it is an example of what might be called a neo-Marxist ideology and is a very destructive one. But for now just consider the following simple illustration. Suppose I own a corporation that is initially worth a million dollars, and you are one of my employees and make $50,000 a year.

Marc Roby: Why can’t I be the owner?

Dr. Spencer: Because I’m telling the story. But now suppose that the corporation does exceptionally well so that a year later it is worth five million dollars and, as a result, I am able to double your salary to $100,000 a year.

There are two very different ways you could look at this. First, you could say it is completely unfair since my wealth increased by 4 million dollars, while your salary only increased by $50,000. But, on the other hand, you could notice, quite correctly, that we are both better off than we were before. And, presumably, so are a number of other people who are your co-workers.

Marc Roby: I see your point. The increased wealth of the company helped both the owner and the workers.

Dr. Spencer: And it must have helped a whole bunch of other people too, the consumers. The products or services the company provided must have been something that others found useful or they wouldn’t have purchased them, and therefore, their lives were improved as well.

But, as I said, we’ll talk about this more later, for now I want to look at the idea of socialism. Marx is the name most people think of if you mention socialism, but the idea is not original to him. It actually came out of the French revolution in the late 1700’s.

Marc Roby: And, as many people know, the French revolution and the American revolution were linked. The French were certainly impressed by the success of the Americans in throwing off a repressive monarch.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Both revolutions were strongly influenced by enlightenment ideas, especially the ideas of natural rights and equality. Our Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4, 1776, famously said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[7] And the French revolution had The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was produced in 1789 by the National Assembly of France.[8]

Marc Roby: Which was, coincidentally, the year that our Bill of Rights was approved by Congress.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting historical coincidence. But getting back to socialism, Joshua Muravchik noted in his excellent book about socialism called Heaven on Earth, that it was in the dying days of the French revolution that a man named François-Noël Babeuf argued that there was a contradiction in the revolution’s agenda.[9] The last of the so-called “sacred rights of men and of citizens” in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen stated that “The right to property being inviolable and sacred, no one ought to be deprived of it, except in cases of evident public necessity, legally ascertained, and on condition of a previous just indemnity.”[10]

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, and in line with ideas held by the founders of our country as well. Property rights are sacred and government can’t take away my property except for real necessities and it must then compensate me for the property taken.

Dr. Spencer: That idea is also biblical. The eighth commandment, which we read in Exodus 20:15, says that “You shall not steal.” This obviously assumes that other people have private property which is theirs and we are not to take it. We could read verse after verse for hours where the Bible explicitly and implicitly affirms the right to private property.

Marc Roby: I know that people have sometimes claimed that Jesus’ followers lived as communists. They will often cite Acts 2:44-45 where we read about the young church in Jerusalem and are told that “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

Dr. Spencer: I’ve seen that argument as well, and it is simply and obviously wrong. The verse itself says they were selling their possessions and goods and then gave to those in need. In other words, it assumes the possessions and goods were owned by the individuals who then made free decisions to sell them and then made free decisions to give to others in need.

Even the case of Ananias and Sapphira, which is sometimes brought up in this context, clearly validates the right to private property.

Marc Roby: We should probably briefly relate the story for those who may not remember it. In Acts Chapter 5 we are told that Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and then brought most, but not all, of the money and gave it to the apostles. Peter rebuked them for lying about the amount they had received and God put them to death.

Dr. Spencer: This passage again clearly validates the right to private property as I said. We read in Acts 5:2-4 that “With his wife’s full knowledge [Ananias] kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’”

It is important to notice that Peter rebuked him for lying, not for keeping part of the money. It is clear that Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites who wanted people to think they were more generous than they were. In the rebuke Peter clearly states the right to private property. He asked two rhetorical questions, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

Marc Roby: And the answers to both questions are obviously yes; the property was theirs and so was the money they received from the sale. And they were free to do with it as they pleased. So, as you noted, Peter does affirm the right to private property.

Dr. Spencer: The Bible frequently admonishes us to be generous, to care for the poor, for widows and for orphans, in other words, for anyone in real need. But there is a huge difference between my voluntarily giving some of my personal property to someone else and the notion that property is owned collectively.

Marc Roby: I would say the difference between those two views is an unbridgeable chasm.

Dr. Spencer: I would agree. But getting back to the contradiction that Babeuf noticed in the goals of the French revolution, as that revolution proceeded through its terrible course, the Constitution of 1793 added the guarantee of equality. Near the end it declared that “The constitution guarantees to all Frenchmen equality, liberty, security, property”[11] and the list went on. I didn’t read the whole list because what is important for our purposes is that it listed both a guarantee of equality and property.

And, as Babeuf noted, property rights are in contradiction with the notion of equality, at least if that notion refers to equality of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunity. He said, correctly I think, that the equality of outcomes can only be achieved by the abolition of personal property rights.[12] In other words, the government has to control absolutely everything in order to then dole everything out equally to everyone.

Marc Roby: OK, I can see the logic there. But I really don’t like the idea at all, and that is not at all what is meant by the statement that all men are created equal in our Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Spencer: No, that isn’t what the founding fathers of our country meant. It is clear from the historical record that they intended that to refer to equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, which is why it says we are created equal. And it is also referring to our in inherent dignity, honor and rights, not our abilities. It would be patently absurd to claim that all people are created with equal ability. In any event, Babeuf is absolutely correct that if you want to guarantee equal outcomes, the government must own everything. In other words, individual property rights must be abolished.

Marc Roby: And that’s not something most people will support.

Dr. Spencer: Not when it is put that bluntly, no. Although you can get people to support things that move very much in that direction as we will discuss later. Just to provide our listeners with a little food for thought to tease them, let me suggest that a progressive tax system, where people who make more money pay higher taxes, is a move in that direction. But let’s get back to socialism for now.

Marx and Engels were familiar with Babeuf. Muravchik wrote that “in their first collaborative work, The Holy Family, the young Marx and Engels paid this bow to the Equals:”[13], and I must explain that “the Equals” refers to the Conspiracy of Equals of which Babeuf was a part. In any event, the “bow” that Muravchik mentions, is that Marx and Engels wrote the following, “The revolutionary movement which began in 1789 … and which with Babeuf’s conspiracy was temporarily defeated, gave rise to the communist idea”[14].

Marc Roby: So Marx and Engels viewed Babeuf as the beginning of the idea of communism.

Dr. Spencer: That seems clear. They also made a passing reference to him in the Communist Manifesto.[15] There is a great deal more that could be said about the history of this pernicious idea. I highly recommend Muravchik’s book Heaven on Earth, I think all Americans could benefit from reading it.

Marc Roby: I can second that recommendation. It does a great job of chronicling the failures of socialism.

Dr. Spencer:  And that gets us back to what I said earlier. We have had over 150 years of history since Marx wrote Das Kapital and that history shows clearly that socialism is a failure. Not only was Marx wrong in his theory about the development of history – remember that he thought socialism and communism would be the inevitable result of a collapse of capitalism – but he was also wrong in thinking that socialism or communism would be good. There have been many attempts at implementing these ideas and they have all failed miserably.

Marc Roby: And many of them put a heavy emphasis on the misery! Muravchik wrote that “Regimes calling themselves socialist have murdered more than one hundred million people since 1917.”[16] And with that, I think we have already gone overtime for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] See Friedrich Engels’ Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx, available at  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/death/burial.htm

[2] Ibid

[3] This was pointed out by Bill Flax in an opinion piece published in Forbes magazine: “Do Marxism And Christianity Have Anything In Common?”, May 12, 2011, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2011/05/12/do-marxism-and-christianity-have-anything-in-common/#708a95d36877

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] Data from Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/economic-growth

[6] Ben Shapiro, How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps, Broadside Book, 2020, pg. xxvi

[7] Declaration of Independence: A Transcript, available at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[8] E.g. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution

[9] Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 4

[10] The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, available at http://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/declaration_of_the_rights_of_man_1789.pdf

[11] Available at https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/1793-french-republic-constitution-of-1793 and also noted on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Constitution_of_1793

[12] Muravchik, op. cit.

[13] Ibid, pg. 25

[14] Ibid

[15] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 432

[16] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 359

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous two sessions we argued that the Bible provides a Christian with his purpose, place and priorities for living and must be our standard even in the public sphere. We also argued that Christians are obligated to participate in government, at least by voting, in order to function as salt and light in the world. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I want to discuss Karl Marx and Marxist ideology.

Marc Roby: Well, that might strike many of our listeners as a strange place to begin. Why deal with Marx and his ideology first?

Dr. Spencer: Because Marxist ideology underlies much of what is going on today. The Black Lives Matter organization, for example, is Marxist. In a youtube video[1] Patrice Khan-Cullors said that she and Alicia Garza, who are listed on the Black Lives Matter website[2] as two of the three co-founders, are both trained Marxists. In addition, there are many other manifestations in modern culture of what is, essentially, Marxist ideology.

Marc Roby: Well, certainly the modern resurgence of socialism in this country is an outgrowth of Marxist ideology. But that begs the question, how do you define Marxist ideology?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would summarize Marx’s ideology as one of conflict. He was a philosopher, a historian of sorts and an economist who primarily studied the history of economics and he considered his most important work to be Das Kapital, which is German for capital, meaning in this case financial assets. He was only able to finish the first volume of this work during his life and then his friend, Friedrich Engels, finished the second and third volumes from his notes after his death. In fact, Engels contributed many of the ideas that we refer to as Marxist, so much of Marx’s work was really a collaboration. According to Elliot Green, out of all the books published in the social sciences before 1950, Das Kapital is the most cited.[3] He found that it was cited over 40,000 times, and that only included English translations.

Marc Roby: That’s an impressive number. But why do you say Marx’s ideology is one of conflict?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me quote from the opening line of the first major section of the Communist Manifesto, which Marx co-wrote with Engels, and which summarizes his view of the history of mankind viewed from the point of view of economics. They wrote that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”[4]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a depressing view of history. Almost every relationship is seen as one of oppression and conflict.

Dr. Spencer: It is a very depressing view. Now, of course, we have to admit that there is some truth to it. Conflict has been a part of human history since the fall. There is conflict in individual personal relationships, in business relationships, between countries and so on. Governments have certainly oppressed people, employers have oppressed employees, slavery has been a common occurrence throughout human history and so on.

Marc Roby: All of which serves to prove that we are all sinners, as the Bible says. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.[5]

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. In any event, Marx is without any doubt one of the most influential people of the past two hundred years.

He was born in 1818 in Trier, which is in the Rhineland of west central Germany, very near modern Luxembourg, which was part of Prussia at the time of Marx’s birth. His father was a lawyer and sent him to the University of Bonn to study law, but he got into trouble there and switched to the University of Berlin. Once there, he got interested in philosophy and joined a group called the “young Hegelians”.

Marc Roby: I assume the name of the group comes from the philosopher Georg Hegel?

Dr. Spencer: Your assumption is correct. Hegel was an objective idealist, which, according to John Frame, means that “the whole universe is characterized by thought.”[6] Hegel developed what is called dialectical reasoning.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should note that in a philosophical sense, a dialectic refers to reasoning by way of a dialogue, as made famous by Plato.

Dr. Spencer: And again you’re right. And to be more specific about Hegel’s method, he believed that we arrive at truth through a process of trial and error. We begin any discussion, or thought process, with a proposition. That is our thesis. There is then an antithesis, which is something that seems to come from the thesis, but is contrary to it; in other words it is a negation of the thesis, which is why it is called the antithesis. Then, by backing up, if you will, and looking at the thesis and antithesis together, we arrive at a synthesis, which is a new proposition that corrects the errors in the thesis and antithesis. This synthesis now becomes our thesis and the process continues.

Marc Roby: That is very abstract. Can you give a concrete example?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, although the example is still pretty abstract. Think about being. Just the bare concept of being. What does it mean? It is undefined. But we could simply say that something is present. That is our thesis. But thinking about that automatically causes us to ask, what is nonbeing? In other words, what is nothing? And we again see that the concept is undefined, but it means that something is absent. That is our antithesis. There initially seems to be no way to reconcile being and non-being, or nothing. But then comes the synthesis. We realize that nothing can become something, or that something can become nothing and we arrive at the concept of becoming as the synthesis.[7]

Marc Roby: I’m not at all sure that that is helpful.

Dr. Spencer: I understand completely, and I don’t want to spend more time on it. The important thing is that this dialectical method involves looking at something and seeing that it has within itself the seeds of its own change. It is all about constant change. You go from thesis and antithesis to synthesis, which then becomes your thesis and you keep going.

Hegel viewed this as applying to history and, in fact, all of reality, since thoughts are reality in his view. So, to quote John Frame, “just as human thought progresses through negation and synthesis, so human history progresses through conflict and resolution. One tribe fights another, leading to a nation. Nations fight and create empires. One empire fights another, leading to a greater civilization.”[8]

Marc Roby: Yes, I see the origin of the conflict idea.

Dr. Spencer: Which is all that is important for now. There is a key difference however between Hegel and Marx.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: Hegel was an idealist and Marx was a materialist. So, Marx’s theory is sometimes called dialectical materialism, although he preferred the term historical materialism. As we saw with the brief quote from the Communist Manifesto, Marx viewed economics in terms of conflict. There is always an oppressor and an oppressed. In Das Kapital, he was analyzing capitalist systems, which he thought were certain to die out.

Marx wrote at the time of the industrial revolution and he broke people up into two classes. The proletariat and the bourgeoisie. He defined the proletariat as the workers who sell their labor and the bourgeoisie as “modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production, and employers of wage labour”[9].

Let me quote the best short explanation of his ideas that I have found.

Marc Roby: Yes, Please do.

Dr. Spencer: In his History of Economic Theory, Harry Landreth wrote that “Capitalism … contains the seeds of its own destruction, as the inevitable conflicts develop with changes in the forces of production. With the fall of capitalism a new set of relations of production will emerge, which Marx calls socialism, and socialism, in turn, finally gives way to communism.”[10] Landreth went on to explain that in Marx’s system, socialism means that the means of production are owned by the state. And in the Communist Manifesto, Marx said the state is, “the proletariat organized as the ruling class.”[11] In fact, Marx wrote in the Manifesto that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to establish democracy.”[12]

Marc Roby: Well, independent of the fact that some people today speak about democratic socialism, most people don’t associate socialism with democracy.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and for good reason as we will see later. But socialism in its pure form is an economic system. Marx envisioned a democracy where the government owns all of the means of production.

But there is still in this view of socialism a vestige of capitalism, because, as Landreth writes, “economic activity is still basically organized through the use of incentive systems: rewards must still be given in order to induce men to labor.”[13]

Marc Roby: So the key idea of socialism, according to Marx, is that the means of production are owned collectively, rather than being in the hands of some sort of upper class.

Dr. Spencer: That’s the key, yes. And then the system is assumed to continue to progress and, in communism, as viewed by Marx, things are very different. Landreth writes, “Men are no longer motivated to work by monetary or material incentives, and the social classes which existed under capitalism, and to a lesser extent under socialism, have disappeared. Communism is a classless society in which the state has withered away. Under socialism each person contributes to the economic process according to his ability and receives an income according to his contribution; under communism each contributes according to his ability but consumes according to his needs.”

Marc Roby: That’s amazing. Marx honestly believed that men’s motivations will completely change, and that social classes will disappear and the state will wither away?

Dr. Spencer: Apparently, he did. It is one of the things I find intriguing about Marx’s views. It arises from his rejection of the biblical notions of sin and the authority of God to define our place. He despised religion.

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement, can you back it up?

Dr. Spencer: Easily. Marx wrote that religion “is the opium of the people.”[14] By which he meant it was a tool of the oppressors used to keep the oppressed under control. He also wrote that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”[15] In other words, religion provides only an illusion of happiness according to Marx, and must be abolished in order to open the door for real happiness.

Marc Roby: Which, on his view, would come with communism.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So, you see, his view of humanity was not informed by the Bible, but he nevertheless understood that human beings are sinful, although we would never have used that word. Or, at least, he understood that human beings in power, the bourgeoisie, are sinful, since he spoke about there always being oppression of the workers, the proletariat. But he then envisioned all of this changing when the economic and governmental structures changed as a result of the proletariat coming to power. So, somehow, he thought that sin was going to magically disappear.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible.

Dr. Spencer: It’s even more incredible than just thinking oppression would go away. In the communist manifesto we read, “In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”[16]

Marc Roby: So, he envisioned heaven here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what he envisioned. His philosophy was completely materialist and, as such, is fundamentally opposed to God and to Christianity. In her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey analyzes different worldviews in terms of how they answer three questions: First, what is the ultimate origin of everything in this universe? Second, what is wrong with the world, in other words, why is their all this conflict and trouble? And third, how do we fix things.[17] These three questions can be summarized using Christian terminology as dealing with the creation, fall and redemption.

Marc Roby: I think that is a reasonable rubric for evaluating different worldviews. So, what does Pearcey say about Marx’s worldview?

Dr. Spencer: Well, she says that Marx’s view of creation is that this universe is self-creating matter.[18] I would possibly disagree with the “self-creating” part of that statement, I don’t know if Marx ever wrote about the origin of our universe one way or the other, but most materialists simply assume that the material universe has been around forever, or is a part of some multiverse that has been around forever. We’ve dealt with that idea before and it isn’t important for our current discussion anyway, so let’s move on to the other two aspects of a worldview.

Marc Roby: Alright, what does Pearcey say then is Marx’s view of the fall?

Dr. Spencer: Well, obviously, having an atheistic worldview, he doesn’t speak in terms of a fall. But Pearcey says that he views man’s problem as the creation of private property. I think that is correct as far as it goes, but there is a little more to it. Private property wouldn’t be a problem if there were no greed or envy or selfishness in this world, in other words, if there were no sin.

Marx really misses the whole point here because of his materialist, anti-God worldview. He speaks about oppression and clearly thinks it is wrong, but then never addresses that moral problem. As Pearcey writes, “Marxism assumes that human nature can be transformed simply by changing external social structures.”[19]

Marc Roby: And so Marx’s view of redemption must also neglect any discussion of how human nature is transformed. From what you have said, it is obvious that Marx thinks there is some natural evolution in social structures that can lead to a communist utopia.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. He wrote a famous slogan, which was meant to describe the final state of mature communism. He wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”[20]

Marc Roby: I’ve heard that slogan a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: Well we all have. Marx envisioned a society where everyone willingly used all of his or her abilities to their fullest without expecting any greater return than anyone else. He spoke of those who had greater ability as having a “natural privilege”[21], in other words, if you are smarter and more talented than I am, that is just a privilege that you have been given and you should be content for me to receive just as much material wealth as you receive, even though you produce twice as much as I do.

Marc Roby: That again sounds like a heaven on earth idea.

Dr. Spencer: And he went even further. As we saw earlier from the Communist Manifesto, he believed that all hostilities between nations would vanish.

Marc Roby: Wow. An end to all conflict. And all because the proletariat now owns the means of production and controls the distribution of wealth. I can think of a number of modern politicians who have drunk deeply from that well of nonsense.

Dr. Spencer: So can I. The problem with Marx is his materialism. His diagnosis of man’s problem was wrong because he didn’t take sin into account. He tried to find the problem in some external circumstance rather than in man himself. And when you get the diagnosis wrong, you are bound to get the cure wrong. The paradoxical and incomprehensible thing to me is that, as I said before, he somehow thought that changing the structure of society was going to make it perfectly equitable.

But why should we assume that having the government own everything is going to solve the human problems of selfishness, greed, envy and so on? There is no logical connection whatsoever, it is just so much wishful thinking. The only solution to the sin problem is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: ;Yes, I see your point. And I look forward to continuing this discussion in our next session, but we are out of time for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1noLh25FbKI

[2] https://blacklivesmatter.com/our-co-founders/

[3] https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/05/12/what-are-the-most-cited-publications-in-the-social-sciences-according-to-google-scholar/

[4] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 419

[5] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[6] J. Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 756

[7] E.g., see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/), or Frame, op. cit., pp 273-274

[8] Frame, op. cit. pg. 275

[9] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 419, see fn 1

[10] Harry Landreth, History of Economic Theory, Scope, Method, and Content, Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1976, pg. 161

[11] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 428

[12] Ibid

[13] Landreth, op. cit., pp 161-162

[14] K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

[15] Ibid, note that in the same piece he wrote that “In the struggle against that state of affairs, criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. It is not a lancet, it is a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it wants not to refute but to exterminate.” He had started the piece off by saying, in part, that “the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism”. Putting the two together, it is clear that he wanted to exterminate religion.

[16] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 428

[17] N. Pearcey, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004, pg. 134

[18] Ibid, pg. 136

[19] Ibid

[20] K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Critque_of_the_Gotha_Programme.pdf

[21] Ibid

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