Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When I Read Marx in College

Many people would be surprised to know that The Communist Manifesto is in my personal library and has been read several times. Even though I went to a conservative college we were still required to read and be familiar with Marx because of his influence on modern thinking, especially in minds that do not realize the influence he has had on them through popular culture.

Our professor stood in front of us and told us that Marxism is a precarious school of thought. It has one little flaw but is such a vital one that it causes the whole edifice to collapse into a pile of dust. He then challenged us to find that flaw. He did have to ask us a couple of leading questions to get our thoughts moving the right direction, but once he did the flaw wasn't that hard to find.

The fatal flaw in George Bernard Shaw's shocking Essay on Major Barbara was much harder to find.

Marxism is often summed up in beautiful and altruistic sounding From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need. While there is actually a lot more to it and it involves a study of the cycles of history and economics, this nice sounding statement does sum up the ideal. Who could argue with that from a moral perspective?

I could accept it if men were morally perfect creatures. They are not.

The difficulty is that the typical human is self-centered and will consider their own needs and wants first. Most people will look to the needs of others only after their needs are satisfied. There are of course exceptions but these are a small minority. While most adults will feed their children first, most will not feed another until they themselves are filled and secure.

Now there is more to this. People are also basically lazy and will usually take the path of ease and least resistance as far as they are able to. Of course there are exceptions but these are few. Most people will get what they need by the easiest method possible for them. This is from nature where an animal not only has to struggle to survive, but, because food is not always available in the wild, must conserve as much energy as possible. The animal aspect of man carries this same thing and the more a human leans toward the animal side of his nature the more he will act in this way.

A little thought and you can see where this leads. We take the maxim from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs and attempt to make it a reality. Now everyone is guaranteed a certain standard of living regardless of what they do. By simple human nature a person will do as little as possible to get this standard of living. Needs will become maximized in most people while abilities become minimized. Why work hard if you don't have to? Why do so if there is no exceptional and tangible reward? Everyone gets the same regardless of what they do so why bother?

While we were studying Marx in Civ class we were simultaneously reading Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon in lit class and that book had a profound effect on me. It said that the early Bolsheviks ran into precisely this problem when farmers refused to simply give up their harvests to the state and the state had to resort to brutal methods to collect the harvest for redistribution. After that the farmers were much less zealous in their work and Russian agriculture never really did meet its full potential. (actually the book doesn't say Russia but everyone knows who they meant.)

Now the early Christians had what in the original Greek was called koinonia which is similar to socialism but the differences are deep and profound. Koinonia was encouraged but optional as no one was forced to share. (The episode with Ananias and Sapphira was about lying and claiming a virtue you don't have, not failure to share.) Also the person who was giving the wealth to be distributed had a lot of say in where it was going and what was being done with it. (The person giving the wealth could say that a certain person or group did not deserve assistance.) Finally mature Christians are more likely to work for the whole than just themselves as compared to people who lean more to the animal side of their nature. In fact, in my life experience, the most generous people I know despise Marx and Socialism. These virtues do exist in many non-Christians but there are so many that don't have them, sadly including some Christians, that a whole society based on it is impossible.

Fellow bloger Z at her blog geeeeeZ! had a cute posting about a beggar and a waiter both carrying Obama paraphernalia and the writer's response to it and it hit the nail right on the head, especially this comment by a commenter:

The waiter can afford to lose one $10 tip for an educational experience. But he can have even more fun...

If the waiter makes $35,000 per year and loses one $10 tip per day (in a 5 day work week) then he would only lose $2,600 per year, leaving him with $32,400. That wouldnt require any considerable change in his lifestyle.

If there are 15 waiters at the restaurant who donate $10/each per day, that would be $39,000/year which could be redistributed to the homeless person.

This way the waiters can work extra hard to make up the slight loss of income, while the homeless man does nothing to earn a living better than they have.

That is of course, until one of the waiters catches on and quits his job to demand that the other waiters support him as well.

That is precisely why Marxism will never work.


Blogger Gayle said...

Precisely, Shoprat! Great post. Too bad the liberals will never understand it, or if they do, they will disagree with it anyway. They don't like the truth screwing up their plans for their imagined utopia.

1:42 PM  
Blogger christian soldier said...

Rumblings in one of the first settlements in what is now the U.S.--
The 'red-necks' worked - raised crops etc.--while the members of the old European artistocracy - sat around as they were used to doing in the 'old country'...the workers complained-the leadership confronted the 'elites' with the words..."If you do not work ---you will not eat." It worked! There was a surplus for the first time!!!

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Contrary to popular belief among socialist/communists, American conservatives are not adverse to social programs. Speaking for myself only, history tells us that there are some things that only government can do. Creation of standards in the processing of food is one of these, even if it took socialist Upton Sinclair to bring it to everyone’s attention. The idea of a “community chest” is not only Christian, but also conservative. Only socialists want government to assume the responsibility for charitable programs. On this note, I find socialist suppositions insulting; I do not require government to tell me how much to give, or who to give it to. And if the government compels me to “give,” then it isn’t charity, and it isn’t a gift.

An excellent post, SR . . . but then, that’s what I expect to find here. It’s why I am proud to have you on my blogroll.

Semper Fi

7:42 PM  
Blogger The Practicalist said...

You've got some really good posts here lately. A real pleasure to read. You keep them short enough to read, yet long enough to get the information in.

The only way communism works is when every participant wants it to work, and willingly gives to it and works to provide. There may be some ideal in that concept, but its just not practical. Ironically, it usually seems to work only where the participants have a common religion. Even then, its only temporary.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

Yes indeed, it takes all the fun out of it when you reduce it to dollars and cents reality! Nice post SR.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Z said...

REALLY good post, thanks for the nod.
You do such good writing, shoprat, I hope you're writing your book, too!

12:43 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

You were lucky to have a teacher to point our Marxism's fatal flaw. I had to read Marx in secret because he was banned in South Africa and I almost fell for it. Thank God I soon found Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Freedomnow said...

Mustang you are quite correct. A fiscal Conservative is not an Anarchist.

Even a lot of laissez-faire theorists do not reject the idea of a central government.

A typical American Conservative believes in state rights as a means to check the power of the central government.

Much like our government is set up with a House of Reps, Senate, Executive Office, judiciary, etc... as a series of checks and balances.

Only when the central government becomes too powerful and engages in too much social engineering do such Conservatives object.

This is a misconception that is very mainstream.

(Thanks Shoprat!!!)

5:49 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Fantastic post!

If you don't mind, I will steal it for use in a class I teach at church.

Most Americans hear us talk about Marxism and socialism withouth the foggiest notion of what it is about.

"So what," they say, "If Obams introduces socialist policies...that's a good thing, isn't it?"

No, my fellow American, it is not.

9:02 AM  
Blogger shoprat said...

gayle thanks

cs sadly I have to acknowledge that one of those duffers that had to be told to work at Jamestown was a direct ancestor. Oh well.

mustang The biggest difference between conservative and liberal welfare is that we recognize that you have to attach responsibility to it.

practicalist Thanks. Another thing that helps it in some situations is if it is with a small group.

ybm thanks

z You're welcome.

pjc I had a bunch of very good teachers.

freedomnow You're more than welcome.

Joe be my guest. Truth is there for everyone.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Mike's America said...

Marxism, Communism and Socialism fail every time they are tried.

Why any thinking person would want to try again is beyond me.

1:55 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

No Mike it is not "beyond" you, it's "beneath" you. You have more logic than these Marxist idiots.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I summarized liberalism (aka socialism) as punishing sucess and rewarding failure. And as you point out here very well SR is that human nature doesn't work that way.

2:36 PM  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

While that argument makes sense, let us say that we replace a few words in "If there are 15 waiters at the restaurant who donate $10/each per day, that would be $39,000/year which could be redistributed to the homeless person." ..lets say "redistributed to some idiot on Wall Street" as
concurrent with today..could they quit their waiter job, go to WS,
sit in an office, make terrible decisions and get a $million bonus?
All economic systems have flaws...

3:27 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

While most adults will feed their children first, most will not feed another until they themselves are filled and secure.

You know, in a way, I think in order to help others, you first have to be able to help yourself (except in extreme instances, where immediate self-sacrifice might be needed). By improving your own corner of the universe, by cultivating your own self, you make it possible to give back and improve the rest of the world.

Whenever I'm on an airliner, and the flight attendant goes through the safety procedure on making sure you put the oxygen mask on first before assisting your child or others, it is just logical; not selfish.

12:58 AM  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

Wordsmith would have been fun on the Titanic...

1:50 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

I must say, that was an absolutely exquisite post. If you weren't so darned far away, I'd enjoy meeting you. And I'd buy the beer. And it wouldn't be Rolling Rock.


7:02 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Economist/columnist Thomas Sowell is an expert on Marxism. I am reading his book "My Personal Odyssey". I think you would enjoy it.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

Awesome, awesome post Shoprat! Thank you!

8:44 PM  

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