While Marx is dead and gone, his Manifesto haunts our culture in many ways. It is “cultural marxism”? No. It is in part leftist and socialistic ideas; but is also our own hypocrisy and failure to develop a biblical worldview.
From God vs. Socialism:
A while back, I wrote on the Planks of Communism as they have manifested in America. While their manifestation is in some cases not total, that they have begun to manifest should be almost as worrying. Now we must address the surprising reason why Marx succeeded like this in America, and the Christian culture that let it happen. I offer this analysis in hopes of enlightening us all to the reasons why humanism advances, and to emphasize the need for a Biblically-centered social program.
I understood the reason for leftist success simply after reading the Communist Manifesto itself. It is clear to me from that Marx was reacting against two things primarily. One is obvious to all: the horrible conditions of factory workers at the time. Marx, even if he himself had never even set foot in a factory, nor hardly even held a job, could leverage the publicly perceived evil of oppressive factory conditions. He had the rhetorical ability-like certain modern politicians-to agitate feelings of resentment and call for “change.” In Marx’s social climate those feelings needed little goading, and the abysmal conditions are a well established aspect of the story.
The second point of reaction for Marx—and this is more implied than explicit—is the right-wing of enlightenment rationalism embodied in the conservative writers at the time. This is clear from Marx’s interactions in the Manifesto with the standard responses of conservatives at the time. These interactions appear on at least four issues on which Marx anticipated alarm: abolishing private property, abolishing the family, the socialization of education, and the communal sharing of women. On each, Marx stood ready with a counter-attack that exposed the hypocrisy of status quo ideology.
On property, Marx argued that the present system denied the ability for ninety-percent of the population to acquire private property. Thus, it had been abolished in practice for most people anyway.
On family, Marx decried the exploitation of children by their parents who sought to gain from child labor in factories. Marx argued that the same forces of industry allowed many children to be denied education as they were forced to work. In the light of common practice, Marx denounced the “claptrap” about “the hallowed co-relation of parent and child,” since “by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.”1
Likewise, on the radical-sounding issue of “community of women,” Marx argued that it in fact already existed among them in the forms of prostitution (illegal, but abundant), exploitation of the working class “wives and daughters at their disposal,” and rampant adultery with each other’s wives.
Even if all of Marx’s arguments were a stretch, the common thread that runs through them is hypocrisy. Except for the property issue (and even this can be nuanced to be understandable), Marx was absolutely right about the hypocrisy of those who defended the contemporary society using then-conservative arguments. There was no defense of the status quo. These political issues were moral issues, and thus issues of religious law. Where was the church? Where was the preacher? Society was morally bankrupt, and the trusted institutions that should have provoked change did not. Even though his system was consciously atheistic, Marx’s humanism took the place of religious law by default, because the religious institutions did not preach biblical law.
The truth is that the churches and preachers did denounce the immorality—but they provided no practical alternative. The church’s message needs more study and elucidation than I am ready or able to present here, but you will be hard pressed to find any system of social law at the time coming from a biblical worldview. As far as I can tell, there were few Christian writers who presented a clear alternative, certainly not a distinctly biblical alternative. The church’s responses merely echoed the common responses of the two parties, both of which derived from some form of humanistic rationalism as their philosophical basis, or fell into ancient ritualism. Parts of the church were, indeed, active on social issues. In fact, the evils of the new industrial technology and factory provoked countless sermons during the time.2 You will certainly find appeals to charity and helping the poor, you will find abundant claims about the centrality of religion as a generality, but what law was appealed to to draw clear and distinct social boundaries and duties? What social theory backed it all?
There were a few Christian activists working on social issues. The Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Chalmers reformed and reinvigorated education and the economy in his parish, and reduced poverty and government expenditure on poverty through ecclesiastical organization. Likewise, William Wilberforce had famously worked to end the slave trade. But action without theory explaining it is easily ignored or reinterpreted by opposing groups—a technique at which Marx was expert.
The great problem was this: conservatives did not have a compelling biblical answer for social ills, while socialists at least presented one.
Conservatives are always at a disadvantage to progressives for this reason: conservatives generally don’t want change, and thus rarely present a viable program for social change. Their answers thus become defensive and ad hoc. Socialists look competent and promising in comparison simply because they count on and demand change, even if that change is not necessarily good in the long run, or good period. The only change conservatives appear to offer is a return to the way things used to be, and this rarely takes the form of thought-out, concrete, practical, helpful steps—it strongly smacks of nostalgia.
It seems, however, apparent to all that whatever social ills afflict us at any given time will not go away by doing nothing, nor by merely lamenting that the present is not like the past. Thus whatever specie of “change” is presented sounds better than the present condition. This is rarely true, but the rhetoric of “change” is persuasive nonetheless. Unless conservative Christians can present a forward-looking, optimistic vision for society, then they will continue to allow socialism and other unbiblical political systems to succeed.
This, once again, leaves us with the question: “So, what are we supposed to do?” It is easy to say “the churches and Christians have failed,” “we have to point the finger at us.” It is easy to say, “We need to pray,” and we must pray. But the beginning step is to reclaim our children: reclaim them from a host of educational evils into which most Christians send them every day without much thought. It proceeds with the elimination of hypocrisy in countless areas of our life and thought. It progresses with the full Reformation of every area of life according to Scripture, and the establishment of that social vision in the pulpits as well.
This reclamation and reformation can indeed take place, as hard as it may seem; and it is at the heart of American Vision’s mission.