Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4: Christian Socialism - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
4: Christian Socialism - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A theocratic organization of the state demands either a self-sufficing family economy or the socialist organization of industry. It is incompatible with an economic order which allows the individual free play to develop his powers. Simple faith and economic rationalism cannot dwell together. It is unthinkable that priests should govern entrepreneurs.
Christian Socialism, as it has taken root in the last few decades among countless followers of all Christian churches, is merely a variety of State Socialism. State Socialism and Christian Socialism are so entangled that it is difficult to draw any clear line between them, or to say of individual socialists whether they belong to the one or the other. Even more than etatism, Christian Socialism is governed by the idea that the economic system would be perfectly stationary if the desire for profit and personal gain by men directing their efforts solely to the satisfaction of material interests did not disturb its smooth course. The advantage of progressive improvements in methods of production is admitted, if only with limitations; but the Christian socialist does not clearly understand that it is just these innovations which disturb the peaceful course of the economic system. In so far as this is recognized, the existing state of affairs is preferred to any further progress. Agriculture and handicraft, with perhaps small shopkeeping, are the only admissible occupations. Trade and speculation are superfluous, injurious, and evil. Factories and large scale industries are a wicked invention of the “Jewish spirit”; they produce only bad goods which are foisted on buyers by the large stores and by other monstrosities of modern trade to the detriment of purchasers. It is the duty of legislation to suppress these excesses of the business spirit and to restore to handicraft the place in production from which it has been displaced by the machinations of big capital.35 Large transport undertakings that cannot be abolished should be nationalized.
The basic idea of Christian Socialism that runs through all the teachings of its representatives is purely stationary in outlook. In the economic system which they have in mind there is no entrepreneur, no speculation, and no “inordinate” profit. The prices and wages demanded and given are “just.” Everyone is satisfied with his lot because dissatisfaction would signify rebellion against divine and human laws. For those incapable of work Christian charity will provide. This ideal it is asserted was achieved in medieval times. Only unbelief could have driven mankind out of this paradise. If it is to be regained mankind must first find the way back to the Church. Enlightenment and liberal thought have created all the evil which afflicts the world today.
The protagonists of Christian social reform as a rule do not regard their ideal Society of Christian Socialism as in any way socialistic. But this is simply self-deception. Christian Socialism appears to be conservative because it desires to maintain the existing order of property, or more properly it appears reactionary because it wishes to restore and then maintain an order of property that prevailed in the past. It is also true that it combats with great energy the plans of socialists of other persuasions for a radical abolition of private property, and in contradistinction to them asserts that not Socialism but social reform is its aim. But Conservatism can only be achieved by Socialism. Where private property in the means of production exists not only in name but in fact, income cannot be distributed according to an historically determined or an any other way permanently established order. Where private property exists, only market prices can determine the formation of income. To the degree in which this is realized, the Christian social reformer is step by step driven to Socialism, which for him can be only State Socialism. He must see that otherwise there cannot be that complete adherence to the traditional state of affairs which his ideal demands. He sees that fixed prices and wages cannot be maintained, unless deviations from them are menaced by threats of punishment from a supreme authority. He must also realize that wages and prices cannot be arbitrarily determined according to the ideas of a world improver, because every deviation from market prices destroys the equilibrium of economic life. He must therefore progressively move from a demand for price regulation to a demand for a supreme control over production and distribution. It is the same path that practical etatism has followed. At the end in both cases, is a rigid Socialism which leaves private property only in name, and in fact transfers all control over the means of production to the State.
Only a part of the Christian socialist movement has openly subscribed to this radical programme. The others have shunned an open declaration. They have anxiously avoided drawing the logical conclusions of their premises. They give one to understand that they are combating only the excrescences and abuses of the capitalist order; they protest that they have not the slightest desire to abolish private property; and they constantly emphasize their opposition to Marxian Socialism. But they characteristically perceive that this opposition mainly consists in differences of opinion as to the way in which the best state of society can be attained. They are not revolutionary and expect everything from an increasing realization that reform is necessary. For the rest they constantly proclaim that they do no wish to attack private property. But what they would retain is only the name of private property. If the control of private property is transferred to the State the property owner is only an official, a deputy of the economic administration.
It can be seen at once how the Christian Socialism of today corresponds to the economic ideal of the medieval Scholastics. The starting point, the demand for “just” wages and prices, that is, for a definite historically attained distribution of income, is common to both. Only the realization that this is impossible, if the economic system retains private property in the means of production, forces the modern Christian reform movement towards Socialism. In order to achieve their demands, they must advocate measures which, even if formally retaining private property, lead to the complete socialization of society.
It will be shown later that this modern Christian Socialism has nothing to do with the suppositious but often cited Communism of the Early Christians. The socialist idea is new to the Church. This is not altered by the fact that the most recent development of Christian social theory has led the Church36 to recognize the fundamental rightfulness of private property in the means of production, whereas the early church teaching, in view of the command of the gospels condemning all economic activity, had avoided unconditionally accepting even the name of private property. For we must understand what the Church has done in recognizing the rightfulness of private property, only as opposition to the efforts of the socialists to overthrow the existing order forcibly. In reality the Church desires nothing but State Socialism of a particular colour.
The nature of socialistic methods of production is independent of the concrete methods involved in the attempt to realize it. Every attempt at Socialism, however brought about, must founder on the impracticability of setting up a purely socialistic economy. For that reason, and not because of deficiencies in the moral character of mankind, Socialism must fail.
It may be granted, that the moral qualities required of the members of a socialist community could best be fostered by the Church. The spirit which must prevail in a socialist community is most akin to that of a religious community. But to overcome the difficulties in the way of establishing a socialist community would require a change in human nature or in the laws of the nature by which we are surrounded, and even faith cannot bring this to pass.
[35. ]See the criticism of the economic policy of the Austrian Christian Socialist Party in Sigmund Mayer, Die Aufhebung des Befähigungsnachweises in Österreich (Leipzig, 1894), especially pp. 124 ff.
[36. ]In the above text we have always spoken only of the Church in general, without considering the differences between the various denominations. This is quite admissible. The evolution towards Socialism is common to all denominations. In Catholicism, Leo XIII’s encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” of 1891, has recognized the origin of private property in Natural Law; but simultaneously the Church laid down a series of fundamental ethical principles for the distribution of incomes, which could be put into practice only under State Socialism. On this basis stands also Pius XI’s encyclical, “Quadragesimo anno” of 1931. In German Protestantism the Christian Socialist idea is so tied up with State Socialism that the two can hardly be distinguished.