Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1: Religion and Social Ethics - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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1: Religion and Social Ethics - 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).
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Religion and Social Ethics
Religion, not merely as a church but as a philosophy too, is like any other raft of spiritual life, a product of men’s social co-operation. Our thinking is by no means an individual phenomenon independent of all social relations and traditions; it has a social character by reason of the very fact that it follows methods of thought formed during millennia of co-operation between innumerable groups. And we, again, are able to take over these methods of thought only because we are members of society. Now, for exactly the same reasons, we cannot imagine religion as an isolated phenomenon. Even the mystic, who forgets his surroundings in awestruck joy as he experiences communion with his God, has not made his religion by his own efforts. The forms of thought which have led him to it are not his own individual creation; they belong to society. A Kaspar Hauser16 cannot evolve a religion without help from outside. Religion, like everything else, has grown up historically, and is subject to the constant change that affects every social phenomenon.
But religion is also a social factor in the sense that it regards social relations from a special angle and sets up rules for human conduct in society accordingly. It cannot refuse to state its principles in matters of social ethics. No religion which sets out to give its devotees an answer to the problems of life, and to console them where they most need consolation, can rest content with interpreting the relations of man to Nature, to becoming, and to passing away. If it leaves out the relations of man to man, it can produce no rules for earthly conduct but abandons the believer so soon as he starts thinking about the inadequacy of social conditions. Religion must provide him an answer when he asks why there are rich and poor, violence and justice, war and peace, or it will force him to look for an answer elsewhere. This would mean losing its hold on its adherents and its power over the spirit. Without social ethics religion would be dead.
Today the Islamic and Jewish religions are dead. They offer their adherents nothing more than a ritual. They know how to prescribe prayers and fasts, certain foods, circumcision and the rest; but that is all. They offer nothing to the mind. Completely despiritualized, all they teach and preach are legal forms and external rule. They lock their follower into a cage of traditional usages, in which he is often hardly able to breathe; but for his inner soul they have no message. They suppress the soul, instead of elevating and saving it. For many centuries in Islam, for nearly two thousand years in Jewry, there have been no new religious movements. Today the religion of the Jews is just as it was when the Talmud was drawn up. The religion of Islam has not changed since the days of the Arab conquests. Their literature, their philosophies continue to repeat the old ideas and do not penetrate beyond the circle of theology. One looks in vain among them for men and movements such as Western Christianity has produced in each century. They maintain their identity only by rejecting everything foreign and “different,” by traditionalism and conservatism. Only their hatred of everything foreign rouses them to great deeds from time to time. All new sects, even the new doctrines which arise with them, are nothing more than echoes of this fight against the foreign, the new, the infidel. Religion has no influence on the spiritual life of the individual, where indeed this is able to develop at all against the stifling pressure of rigid traditionalism. We see this most clearly in the lack of clerical influence. Respect for the clergy is purely superficial. In these religions there is nothing which could be compared to the profound influence which the clergy exercises in the Western Churches—though of a different order in each church; there is nothing to compare to the Jesuit, the Catholic bishop, and the Protestant pastor. There was the same inertia in the polytheistic religions of antiquity and there still is in the Eastern Church. The Greek Church has been dead for over a thousand years.17 Only in the second half of the nineteenth century did it once more produce a man in whom faith and hope flared up like fire. But Tolstoy’s Christianity, however much it may bear a superficially Eastern and Russian hue, is at bottom founded on Western ideas. It is particularly characteristic of this great Gospeller that, unlike the Italian merchant’s son, Francis of Assisi, or the German miner’s son, Martin Luther, he did not come from the people but from the nobility which, by upbringing and education, had been completely Westernized. The Russian Church proper has produced at most men like John of Kronstadt18 or Rasputin.
These dead churches lack any special ethics. Harnack says of the Greek Church:19 “The real sphere of the working life whose morality is to be regulated by the Faith, falls outside its direct observation. This is left to the state and the nation.” But it is otherwise in the living Church of the West. Here, where faith is not yet extinct, where it is not merely external form that conceals nothing but the priest’s meaningless ritual, where, in a word, it grips the whole man, there is continuous striving after a social ethic. Again and again do its members go back to the Gospels to renew their life in the Lord and His Message.
[16. ]The first fact known positively about Kaspar Hauser is that he appeared in Nuremberg in 1828 with a letter purporting to give some of his background. According to the letter, he had been found in 1812, when only a few months old, by a German laborer who had raised him. The boy said that he had been confined in a dark room all his life until he was sent forth into the world. In time he was placed in the care of the German poet and philosopher, Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875). Hauser died in 1833 from a wound inflicted, he said, by a stranger who had promised information about his origin. Many myths and romances developed over the years as to Hauser’s true identity and ancestry (Pub.).
[17. ]Compare the characterization of the Eastern Church given by Harnack, Das Mönchtum, 7th ed. (Giessen, 19o7), p. 32 ff.
[18. ]John of Kronstadt (1821-1908), real name Ioann Sergiev, an orthodox Russian priest and popular idol, alleged performer of miracles, carried on charitable work and ministered to the poor, sick and needy.
[19. ]Harnack, Das Mönchtum, p. 33.