Jayaprakash Narayan: From Socialism to Sarvodaya (1957)

In a passage that is as relevant today as it was in 1957, Jayaprakash Narayan writes,

The party system with the corroding and corrupting struggle for power inherent in it, disturbed me more and more.  I saw how parties backed by finance, organization and the means of propaganda could impose themselves on the people; how people’s rule became in effect party rule; how party rule in turn became the rule of a caucus or coterie; how democracy was reduced to mere casting of votes; how even the right to vote was restricted severely by the system of powerful parties setting up their candidates from whom alone, for all practical purposes, the voters had to make their choice; how even this limited choice was made unreal by the fact that the issues posed before the electorate were by and large incomprehensible to it.

The party system as I saw it was emasculating the people.  It did not function so as to develop their strength and initiative, nor to help them establish their self-rule and to manage their affairs themselves.  All that parties were concerned with was to capture power for themselves so as to rule over the people, no doubt, with their consent!  The party system, so it appeared to me, was seeking to reduce the people to the position of sheep whose only function of sovereignty would be to choose periodically the shepherds who would look after their welfare.  This to me did not spell freedom–the freedom, the swaraj (I), for which I fought and for which the people of this country fought. (II)



(I) Vinoba Bhave, in “Sarvodaya: Freedom From Government”, writes that, “These two things together make swaraj–no submission and no exploitation.”

(II) Both excerpts taken from Robert Graham’s Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume Two: The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977).  (Montreal/New York/London: Black Rose Books, 2009), pp. 183-192.


On Libertarian Socialism, Anarchist Communism, and Other Such Absurdities

There was a great post today on Koinonia Revolution called “Socialism and Communism: The Last 100 Years“, dealing with the demonization of socialism and communism.  Since this is a conversation I have had many times, I thought I’d thrown in my two cents on the common misunderstandings and subsequent misuses of terms such as socialism, communism, and anarchism.

When asked about my political views, if I have the time, I might describe myself as a libertarian socialist who is particularly sympathetic to anarcho-communism.  Otherwise, I will probably just say I’m an anarchist.  But even this term can be problematic.  Indeed, as soon as I start throwing out terms such as “socialist”, “communist”, “anarchist”, and “libertarian”, I am likely to be misunderstood–and even more so when I suggest that there is some meaningful political philosophy that is actually characterized by a commitment to the basic ideas of all of these terms.

In general, “libertarianism” is taken to refer to the free market, minimum government ideas of thinkers such as Ron Paul; socialism is a catch-all term for any left-winger who advocates “big government”; “communism” is the horrible evil of the USSR; and “anarchism” would mean the abolition of all government, order, organization, etc.  Therefore, it is assumed, it is surely impossible that any of these terms could agree in any meaningful way with the other.

On the contrary, as I point out in the “Terminology” section above, socialism is an economic theory that, quite simply, refers to the collective ownership of the means of production.  There is no specific role of the state that is necessary to socialism–the state could be gigantic or non-existent.  Communism, furthermore, is a socialist economic theory, which generally refers to a specific way of structuring a socialist society around the idea of “from each according to her abilities; to each according to her needs.”  Again, no specific state role is necessary for this definition.  Anarchism also goes back to 19th century socialism: It simply refers to a type of socialism that is characterized by a non-hierarchical society (i.e., no state).  And finally, libertarianism was originally used as a synonym for anarchism.  So, in other words, libertarianism is anarchism; anarchism is socialism; communism is socialism; and socialism does not refer necessitate an authoritarian state.

For this reason, it is, historically speaking, more of a redundancy to speak of “libertarian socialism”.  It was not until the mid-20th century that the term libertarian began to be used to refer to laissez-faire economics, even though up until that point libertarians (i.e., anarchists) had always been characterized by an opposition to capitalism.  And similarly, it wasn’t until certain authoritarian regimes (i.e., the USSR, North Korea, etc.) arose as nominally “communist” that communism came to be demonized in American media.  But, as I have suggested, an authoritarian state is not the condition of possibility for socialism.  In fact, Noam Chomsky has argued (I think rightly), that the original definition of socialism is incompatible with an authoritarian state, which would mean that such states as have historically called themselves “communist” were in fact simply authoritarian and nothing more.

In Response to “What Bible is Pope Francis Reading?”

Just for kicks, I thought I would throw off the more serious, scholarly-ambitions tone of most of my blog entires to write a brief response to a truly asinine article I recently read entitled, “What Bible is Pope Francis Reading?” wherein the author argues that Jesus was a capitalist.  Putting aside that this is rather anachronistic (the type of Enlightenment individualism championed by capitalist economists didn’t really exist until, well, the Enlightenment) (I), and not wanting to introduce my own anachronism, I tend the think that Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, appears to have been pretty antiauthoritarian and pro-egalitarian (not to mention pro-altruism), which would put him at odds with the hierarchical, pro-greed, pro-inequality nature of modern capitalist economic theory.

To begin, the author writes:

The misconception that Jesus’ message is anti-capitalist probably stems from the same confusion that pervades all leftist thinking: the inability to distinguish voluntary from coerced human action. Jesus often exhorts his followers to voluntarily give to the poor. Nowhere in the gospels does he suggest that the Romans or the vassal Jewish government should be empowered to tax the wealthy to provide for the poor.

Actually, I would argue that said failure to distinguish voluntary from coerced human action falls in the capitalist camp.  As I’ve quoted Bakunin before:

The worker always has the right to leave his employer, but has he the means to do so? And if he does quit him, is it in order to lead a free existence, in which he will have no master but himself? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer. Thus the worker’s liberty, so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans, is only a theoretical freedom, lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood.  – Mikhail Bakunin, ‘The Capitalist System’ (II)

In other words, it’s unclear to me how an economic system in which one must have money–which one can only earn by selling oneself in the market place and be subjected to the hierarchical nature of capitalist-worker relationships whereby the worker has most of the value of her labor stolen by the capitalist–constitutes true freedom.  Furthermore, it’s unclear how socialism, as an economic theory which advocates the collective ownership of the means of production, is inherently coercive.  Indeed, the point is to eliminate the coercive, exploitative, hierarchical nature of the capitalist-worker relationship, as has been noted.  Socialism does not mean–as the author seems to think–maintaining capitalism, but merely stealing from the richest members of society (who obviously work very hard and deserve every penny of their earnings) to give to the poor (who are obviously poor because they’re lazy and have a sense of “entitlement”).  That’s just a categorical misunderstanding of socialism.  So, I agree that Jesus does not advocate coercion, but for this reason I would argue that this puts him more at odds with capitalism than with socialism.

Next, the author writes,

Jesus also warns against the temptations that great wealth may expose one to. Being consumed with accumulating wealth to the exclusion of all other concerns leaves no room for devotion to God or charity to one’s fellow man. This is summed up in Luke 16:13 when Jesus says,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

I completely agree.  This sounds like an argument against capitalist Jesus to me,  insofar as the capitalist would say that the only goal of capitalism is wealth accumulation (i.e., greed and infinite growth).

Moving on.

In the parable of the bags of gold (Matthew 25: 14-30), the servants who choose to be capitalists with the master’s money are richly rewarded upon the master’s return. The servant who chose not to be a capitalist is not only not rewarded, he is “cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

Okay, again, no one is “being capitalist”.  Capitalism did not exist.  Most of the basic ideas of capitalism did not exist.  In fact, as the author notes,

Certainly, the story is symbolic. The money in the story represents the abilities given to each individual by God. But even on that level the story does not support the anti-capitalists. First, the master, the ultimate capitalist in the parable, actually represents God. Certainly, Jesus would have found another way to make his point if capitalists were de facto sinners (like tax collectors).

So, if the story is symbolic, how again does it support capitalism?  Considering that Jesus has a lot of not-so-nice things to say about wealth, greed, the wealthy, the greedy, money, etc. throughout the Gospels, why do we suddenly assume that this parable, in which he uses metaphors that his listeners could easily understand, automatically means the he was a capitalist and that all of his hippie sayings apparently just don’t count?

Notice also that the servant who chooses not to invest the master’s money is the one given the least. Symbolically, he represents the person who has the least natural gifts or who is born to disadvantage. Does Jesus suggest that the other two servants should be taxed to help him? No. The most disadvantaged servant is expected to do the best with what he has. He isn’t punished because he achieves less. He is punished because he fails to try.

This might be a valid point if capitalism were in fact meritocratic, but clearly it is anything but.  Plenty of folks “try” their whole lives and get nowhere (economically speaking), and I doubt Jesus was naive enough to believe that the sole key to success in our uber-fair world is hard work.  Again, if this were the case, why would he advocate helping the poor if they’re just lazy bums who need to work harder?  And, again, the author’s misunderstanding of socialism, as noted above, rears its ugly head.

In two other parables, Jesus represents God as the owner of a vineyard. In Matthew 20: 1-16, he makes the point that it is never too late for salvation and that a repentant man can claim the same salvation as one who has been devout all of his life. He represents salvation as wages paid to laborers. When a laborer who worked longer complains that he is paid no more than one who only worked an hour, the master replies,

“Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.”

Again, the message is spiritual, but Jesus uses the very libertarian, capitalist idea that no one is entitled to any more wages than both parties voluntarily agree to.

Giving everyone the same regardless of the work done?  As in, not making one’s value as a human being contingent upon one’s ability to bring monetary profit to the capitalist?  This actually seems more socialist to me.

God is again depicted as the owner of a vineyard in Matthew 21: 33-41. In this parable, the vineyard owner is even more overtly capitalist. Verse 33 in particular highlights that it is the previous work of the owner in planting the vineyard, hedging around it, and building a tower that makes the land productive before it is ever rented out to the husbandmen.

In other words, the capitalist has sacrificed his own consumption in the present to invest in land and capital goods to improve the productivity of the land. This has created an opportunity for the husbandmen to be more productive by working on the owner’s land than they would be on their own, without the land or the capital goods the owner has provided.

Yeah, this passage doesn’t have anything to do with profit-making.  Are you sure you’re not just paraphrasing Locke and assuming that this is what the Bible says?

The husbandmen are evil specifically because they act like Marxists and renege on the agreement. They kill the owner’s agents and even his son, hoping to seize all of the wealth for themselves.

Sorry, but, how the hell does reneging on agreements and murdering people imply Marxism?  Again, that seems more capitalistic to me: make profit, no matter what.  The capitalist has no implicit reason to honor agreements or value human life should such inconveniences get in the way of profit-making.  If the capitalist does honor agreements and value human life, that’s great, but s/he didn’t learn that from capitalism.  In fact, s/he probably learned that from lefty socialist types who are responsible for such crazy ideas as child labor laws and a minimum wage, and other such measures to prevent the unmitigated domination of the worker by the capitalist. 

So, to answer the question of the article, I think Pope Francis is reading the same Gospels from which the author quotes.  There’s an important difference.


(I) “There is a direct line from the new Roman conception of liberty–not as the ability to form mutual relationships with others, but as the kind of absolute power of “use and abuse” over the conquered chattel who make up the bulk of a wealthy Roman man’s household–to the strange fantasies of liberal philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Smith about the origins of human society in some collection of thirty- or forty-year-old males who seem to have sprung from the earth fully formed, who then must decide whether to kill each other or to swap beaver pelts.” — David Graeber

(II) And again: “If I offer my labor at the lowest price, if I consent to have you live off my labor, it is certainly not because of devotion or brotherly love for you.  And no bourgeois economist would dare to say that it was, however idyllic and naive their reasoning becomes when they begin to speak about reciprocal affections and mutual relations which should exist between employers and employees.  No, I do it because my family and I would starve to death if I did not work for an employer.  Thus I am forced to sell you my labor at the lowest possible price, and I am forced to do it by the threat of hunger.”

Is Anarchy Actually Possible, or Merely A Utopian Pipe-dream?

A practical scheme, says Oscar Wilde, is either one already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under the existing conditions; but it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to, and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The true criterion of the practical, therefore, is not whether the latter can keep intact the wrong or foolish; rather is it whether the scheme has vitality enough to leave the stagnant waters of the old, and build, as well as sustain, new life. In the light of this conception, Anarchism is indeed practical. (1)

Is anarchy really possible? A general response to common objections

Some valid points have been brought to my attention regarding potential problems with the viability of the anarchist vision, and these concerns deserve consideration.

I think there are a few relevant points to be made. First, in order for anarchy to work, it must a) be small (there would no “United States of Anarchy” or “Anarchist Russia” or the like, but perhaps a “federation” of many small anarchist communities); and b) everyone involved must be an anarchist. And this has happened before (I am thinking specifically of the Spanish Civil War–Murrary Bookchin has an informative little book on this called To Remember Spain: The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936–but there are other examples as well, and it seems that most have been crushed by external rather than internal forces). Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that the first common objection of the “free rider” problem wouldn’t exactly be a the greatest threat if everyone involved is invested in the community. And those who did not want to be involved would be under no obligation. As it is, a defining factor of states is that they must force everyone to “participate” whether they want to or not–and the state has the monopoly of force to do so. (2) Anarchists would seek to eliminate such coercion.

Furthermore, if it really became a problem, there is no reason why the community could not through consensus agree to exclude the free rider. How exactly would this look? It would probably vary. But I think that Emma Goldman was right to argue in Anarchism: What It Really Stands For that we should not devote all of our time to thinking through every imaginable hypothetical situation. (3) Obviously, when people are involved, there will be variables that we just can’t plan for. However, anarchists are not the first to advocate such an “experiment”: capitalism is an experiment, and so is democracy. In Debt: The First 5,000 Years, for example, David Graeber argues that thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, and Smith were “idealists” whose “utopian” vision has yet to actually be realized (partly because, it appears, many of their ideas were based on fabricated economic history). (4)

And this leads to another point: economic anthropology (and again, I’m thinking specifically of Graeber’s work) tells us that all kinds of different economies have existed in human history, including the kinds of gift and mutual aid economies that so many anarchists advocate. Graeber goes on to argue that capitalism has essentially trained us to think that there is no alternative to capitalism (5). But the very fact that (state) capitalism exists betrays the fact that we are historical actors and can achieve seemingly impossible goals. (6) And, as far as alternative economies go, it must be remembered that most anarchist economic visions (gift economy, mutual aid, communism, participatory economics) would eliminate money and therefore ideas such as “revenue”, “wealth”, and the like must be, at the very least, radically rethought.

I have run into a lot of folks who essentially seem to think that “socialism” means a capitalist state in which money is stolen from the wealthier members of society and given to the poorer. But this is a misunderstanding. In a libertarian socialist (i.e., anarchist) society wherein all of its members were anarchist, there wouldn’t be “wealthy” or “poor” in the economic sense. Everyone’s basic needs would be met, operating under the assumption that no particular line of work (or even lack thereof) makes one more or less deserving of a home, food, healthcare, education, or any of the other basic necessities. I hope that doesn’t sound like a cynical caricature of capitalism (I hate the “bomb-throwing anarchist” caricature, so I try to not level the same against those with whom I disagree), but it seems to me that these are the implications of capitalist thought. If the only goal of capitalism is the maximization of profits for shareholders, as Milton Friedman suggests, then any moral beliefs beyond that are not specifically capitalist and it’s easy to see what moral beliefs would be incompatible with this goal. Similarly, speaking on the development of classical economics, Noam Chomsky explains that

[D]uring the early stages of the industrial revolution, as England was coming out of a feudal-type society and into what’s basically a state-capitalist system, the rising bourgeoisie there had a problem. In a traditional society like the feudal system, people had a certain place, and they had certain rights–in fact, they had what was called at the time a “right to live.” I mean, under feudalism it may have been a lousy right, but nevertheless people were assumed to have some natural entitlement to survival. But with the rise of what we call capitalism, that right had to be destroyed: people had to have it knocked out of their heads that they had any automatic “right to live” beyond what they could win for themselves on the labor market. And that was the main point of classical economics. (7)

It’s easy to see how this goes hand-in-hand with the principle of profit maximization.

And of course, part of the above analysis is based on the assumption that the competition and division that capitalism seems to engender is not necessary for human society (again, the anthropology seems to suggest that many–though of course not all–early human societies were based on egalitarian principles), and can be replaced by solidarity and mutual aid. At the end of the day, however, what’s most important for me about anarchism is the pursuit rather than [the hashing out of every last specific detail of] the end–the pursuit of justice and equality and freedom from domination, coercion, oppression, violence, etc. and opposing such structures wherever they arise. And, in my opinion, the state and capitalism are among the worst (but certainly not the only!) perpetuators of such structures. That’s why I’m an anarchist. (8)


1. Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays. Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition, 36.

2. The CEO of Nestle, for example, finds the idea of viewing water as a human right to be an “extreme solution“. If those like him who seek the privatization of water were to succeed, common citizens would be met with the choice of state capitalism or death. Somehow that seems more “extreme” to me. And I take this to be quite a contradiction in the more radical laissez-faire capitalist thinking, whose primary exponents say they want “maximum freedom” for everyone on the one hand, but apparently want to force everyone to submit to capitalism on the other. Fortunately, it seems that such ideas are a minority in capitalist circles.

3. Goldman writes, “The methods of Anarchism therefore do not comprise an iron-clad program to be carried out under all circumstances. Methods must grow out of the economic needs of each place and clime, and of the intellectual and temperamental requirements of the individual.” (Ibid., 44-45.)

4. Graeber writes, “Men like Smith and Bentham were idealists, even utopians. To understand the history of capitalism, however, we have to begin by realizing that the picture we have in our heads–of workers who dutifully punch the clock at 8:00 a.m. and receive regular remuneration every Friday on the basis of a temporary contract that either party is free to break off at any time–began as a utopian vision, was only gradually put into effect even in England and North America, and has never, at any point, been the main way of organizing production for the market, ever, anywhere.” David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2011), 353.

5. “[I]t could well be said that the last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures.” (Ibid., 382)

6. As Graeber notes, “To begin to free ourselves, the first thing we need to do is to see ourselves again as historical actors, as people who can make a difference in the course of world events. This is exactly what the militarization of history is trying to take away.” (Ibid., 383)

7. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. (New York: The New Press, 2002), 252.

8. And, consequently, from a Christian perspective, such a pursuit seems to me to be about as consistent with the biblical narrative as anything.

Christianity, Anarchism, and Anti-Authoritarianism

I am going to take a stab at responding to perhaps the two most common objections to the idea of Christian anarchism: the well-known “render unto Caesar” passage and Romans 13:1-7.  In so doing, I hope to subsequently begin building a case for Christian anti-authoritarianism, which is necessary for any discussion of Christian anarchism.  By no means is the following discussion exhaustive of my thoughts or the Christian anarchist literature on the topic of anti-authoritarianism, but as I say, it is a beginning.

Jesus’ admonition in Mark 12:13-17* to “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is often employed as a weapon against Christian anarchism.  Clearly, it is argued, Jesus is here instructing his followers to be good and obedient citizens.  However, a brief turn down historical context alley would suggest otherwise.  Indeed, I would argue that this passage turns out to be quite subversive.

Greg Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy point out in The Jesus Legend that “within Palestine coins were often printed without the customary representation of the emperor on them, done in deference to their [that is, Jewish folks’] sensitivity to anything that could violate the second commandment.”  [I]  One could speculate then (and it is mere speculation), that when Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ question regarding taxes by asking, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” the Pharisees would have immediately realized that they had been outwitted.  For, as soon as they admitted that it was the emperor’s image, they were essentially saying that they carried a graven image, in direct violation of the second commandment.

Furthermore, I remember coming across a quote by Dorothy Day (though I regret to admit that I no longer remember the source) that was something to the effect of, once we have given to God what is God’s, as Jesus tells us to do, what more is there to give to the emperor other than these coins with his head stamped on them?  As Jacques Ellul points out, it is here that “the basis and limit of his [the emperor’s] power” is revealed, for, “whatever does not bear Caesar’s mark does not belong to him.”  Most importantly, “Caesar has no right of life and death”, [II] for humans are made in God’s image, not Caesar’s.  Therefore, he can have no legitimate dominion over human life!  (Which has profound and radical implications for discussions of war and capital punishment.)

Seen in this light, then, the statement appears very dismissive of the political system which, compared with (un)Kingdom of God (to use Mark Van Steenwyk’s phrase) [III], places importance on trivial and even sinful things.  The emperor has no real authority.  Give him his coins back and be on your way, focusing instead on the things that matter (i.e., realizing God’s (un)Kingdom on earth).

Paying taxes, therefore, is by no means a moral admonition.

This leads rather naturally into a discussion of Romans 13, which is typically considered the absolute trump card that proves once and for all that a Christian cannot be an anarchist.  (I have already discussed a couple of important aspects of this passage in my entry on nonviolence below, which will not be repeated here).  However, to my mind there are several important considerations which count against this typical reading, which divorces this particular passage from the surrounding verses and, indeed, from the whole of the Bible (most importantly, the teachings of Jesus).  As John Howard Yoder rightfully points out, this passage does not represent the only, or even the central, biblical teaching regarding governments. [IV]

First of all, the passage can by no means be rightly understand apart from the preceding verses in chapter 12 (remember: Paul did not divide his letters into chapters–it was a single literary unit).  Chapter 12 begins with Paul admonishing his readers to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds”.  As Jacques Ellul points out, “This is obviously a strange beginning if he is later to demand obedience to political authorities!” [V] And not only this, but Paul goes on to exhort his readers to “love one another”, “bless those who persecute you”, “live in harmony with one another”, “do not repay anyone evil for evil”, “live peaceably with all”, “never avenge yourselves”, and finally, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Then, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”  How strange that a Christian should read chapter 12, which is a direct echo of Jesus’ teachings in The Sermon On the Mount (Matt. 5-7), but then to read chapter 13 and determine that we must as Christians morally support the state in all of its violence as instituted by God!  To my mind, either Paul is directly contradicting the teachings of Jesus, in which case, as Christ followers, we must privilege the teachings of Jesus over those of Paul; or, this is not quite what Paul is saying.

First, as N.T. Wright notes, “Romans 13 is dovetailed into an argument against the taking of private vengeance (12:14-21)”, [VI] which is entirely consistent with Jesus’ own teachings regarding retaliation (see my post on nonviolence below).  As I have elsewhere pointed out, it seems unlikely that Paul would have couched his brief discussion of submission to political authorities within a broader discussion of non-retaliation had Christians not been fully aware of how diametrically opposed to Jesus’ teachings of love and justice the workings of the state were, which would undoubtedly drive some to want to violently retaliate.  And what follows seems to be a bit of practical advice–i.e., “the authority does not bear the sword in vain” and will punish those who rebel.

A second important point is that Paul’s statement that “there is no authority except from God” sounds quite subversive when we consider that Paul writes in Colossians 2:15 that “He [Christ] disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”  Furthermore, in light of the fact that one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus was to give Him control over the “all the kingdoms of the world” very explicitly tells us that it is Satan who has dominion over the human kingdoms, not God.  After all, Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)  In other words, these passages seem to count against the typical doublethink interpretation of Romans 13 as saying that God directly institutes governments for our good.

Rather, as Yoder goes on to point out,

God is not said to create or institute or ordain the powers that be, but only to order them . . . Nor is it by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does.  The sergeant does not produce the soldiers he drills; the librarian does not create or approve of the book she or he catalogs and shelves.  Likewise, God does not take responsibility for the existence of of the rebellious “powers that be” . . .[VII]

In other words, Paul is not here saying how the government (or lack thereof!) should be, but merely how it is.  At no point does he suggest that society must always be structured in this particular way.  Rather, he is speaking to specific people at a specific point in history who were dealing with specific issues in relation to their government (and there is much more that could be said about these contingencies and perhaps one day I will get around to it).  Clearly, neither Paul nor Jesus nor any of the disciples gave any allegiance to the state.  Rather, as was discussed above, the state is seen as a mild inconvenience at best in pursuing the will of God (see Acts 5:29, for example, or simply pick a Gospel and start reading).  For this reason, when Paul writes that “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad”, I am inclined to understand this as essentially saying that those who are following Christ (i.e., “doing good”) have no need to fear human rulers, for in reality, human rulers are no rulers at all (see Matt. 23:8-12).  On the other hand, those who are “doing bad”, as it were, (presumably, those who have seen and understood Christ’s work, but choose instead to oppose Him), will be left to the “mercies” of the state–a frightening place to be!


[I] Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 109.

[II] Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011), 60-61.

[III] Mark Van Steenwyk, That Holy Anarchist, (Minneapolis: Missio Dei, 2012), 14.

[IV] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdman, 1994), 194.

[V] Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, 80.

[VI] N.T. Wright, Romans, vol. 10 of New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 723.

[VII] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 198.

*All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible

What’s Wrong With Capitalism?

In the previous post I argued from the standpoint of the inter-subjective theory of consciousness that relationships predicated on domination are — if I may be so bold as to use the term — immoral (there are different methods which one may employ to arrive at immorality, but the basic idea is that, where domination is present, I can neither recognize myself as self nor the other as self, and, insofar as recognition of self-as-self and other-as-self is inherent to our nature, this is a problem.)  Assuming this evaluation is correct, the next reasonable question is, what about capitalism?  In the realm of political theories which would seek to eradicate the domination of the state, there are those who would argue that capitalism must also be eradicated (left-libertarians, libertarian socialists, social anarchists,etc.) and those who maintain that capitalism should be preserved (right-libertarians, minarchists, so-called anarcho-capitalists, etc).

Classical anarchism is rooted in socialism, which, by the end of the 19th century had split between anarchists of various stripes and Marxists (i.e., socialists who do not advocate the immediate elimination of the state).  What the two still held in common, however, was the conviction that capitalism must be abolished.  Marx understood capitalism as boiling down to two essential things: the accumulation of profit and private property.  Based upon this definition, an ethical critique of capitalism follows quite naturally.  While I do not consider myself a Marxist, the following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote over Marx’s critique of capitalism which I feel succinctly encapsulates my argument against capitalism.  The underlying assumption, as will become clear, is that individual human persons are inherently valuable, which immediately problematizes the ethical egoist foundation of capitalism, which reduces the value of individual persons to monetary gain and therefore, in principle, renders such concepts as human rights and social justice tertiary at best, and immoral at worst, should they conflict with the only absolute value which is profit maximization.

The goal of the accumulation of profit may be very briefly shown to naturally result in exploitation and alienation.  Quite simply, when the goal of opening a certain factory and hiring workers to work in that factory is to accumulate profit for the owner/employer, it is obvious that the worth of these workers will be valued insofar as they bring in profit.  Should a particular worker bring in (what is perceived as) too little profit, she will be swiftly let go and replaced by another who can ensure greater profit for the corporate elites, no matter what the negative consequences may be upon the worker who has been dismissed.  Had she brought in more profit, her employment would have been maintained and, essentially, she would have deserved the wages which will afford her food, housing, etc.  What this essentially boils down to is this: if the worker is not monetarily valuable to the employer, she does not deserve to eat, have a home, or any other of the basic necessities.  And not only this, but insofar as labor laws require corporations to spend more money to ensure the safety of its workers, in the absence of such laws these safety precautions will likely not be taken and thus the workers will be subjected to unsafe working conditions.  But because their labor is forced (as a result of the nature of the system), they must continue working under these conditions regardless (assuming they want to eat, of course).  [Note: many will argue that labor is not forced because the worker voluntary gives her labor to the capitalist in exchange for pay, and she could just as soon “take her work elsewhere”, as the saying goes.  This line of argument has problems, however.  First of all, because corporations are in competition with one another, they must produce the greatest amount of product, for the least possible cost, to gain the maximum amount of profit.  As a result, we have no reason to assume, should the laborer look elsewhere for employment, that the next employer would be any better than the first.  Secondly, what often happens is that one giant corporation monopolizes the market and destroys the competition.  When this happens, the laborer essentially has two options: work for this corporation, regardless of the conditions or pay, or don’t work at all, which means, in effect, give up the possibility of food, shelter, and livelihood.  It is a lose-lose situation.  Hence, labor is forced because it is performed out of necessity rather than desire.]

Now, to be fair, all of this assumes a rather libertarian-esque, laissez-faire economy, and one may reasonably argue that we now have laws in place which are meant to protect workers from these very dangers which result from the capitalist system.  However, to the mind of the present author, this is an absurd justification.  To say that the system should be maintained because, though the system naturally results in overwhelming amounts of exploitation and dehumanization, laws have been implemented to, in varying degrees, defend against this exploitation and dehumanization is hardly justification.  When the foundation of a home is causing problems we do not simply patch the roof and repaint the siding and call it good.  So too, following Marxian argumentation, capitalism should be abolished and an entirely new system adopted.

But this is not the only aspect of capitalism which results in alienation.  Private property, according to Marx, “is on the one hand the product of alienated labour, and on the other hand the means by which labour is alienated, the realization of this alienation” (308).  Specifically, a possession becomes private property when it brings profit to the owner, who does not himself work, but rather hires workers to work and earn profit for him.  And once this happens, the worker finds herself in the situation described above.

Obviously, what has been offered is only a brief argument against capitalism, but I think it is sufficient in demonstrating why it is, at best, not readily apparent that capitalism is a desirable system and, at worst, that it most certainly is not a desirable system.  There is much more which could still be said for the violence, oppression, coercion, racism, sexism, classism, etc. which is arguably also inherent to the capitalist system.  However, based upon the above argument, it is not difficult to see how such implications would naturally follow from capitalism.

Coupled with the previous post on inter-subjectivity, then, what has been offered is an argument in favor of a social structure predicated on anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalism, and egalitarianism — that is to say, anarchism.

Anti-Authoritarianism and Inter-Subjectivity

“No mistake or crime is more horrible to God than those committed by power.  Why?  Because what is official is impersonal, and being impersonal is the greatest insult that can be paid a person.” — Kierkegaard (quoted in Jacques Ellul’s Anarchy and Christianity)

In Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Mikhail Bakhtin writes of Dostoevsky’s novels that “the heroes suffer destruction because they cannot wholeheartedly affirm the other, “thou art.” (5) The tragedy, in other words, occurs when the “I” of the hero fails to recognize the “I” of the other.

The theory of inter-subjectivity has its roots in the German Idealist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte.  However, it was fully developed by G.W.F. Hegel.  The basic idea of an inter-subjective theory of consciousness is that one must first recognize an “other” before it can recognize itself.  There is no I without a thou.  How this happens, according to Hegel, will be explained in the following excerpt from a paper I wrote over the subject.  (Quotations are taken from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by J.L.H. Thomas, reprinted in part in Philosophic Classics Volume IV: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, ed. Forrest E. Baird and Walter Kaufmann).

In the Hegel’s master-servant dialectic, the thesis and antithesis which must be synthesized are “self-as-self” and “other-as-other”, respectively.  The synthesis, Hegel declares, is “other-as-self”.  How this comes about is not quite as complicated as Hegel’s jargon would suggest.  Essentially, the single existing self-consciousness initially inhabits a world comprised of self and other, i.e. the world of objects.  Inevitably, this self-consciousness will meet another self-consciousness, whereupon an interesting process of recognition ensues.  When the self-consciousness first comes into contact with another self-consciousness, the first immediately recognizes that the second is not simply an other (i.e. a rock, tree, etc.); not only is it not simply an other, but it is, in fact, a self, and in so being, is so similar to the first self-consciousness that the first, upon recognizing that the second can clearly not be categorized as “other”, can see only one other option: the second self is self, meaning that the first self’s self is projected onto the second, whereby the first self is no longer self, but other.  And while this is taking place in the consciousness of the first, the second is having exactly the same experience.  In the midst of this, each consciousness is essentially having an existential crisis: as Hegel says, “self-consciousness has lost itself, for it finds itself as another being” (36).

What is to be done?  The two must fight to the death: “it must set out to do away with the other independent being in order thereby to become certain of itself as the essential being” (36).  From the standpoint of the first self, the second must be destroyed so that selfhood can be re-appropriated upon the first self.  Almost immediately, then, one self (we’ll say the first) achieves victory over the other (the second), and the second has already accepted that it must be defeated.  However, “[t]his proving through death does away… with the truth that was to result from it” (38), for, while the first has the second in a death-grip, it realizes that, per the inter-subjective theory of self-consciousness, if the second is destroyed, the first can no longer recognize itself as self, and will experience alienation without an other to recognize it as a self.  In lieu of destruction, then, the first simply dominates the second and forces the second to become a servant.  In this way, the first – now, the master – can exist for itself, but also has the second, which only exists for the other, to recognize the first as such.

However, this master-servant relationship does not last forever.  While the master does nothing for itself, but demands absolute servitude of the servant, it grows dependent upon the servant.  And the servant, in the meantime, works and masters the earth, and, “attains as a consequence a view of independent being as itself” (40).  Eventually, this results in an over-turning of the master-servant relationship.  In order for the master to regain mastery, it must also become a worker, living alongside the servant, who has also attained mastery.  And when this happens, the relationship is no longer one of master-servant, but rather, we might say, one of worker-worker.  Domination is no longer possible and the new relationship is predicated upon mutual exchange and equality.

In other words, any relationship predicated on the domination of one self over another will necessarily result in Dostoevskian tragedy for the dominating party.  According to the inter-subjective theory of consciousness, a proper I and Thou relationship is not possible so long as one I dominates the other.  Thou cannot be truly recognized as an I in such a relationship, and, by extension, I cannot be truly recognized in the absence of the recognition of Thou.  The two must be equal in order for this to happen.

Ergo, the inter-subjective theory of consciousness precludes the possibility of human beings existing in any real relationship to one another so long as hierarchical structures predicated on domination exist.   As Kierkegaard says, the relationship of the powerful to those over whom power is exercised is necessarily an impersonal one, and, therefore, in his own view, such relationships are actually sins against God, who created us as social creatures.  Hence, in destroying the possibility for proper social relations, we are sinning against God in that we are destroying the image of the one in whom we are made — namely, an image predicated on communality.

Consequently, Marx took many of Hegel’s ideas and ran with them, throwing out the metaphysical aspects and postulating a strictly atheist-materialist understanding of the historical dialectic.  Nevertheless, it seems that he, as a social holist, would agree with Kierkegaard insofar as he saw the domination and exploitation of capitalist society as unnatural and, quite simply, bad.

Human beings are naturally social creatures, who are meant (whether because of God or historical materialism, or both) to live in community with one another, rather than in dominating relationships which destroy the I and Thou.