'Who is the rich man that is being saved?'

Men who offer laudatory speeches as presents to the rich may be rightly classed, in my opinion, not only as flatterers and servile, since in the hope of a large return they make a show of granting favors that are really no favors, but also as impious and insidious.

They are impious because, while neglecting to praise and glorify the only perfect and good God, from whom are all things and through whom are all things and to whom are all things, they invest with God’s prerogative men who are wallowing in a riotous and filthy life and, in short, are lying under the judgment of God.

They are insidious because, although mere abundance is by itself quite enough to puff up the souls of its possessors, and to corrupt them, and to turn them aside from the way by which salvation can be reached, these men bring fresh delusion to the minds of the rich by exciting them with the pleasures that come from their immoderate praises, and by rendering them contemptuous of absolutely everything in the world except the wealth which is the cause of their being admired. In the words of the proverb, they carry fire to fire, when they shower pride upon pride, and heap on wealth, heavy by its own nature, the heavier burden of arrogance.

Rather they ought to have diminished and curtailed wealth, as a perilous and deadly disease; for the man who exalts and magnifies himself is in danger of a complete reversal of fortune, namely, the change and fall into low estate, as the divine word teaches.

It seems to me an act far kinder than servile attention to the rich and praise that does them harm if we share the burden of their life and work out salvation for them by every possible means; first by begging them from God, who unfailingly and gladly accords such gifts to God’s own children, and then by healing their souls with reason, through the Savior’s grace, enlightening them and leading them on to the possession of the truth. For only those who have reached the truth and are distinguished in good works shall carry off the prize of eternal life.

That’s from “Who Is the Rich Man That Is Being Saved?” or “The Rich Man’s Salvation,” by Clement of Alexandria, who lived roughly 150-220 CE. (And, yeah, my paraphrase in the previous post was very loose.)

Clement’s book is often characterized as a watershed change in early Christian thinking about wealth and riches in that he made the radical suggestion that it might be possible for a rich man to be saved.

Clement further argued that possessions were not evil in and of themselves, but should be thought of as tools:

They lie at hand and are put at our disposal as a sort of material and as instruments to be well used by those who know. An instrument, if you use it with artistic skill, is a thing of art; but if you are lacking in skill, it reaps the benefit of your unmusical nature, though not itself responsible. Wealth too is an instrument of the same kind. You can use it rightly; it ministers to righteousness. But if one use it wrongly, it is found to be a minister of wrong. For its nature is to minister, not to rule. We must not therefore put the responsibility on that which, having in itself neither good nor evil, is not responsible, but on that which has the power of using things either well or badly, as a result of choice.

Clement also offered a series of other logical arguments — convincing ones, I think — for why wealth and possessions should not be thought of as intrinsically evil. We are commanded to share with one another, he said, yet how can we share if we don’t have anything to be shared? Jesus also told us to befriend the poor and to give them money and possessions. Jesus loved the poor, so why would he tell us to give to his beloved that which was intrinsically evil?

Because of his argument that wealth is a neutral “instrument,” Clement is often characterized as a sell-out. His treatise on “the rich man” has become notorious as the alleged spiritual grandfather of the far less nuanced idea — arising after Constantine, perfected in the Middle Ages, and very popular today — that all that matters is our “attitude” toward wealth and possessions. In its most un-Clementlike form, that has become the idea that superfluity and indulgence are gifts from God, requiring only our gratitude and luxurious enjoyment.

But Clement, like all the Ante-Nicene fathers, taught that “superfluity is theft.” (That phrase came later, from Augustine, but it captures the unanimous teaching of his predecessors.) In another book, a rather legalistic tract against legalism called “The Tutor,” Clement wrote that “it is monstrous for one to live in luxury while many are in want.” That book repeats his argument that wealth is not intrinsically evil, but he warns that it is dangerous, like a snake:

… which will twist round the hand and bite; unless one knows how to lay hold of it without danger by the point of the tail. And riches, wriggling either in an experienced or inexperienced grasp, are dexterous at adhering and biting; unless one, despising them, use them skillfully. …

Because of this grave and venomous danger, Clement ended “Who is the rich man …” by commanding the wealthy would-be Christians to subject themselves to the authority of a mentor who did not share their plenty and privilege. What he describes sounds almost like what Alcoholics Anonymous would call a “sponsor”:

It is therefore an absolute necessity that you who are haughty and powerful and rich should appoint for yourself some man of God as trainer and pilot. Let there be at all events one whom you respect, one whom you fear, one whom you accustom yourself to listen to when he is outspoken and severe, though all the while at your service. … Fear this man when he is angry, and be grieved when he groans; respect him when he stays in his anger, and be before him in begging release from punishment. …

It won’t be easy, Clement said, but “with God all things are possible,” and salvation might therefore be possible even for the wealthy. His message to “the rich man” himself was to devote his life to seeking out the poor and begging them to receive from him his riches:

Give the perishing things of the world and receive in exchange for them an eternal abode in heaven. Set sail, rich man, for this market, if you are wise. Compass the whole earth if need be. Spare not dangers or toils, that here you may buy a heavenly kingdom. Why so delighted with glittering stones and emeralds, with a house that is fuel for fire or a plaything for time or sport for an earthquake or the object of a tyrant’s obsolescence? Desire to live and reign in heaven with God.

This kingdom a man, imitating God, shall give you. Having taken little from you here, he will make you through all the ages a fellow-inhabitant there. Beg him to take it. Hasten, strive earnestly, fear lest he reject you. For he has not been commanded to take, but you to provide. Furthermore, the Lord did not say “give,” or “provide,” or “benefit,” or “help,” but “make a friend,” and a friend is made not from one gift, but from complete relief and long companionship. …

It is interesting that if any Christian these days were to take Clement or any of the other early Christians seriously on the subject of wealth and possessions, that person would be condemned by “conservative” Christians for being suspiciously “liberal.” That suggests to me that these words — “conservative” and “liberal” — are being used in a way that isn’t recognizably consistent with their usual definitions.

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  • Jim Daniel

    I’d like to share two things here.  First I agree that “conservative” & “liberal” are being used for their connotative meanings and that these meanings have little to do with their usual definitions.

    Next I’d like to share something my father shared with me years ago.  It is a bit of logic…

    Power corrupts
    Wealth is Power
    Therefor Wealth Corrupts.

    Great Power corrupts Greatly
    Great Wealth is Great Power
    Therefor Great Wealth corrupts Greatly.

    Finally just my observation:  Given the two tautologies what effect would functionally unlimited wealth have?  Many Conservative Christians I know love to use the quote “Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet they see nothing wrong with people having functionally unlimited wealth.  “Tis a puzzlement!”

  • Jim Daniel

    I’d like to share two things here.  First I agree that “conservative” & “liberal” are being used for their connotative meanings and that these meanings have little to do with their usual definitions.

    Next I’d like to share something my father shared with me years ago.  It is a bit of logic…

    Power corrupts
    Wealth is Power
    Therefor Wealth Corrupts.

    Great Power corrupts Greatly
    Great Wealth is Great Power
    Therefor Great Wealth corrupts Greatly.

    Finally just my observation:  Given the two tautologies what effect would functionally unlimited wealth have?  Many Conservative Christians I know love to use the quote “Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet they see nothing wrong with people having functionally unlimited wealth.  “Tis a puzzlement!”

  • Risser

    Um, not suspiciously liberal.  I believe they would label Jesus and his followers “socialists”.  See: Warren Buffet’s recent comments and the reactions they’ve provoked on Fox News.

  • Anonymous

    @761d45c9d76b5d3bb236bb8cb53864ec:disqus 

    Many Conservative Christians I know love to use the quote “Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet they see nothing wrong with people having functionally unlimited wealth.  “Tis a puzzlement!”

    The missing link is that much of American conservatism does not consider wealth a form of power — they would disagree with (or perhaps not even consider) the second part of your syllogism.  

    I suspect that the idea comes from the ideology that the Free Markets are inherently good, a sort of Coles Notes reading of Adam Smith.  If free markets are good, the logic goes, then their outcomes must also serve the greater good.  Wealth is not an instrument of power, but a reward from the virtue of the free market.  This ideology is certainly not Christian, but it does seem directly connected to the cold war and opposition to Soviet-style communism.

    To see the point, look at the arguments of Internet Libertarians.  (If Monoblade could chime in here as a textbook example, I’d be appreciative.)  In these arguments, a person’s wealth is considered the Natural State, and attempts to redistribute that wealth are morally equivalent to theft.  This worldview makes redistribution morally harmful and ‘socialism’ a profanity. 

    Note, I’m speaking entirely ideologically here.  “Social programs are theft” is a moral argument, and the root of the quoted puzzlement.  “Social programs are ineffective” is a policy argument, and one that should be debated as necessary — this argument can come from both the left and the right.

  • Jim Daniel

    I wonder if the Libertarians, or Randians for that mater, understand that the redistribution occurs naturally in any human society?  The only question is how it is redistributed, is it done in a moral/ethical way or in an immoral/unethical way.  This dichotomy is not mine, by the way, but Adam Smith’s  and can be found by reading his “The Theory of the Moral Sentiments” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Theory_of_Moral_Sentiments).

  • Jim Daniel

    I wonder if the Libertarians, or Randians for that mater, understand that the redistribution occurs naturally in any human society?  The only question is how it is redistributed, is it done in a moral/ethical way or in an immoral/unethical way.  This dichotomy is not mine, by the way, but Adam Smith’s  and can be found by reading his “The Theory of the Moral Sentiments” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Theory_of_Moral_Sentiments).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GVT7C7S6IP2OC44PFUZGAJ4OBM JohnK

    When they say “power”, they usually mean “U.S. federal government power” (especially when it’s in the hands of political opponents). They either don’t believe that it’s possible for someone to have power derived from wealth, charisma, or any source other than a governmental position, or they believe that power derived from wealth, charisma, etc. should never be constrained. (It’s the same reason why they say things like, “If you don’t like what a corporation does, go start your own company” but they don’t say things like, “If you don’t want to pay taxes or put up with legal abortion, go to an other country”.

  • Viliphied

    The thing that always bugs me about internet libertarians (and most of the live ones I’ve encountered) is how their argument always centers on the intrinsic goodness of the Free Market ™. Ok, that’s all well and good, but we don’t have a truly free market in the US.  Note even close.  A free market requires perfect availability of information, and the very first ad that oversells a product’s capabilities, or downplays their competitors undermines the market.

    They all seem to conveniently ignore that no human has the brainpower to track information about every purchase they might make by themselves, so they must rely on others, be they salespeople or supposedly objective reviewers, to provide them with information about the product.  The end result of this is that it’s not the company that provides the best value that succeeds, it’s the company with the most effective advertising.

  • Anonymous

    I was reading Adbusters the other day, because I occasionally like to remind myself that I’m not a hopeless left-wing lunatic, and I had something of an epiphany.

    There are no liberals.

    The ideology the “conservatives” espouse was tried in the 13th century, and necessarily will lead to a quasi-feudal society where we all pledge our lives to our corporate lords.  The “liberals” are loose coalition between labor conservatives, who would like to wind back the clock about thirty years and return to high levels of unionization, short labor supply and are anti-globalization, and ecological conservatives who would like to “undo” technological society and quarrel with the very idea of “progress.”  They also encompass by default anybody who isn’t interested in bringing back vassalage and serfs.

    But the number of people who are pro-globalization, pro-technology / “progress”, and who are willing to accept that the world is not going to return to what it WAS seems to be vanishingly small.  The pages of Adbusters are chock full of people who want to return to primitive agrarian communism, the pages of DailyKos and FDL are full of people who want unionize everybody and enact some crazy-protectionist trade barriers.  The number of people who want to change the world into something it’s never been before is pretty small, and they don’t have much of voice within the political process, or within the intellectual communities that feed the policy directions of the two parties.

    There doesn’t seem to be anyone who wants to invent our way out of jam, but there seem to be a lot of people who would really like to try something that we know worked (for differing values of “worked”) but can’t ever reproduce.  I mean, there are radical transhumanists who want to upload everybody to a machine, but there’s not any organization seriously at work on inventing say… efficient mining robots – but there are several dedicated to stopping mining altogether or making it MORE dangerous and inefficient (or at least removing what barriers to danger and inefficiency currently exist.)

    But then, maybe I’ve been reading to many angry blog posts and comment sections.

  • Rikalous

    The “liberals” are loose coalition between labor conservatives, who
    would like to wind back the clock about thirty years and return to high
    levels of unionization, short labor supply and are anti-globalization,
    and ecological conservatives who would like to “undo” technological
    society and quarrel with the very idea of “progress.”…There doesn’t seem to be anyone who wants to invent our way out
    of jam, but there seem to be a lot of people who would really like to
    try something that we know worked (for differing values of “worked”) but
    can’t ever reproduce.

    Ten minutes ago I exited an engineering lecture about the possibilities of using pollution-eatin’, oil-makin’ algae biofuel, so I have to quibble with your apparent intimation that environmentalists all want to throw out our technology and go back to hunter-gathering. If that’s not what you meant, I apologize. Regardless, I don’t think things are as dire as you suggest.

  • Anonymous

    …and ecological conservatives who would like to “undo” technological society and quarrel with the very idea of “progress.”

    No. Maybe you could find a handful of examples of people in whom that’s true, but it’s not true of anything close to the whole. Not wanting to destroy the environment we live in =/ wanting to undo technological society. If anything, technology will let us become greener then ever before, and I look forward to seeing new and exciting green technologies develop. Coal is not synonymous with technological society. Neither is DDT, traffic pollution, and Agent Orange.

  • Anonymous

    @155f26d41c73b81b184e05dc8c643425:disqus too.

    No, not all environmentalists are luddites  – not even a sizable fraction, but the loudest, most active voices in the movement are, even if many of them seem to realize it. Most Republicans are not Tea Partiers, either, but they have the loudest voices, so that’s what the Republican party stands for now. Stories in mainstream media about the environment largely about “conservation” and “efficiency”, and “reducing” (ie… words about being conservative) – but there are fewer that are focused on “exploring new places to live” or “inventing new power sources” or “better techniques for extraction.”  (For instance when was the last time you saw a space exploration story written as a environmental story?) In the labor market there are fewer stories about finding new jobs for people to do, and more about ways to protect the old jobs that people had.  

    I guess what I should have said is that There is no liberal establishment.

    A few months ago, Fred had a post about how we could solve all of our energy problems by building a huge solar array in the Nevada desert.  The “loudest” comments were from people who thought we should just conserve energy instead, and what about the impact on the ecosystem? The online forums for “progressive” politics are places like FDL, DailyKos which are full of labor conservatives.  I don’t have a problem with this – I AM a labor conservative, but it’s not “liberalism.”  The Greens are not liberals.  There’s nothing WRONG with this – it’s fine, and it’s a perfectly valid view point, but it’s not “liberalism” as I am given to understand it.

    The fundamental belief of “liberalism”, as it has been traditionally defined, is the belief in human progress.  That is, you believe that life (for people) is qualitatively better NOW than it was in the past, and that life should be qualitatively better in the FUTURE than it is now, and that the mechanism for making life better is science, progress, and invention.  There are lots and lots and lots of people who believe that science, progress and invention are mixed blessings – that for every polio vaccine we invent we also invent an atom bomb.  For every iPhone we invent, we invent not just a mobile platform for a global information network, but also a way to track the movements of anybody who uses it.

    I mean, believing in the basic desirability of scientific progress and that there’s a technological (or scientific / rational) solution for every problem sounds kind of like rosy 1950’s futurism, and I think to an extent it is – but that’ what “liberalism” is all about – it’s totally an Enlightenment ideology.  I think we’ve lost sight of it. I think belief in progress is a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    do NOT seem to realize it.  Disqus is being naughty and won’t let me edit.

  • Anonymous

    @155f26d41c73b81b184e05dc8c643425:disqus too.

    No, not all environmentalists are luddites  – not even a sizable fraction, but the loudest, most active voices in the movement are, even if many of them seem to realize it. Most Republicans are not Tea Partiers, either, but they have the loudest voices, so that’s what the Republican party stands for now. Stories in mainstream media about the environment largely about “conservation” and “efficiency”, and “reducing” (ie… words about being conservative) – but there are fewer that are focused on “exploring new places to live” or “inventing new power sources” or “better techniques for extraction.”  (For instance when was the last time you saw a space exploration story written as a environmental story?) In the labor market there are fewer stories about finding new jobs for people to do, and more about ways to protect the old jobs that people had.  

    I guess what I should have said is that There is no liberal establishment.

    A few months ago, Fred had a post about how we could solve all of our energy problems by building a huge solar array in the Nevada desert.  The “loudest” comments were from people who thought we should just conserve energy instead, and what about the impact on the ecosystem? The online forums for “progressive” politics are places like FDL, DailyKos which are full of labor conservatives.  I don’t have a problem with this – I AM a labor conservative, but it’s not “liberalism.”  The Greens are not liberals.  There’s nothing WRONG with this – it’s fine, and it’s a perfectly valid view point, but it’s not “liberalism” as I am given to understand it.

    The fundamental belief of “liberalism”, as it has been traditionally defined, is the belief in human progress.  That is, you believe that life (for people) is qualitatively better NOW than it was in the past, and that life should be qualitatively better in the FUTURE than it is now, and that the mechanism for making life better is science, progress, and invention.  There are lots and lots and lots of people who believe that science, progress and invention are mixed blessings – that for every polio vaccine we invent we also invent an atom bomb.  For every iPhone we invent, we invent not just a mobile platform for a global information network, but also a way to track the movements of anybody who uses it.

    I mean, believing in the basic desirability of scientific progress and that there’s a technological (or scientific / rational) solution for every problem sounds kind of like rosy 1950’s futurism, and I think to an extent it is – but that’ what “liberalism” is all about – it’s totally an Enlightenment ideology.  I think we’ve lost sight of it. I think belief in progress is a good thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LoneWolf343 Derek Laughlin

    ‘That suggests to me that these words — “conservative” and “liberal” —
    are being used in a way that isn’t recognizably consistent with their
    usual definitions.’

    You just now noticed? It makes one wonder how many problems can be solved with a mere semantic argument.

  • Anonymous

    Considering the modern American right-wing authoritarian movements have made ’empathy’ and ‘compassion’ and ‘tolerance’ and ‘community’ into ‘bad words….’

  • Lori

     Because of this grave and venomous danger, Clement ended “Who is the rich man …” by commanding the wealthy would-be Christians to subject themselves to the authority of a mentor who did not share their plenty and privilege. What he describes sounds almost like what Alcoholics Anonymous would call a “sponsor”:  

    The thing that came to mind when I read this is people doing Privilege 101 for folks who don’t get it. 

    This could be because I have spent too much time on the interwebs. 

  • Jim Daniel

    Does anyone know how you can be a Christian with out ’empathy’, ‘compassion, and ‘community’?

  • Anonymous

    “They deserve what they get.”
    “They don’t deserve any help.”
    “They’re sinful and until they behave they won’t get help from me.”
    “They’re not like us.”
    “Of course he’s guilty of murder.”
    “Of course she was asking for it.”
    “They’re not my neighbors.”

    Summed up, ultimately, by: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

    The short answer is, no, you can’t be a Christian without ’empathy,’ ‘compassion,’ or ‘community.’  But that hasn’t prevented these dissonant justifications from being used.

  • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive

    Does anyone know how you can be a Christian with out ’empathy’, ‘compassion, and ‘community’

    It’s simple. You change the meaning of “Christian.”

  • Anonymous

    It shouldn’t be possible, but a disturbing number of Christians seem to be trying it.

  • Dongisselbeck

    Human abilities span at most an order of magnitude. Lance Armstrong, for example rode up L’Alpe du heuz in 39 minutes. Any non-handicaped person could ride up in well under 390 minutes. Similarily any ordinary human could shoot less than 630 on a golf course or score better than 80 on the SAT. It is incumbent on the libertarians to explain why remuneration should be more than an order of magnitude.

  • Joshua

    Depends on the ability. I’m a programmer. All my current colleagues make a positive contribution to the software we write. I have, however, worked with and for people who chewed up so much of colleagues’ time either explaining stuff or fixing up errors that their net contribution was negative.

    If you tried to work out how many orders of magnitude my current colleagues’ ability differ from these particular ones your calculator will start swearing at you.

    Nevertheless, yes, the levels of remuneration between the top and bottom of the western world are way too high, even before you consider the plight of people who live in less functional places.

  • P J Evans

    Last I heard, the minimum score possible on the SAT was 200.

  • MD

    Human abilities span at most an order of magnitude. Lance Armstrong, for
    example rode up L’Alpe du heuz in 39 minutes. Any non-handicaped person
    could ride up in well under 390 minutes. Similarily any ordinary human
    could shoot less than 630 on a golf course or score better than 80 on
    the SAT. It is incumbent on the libertarians to explain why remuneration
    should be more than an order of magnitude.

    It’s a clever trick, but not intellectually honest. It is far more than an order of magnitude more difficult to shoot a 63 than a 630. It’s probably an order of magnitude just to get from 80 to 63. And do you suppose it is only 10x more difficult to shoot a 6.3?

    Not arguing that the highest-paid deserve more than 10x than the lowest paid, by the way. Only that the relationship between sports score (or test score) and level of effort to attain that score is not linear. Based on what I’ve seen of management, the relationship between salary and effort may actually be inverse…

  • arc

    The thing is, Dongisselbeck, is that you are presuming society awards or is trying to award according to ability.  The argument for the free market (used by libertarians, but not only used by them) is that the marketplace rewards due to demand.

    Let’s imagine that you’re the next Mozart, a musical prodigy and one of the greatest composers who’s ever lived. (Mozart is definitely more than an order of magnitude more musically gifted than someone who is tone deaf, by the way.  Other extremely gifted composers (Beethoven, for example) felt he completely outstripped them – they probably felt he was an order of magnitude better than them…).  Let’s say you’ve excelled in not just one art music tradition, but three – western and indian classical, and jazz.  And let’s say you’ve synthesized them and begun a whole new kind of music, that all other composers in those fields take their hat of to you.

    You aren’t going to do as well as the next pop starlet.  Because there isn’t nearly the demand for innovative art music as there is for a four-chord tune about sex sung by a pretty girl (with an accompanying video, of course).  And free market defenders will say this is how it should be.  it means that resources will end up naturally where they’re most needed. This will mean (so the argument goes) that society will be better off as a whole than under any other arrangement.  That’s the argument from utility.

    There’s also an argument from fairness here, and that’s that who gets to decide whether you’re more deserving of reward other than the marketplace? The notion that amazingly gifted composers are somehow ‘better’ than pop startlets is fine for an individual to possess, but the decision of how much to reward such people should be made by the aggregate of such notions, i.e. the marketplace.  Anything else would be state-backed elitism.

    Finally, libertarians make an argument that other defenders of the free market don’t typically make, and that’s a rights-based argument.  Property is a right, and the only thing the government should do is securing rights for everyone.  Once that is done, we can trade amongst ourselves according to the rules, and anything I secure doing that is mine, and it would be wrong to take it off me.  That you’re naturally more gifted in every area than me doesn’t really come into it, except insofar as it might mean you can secure stuff for yourself more easily than i can.

    (I know internet libertarians tend to talk as though it’s all about being rewarded for your abilities. If they really believe that is what it is about, rather than sometimes the marketplace likes your abilities and sometimes it likes the story about how you shagged a football star, then they don’t understand the intellectual basis of their own movement)

  • arc

    Why should people with great abilities be rewarded anyway?

    They already have great abilities.  Isn’t that enough for them?

  • Dongisselbeck

    Human abilities span at most an order of magnitude. Lance Armstrong, for example rode up L’Alpe du heuz in 39 minutes. Any non-handicaped person could ride up in well under 390 minutes. Similarily any ordinary human could shoot less than 630 on a golf course or score better than 80 on the SAT. It is incumbent on the libertarians to explain why remuneration should be more than an order of magnitude.

  • Barry

    I’m of the opinion that free markets are the lesser of two evils when compared to socialist systems of government and economy.  Free markets tend to drive innovation and work ethic in a more positive way than socialism.  Socialism or dare I say communism is the way of the true Christian though, but the difference between early Christianity and Marx is that love and empathy were the driving force of sharing not class warfare or Soviet style government.  Free markets promote greed, and forced socialism breeds laziness or mediocrity, let us never suppose that either is born from above. 

  • Joshua

    I expect Soviet-style government was about as alien to Karl Marx’s mind as Glen Beck. He envisioned communist revolutions taking place primarily in countries sick of capitalism, not feudal ones like what actually happened. Plus, you know, brutal dictatorship.

  • Anonymous

    Also, Marx either didn’t understand or didn’t appreciate the effect of the middle class in “class warfare;” as I see it, the middle class acts as a buffer between the upper and lower classes, giving the lower class an attainable aspiration and the upper class a ready consumer base.  That’s why the weakening of the middle class worries me; without the middle class, the two remaining class factions will eat each other.

  • Jim Daniel

    In point of fact, Turcano, Marx did have a good application/understanding of the middle class.  Unfortunately you have to wade thru ‘Das Capital’ to find this out and most English speaking people never make it past ‘The Communist Manifesto’.  Which, when all is said and done is just an agiprop piece.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Unfortunately you have to wade thru ‘Das Capital’ to find this out and most English speaking people never make it past ‘The Communist Manifesto’.  Which, when all is said and done is just an agiprop piece.

    Indeed. Marx was a prolific guy, and lots of his best ideas are tucked away in the middle of long things most people haven’t read.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    the difference between early Christianity and Marx is that love and empathy were the driving force of sharing not class warfare or Soviet style government.

    Marx suggests that class warfare is not the force for sharing. Rather, class warfare is endemic in the human condition. Sharing wealth equitably ends class warfare, because it erases class. Further, Soviet government =/ Marxism. Soviet government is what you get when you try to bootstrap an agrarian nation into a Marxist state while a) constructing an industrial base and b) being relegated to pariah status by the entire rest of the world. 

  • Barry

    I’m of the opinion that free markets are the lesser of two evils when compared to socialist systems of government and economy.  Free markets tend to drive innovation and work ethic in a more positive way than socialism.  Socialism or dare I say communism is the way of the true Christian though, but the difference between early Christianity and Marx is that love and empathy were the driving force of sharing not class warfare or Soviet style government.  Free markets promote greed, and forced socialism breeds laziness or mediocrity, let us never suppose that either is born from above. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m of the opinion that free markets are the lesser of two evils when compared to socialist systems of government and economy. 

    Lucky, then, that there are more than two possibilities.

    Social democracy supports markets being free to just below the extent that they screw people (and society, and the evironment) over.

    I gotta say, I’m unbelievable sick of the argument that goes “Well, communism is shit so we’ll have to go for uber-capitalism instead. Pity about the arsenic in your water.”

  • Barry

    My post in no way opted for uber captitalism, and I think that I made that clear in saying that it promotes greed.  My simple point with my first sentence was that it is easier to “regulate” a free market economy to curb excesses and abuses by a corporations than it is to try to inspire an entire population in a forced socialist to innovate and achieve when there is no practical incentive to do so. 

    Think of the remarkable progress of technology, medicine, etc and tell me where it came from.  These leaps and bounds generaly haven’t come from systems where forced disturbution of wealth and power are the norm.  And why should we expect them to?  Would you bust your tail when the fruits of your hard work don’t end up benefiting you or your family?

    The hoarding of wealth by a few at the top is a moral issue which was the point of the blog, and I agree that wealth is a real force of corruption for most people.  There is also a moral issue of those who claim some sort of divine right to government entitlements without exemption as well.  Benefits without work also tend to corrupt.  

    The true issue is why do we fail as humans?  Sometimes it is corruption from without, and sometimes it is corruption from within.

  • Lori

      Would you bust your tail when the fruits of your hard work don’t end up benefiting you or your family?  

    You mean like a system where the fruits of your labor belong to the company you work for and you get may get a relatively small patent bonus or the equivalent while the company makes millions or even billions off the fruits of your hard work?

  • ako

    Would you bust your tail when the fruits of your hard work don’t end up benefiting you or your family?

    Yes, provided the following conditions were met:

    1) I already had enough economic security that busting my tail on something that wasn’t an earner didn’t put myself or my family at risk of harm

    2) I was working in an environment that encouraged recognizing the difference between useful hard work and wearing oneself out unproductively to create the illusion that a lot was being achieved

    3) I genuinely believed that what I was doing would be of a net benefit to humanity and the world as a whole

    Granted, that’s much harder to achieve than capitalism’s reliance on fear and desperation to keep people producing more under ever-increasing workloads, and there is far less of an opportunity for someone else to get rich off my work, but it’s possible to motivate a person without relying on benefits to themselves or their loved ones.

  • Izzy

    I also question the value of wanting everyone to “bust their tail” at work. If you’re into something, you work hard at it. If you’re not, though, I don’t see the harm in expecting you to put in your hours and/or get your tasks done, and go home, without stressing out too much.

    A society where everyone has to be work-centered and driven is a society that *should* collapse on itself, honestly.  

  • ako

    Would you bust your tail when the fruits of your hard work don’t end up benefiting you or your family?

    Yes, provided the following conditions were met:

    1) I already had enough economic security that busting my tail on something that wasn’t an earner didn’t put myself or my family at risk of harm

    2) I was working in an environment that encouraged recognizing the difference between useful hard work and wearing oneself out unproductively to create the illusion that a lot was being achieved

    3) I genuinely believed that what I was doing would be of a net benefit to humanity and the world as a whole

    Granted, that’s much harder to achieve than capitalism’s reliance on fear and desperation to keep people producing more under ever-increasing workloads, and there is far less of an opportunity for someone else to get rich off my work, but it’s possible to motivate a person without relying on benefits to themselves or their loved ones.

  • Erl

     Think of the remarkable progress of technology, medicine, etc and tell me where it came from.  These leaps and bounds generaly haven’t come from systems where forced disturbution of wealth and power are the norm.

    Which country was the first to put a man-made object into stable orbit? USSR
    Which country was the first to put a human being into orbit around the Earth? USSR
    Which country invented Tetris? USSR
    Which country invented the AK-47? USSR

    and so on. There are a lot of things that are bad about totalitarian societies. (Mostly the totalitarianism.) But when I see the argument that they stifled invention such that nothing really new was made in the USSR, I tend to see an argument from ignorance, or even denial. Yes, heavily bureaucratized societies make it harder to innovate. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union was quite good at inventing things it felt needed inventing–otherwise there would have been no Cold War. 

  • Anonymous

    Yep.  And China and the USSR beat the pants off most democratic countries when it came to mass *application* of technological innovations.  They started out a hundred years behind the US, industrially speaking, and caught up in a matter of decades.  (Lots and lots of people died along the way, of course.)

    Their record on pure scientific research was pretty crappy, but I’m not sure that’s an intrinsic defect of totalitarianism, more a mark of those particular societies’ exceptional hostility to the intellectual classes.  Modern China’s managed to remain fairly totalitarian while still opening up more space for effective R&D.

  • Anonymous

    Yep.  And China and the USSR beat the pants off most democratic countries when it came to mass *application* of technological innovations.  They started out a hundred years behind the US, industrially speaking, and caught up in a matter of decades.  (Lots and lots of people died along the way, of course.)

    Their record on pure scientific research was pretty crappy, but I’m not sure that’s an intrinsic defect of totalitarianism, more a mark of those particular societies’ exceptional hostility to the intellectual classes.  Modern China’s managed to remain fairly totalitarian while still opening up more space for effective R&D.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    There are a lot of things that are bad about totalitarian societies. (Mostly the totalitarianism.)

    Which is also how such research occurred right alongside Lysenkoism.

    …which of course does not at all resemble the arguments of authoritarians in America when it comes to things like evolution or climate change. No sir.

  • Hawker40

    I’ll concede the first orbits, and plead no contest on Tetris…
    But the AK-47 has a older name, the Sig-44, and was built in Germany.  Like the American M-60 (based off the MG34), it’s a copy of a German design, modified for improved mass production and simpler operation.
    (Looking at Russian military designs into the 1960’s, you can see the German roots.  Airplanes like the MiG-15 and 17, the Zulu, Whiskey and Foxtrot class submarines…. Except for tanks.  Russians designed thier own tanks.)

  • Anonymous

    Would you bust your tail when the fruits of your hard work don’t end up benefiting you or your family?

    Several things come to mind. First off, many people work very hard at things that bring them little or no money – hobbies, games, writing fan fiction, writing, period, art, etc.  Even if artists and writers may hope to make money, that’s mainly so they can quit their day job and have more time for writing or art.  If they lived in a communist paradise and didn’t have to work for a living, they’d still be merrily writing and arting.

    Then there’s the problem with rewarding people, as outlined quite nicely in Alfie Kohn’s Punished By Rewards.  If you reward people for doing something they do for fun, they often start doing it for the reward instead.  This doesn’t really support the idea that forcing people to do things for money makes them somehow more creative.  In fact (it’s been a bit since I read the book), I believe there was evidence that it made people less creative.

    Lastly, there’s this… thing… in the US around work.  You’re supposed to hate your job, but work hard at it.  It’s like some sort of weird purifying suffering or self flagellation.  Does that really serve anything except some sort of sick puritan sadism?

  • Barry

    Work is a means to an end, and that it.  There are good things and bad things about work, things that we hope to find in our work and things that we wish to avoid.  These are some simple are unprofound things in how I view work.

    Work is to keep us alive, and unless one is unable to perform some productive task in society there is no reason one should not work.  This means losing all bull crap excuses about some work not being fun or beneath my education level (I know there are exceptions to this).  I have a college degree but I’d clean toilets if it means my kids eat.

    Work should be enjoyable, but sometimes it’s not.  Life’s not fair, but don’t whine that your job sucks.  Find one you like or start your own business, it’s a benefit to living in a”free” society.

    Work isn’t the sum being of who we are, so those that are workaholics are missing the point of work as well, since work won’t fill the hole in your soul. 

    We often work for things we don’t need, and hence work harder than we need to.  Wealth corrupts but so does materialism and consumerism. 

  • Jim Daniel

    Perhaps it would be best to apply the same rule to Freedom in the Market (Free Market) as we do to most other individual freedoms. The freedom I have to wave my arms around ends at someone else’s nose.  The marketplace, or market, is like anywhere else in our society my freedom of actions is limited by where these actions interact with anyone else.  Given that action in the market is always interacting with someone else, it is always going to be limited. 

  • Lurk

    Marx’s theory very much involves thinking about the middle class, in traditional terms.  The “upper class” are the aristocracy, increasingly irrelevant.  The middle class is the capitalist class.  

    In his terms, and I think rightly, what Americans consider the middle class consists either of people who are truly bourgeois capitalists and just not yet the most successful kind, or – *much more often* – people who are truly working class and have been beguiled by the prevailing American ideology into thinking they’re middle class precisely so they don’t revolt…

  • arc

    I don’t really know much about Marx, but isn’t his concern not with the ‘classes’ of Merrie England and whether or not your great-grandfather was a duke or whether you have an ancestral right to graze a cow on the commons or work in a mine but rather with people’s relation to the means of production?

    the ruling class is the class that controls the means of production.  In feudal times, the ruling class is the aristocracy, as the economy is almost entirely agricultural and they own and control the land.  In capitalistic times, the means of production is much more based in factories etc., and the capitalists are the ruling class, as they own the factories and the businesses.

    you’re working class not because you work in a mine and speak Cockney, but because you earn a wage.

    the marxist hope is that one day the ruling class will be the same as the working class – those who work will also own the means of production, and everyone’s interests will finally align.

  • chris the cynic

    I thought the really major advances in technology in the last 50 years or so came from DARPA and the space program.  I’m pretty sure those are two areas where the free market was told, “Well I guess you can help, so long as you follow orders and toe the line.”

  • chris the cynic

    I thought the really major advances in technology in the last 50 years or so came from DARPA and the space program.  I’m pretty sure those are two areas where the free market was told, “Well I guess you can help, so long as you follow orders and toe the line.”

  • MaryKaye

    I’ve seen what happens to research scientists when their grant money dries up temporarily.  Of course they have to find another way to feed their families.  I did 18 months of undergraduate teaching myself.  But almost inevitably, they sneak some research in too.  I wrote some software in between grading exams.  It’s what they *do*, even when it’s not paying.

    I think we should cultivate that quality in jobs, and try as much as possible not to have people in jobs with no reward beyond the paycheck.  I can enjoy being a programmer when the program I’m trying to write will be useful and the working environment is good.  I can enjoy teaching kids, given sufficient support and resources.  I’ve found a fair amount of satisfaction in doing park restoration work–I have a grove of dogwoods which I’m very proud of–and that was all volunteer work.  If I had better skills, I think I could get into fixing computers or refurbishing houses.  I write novels which so far no one will buy, just because it pleases me to do so.  It would be a shame if I ended up shuffling papers to no productive or satisfying end or peddling products I didn’t believe in, when there are a variety of useful things I could be doing, and enjoying, instead.

  • Daughter

    Stories in mainstream media about the environment largely about “conservation” and “efficiency”, and “reducing” (ie… words about being conservative) – but there are fewer that are focused on “exploring new places to live” or “inventing new power sources” or “better techniques for extraction.”

    There are good reasons for this focus that have nothing to do with being against new technologies per se. Conservation and increased efficiency are things we can do now for a fraction of the cost of creating new technology, with a much more immediate return on investment. (Fred’s “paint a bunch of roofs white to put people to work and improve energy efficiency” post from a few weeks ago was a good example). 

  • Anonymous

    I agree that those are things we can do now, and things that we should do.

    But I have never seen, outside of technical publications, articles explaining how asteroid mining for palladium would enable the widespread and cheap use of fuel cells, and maybe we should spend some money on rocket research so that we can do that.

    Like I said, maybe it’s just because I read too many angry blogs and comment sections, were the focus has to be on immediate action, that we’ve lost focus on ANY long term action. I think it’s counter productive to talk about conserving energy for example, without mentioning that it’s a short term fix – and a fair number of environmental activists don’t seem to realize that it’s ONLY a short term fix.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    the focus has to be on immediate action, that we’ve lost focus on ANY long term action. 

    Welcome to the ADHD Society.  Our corporations can’t perceive anything further away than the next quarterly stock price, the government plans in election cycles, and most people are too busy running to keep their place to have any chance to DO anything.  :-P

  • Lori

     Welcome to the ADHD Society.  Our corporations can’t perceive anything further away than the next quarterly stock price, the government plans in election cycles, and most people are too busy running to keep their place to have any chance to DO anything.  

    This is the main reason that such a high percentage of our medium-to-long term research is done through DARPA. It’s one of the only places a researcher can get a steady, predictable source of funding. If you’re thinking long term, the economic & political reality in this country is that you almost have to go through Defense or the intelligence community because their budgets are the least vulnerable to the whims of the moment. 

  • Daughter

    Consumer Unit, I would argue that we don’t do enough of the short-term actions, either.  We’re frankly not doing enough of the cheaper, easier to do conservation efforts. I wish I could say that we’re doing everything we can to conserve energy as a society because we’re focused on the short-term, and we need to do more to focus on long-term investments in new green technologies.  But that’s obviously not the case.

    This is true in every arena of modern America.  We’re not investing enough in any of the less expensive, relatively easy to implement now, preventive measures that would pay off for society as a whole–not early childhood education, not comprehensive sex-ed and birth control, not parenting education, not ensuring that everyone has access to primary care and wellness.  And even when such opportunities are available, the Republicans do their damnedness to defund or discontinue them.

  • Anonymous

    “Unfortunately you have to wade thru ‘Das Capital’ to find this out and most English speaking people never make it past ‘The Communist Manifesto'”

    The problem is that all who have read Das Capital (the entire work, not summaries) become crazy, and in worst cases they become economists

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GVT7C7S6IP2OC44PFUZGAJ4OBM JohnK

    So, what, it’s like a nerdier version of the Necronomicon?

  • Anonymous

    “Unfortunately you have to wade thru ‘Das Capital’ to find this out and most English speaking people never make it past ‘The Communist Manifesto'”

    The problem is that all who have read Das Capital (the entire work, not summaries) become crazy, and in worst cases they become economists

  • Anonymous

    “Unfortunately you have to wade thru ‘Das Capital’ to find this out and most English speaking people never make it past ‘The Communist Manifesto'”

    The problem is that all who have read Das Capital (the entire work, not summaries) become crazy, and in worst cases they become economists

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GVT7C7S6IP2OC44PFUZGAJ4OBM JohnK

    You can be a Christian and an atheist, so wha

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GVT7C7S6IP2OC44PFUZGAJ4OBM JohnK

    You can be a Christian and an atheist, so wha

  • Daughter

    Slightly off-topic, but when I read Kohn’s book I didn’t buy a lot of it. It didn’t ring true in my experience (and although he cites research, I wonder if there is other research out there that comes to different conclusions). 

    I agree with your first point–that people often do things they enjoy for motivatioins other than money or rewards.  And I agree with Kohn that praising kids for everything is counterproductive.  (Most educators and researchers also agree, but stop short of Kohn’s conclusion that therefore all praise is bad. They support a middle ground, one of specific and selective praise that highlights efforts more than outcomes).

    What I don’t buy is that rewards suddenly make something you enjoy something you only do for the reward.  There are certain aspects of, say, doing something you enjoy in a job setting that make it less enjoyable–deadlines, for instance (and for some people.  Others thrive on the pressure).  But in those cases, it’s the stress, not the reward per se, that makes it less enjoyable. 

    Meanwhile, I know that sincere praise or appreciation for my efforts is very motivating for me.  I hardly think I’m unique in that respect.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t remember him being opposed to all praise, but praise and rewards aren’t necessarily the same thing.  (Though I do think that one can end up focused more on getting that praise again than on doing whatever it was one was doing.)

    I’d also say there’s a difference between doing something you enjoy in a job setting and doing something for a reward.  I realize this sounds odd, and I will try to explain.  I don’t know about you, but I spend next to no time at work thinking “I’m getting paid for this.”  I’m busy doing my job.  I did, briefly, work at a company that waved rewards all over the place.  To me it served as nothing but a constant reminder that I was selling my time (my life!) for money and I quickly decided it wasn’t worth it.

    I also find my current workplace’s yearly reward breakfast disgusting and would not accept any of my organizations awards if I were ever to be given one.  Which I won’t be, because like most work rewards, they’re popularity contests and dependent on having managers who are interested in participating in them – which means that people at one branch can get an award for doing the same damn thing people at another branch have been doing.  The few that aren’t reward people for going ridiculously above and beyond the call of duty.  I don’t believe organizations should ever encourage people to put in more than 40 hours a week or treat their job as their life.

    So, yeah, I already hated rewards before I ever read Kohn.  And his research matches how I feel. (Well, when it isn’t the opposite of how I react.)

  • Daughter

    @ depizan, when I thought more about it, I remembered that the Kohn book I read wasn’t Punished by Rewards, but Unconditional Parenting, a later book in which his philosophy might have become more extreme.  Because in UP, he clearly says that you shouldn’t ever praise your child.  As soon as you do, you’ve communicated that what you care about is the child’s performance, and you have ceased to love your child unconditionally.

    To be fair, he does say you should frequently say, “I love you,” and communicate other words of affection unconnected to the child’s behavior or deeds.

    In one chapter, he answers the question, “If I don’t praise my child, what do I say instead?” He has two answers: a) say nothing; or b) make observations and ask questions. So when your child runs over to you to show you a picture s/he has drawn, instead of gushing over it the way  parents are wont to do, you either just nod your head, or you say something like, “I see you colored the dog red.  Why did you choose that color?”

    I think the first one is terrible advice.  If you say nothing, your kid is going to think you don’t care about what s/he does at all–and it’s not much of a leap to thinking your parent doesn’t care about you, words of affection notwithstanding..  And while I think the observation/question is a good idea, if that’s all you ever say when your kid does something, I imagine that eventually your kid will interpret that as a form of criticism.  E.g., “why did you color the dog red?” is heard as “why didn’t you color it brown?” 

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, that does sound like a recipe for disaster. Oh dear.  Punished by Rewards was about schools and workplaces, which are vastly different animals than families.  Now, I do think that certain kinds of praise can be bad in families, but it’s less the praise itself* than that it’s coming from wanting your kids to do particular things rather than be themselves.  Parents should try to find a way to live their own dreams, not foist them on the next generation.

    *Unless we’re talking comparative praise. “Oh, you did so much better than your sister.”  No, just no.  Bad parent, no cookie.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, that does sound like a recipe for disaster. Oh dear.  Punished by Rewards was about schools and workplaces, which are vastly different animals than families.  Now, I do think that certain kinds of praise can be bad in families, but it’s less the praise itself* than that it’s coming from wanting your kids to do particular things rather than be themselves.  Parents should try to find a way to live their own dreams, not foist them on the next generation.

    *Unless we’re talking comparative praise. “Oh, you did so much better than your sister.”  No, just no.  Bad parent, no cookie.

  • Lori

      As soon as you do, you’ve communicated that what you care about is the child’s performance, and you have ceased to love your child unconditionally.  

    Bwah?

    This sounds like the worst stereotype of the kind of parenting that produces kids with bad behavior and no social skills. Praise and some form of lack thereof are generally the best ways to encourage good behavior and limit bad behavior. Even if you assume that unconditional parental love means having no opinion about your child’s behavior (which I think is ridiculous), the world isn’t going to love your kid unconditionally. 

    Also, responding to everything your kid does with questions seems both clinical and seriously annoying and saying “I love you” comes across as meaningless when it isn’t accompanied by other things that make the child feel loved. Like, say, telling them that their picture is cool. 

  • http://twitter.com/Chaltab Andy English

    Several things come to mind. First off, many people work very hard
    at things that bring them little or no money – hobbies, games, writing
    fan fiction, writing, period, art, etc.  Even if artists and writers may
    hope to make money, that’s mainly so they can quit their day
    job and have more time for writing or art.  If they lived in a communist
    paradise and didn’t have to work for a living, they’d still be merrily
    writing and arting.

    As a writer and gamer myself, I can attest that this is true to some degree. I will continue writing whether I ever make any money at it or not. At the same time, in such a supposed paradise, this hypothetical artist or writer might be producing works that nobody enjoys or wants, and thus becomes a freeloader, offering nothing to society and simply draining the resources that others have worked their asses off to provide. Even in a communist utopia, farm labor or running a public establishment like a restaurant would be hard and tiring work. Instead of resentment between the rich and the poor, you’d have a society full of resentment against those who are capable of working and don’t. In fact, that’s often the myth that working-and-middle-class Americans believe of people on welfare and thus the genesis of this resentment the far-right has stoked in so many otherwise decent people.


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