Von Mises’ Christology

Von Mises’ Christology April 12, 2012

In Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (pp. 415-6), von Mises argues that there is a link between Jesus’ announcement of “God’s own reorganization” of the world and Bolshevism. Both are “utterly negative.”

Jesus “rejects everything that exists without offering anything to replace it. He arrives at dissolving all existing social ties. The disciple shall not merely be indifferent to supporting himself, shall not merely refrain from work and dispossess himself of all goods, but he shall hate ‘father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life’ . . . His zeal in destroying social ties knows no limits. The motive force behind the purity and power of this complete negation is ecstatic inspiration, enthusiastic hope of a new world. Hence his passionate attack upon everything that exists. Everything must be destroyed because God in His omnipotence will rebuild the future order . . . The clearest modern parallel to the attitude of complete negation of primitive Christianity is Bolshevism. The Bolshevists, too, wish to destroy everything that exists because they regard it as hopelessly bad. But they have in mind ideas, indefinite and contradictory though they may be, of the future social order. They demand not only that their followers shall destroy all that is, but also that they pursue a definite line of conduct leading towards the future Kingdom of which they have dreamt. Jesus’ teaching in this respect, on the other hand, is merely negation.”

Von Mises’ Jesus appears to be the Jesus of some forms of liberalism: He “offers no rules for earthly action and struggle; his Kingdom is not of this world. Such rules of conduct as he gives his followers are valid only for the short interval of time which has still to be lived while waiting for the great things to come.” Specifically, von Mises finds that Jesus has little useful to say about economics:

“Jesus’ words are full of resentment against the rich . . . The only reason why Jesus does not declare war against the rich and preach revenge on them is that God has said: ‘Revenge is mine.’ In God’s Kingdom the poor shall be rich, but the rich shall be made to suffer. Later revisers have tried to soften the words of Christ against the rich, of which the most complete and powerful version is found in the Gospel of Luke, but there is quite enough left to support those who incite the world to hatred of the rich, revenge, murder and arson” (p. 419).

The church has in this respect at least been faithful to her founder because the church has carried on Jesus’ attacks on the foundations of society: “The Church is such a tremendous power that its enmity to the forces which bring society into existence would be enough to break our whole culture into fragments. In the last decades we have witnessed with horror its [the church’s] terrible transformation into an an enemy of society. For the Church, Catholic as well as Protestant, is not the least of the factors responsible for the prevalence of destructive ideals in the world today.” The church cannot build a usable social ethic on the gospels, and it cannot deny the authority of the gospels. It can either renounce the task of social ethics entirely, or simply justify the existing social order with quotations from the Bible – which amounts to the same thing, an abandonment of social ethics (pp. 422-3).

Mises had another gospel to preach: Liberalism “transformed the world more than Christianity has ever done. It restored humanity to the world and to life. It awakened forces which shook the foundations of the inert traditionalism on which Church and creed rested.” Resentful at losing its clout, the church became resolutely anti-modern: “Any would-be destroyers of the modern social order could count on finding a champion in Christianity” (p. 423).

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