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Ludwig von Mises smacks down latest religious-right talking point

Ludwig von Mises smacks down latest religious-right talking point December 8, 2011

Right-wing hero Ludwig von Mises approaches the Jesus of the Bible the same way that Chuck Colson does — which is to say that he’s primarily interested in whether or not it will rile up the peasants or keep them sedate.

But where Colson invokes Jesus as a helpful moralist who can keep the peasants in line, von Mises sees Jesus as a dangerous class warrior seething with resentment toward his betters.

They’re both full of it. Colson hears a call for justice and calls it envy. Von Mises hears a call for justice and calls it “resentment.” Both are ridiculously confused.

This is not a minor point. This is, at a fundamental level, the confusion of virtue and vice. People who condemn justice are not to be trusted.

But von Mises’ nonsense is at least based on a more plausible reading of the Gospels. And it’s worth citing here, if only as an antidote to the current in-vogue talking point (Colson, Dave Ramsey, Tony Perkins) aiming to dismiss all criticism of the 1-percent kleptocracy as mere “envy.”

That’s not a talking point being promoted by smart people, honest people or good people. But it’s definitely making the rounds among those lacking one or more of those characteristics.

Colson, Ramsey and Perkins all insist that Jesus stands with them on the side of the rich and in opposition to the envious peasantry. Ludwig von Mises scoffs at that claim.

Here — via naked capitalism, via AZspot — is a relevant excerpt from von Mises’ Socialism, first published in 1922:

Since the third century Christianity has always served simultaneously those who supported the social order and those who wished to overthrow it. Both parties have taken the same false step of appealing to the Gospels and have found biblical passages to support them. It is the same today: Christianity  fights both for and against Socialism.

But all efforts to find support for the institution of private property generally, and for private ownership in the means of production in particular, in the teachings of Christ are quite vain. No art of interpretation can find a single passage in the New Testament that could be read as upholding private property. …

One thing of course is clear, and no skillful interpretation can obscure it. Jesus’ words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor. 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. …

Nothing, therefore, is less tenable than the constantly repeated assertion that religion, that is, the confession of the Christian Faith, forms a defense against doctrines inimical to property, and that it makes the masses unreceptive to the poison of social incitement. Every church which grows up in a society built on private property must somehow come to terms with private property. But considering the attitude of Jesus to questions of social life, no Christian church can ever make anything more than a compromise here, a compromise which is effective only as long as nobody insists on a literal interpretation of the words of the Scriptures.


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