Muravchik/proofed 6/17/02 1:37 PM Page 32 T he two central mysteries of socialism are these: How did an idea which, whenever put into practice, showed itself to be incongruent with human nature spread faster and further than any other political philosophy? And how did an idea that called on so many humane sen- timents lend its name to the cruelest regimes in human history? The key to these riddles lies in socialism 9s role as a redemptive creed, a substi- tute religion 4with a twist.
One of its most important founders was Moses Hess, the cfather of German socialism d who played the major part in winning Marx and Engels to communism. After fleeing the cudgels of a benighted rabbinic teacher who tried to beat the Talmud into him, Hess had turned away from religion and immersed him- self in the ideas of the Enlightenment. But his spirit was uneasy.
He confided in his diary: cI worked without rest to rediscover my God, whom I had lost&.Nor could I remain a skep- tic for the rest of my life.I had to have a God 4 and I did find him, after a long search, after a terrible fight 4in my own heart. ... more. less.
d The God he found was communism. In a catechism composed in 1846, he contrasted his new faith with the one that prevailed in the society around him. Christians invest their hopes cin the image of&heavenly joy&.We,on the other hand, want this heaven on earth. d Hess was renowned for his cpurity of character dand csaintly d ways.<br><br> But the circle he joined in pursuit of his God consisted of men of a different sort, fore- most among them,Karl Marx.Although he was Marx 9s senior by several years, and led him in the embrace of communism, Hess soon de- ferred to the younger man 9s superior polemical gifts, calling Marx his cidol dwho cwill give the final blow to all medieval religion and politics. d Marx,however,was full of scorn for Hess 9s per- sistence in trying to ground socialism on an eth- ical basis rather than on historical inevitability. Hess, Marx wrote to Engels, was one of cthose pieces of party excrement dthat their chief so- cialist rival Ferdinand Lassalle ckeeps on collect- ing for his manure factory. dAnd Engels wrote Marx gleefully about having seduced Hess 9swife. H ess 9s socialism was of a piece with other new ideas flooding out of Ger- man universities in the early 1800s.<br><br> A generation of intellectually restless youth was aiming cto find in art or science the path to individual or national salvation which the orthodox Christian churches seemed no longer capable of providing for critical minds, d as Isaiah Berlin put it. Similar quests were pursued in England, Italy, and France 4 the nation that had done the most to create the vacuum that the new systems were designed to fill. France was the capital of the Enlightenment, an eighteenth- century intellectual movement spearheaded by writers relent- lessly critical of the church and revealed religion.<br><br> Their crusade was effective, especially among the ranks of the articulate and high-born. cFrank atheism was still comparatively rare, but among the enlightened scholars,writers,and gentlemen who set By Joshua Muravchik Socialism vs. Religion Church-like Halls of Science were erected, and followers held Sunday meetings where they sang from a socialist hymnal.<br><br> Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This is excerpted from his forthcoming book Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. For many socialists, Marx is a prophet and communism is the gospel.<br><br> Literally. Muravchik/proofed 6/17/02 1:37 PM Page 33 the intellectual fashions of the later eighteenth century,frank Christianity was even rarer, dwrites E.J.Hobsbawm. During the French Revolution, the Christian calendar was temporarily replaced by one in which the days, months, and seasons were renamed for plants and animals and types of weather.<br><br> The Cathedral of Notre Dame was renamed the Temple of Reason. Yet, Will and Ariel Durant note, ca thousand superstitions sur- vived side by side with the rising enlightenment. d Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV 9s mistress, had her portrait painted surrounded by scientific implements, but she frequented a fortune teller who read the future in coffee grounds. The pursuit ofa life liberated from the csuper- stition dof religion proved surprisingly difficult.<br><br> Even Diderot, whose Encyclopedia was the flag- ship of the Enlightenment, confessed that he could not watch religious processions cwithout tears coming to my eyes. dPerhaps such unbidden feelings explain why,as most anthropologists agree,religion is uni- versal. As scientist Edmund O. Wilson put it in his acceptance speech upon receiving the 1999 Humanist ofthe Year Award: There is no doubt that spirituality and religious behavior of some kind are extremely powerful and, it appears, necessary parts of the human condition&.<br><br> The inability of secular humanist thinkers to satisfy this instinct, even when evidence and reason are on their side,is surely part of the reason that there are only 5,300 members of the American Humanist Association and 16 million mem- bers ofthe Southern Baptist Convention. Accordingly,the Enlightenment 9s undercutting of Christian- ity left early nineteenth-century Europe hungering for a new faith. In Britain, church-like Halls of Science were erected by the followers of Robert Owen who held Sunday meetings where they sang from a socialist hymnal.But they were unable to fash- ion a coherent doctrine.<br><br> Had socialism remained the work of such fanciful souls as these,it would have ended up as marginal as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism, and so many other good-hearted but feckless theories. Engels and Marx, however, succeeded in recasting socialism into a compelling prophecy, and their socialism absorbed or eclipsed all others. They shifted the argument from socialism 9s rationality or desirability to its inevitability.<br><br> This claim of inevitability was not an intellectual weapon but a religious one.It had no logical weight but great psychological power. Like the Bible,Marxism 9s historical narrative was a tale ofredemption that divided time into three epochs: a distant past of primitive con- tentment,a present of suffering and struggle,and a future of har- mony and bliss. Nor was this the only way that socialism echoed revelation.<br><br> It linked mankind 9s salvation to a downtrodden class, combining the Old Testa- ment 9s notion of a chosen people with the New Testament 9s prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth. By investing history with a purpose, social- ism evoked passions that other political philosophies could not stir. As the American socialist intellectual Irving Howe put it: Not many people became socialists because they were persuaded ofthe cor- rectness of Marxist economics, or sup- posed the movement served their 8class interests. 9 They became socialists be- cause they were moved to fervor by the call to brotherhood and sisterhood; because the world seemed aglow with the vision of a time in which humanity might live in justice and peace.<br><br> Most socialists would deny that their creed is religious in character.Did not Marx say that religion is an opiate? But many have given evidence of the religious quality of their belief. Michael Harrington, a fallen-away product of Jesuit education who became the preeminent American socialist of his genera- tion, wrote: cI consider myself to be 4in Max Weber 9s phrase 4 8religiously musical 9even though I do not believe in God&.<br><br> I am&a 8religious nature without religion, 9a pious man of deep faith, but not in the supernatural. dHarrington 9s disciple, socio- logist Norman Birnbaum, is even more blunt. cSocialism in all its forms was itselfa religion ofredemption, dhe writes. D espite the prophetic character of its claims, Marxism managed to establish the idea that it was somehow csci- entific. d The term cscience d had only fully come into vogue in the early 1800s, and science was discovering explana- tions every day for things that had long seemed inexplicable.By applying the terminology of science to human behavior, Marx and Engels developed a powerful cachet. Part of the power of Marxism was thus its ability to feed religious hungers while flat- tering followers that they were wiser than those who gave them- selves over to unearthly faiths.<br><br> In addition, the rewards offered by socialism are more immediate than those of the Bible. For one thing, you do not have to die to enjoy them. As British Marxist Ernest Belfort Bax wrote, csocialism brings back religion from heaven to earth [it looks not] to another world but to&a higher social life& whose ultimate possibilities are beyond the power of language to express. d The same ecstatic tone reverberated in Trotsky 9s forecast that under socialism the average person would exhibit the talents of a Beethoven or Goethe, and in Harrington 9s vision of can M ARCH 2002 What is different about socialism as a religion is the absence of concepts of good and evil.<br><br> This opened the door to terrible deeds. Muravchik/proofed 6/17/02 1:37 PM Page 34 utterly new society in which some of the fun- damental limitations of human existence have been transcended. d In this paradise, cwork will no longer be necessary&.The sen- tence decreed in the Garden of Eden will have been served. d The Biblical account of Adam and Eve 9s fall explains the hardship of life. It also portrays mankind 9s capacity for evil as well as good, suggesting that we might ameliorate the hard- ship by cultivating our better natures.<br><br> But socialism makes things easier.Not only does it vow to deliver the goods in this world rather than the next,but it asks little in return.At the most, you have to support the revolution. At the least you do nothing, since chistorical forces dwill create socialism anyway. In either case you do not have to worship or obey.You do not have to make painful sac- rifices or give to charity.You do not have to confess or repent or encounter that tragic sense of life that is the lot of those who embrace a Biblical religion.<br><br> No doubt, many or most people drawn to socialism feel some sense of humane idealism. But socialism 9s demands are all made on csociety, dnot on individu- als.It is idealism on the cheap. If these are the things that made the religion of socialism so attractive, they also are what made it so destructive.<br><br> What dis- tinguished Biblical religion together with Eastern faiths such as Hinduism,Confucianism,and Buddhism from other supernat- ural beliefs, historian Herbert Muller notes, is that its cprimary concern was no longer the material success of the nation or the assurance of good crops, but the spiritual welfare of man... rescuing man from his long obsession with food and phallus. d More specifically, the religion of these faiths connected man to a moral code. Then, two and a half millennia later, the religion of socialism sundered that connection.<br><br> What was different about socialism was not the absence of God, since Buddhism and Confucianism also have no God, but rather the absence of good and evil or right and wrong.This opened the doors to the terrible deeds committed in the name ofsocialism. T o be sure,horrible offenses have also been committed in the name oftraditional religions.One can cite the Crusades,the Inquisition,the World Trade Center destruction,and more. But in attacking people they deem wayward,religious zealots must ignore or suppress core elements oftheir creeds that address moral commands to the believer,constraining his actions.Socialism lacks any such internal code limiting the believer 9s conduct.<br><br> The socialist narrative turns history into a morality play with- out the morality. No wonder, then, that its balance sheet looks so bloody. In about three centuries the Crusades claimed 2 million lives;Pol Pot snuffed out roughly the same number in a mere three years.<br><br> Regimes calling themselves socialist have murdered more than 100 million people since 1917.The toll ofall crimes by observant Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists,or Hindus pales in comparison. Of course not all socialists committed or condoned violence,many were sincere humani- tarians, especially those who called themselves democratic socialists. But democratic socialism has turned out to be a contradiction in terms.<br><br> Wherever socialists have proceeded democrati- cally, they have found themselves on a trajec- tory that takes them further and further from socialism,much like Britain 9s Tony Blair or Ger- many 9s Gerhard Schröder. That 9s why, long before Lenin,socialist thinkers like Plato,More, Campanella, and Edward Bellamy all foresaw the necessity ofcoercion. The Blairs and Schröders of the world claim that they can do a better job than their conserv- ative opponents when it comes to managing the capitalist economy and maintaining a social safety net.<br><br> Perhaps they can.But this is a far cry from the enticing visions ofa whole new life of brotherhood and effortless abundance that made socialism so uniquely seductive and so appallingly destructive. Socialism 9s demands are all made on csociety, d not on individuals. It is idealism on the cheap.<br><br> Muravchik/proofed 6/17/02 1:37 PM Page 35