Monday, July 18, 2005

Brits love Marx

When it comes to philosophers, the Brits most admire Marx. No, not Groucho. They love Karl. According to Dr. Alister McFarquhar of the Adam Smith Institute, 28 percent of Brits polled said Marx was tops in their books. David Hume, last of the great British empiricists, finished second. As a Christian, I don't find this as disconcerting as others who might lead you to believe it as necessary.

Marx was a brilliant man whom I always felt was misinterpreted. He predicted change, but his followers assumed it was a call for change. He disdained State order, yet it is those who favor the State who best reflect his thinking. Marx saw capitalism as a requisite (but ultimately unstable) part of an evolving State, but his followers thrive in tearing it down. About the only thing Marx and modern Marxists have in common is atheism. I'm not sure those who most admire Marx are following Marx as much as they are buying into the neo-Marxists that expanded on his writings.

People often pit Adam Smith against Marx. While that seems logical given the congruency in the timeline of discussion on capitalism and the competing paradigms, I'm not sure the writings of the two men could actually have a true discussion. They don't mingle well because they are on two very different wave lengths. Marx was a political scientist who worked in formulas for arguments. Smith was more of a philosopher who worked in historical evidence for arguments. In hindsight, Marx was reflective and detached while Smith was the man of action.

In Christian circles, I think it's wrong to demonize Marx while elevating Smith to sainthood. Neither worked to serve the Gospel, and there are elements of both that reflect the nature of Christianity. In Marxism, we find a communal spirit that we see in the Early Church. In Smith's view of capitalism, we see a need for personal responsibility as well as a need for charity from those who have that can be found throughout the Bible. However, I would not deem Wealth of Nations or Theory of Moral Sentiments as strong Christian philosophical work. Far from it. Smith made wholesale assumptions in man's "innate moral sense," a belief in conflict with Christianity -- at least in Reformed thinking. In America, Smith's philosophy has been taken to extremes -- greed is absolutely good (because it expands the economy, which distributes wealth) -- that strip away at the foundation of the Church's social conscience. This is not to impugn capitalism or to express favor with Marxism, but in our patriotic zeal, we often forget the need to balance our worldly ideologies with the Bible.

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