What Communism and Capitalism Have in Common

I am continuing to listen to Victor Shepherd’s lectures on the Theology of the Human Person, and from time to time he critiques non-Christian ideologies. I was particularly struck by this part of a lecture on various kinds of perfectionism:

It’s easy to laugh at communism’s naiveness, because we have had in the last 100 years the horrific experiment of Marxism whereby everything it had promised, it failed to deliver. So far from ending exploitation of poor people, under communism nobody could get ahold of a loaf of bread, unless of course he belonged to the privileged elite in a “classless society.”

But at the same time, the reason we have welfare capitalism today—modified capitalism; qualified capitalism—is that unrestricted capitalism is brutal beyond belief. Do we want to go back to 7-year-old children working 14 hours a day in factories? That’s what capitalism produced. Is that all right? No, but there are people who say that if only we rescinded all governmental interference in the market, and we had laissez-faire capitalism, no restriction on what an employer can do, that that would promote that good which communism claims to promote. Well one’s as evil as the other.

My old philosopher friend, Emile Fackenheim, used to say, “Under capitalism, people devour each other. Under communism, it’s the other way around.” And I think it’s true. Because all of these are a form of perfectionism which ultimately denies that since we were created ex nihilo by God, he alone ultimately is our determination. … Marxism and capitalism would say alike that what is finally our determination is what we do with the element of the material. That’s our determination: what we do with matter. Now communism and capitalism want to do very different things with it, but they would say that’s our determination. We [Christians] deny that.

There you have it; pure communism and pure capitalism are both utterly materialistic. They insist on seeing the world apart from Christ, who holds it together. They ultimately fail because of a faulty understanding of the human situation, particularly (though Shepherd doesn’t mention it here) a huge blind spot when it comes to human sin. And that, friends, is why I reject both as sub-Christian, and sub-human, ideologies.