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Thu, Nov. 18th, 2004, 03:53 pm
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(This started as a post to my web-assisted philosophy class forum, but it got out of hand and I wanted to share it. Don't worry - only the first line refers to anything obscure related to our course)

Kai Neilsen does an excelent job of providing a critical analysis and moral critique of Democratic Capitalism and Democratic Socialism in references to certain values of our political system - individuality, freedom, equality. But the difference between capitalism and socialism can be reduced to even more basic values. Capitalism relies on self-interest to motivate private enterprise and can only incidentally improve the common good. Socialism relies on human fraternity - charity, kindness, selflessness - widely regarded as the highest of moral ideals. Capitalism may be moral in the sense that it serves certain values, but in a more deeply ethical sense, can there be any justification for selfishness and greed?

The most universally endorsed moral precept throughout human history has been some formulation of the so-called "Golden Rule" - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This reciprocal principle of morality has not always been universally applied, and of course its very universality also makes it difficult to say what exactly one should do in certain situations, particularly in the case of the most heinous of crimes. However, there is clearly a social obligation implied by the Golden Rule - You have a moral obligation to treat others fairly.

To more specifically address the Christian morality that is theoretically subscribed to by most Americans, we find that simple reciprocity - The Golden Rule - is not enough. The moral teachings of Jesus Christ express a more radical moral obligation to treat others with kindness and generosity when they not only do us no good, but specifically when others have done us harm. In order to forgive those who tresspass upon us, we must give up our petty self-interest and forget the wrongs that others of have done to us in order to do good in the interest of all of humanity.

Selfishness is the failure to let go of our personal interests when they conflict with the common good. The teachings of Christ emphasize an obligation to act selflessly to provide for the common good and to let go of our self-interest, which is a moral weakness, or a failing.

Christian morality is by definition opposed to self-interest and greed, which are the foundation of capitalism. Only a society based on providing for the common good, like democratic socialism, can ever truely be moral. American society has been bombarded with the bogeyman of "Godless Communism" since at least 1917, and this prejudice has tainted American attitudes towards democratic socialism and any element of socialism that has been proposed for or introduced into the American system - publicly owned utilities, public schools, hospitals, the Works Progress Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority as well as Social Security during the depression, the 8-hour day, the weekend, minimum wages and safety restrictions, a progressive income tax, proposals for universal healthcare. The irony of all of this is that nearly all of it was agitated for as much by Christian Socialists concerned for the common welfare like Jane Addams and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as by Marxists. The socialist movement in America, and especially in Oklahoma, where it was strongest, has always combined European theory (from Marx as well as Christian experiments in Utopian Socialism) with the strong traditions of poor, rural, American Christianity.

When Oklahoma's tenant farmers were being swindled by the bankers and the town merchants and the absentee landlords they remembered Jesus expelling the moneymakers from the temple. They remembered that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. That was the power of socialism in Oklahoma. They connected Christ's revolutionary teachings that threatened and indicted the rich, greedy, and powerful while promising salvation for the humble, selfless, and meek to the revolutionary teachings of socialism that threatened and indicted the rich, greedy, and powerful while promising salvation for the humble, selfless, and meek.

The connection between Christian morality and Democratic Socialism is obvious in the economic, political, and religious life of the European social democracies, who enjoy a better quality of life with more equality less poverty along with less decadence, crime, immorality, and greed because of the strong Christian Socialist strand in their socialist and labor movements. It's obvious in the Catholic priests associated with liberation theology who fought and still fight alongside socialist revolutionaries and the poor - first among Christ the Good Shepherd's flock. Perhaps we Americans, and particularly those of us who are spiritual and revere the teachings of Christ, need to listen to the moral wisdom that we pay lip service to and demand a government that affirms the basic positive moral message of Christ, a message that is common to all human societies throughout time and across the world: to do good through resisting the temptation to act selfishly and instead acting selflessly.

jakebone