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No, Socialism Wouldn’t Succeed ‘If Only Men Were Angels’

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When arguing about the merits of a free economy, its defenders often give way to a peculiar line of reasoning that goes something like this:

“Socialism would be wonderful if it actually worked, and it could actually work if only men were angels.”

Such claims are meant to frame socialists as foolish idealists obsessed with their silly utopias. But for those of us who believe there’s a certain idealism to the free society, it’s a rather appalling concession. Indeed, the fundamental problem with socialism isn’t so much that its aims are unrealistic — though they most certainly are — but rather that its basic assumptions rely on a view of humanity that is, in so many ways, unreal.

If we let the lofty levelers have their way, we shall inherit a world where humanity is robbed of its dignity and originality, discouraged from creativity and innovation, and restrained from the collaboration and relationship found in free exchange. Even if such a system were to be filled with morally superior know-it-alls and somehow achieve material prosperity, it would still be a society of serfs, submissive to their overlords’ enlightened plans for social “equity,” and thus, servile in all the areas where God intended ownership.

Is a land wherein humans are guided by mere robotic efficiency really something that’s all that wonderful, even if it actually “works”? In whose mind and through what sort of contorted imagination is this considered an “ideal” or “utopia”?

As economist Art Carden once put it, when one surveys its bleak history, the socialist dream is not a “beautiful ideal that was corrupted by bad people” but an organized, “blood-soaked” attempt to “snuff out the things that make us human.” “Socialism didn’t fail because it is an ideal of which we aren’t worthy,” Carden continues. “Socialism failed because it is internally incoherent and structurally unsound.” It relies on Marx’s “intellectual rebellion against economics,” which, in reality, is simply a rebellion against man as he was created to be.

Man is fallen; of this we can be sure. But God created us in his image for specific purposes, blessed with incredible gifts and capable of remarkable reflections that transpire throughout organic life — through creativity and innovation, yes, but propelled by the love that’s spent and lent through service and sacrifice and relationship. It is these features that ought to be leveraged, channeled, and unleashed, and it is precisely these which socialism seeks to control, suppress, or forbid. Authentic social harmony is impossible without them, and thus, as the planners attempt their pet subversions, we ought not be surprised when the world correspondingly turns into a cold cultural vacuum at best and a death-ridden Soviet gulag at worst.

Again, we are constantly told that socialism could succeed “if only men were angels,” but the more important question appears to be whether socialism would succeed if men were angels. In light of its basic aims and fruits, it seems we would do better to replace “angels” with “robots,” for that is what socialism truly reduces us to: mere material beings, destined to be programmed and positioned according to our commissar-designated functions, geared and refined and maneuvered as servile cogs in someone’s preferred vision of supreme equilibrium. This is not what men were made for, and whatever it is that angels actually do, I should hope that control and puppetry are not high on their lists.

We are fortunate to live in a society where freedom is cherished and unleashed and has largely prevailed. But the resistance remains — against knowledge, against spirit, against man. We can romanticize such a rebellion by dismissing it as silly “idealism,” but I’d rather we romanticize the truth of human destiny, and get about embracing it.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, Intellectual Takeout, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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