Apologists of capitalism in the face of the abominations of communism often settle for considering “the free world” or “Open Society,” if not as a blessing for the world, at least as a lesser evil when compared to viable alternatives. Borrowing old Christian adagios—Who’s not flawed? Are we not all sinners?—the defender of the capitalist faith is likely to sustain that in recognizing that all forms of government are imperfect, capitalism offers us the least-imperfect option when it comes to administering our daily lives. Yet, what if, upon close inspection of our political scene, we were to land upon the disheartening realization that, far from being capitalism’s archenemy, communism is its very soul?
Political theorists and economists are apt to remind us that comparing capitalism and communism is as tricky as comparing apples and oranges; for unlike communism, capitalism is no regime, but a means to secure the success of any regime making allowance for mercantile competition and the private indefinite accumulation of capital. Our capital-investing market is mute when it comes to addressing the question of ends, focusing entirely or “positivistically” upon means; not upon ends of production, but upon means needed to achieve whatever ends we might have in mind, with the more or less tacit understanding that religious considerations can enrich our “individual” sense of finality. In this respect capitalism is perfectly compatible with the thriving of otherworldly religion as an essentially private phenomenon.
The same cannot be said of old communism, which announces the death of private life, as Pasternak reminds us most poignantly in his Doctor Zhivago. As the regime of “radical historical immanence,” communism has long stood as the archenemy of otherworldly religion. Yet, insofar as military-style repression of religion proved insufficient to crush men’s yearning for divine transcendence, communism found a “softer” way to oppose traditional otherworldly religion. That way consists of appropriating capitalism’s machinery of re-production of market goods, or of what the Bible would call “idols”.
Today’s communists have learned to market otherworldly religion rather than attempting to smash it from above; they have learned that human nature has a stubborn, ineradicable propensity to seek out what is beyond or behind any and all earthly paradise. Hence the importance, even urgency for communists to study the early founding fathers of their faith and above all Machiavelli, who had taught that “the Prince” should not try to moderate, but fuel-and-control human passions. Controlling through fueling (beyond Tacitus’s reprobation of decadent Rome’s divide et impera): this is the key strategy of all flatterers, a strategy that communists must come to master, lest they remain perennially at war with otherworldly religion and its traditional morality of moderation over the decisive question of who should ultimately manage the commercial arena in which are traded our tangible or material resources.
The real conflict is not, then, between communism and capitalism, but between otherworldly religion and the radical historical immanentism incarnated by communism; a conflict about ends, or rather about the “localizing” of our ends. Are our ends to be understood as transcending altogether the plane of negotiability, or is our supreme end, or eschaton, one with the arena of all that is negotiable? To echo Eric Voegelin, should our eschaton be immanentized?
Is man by nature a merchant, or is commerce but the servile “hand” of a transcendent mind, as Shakespeare suggests throughout his Merchant of Venice? Capitalists as such are mute when it comes to answering our question, because they are dumb when it comes to raising it, or to listening to what in the Gospel of John is a solitary voice in the wilderness proclaiming the parousia.
It would be unreasonable to demand that capitalists as such answer political questions; just as unreasonable as it would be to ask them to address theological problems inextricable from our political situation. The appeal to capitalism as an alternative to communism falsifies the nature of our predicament. In doing so, it feeds into the communist tendency to obscure properly theological considerations on the way to “reconstructing” the human condition in strictly mechanistic terms. For capitalism tends to see itself as a special mode of concern with means of production exploited in the interests of a society in which ends may be pursued in private and so without state/government intervention. As a result, our question bounces straight into the field where old religion is at war with communism. Is the individualism fostered by capitalism to be understood primarily in mercantile terms, or in religious terms? Are the ends that the market economy invites us to cultivate in private to be understood as merchandise we choose, or are they to be understood as inalienable or natural gifts. Are, in short, our ends negotiable or not? Should capitalism serve the interests of otherworldly religion, but also of natural reason, or is it to serve the rise of a society defined above all by radical historical immanentism?
Where we define communism as the nemesis of capitalism, we are in effect fostering the mechanistic cause of communism by entailing that human ends are “historically-relative individual values” as opposed to being theological-political realities defining “the individual” without being defined by him? In the former case, our ends would be “freely chosen” in the context of a mechanistic universe studied by “hard sciences” utterly indifferent to any properly theological consideration. Capitalists who accept such a characterization of ends are de facto communists, whether or not they admit it.
Leo Strauss’s consideration about historicists being positivists who have looked at themselves in the mirror helps us understand the concrete relation between communists and capitalist defenders of radical individualism: the capitalists in question are communists who do not yet know they are communists; they swim on rapids ending in communal waterfalls; or, they set the table for a planetary banquet where we shall all feast (or perhaps starve) as communists. For the capitalist who accepts a “Cartesian” (as per Tocqueville) vision of freedom concedes in practice the validity of the materialist ontology of communists; by defining our ends as “subjective creations” couched in or subject to an environment dominated by material or subconscious forces, he accepts the intervention of a machine of state to manage/secure the right of everyone to enjoy their “freedom” within the progressively narrowing confines of privacy. The Cartesian capitalist, in other words, works to evade properly political problems and thereby the reality of man’s theological-political predicament. In so doing, our capitalist promotes the strangling of freedom within the straightjacket of mechanically conceived license. Whence the contemporary rise of A.I. as a façade of a realpolitik approach to human problems. Our being raised to depend progressively upon “objective” technology (technological tools) is a direct reflection of our mechanistic cosmology and of our modernist assumption that special machines can help us “master nature” in the sense that they can keep nature at bay, without our having to ever face its dangers.
Yet, if technology “shall keep us safe,” it will do so at the price of robbing us of freedom proper, including our capacity to face all that is dangerous, above all love and thought, the coincidence of which Christianity announces as “the living truth”. Hence the conflict between a technology that shall keep us safe and a Christian truth that shall set us free (a truth that is Christian in the sense that it is revealed ecumenically with Christianity).
But now, capitalists swearing by a strict separation of political and theological problems, capitalists who, in other words, call for a radical privatization and so subjective-relativizing of theological problems, serve as ministers of communism beyond all national borders. This is what is called “globalism”: communism having extended over the entire globe by incorporating capitalism, which is to say, by winning the war against otherworldly religion—first and foremost, Christianity insofar as Christianity represents most vividly a positive tension between Caesar (secular authority) and God (divine transcendence).1
The capitalists in question tend to argue that Christianity should be privatized lest it be weaponized to serve an empowering ideological agenda, by which we should understand, however, the establishment of a politics bound to theological considerations—something entirely antithetical to a communist cause.
To be sure, the temptation of “using God” to eradicate all political dissent is characteristic of a certain type of religiosity, but pre-modern Christianity has by and large remained immune to that temptation insofar as it has fended off the nominalist assault on non-literalists readings of the Bible. The medieval notion of Christendom, for instance, involved various registers of meaning, the lowest one referring to “the historical,” rendering the still-disputed notion a primarily theological one pertaining to a world that St. Augustine referred to when speaking of “God’s citizenry” (civitas dei). On this account, Christendom is a theologically-grounded poetic notion, where politics is understood as having an otherworldly fulfillment. Hence the importance, upheld throughout at least pre-modern Christianity and spelled out most incisively in Dante’s Monarchia, of a positive tension between political/secular authority and religious authority reflecting the essential limits of the political.
In all of this, Christianity stands as the primary suspect for the communist. For in making Judaism relevant to the entire world—by turning the Jew into a problem for all gentiles—Christianity testifies to the unresolved discrepancy between political/pagan authority and truth proper. On the other hand, in principle Islam resolves/erases “the Jewish problem” altogether by eliminating all conflict between Caesar and God in the latter’s name.
It follows that communists are disturbed by Christianity considerably more than they are by Islam, notwithstanding the latter’s readily lending itself to being used as a façade for ideological warfare. So a question is begged: is the threat of religion’s being weaponized a mere pretext for communism’s indictment of Christianity, a pretext obscuring the real danger that Christianity represents for the immanentizing of the eschaton?
Not accidentally, Christianity has remained exposed substantially more than Islam to globalist critiques, by remaining in dangerous dialogue with its detractors, or by listening to their arguments more dispassionately than its Islamic counterpart has. Christianity’s “softness” or “femininity” has even allowed for communist uses, not of the Christian God per se, but of Christianity as discourse that could be placed in the service of global communism and its cheerful or gay façade: militant environmentalism.
It should be evident that communism is not at war with the weaponizing of religion, but with a religious objection to such weaponizing—an objection that is best represented by Christianity to the extent that it has not yet been weaponized by globalists. But where has it not, might ask the prudent? Where is Christianity still capable of countering a globalist agenda without converting into its plaything?
A Christian alternative to globalism would involve a Christian plan to save commerce from secular closure. Such a plan would involve a sustained effort to relate mercantile demands to theological ends, in the element of reflection. Only by shifting from a life of reflexes or compulsions to one of reflection can the Christian successfully counter the globalist agenda. But for this to happen, the Christian must let go of all certainties, not least of them prejudices, owing to the rise of modernity. The Christian must learn to be pre-modern, just as the American would need to learn to be pre-Cartesian. But is this still possible, today? Or, given the crisis of modernity, should we ask if the possibility presents itself finally, today? Will there be men standing to the task of living as Augustinians in an age otherwise dominated by the imperative of technological mediation? Will the American eye of the cyclone of globalism be opened by a Christianity audacious enough to overcome the cacophony of technocracy’s daily “shocking news,” by exposing our mercantile compulsions to a primordial Good News?
- While Christianity makes Judaism relevant to the entire world, Islam resolves/erases “the Jewish problem” by eliminating all conflict between Caesar and God in the latter’s name.