I was reminded yesterday of just how much I hate communism—not to mention all the forms of communism masquerading under other auspices. And in speaking of those who seek to provide those other auspices, I am thinking of that sort of person who just a few years ago was saying something like “let’s try it all again in Venezuela.” I commented to my friends Bubu and San that perhaps we need to put hatred of communism into the Apostles’ Creed.
Nancy and I are visiting Ukraine, and yesterday we got an eyeful in Kiev. Among other sad things, we walked through the park built by the Soviets seeking to honor the defeat of the Nazis in WW2. The motherland statue, seen to the right here, is over twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, sheathed in titanium, and up close it is one of the creepiest things you will see in barrel full of Mondays. In the (very nice) walkway up to the base of the statue we saw clustered statues of HEROIC workers, and VALIANT farmers, and DEFIANT soldiers, and just imagine dozens of them all as the epitome of Soviet statuary—twelve foot metal statues of Marvel comic heroes, stalwart and sturdy and steely resistance radiating from each one of them like heat from an over-stoked wood stove.
But before we came to that place, we had visited the Holodomer museum, a place where we found out what the communists really thought of actual heroic peasants. This was a museum that documents and memorializes the deaths of somewhere between 7 and 10 million Ukrainians, in the famine engineered by Stalin in 1932 and 1933, and which fellow-traveling liberals in the West conspired to cover up. In those days, being in possession of more than two stalks of wheat carried the death penalty. Being Ukrainian and attempting to feed yourself was clearly a crime against the people.
In between those two museums, we drove through Kiev and saw many square miles of Soviet-era apartment blocks, mud-fence ugly, and a transparent architectural attempt to provide people with a place that would keep the rain off, and that would simultaneously spit at God in Heaven.
The historian Charles Beard once said, apropos of American imperial achievements, that empires are not built in “fits of absent-mindedness.” Whatever his point about our imperialism was, the observation most certainly applies to the devastations that communism has wrought. Such things are not accomplished in fits of absent-mindedness. There is a plain intention that suffuses the whole enterprise. This level of evil is done on purpose. It is not some unfortunate by-product.
And so, that being the case, let us discuss why it is that socialist thinking is now once again gaining ground, growing and flourishing in the West. How is it that something that has proven to be so disastrous, so many times, can successfully gain a hearing with anybody? Why is collectivism attractive—why isn’t the allure of socialists something akin to the allure of those who want to bring back the bubonic plague?
Well, the reason is that the bubonic plague is a plague visited on our bodies via rats, but it didn’t get there through the spiritual rats in our souls. The plague is not directly related to our sinful hearts, and collectivism is. The engine that drives every form of collectivism is envy, and envy flourishes in a most powerful way whenever it is surrounded by that which excites the envy. And since what excites envy in this way is blessing that befalls others, it follows that societies that are the most blessed will contain a class that is most vulnerable to the lies and temptations of envy. Free and prosperous societies are a breeding ground for envy. What swamps are to malaria, abundant blessings are to envy.
The tenth commandment rejects envy in its prohibition of covetousness. But suppose there is a man who struggles with this sin—his neighbor to the north has a nicer car, greener lawn, bigger house, cuter wife, and all the rest of that list from the Decalogue. Now suppose, while he is still struggling with it, his neighbor to the south is similarly blessed. And then the neighbor to the east, across the street. This is followed by the neighbor to the west, across the back alley. What is this doing, this blessing that is falling on the neighborhood? It is exasperating our poor sinner beyond endurance—it is raining porridge and he forgot this bowl. Whenever we sin over the blessings that come to others, increasing those blessings for others will not make any of that sin go away.
Societies that are prosperous and materially blessed are societies that have had abundant fertilizer dumped into their garden. But fertilizer helps the weeds to grow, and not just the lettuce. In 1950, Detroit was the most prosperous city in North America, and Cuba was the most prosperous country in Latin America. And what has made all the difference since that time? The answer is envy. If you wish to celebrate the achievements of that envy, may I suggest May Day and a Che! T-shirt?
The envious always like to think in comparative terms, not in objective terms. When the hue and cry went up among the American commie-minded that we needed to do something about the “1%”, it never occurred to them to take the population of the world into account, and not just the population of their upper middle class neighborhood and then one or two filthy rich guys. Compared to income levels around the world, every mother’s son of us belongs to the 1%. But somehow the solutions they demand when it comes to their own comparative disadvantages are irrelevant and unrealistic when it comes to their advantages. And that is because envy is all about self.
All envy needs is operate is a comparative disadvantage while looking up. Gratitude is that spiritual demeanor that receives advantages while looking around. Gratitude is delighted that others have been more greatly blessed, and is grateful for the blessings that it has received. Of course envy is fully capable of thinking up all sorts of wicked names to attach to any displays of such gratitude.
And of course, a society that is as wicked as ours is—given over the lusts of promiscuity and sodomy, abandoned to the bloodlust of abortion, and entirely debauched by the pride of Mammon—and one which is simultaneously wealthy beyond the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, is a society that will necessarily be envy-ridden. And the more prosperity there is, the more envy there will be. The way out is repentance, not GDP growth.
So the only defense of free markets has to be more than the economic success of free markets. Given the reality of envy as a spiritual cancer, the success of free markets is the reason they are first hated, then pillaged, then abandoned. The success of free markets is not their shield and buckler—only Christ can be their shield and buckler. And that is because only the death of Christ can be the death of envy.