Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia directly took on and rejected the notion that socialism somehow holds a morally superior ground to capitalism in a speech he delivered twice — one of those times just a few short years before his passing in 2016.
He first gave the speech entitled, “Left, Right and the Common Good,” in 1996 at Gregorian University, a Jesuit school in Rome, and then again at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston in 2013.
Early in his remarks, Scalia, who was a Roman Catholic, conceded Jesus Christ had very little to say about his preferred form of government or economic system.
Jesus “spoke of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” the justice said, adding that the founder of the world’s largest faith tradition “is not regarded as having indicated any preference about government.”
“If I were to engage in the search for the form of government most conducive to Christianity, however, I would certainly not settle on the candidate that seems to such a great attraction for modern Catholic thinkers, and I think most modern Christians, do with socialism,” Scalia said.
He found the attraction for Christians hard to understand.
“I know of no country in which the churches have grown fuller as the governments have moved leftward. The churches of Europe are empty. The most religious country in the West by all standards — belief in God, church membership, church attendance — is that bastion of capitalism least diluted by socialism, the United States,” Scalia observed.
He went on to note that the U.S. has been, to some degree, socialistic since FDR’s New Deal days of the 1930s.
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It became more so under the Great Society programs in the 1960s. Now President Joe Biden proposes to take the country more down that road.
“The allure of socialism for the Christian, I think, is that it means well. It is, or appears to be, altruistic. It promises assistance from the state for the poor and public provision of all the necessities of life, from maternity care to geriatric care and from kindergarten through university,” Scalia said.
“Capitalism, on the other hand, promises nothing from the state except the opportunity to succeed or fail. Adam Smith points unabashedly to the fact that the baker does not provide bread out of the goodness of his heart, but to make a profit,” he explained.
“How uninspiring. Yet, if you reflect upon it, you will see that the socialistic message is not necessarily Christian, and the capitalist message not necessarily un-Christian.”
Scalia identified the issue at hand as not whether Jesus instructed his followers to aid the poor, but to what degree the “coercive power of the state” should mandate it.
“Christ said, after all, that you should give your goods to the poor — not that you should force someone else to give his,” he said.
Scalia made clear that socialism may be the choice people can make as their form of government because they believe in helping the poor and redistributing wealth to the middle class.
“The question I am asking is whether Christian faith must incline us toward that system, and the answer I think is ‘No,’” he said.
“The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude,” Scalia argued.
“When I was young, there used to be an expression applied to a lazy person — my parents used it a lot — ‘He thinks the world owes him a living,’” he recounted. “But the teaching of welfare socialism is that the world does, indeed, owe everyone a living.”
“This belief must affect the character of welfare recipients, and not I suggest for the better, or at least not for the better in the distinctively Christian view of things,” Scalia said.
The justice was suspect about socialism’s virtue and selling point of helping the poor.
“It is true in the United States, and I believe it is true in all of the Western democracies, that the vast bulk of social spending does not go to the poor, but rather to the middle class, which also happens to be the class most numerous at the polls,” Scalia said.
“So one may plausibly argue that welfare-state democracy does not really have even the Christian virtue of altruism. The majority does not say to the rich, ‘Give your money to the poor,’ but rather, ‘Give your money to us.’”
This sounds a lot like theft and covetousness, which God’s Ten Commandments identify as sins.
Scalia addressed the common rap against capitalism — that it is based on greed.
“There have been greedy and avaricious capitalists, but there have also been generous and considerate ones; just as there have been altruistic and self-deprecating socialists, but have also been brutal and despotic ones,” he said.
“The cardinal sin of capitalism is greed, but the cardinal sin of socialism is power,” Scalia contended.
He further posited for capitalism to really work and “produce a good and a stable society,” Christian virtues like honesty, self-denial and charity must undergird it.
Charles Mizrahi, the founder of Alpha Investor, argued in a piece for RealClear Religion published last summer that “capitalism, as practiced in America, is based on Judeo-Christian values.”
In the Bible, “wealth is always seen as a blessing from God. And you know, for example, that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, King Solomon, all blessed with wealth,” Mizrahi, who is Jewish, told The Western Journal.
“And it’s not only wealth through hoarding, but wealth for giving, making society better and uplifting the underbelly of society. And in the Torah, in Deuteronomy for example, and earlier on in Leviticus, it speaks continuously about — and that’s codified — on how one goes about giving,” he explained.
To be truly successful in the marketplace, business owners must be about service, not greed, or over time they will get chewed up and spit out, Mizrahi stated.
“Jeff Bezos is the perfect example,” he said. “Here is a company that was constantly focused and centered on the customer, on making sure that the customer got every benefit possible and continued to stack on benefits such as Prime Movies, and two-day shipping, and free shipping and a whole bunch of others.
“The whole point was to satisfy the customer in any way, because if you take care of the customer, they’ll take care of you.”
Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, agreed with Mizrahi’s assessment that success in the free market is about service.
“So when Jesus said, ‘The first will be last and the last will be first,’ there is a strong economic principle behind that,” he told The Western Journal. “I have to serve people and give them what they’re looking for and give it to them in a quality way if I want to be successful. This is absolutely untrue in any socialist system.”
He further argued, if improving people’s lives is the goal of a good governmental and economic system, capitalism, not socialism is the way.
“People are using a third less natural resources than they did even just 10 years ago to produce all of that economic value,” he said.
“Farmers use two-thirds less land,” the Christian thinker continued. “Technology is more efficient. Even the environment is recovering, pollution is going down, tree density is growing, animal populations are thriving. And it was wealth — produced through markets — that led to all of this.
“So if a Christian person says, ‘I want everybody to be better off,’ there’s one clear path to that and it’s not socialism. It’s the securing of private property and allowing people to use the resources they have to prosper.”
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