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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Sojourners, a progressive Christian blog site I followed, offered a quote from Paulinus of Nola (c. 354-431 AD):

We have no right to our possessions; they have been entrusted to us for the good of all. Let us then invest with the Lord what he has given us, for we have nothing that does not come from [God]: we are dependent upon [God] for our very existence. And we ourselves particularly, who have a special and a greater debt, since God not only created us but purchased us as well; what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?

I don’t go in for all the “you were ransomed from sin so you owe God forever” bit, which seems a little too… well, almost Calvinist. I’ve seen where that utter depravity line of thought can get really icky. But I found it very interesting to see a Christian writer saying that essentially nothing comes from nothing, that whatever we think we have was originally created by God. Which makes the idea of personal property iffy at best. It’s not that we shouldn’t take pride in what we do and we shouldn’t work hard, but we should re-evaluate the idea that what we earn is really all our own creation. We don’t own it in an absolute way, and we should recognize that fact.

Which gets very close to socialism, at least as I understand it. You can’t really own personal property because it is built on other peoples’ development and raw resources that are really held in common by the society, not by you. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what socialism is all about but to modern American Protestants, this can seem… radical. But in a good way, at least IMO.

Maybe the old meme was right after all. :-)

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
mrowe
Feb. 2nd, 2013 11:04 am (UTC)
Which gets very close to socialism, at least as I understand it. You can’t really own personal property because it is built on other peoples’ development and raw resources that are really held in common by the society, not by you.

Sort of correct, except you appear to use 'personal property' to refer to the means of production here; that would be 'private property' if owned by a person or corporation. 'Personal property' (in the sense of 'regular possessions') does exist in socialist theory(*), 'private property' in the sense of owning banks, railways, mines, etc. doesn't; that's the part that becomes 'social property'.

(* theory, as there never has been a 'perfect' implementation of socialism - if such a thing is even possible, human nature being what it is)

Please note, I'm not an expert on socialism, I barely even play one on the internet *g*
marta_bee
Feb. 2nd, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
I really need to understand socialism better before I talk bout it. I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone who knows it mainly from the way it exist in the American popular imagination, but who doesn't think the system's so bad as many Americans seem to. So while I'm not negative about what I understand of it, I'm sure what I understand is a caricature of the real thing.

At the risk of reducing everything too much, American beliefs on property seems to go something like this: unless something is "developed" and claimed by a specific group or individual, it's unowned. Meaning that if you're a European-descended American colonist in Pennsylvania and decide to move into the ohio River Valley (at that point largely uncolonized by Europeans, then whatever natural resources you encountered were up for grabs, so long as they weren't actually being used by someone else. And whatever you make of them, that's treated like it's yours alone. There's n sense that the raw resources belong to all of us together, or that anyone other than the people leading the economic development have any rather to whatever's produced.

When I think of socialism, I think I have an opposing view in mind. You know, that the natural resources are in some sense common property of people in general and so what you produce is in some sense based on borrowed goods, or at least isn't just yours to make of what you will. I'm really no Marxist, but I think what I'm calling natural resources would be a part of the means of production. I think part of the American capitalist theory is that you buy personal property (your home, car, clothes, etc.) using either your wages or the good things you produce, and that either of these things belongs to you - meaning that you have a right to those things, and a right to deny them to others.

That's what I see this quote denying. The American capitalist position says the natural resources were just there to be claimed and so you deserve everything you get out of your labor, and I see both the anti-capitalist view I described above (which is the closest I have to an understanding of socialism, unfortunately) and the Paulinus quote seem to refute. That's what I was trying to get at.

One of these days I really must read some of the books Dwim pointed me to on socialism I have thoughts on this, obviously, but they feel very vague because I don't really understand the philosophy under all this.
mrowe
Feb. 2nd, 2013 01:56 pm (UTC)
You're definitely correct afaics about your original quote vs. capitalism.

I think part of the American capitalist theory is that you buy personal property (your home, car, clothes, etc.) using either your wages or the good things you produce, and that either of these things belongs to you - meaning that you have a right to those things, and a right to deny them to others.

That's hardly a position that's unique to capitalism, though.

However, socialism (and keep in mind socialism=/=Marxism)* doesn't necessarily say anything about who owns or can appropriate unused/undeveloped resources. The idea that natural resources are common/general property is more 'communalism', and although I'm sure there are branches of socialism that subscribe to that view, most would say that the workers own and/or control the means of production. Of course, if you put ten socialists together, you get eleven factions...

Political theory is an interesting area, to say the least, and I know I've barely scratched the surface myself. It certainly won't hurt to read up on it.**


*not to mention that what was implemented in the Soviet Union had not all that much to do with what Marx actually had in mind.
**for a start it will help to understand why many Europeans find it funny when the Democratic Party is described as 'left-wing', when generally speaking we'd consider them centre or centre-right.
marta_bee
Feb. 2nd, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
Btw: this is a simply perfect avatar for this topic. Brilliant!
mrowe
Feb. 2nd, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
*heh*
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