Middleton Murry had no time for those fellow Christians who just dismissed Marxist theory out of hand. He himself could be described as a Christian Socialist. This didn’t mean he believed in Marxist ideas such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, revolution or atheism. But he saw a great truth in Marx’s idea of humans being governed by forces of economics and class struggle. You couldn’t answer such strong analysis by simply asserting the Christian doctrine of free will, that individuals were free to do good or evil. This was “pious nonsense”. The ordinary worker was “the passive and unconscious slave of an economic system which he does not understand, and which he makes no effort to control”. What was the Christian answer? Murry advocated a full commitment of the churches to thorough-going social and economic reform, a commitment to effective regulation of capitalism. A revived Christianity needed to aim at a moral conversion of society, away from the excesses of economic individualism and self-interest.
[Murry, The Price of Leadership, 1938, pp.152-153].
If Murry advocated “regulation of Capitalism”, I wonder if he was falling into the common error accepting Marx’s assumptions and language even in offering a critique. “Capitalism” is a word invented byMarx. Although it has since been adopted by his opponents as as self-descriptor, such use tends at best to muddy the dialogue, for it grants implicitly the validity of Marx’s economic “analysis”, which is not strong but appallingly weak. He assumes economic conditions decades out of date at the time he wrote, and declares the problems inherent in such conditions impossible to solve under captalist assumptions when in the real world (if they had existed at all) they had long since been solved.
And why can Marxist economic determinism not be answered by a declaration of free will? All sorts of determinisms have been set against the doctrine – in ancient times the fates and the stars. By Marx, economics. Freud, Crick and Skinner would later offer other bases for denying freedom and asserting that men are “passive and unconscious slave[s]” of something or other. In each case, the answer is the same. If they are right in what they claim, it was determined by some blind and irrational force that they should claim as they do. In that case, why should I believe that they are right?
Thanks Andrew. Murry was not accepting determinism. What he was saying was that determinism of the Marxist variety could not be vanquished by simply ASSERTING the Christian doctrine of free will, or by simply attending church, etc. Assertion had to be accompanied by action, real action. In this case he wanted the churches to have a real policy of structural reform to counter the undeniable evils and hardship experienced by ordinary working people.
This was in fact even Catholic doctrine, stemming from the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891. It said there was need to ameliorate “the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class”. It rejected both communism and “unrestricted” capitalism, and said it was the role of the state to promote social justice, and the role of the church to speak out on social issues. Recent Popes have reaffirmed such views (Wikipedia).