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Martin Luther King Jr. on the Failures of Communism

The great advocate for justice saw, as George Gilder does, why materialism fails us

Technology futurist and economist George Gilder has a new book called Life After Capitalism. One of Gilder’s main points in the book is that knowledge is wealth; with increased human ingenuity comes advanced economic growth, but that’s all dependent on the recognition that mind, not matter, is preeminent, and is essential for the flourishing of society and culture. I’ve been reading some essays of the great social justice advocate Martin Luther King, Jr., and came across a piece he wrote on the failures of Communism as a worldview and political system. His comments sound remarkably akin to Gilder’s views on mind and materialism. Listing his first objection to Communism, King writes,

First, Communism is based on a materialistic and humanistic view of life and history. According to Communist theory, matter, not mind or spirit, speaks the last word in the universe. Such a philosophy is avowedly secularistic and atheistic. Under it, God is merely a figment of the imagination, religion is a product of fear and ignorance, and the church is an invention of the rulers to control the masses. Moreover, Communism, like humanism, thrives on the grand illusion that man, unaided by any divine power, can save himself and usher in a new society.

-Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, p. 100.

The materialism that deadens human creativity is exactly what Gilder opposes in his new book; in fact, Gilder critiques today’s capitalism for adopting a materialistic perspective that sees humans as mere consumers instead of intelligent, mindful creators and innovators. A healthy form of capitalism rejects materialism because it acknowledges that people will naturally innovate and produce economic value in the world when free to do so. And that’s another point King makes in his essay: we must be free, and should never exist solely for the sake of the state. King goes on to write,

The ultimate weakness of Communism is that it robs man of that quality that makes him man. Man, says Paul Tillich, is man because he is free. This freedom is expressed through man’s capacity to deliberate, decide, and respond. Under Communism, the individual soul is shackled by the chains of conformity; his spirit is bound by the manacles of party allegiance. He is stripped of both conscience and reason. The trouble with Communism is that it has neither a theology nor a Christology; therefore it emerges with a mixed-up anthropology.

King, a Baptist minister, is comparing Communism with Christianity, since he saw the former as the only legitimate threat to the faith in his day and time. The materialistic ideology of a totalitarian state, established at the expense of human freedom and dignity, took hold in multiple countries worldwide following World War II and continues to have considerable influence in today’s academy, government, and popular media. King and Gilder, however, challenge us to recognize the reality of the mind, and the central role it plays in creating a habitable and just society. As Samuel Gregg wrote in his review of Gilder’s book,

As long as proponents of capitalism let themselves be locked into materialist and determinist outlooks, they limit themselves to the same mindset as socialists and, Gilder maintains, will fail to grasp that “It is man’s ingenuity that creates economic growth and wealth.”

-Samuel Gregg, Getting Back to a Mind-Centered Economy – Religion & Liberty Online (acton.org)

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is the Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Martin Luther King Jr. on the Failures of Communism