Yale prof: Communism is a ‘religion’ with ‘sloppy theology’
Panelists at Princeton University condemned communism on Tuesday, likening it to a “religion” with “extremely sloppy theology” and honing in on its “inhuman” nature.
The school’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions hosted a panel discussion entitled “Consequences of an Idea: Assessing 100 Years of Communism.” The event was co-sponsored by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
The panel included Yale history and religious studies professor and immigrant from communist Cuba Carlos Eire, Princeton math professor and Socialist Republic of Romania immigrant Sergiu Klainerman, and Skidmore College political science professor Flagg Taylor.
Communism is “d*** close, if not exactly the same as a religion,” Eire said, adding that it has both “orthodoxy and heresy.”
It is “impervious to empirical evidence, scientific evidence, sociological evidence,” the Yale professor continued. “It is also an extremely sloppy theology that does not base its observations on human behavior.”
“Human beings are incapable of pure altruism, of sharing goods equally,” he claimed. “There is never any true sharing. It is impossible.”
The religious studies professor noted that Christian monasticism also involved property sharing, but that monastic history is one “of failure, of corruption, and reform.” He granted that it yielded some success, arguing that this was because sharing was voluntary.
Eire proposed that “historically, it has been proven that communism can work, sometimes, to some extent, always with some reform. But it always requires an oligarchy of some sort.”
The Yale professor also argued that it is only viable in small communities, noting several failed historical attempts by Christian monastics or other religious leaders to extend monastic sharing to wider communities.
He insisted that “it is possible to speak of communism…as a religion” and one “governed by bad theology.”
In the “unforgiving” communist religion, Eire posited, the “oligarchy becomes the priesthood,” and the government becomes a theocracy with “a very active inquisition, with heretics who have to be expunged one way or another.”
Later in the discussion, Taylor argued that the label of totalitarianism is insufficient to describe communism. He suggested that it is better described as an "ideocracy," a regime wherein "ideology is not just one of four or five important features," as it is in systems properly described as totalitarian. Rather, ideology stands out as "the most distinguishing feature" of an ideocracy.
“In this account,” the Skidmore professor explained, “a totalitarian regime becomes totalitarian precisely because it is ideological.”
Communism, and ideology in general, is founded on “organized and systematic lying,” which differs from “ordinary falsehood,” Taylor argued, referencing French historian and philosopher Alain Besançon, in that the “ordinary falsehood” “stays in touch with the truth and knowingly distorts the truth,” whereas the “ideological lie, by contrast...seeks to impose a pseudo-reality upon reality. It does not depart from reality so much as [it] completely ignores reality and…it seeks to disrupt our normal access to reality.”
The pseudo-reality “acquires a very peculiar but real strength,” Taylor said, quoting the late Czech statesman Václav Havel. “It becomes reality itself, albeit a reality altogether self-contained, one that on certain levels may have greater weight than reality as such. Reality does not shape theory, but rather the reverse."
It can appear that “theory itself...ideology itself, makes the decisions that affect people, not the other way around,” the Skidmore professor said. “And so in this precise sense, totalitarian regimes, ideocracies, are inhuman” and impenetrable.
Taylor concluded the discussion by noting contemporary trends disturbingly reminiscent of communist ideocracies. He criticized the “hyper-bureaucratization of life” as well as a “persistence of perfectionism” and a “prevalent culture of activism,” especially on university campuses.
The latter two he described as a kind of fanaticism that is “always certain that the enacting of a certain program will bring an end to societal dysfunction and injustice.” This fanaticism, Taylor claimed, “is not driven primarily by unbridled passion, but rather is the result of an intellectual error, which should recall ideologies like revolutionary socialism” and their disastrous results.