Envy Rots the Bones

In a recent magazine profile, the vice-president says his favorite book is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. That should come as no surprise: Every college student of the baby-boomer generation seems to have read Kuhn's book describing how prevailing ideas—or paradigms—change. And paradigm change is exactly what the new administration is all about. In the Wall Street Journal Paul Gigot writes, "The president is really proposing a political counterrevolution." Clinton is no pragmatist who just wants to tinker under the hood of the economy and give it a tune-up. His goal, says Gigot, is to "relegitimize" a certain philosophy of the state. And what philosophy is that? We get a clue in the administration's rhetoric about taxing the rich. Middle America doesn't need to worry about the tax increase, we're told; it will fall most heavily on the rich. The wealthy had it easy under Reagan, we're told; now they're going to have to make amends for their greed. Critics say all this talk about sticking it to the rich is simply stoking the fires of class conflict. Clinton is "playing the politics of class envy," charges economist Donald Lambro. Using "class-war rhetoric," says Gigot. "Too much of the old, dreary, left-wing cant" of class conflict, complains columnist Abe Rosenthal (himself an old-line liberal). And where does the rhetoric of class conflict come from? It first became part of respectable social science through the writings of Karl Marx, with his theory of hostility between the proletariat and the capitalists. Ever since, stirring up class envy has been the modus operandi for socialists and leftists of every stripe. Today it has become common parlance in many liberal circles, where every social problem is reduced to conflicts between class or race or gender. But the rhetoric of class warfare ought to grate harshly on our ears. The Bible teaches that justice should be impartial—favoring neither the poor nor the rich. In Leviticus 19, Moses says, "You shall do no injustice . . . you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great." This doesn't apply only in a court of law, it applies equally in the economic sphere. The rich should not be automatically portrayed as villains, nor the poor as victims. Today we may call it "economic populism" but it's still what the Bible calls partiality: setting the low and middle classes against the upper class. A biblical approach to economics doesn't divide people into hostile classes, it unites them in the shalom of God—the peace of real community where people are bound to one another by moral obligations. The rhetoric of class envy destroys shalom by stirring up resentment in the poor and heaping guilt on the wealthy. Proverbs warns us that "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." Of course, it's especially ironic to hear the rhetoric of class warfare used today, since the increased tax burden won't fall on just the rich but on nearly everyone. As Christians, we don't object to paying our fair share to reduce the deficit, which is strangling us. But we should do so not out of envy or guilt, but out of a desire for shalom.


Chuck Colson


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