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Rev. Ben Johnson: The socialist bizarro world of David Bentley Hart

When you come across a think piece so catastrophically wrong as David Bentley Hart’s April 27 New York Times column, “Can We Please Relax About ‘Socialism’?” you marvel at the effort, intentional or not. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian and, as the Times puts it a “cultural critic,” says he knows that, “in this country we employ terms like ‘socialism’ with wanton indifference to historical details and conceptual distinctions.” He’s right, but not in the way he thinks he’s right.

After nearly 30 years of explaining economic theory to theologians, it’s clear that Acton’s work is not done. Fortunately, Acton editors are up to the task of explaining why Hart’s shambolic defense of socialism was wrong on history, on economics, and shot through with a breathtaking animus towards honest critics of socialism. Here’s one example from Hart’s column:

Only here is the word “socialism” freighted with so much perceived menace. I take this to be a symptom of our unique national genius for stupidity.

In a new commentary at The Stream, Rev. Ben Johnson looks at the “The socialist bizarro world of David Bentley Hart” and enumerates five reversals of “the paschal call to peace” (The Eastern Church celebrated Easter, or Pascha, on Sunday). I’m sure Fr. Ben, an Orthodox priest and editor of Acton’s Religion & Liberty, could have found more reversals. But let’s start with the first one:

Reversal 1: “That’s Not Real Socialism”


Hart wants his readers to believe socialism is just “a noble tradition of civic conscientiousness.” To pull that off, Hart attacks the dictionary definition of the word. He insists that Venezuela, the USSR, and North Korea never practiced real socialism. That’s a notion Kristian Niemetz comprehensively refutes in his latest book. Then Hart conflates “socialism” with the most benign intentions of social democracy. This even after European scholars have gone out of their way to clarify that Nordic countries are not socialist.

Read to the end of the piece for Fr. Ben’s explanation of why “Dostoyevsky would understand Hart’s upside-down decision to spend Holy Week preaching the Gospel of socialism.”

When you’re done with Fr. Ben’s devastating critique, stay on the PowerBlog to re-read Joe Carter’s devastating critique, “David Bentley Hart’s sophomoric defense of socialism.”

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John Couretas is responsible for print and digital publications, media relations, web and social media. He has more than 25 years of experience in the news, events and corporate communications fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.