Vincent Geoghegan, "Socialism and Religion: Roads to Common Wealth" (Routledge, 2011)


"Christianity and socialism go together like fire and water," remarked August Bebel, Germany's leading socialist, in 1874. The anticlerical violence of revolutions in Mexico, Russia, and Spain in the early twentieth century appears to confirm his verdict. Yet, not everyone in interwar Europe accepted the incompatibility of religion and socialism, as we learn in this interview with political theorist and Professor at Queen's University Belfast Vincent Geoghegan. The dynamism of Stalinist Russia in the early 1930s sent shockwaves through Depression-era Britain, leading a group of intellectuals to rethink their Christianity. In his new book Socialism and Religion: Roads to Common Wealth (Routledge, 2011) Geoghegan explores the efforts of four intellectuals to fuse the two in theory and in the form of a short-lived political party called Common Wealth. Our conversation begins with the pivotal theorist in Common Wealth, the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray. Macmurray saw in communism a continuation of the ethical and social project of Christianity. He interpreted communist anticlericalism as a correction to the Christian churches, which had lost sight of this project. Of his own earlier Protestantism he wrote in 1934, "That faith today is in rags and tatters. I should rather go naked than be seen in it." Socialism became his new form of Christian faith. Our interview ends with a contemplation of the relevance of Common Wealth for today's theoretical debates about post-secularism. One sign that we live in a post-secular age is that even left-of-center statesmen, such as Barack Obama or Tony Blair, publicly identify religious faith as a starting point for their political and ethical commitments. To explain his own views, Blair told Labour Party supporters in 1994, "if you really want to understand what I'm all about, you have to take a look at a guy called John Macmurray. It's all there."

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