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Freedom For Bread

One of socialism’s fundamental tenets is its desire for the government to universally care for people, whether it be through single-payor health care or ensuring jobs and even equal wealth for all.

These are lofty and admirable goals and desires. But what are the potential costs?

Many conservatives point to the actual fiscal costs of accomplishing these goals — it will result in a higher tax burden and therefore a slower economy (because we know it’s all about an “efficient” economy).

Others say that if government gets involved in providing everything for everyone, it takes away self-reliance, which is almost a god to be worshiped by many conservatives.

18th century philosophers and economists argued that because the government receives its power from the people, the government can’t do anything that people can’t do.

Therefore, because an individual cannot forcibly take money from one person and give it to another, the government should not be able to forcibly tax people and give the money as handouts to others.

Liberals say, “But taxes aren’t forcibly taking money; we’ve agreed as a society run things this way.” Just try not paying your taxes and see how much force lies therein.

All of these points have some validity, but none of them are strong enough or philosophically fundamental enough to sway me.

They don’t address the fundamental problem with government-mediated wealth redistribution or provision for all needs from cradle-to-grave.

The fundamental problem has to do with agency and freedom.

“Make Us Your Slaves, But Feed Us”

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, the Russian author paints a stark picture of socialism.

In the story, Ivan Karamazov is the intellectual and agnostic (if not atheistic) brother who is talking to his younger brother Alexei (in training in a monastery) about a poem.

Ivan entitled the poem “The Grand Inquisitor.”

The Grand Inquisitor describes an interaction between the Grand Inquisitor during the Spanish Inquisition and Jesus Christ himself.

Christ appears in a small town and performs a miracle, is revered and recognized by the common people, but is also recognized by the Inquisitor who takes Him into custody for questioning.

The rest of the poem is an interrogation and accusation of Christ by the Inquisitor.

Initially the Inquisitor tell Christ that if He comes about now performing miracles, He will take away that freedom of faith that He so powerfully protected while on the earth.

“The freedom of their faith was dearer to Thee than anything else in those days fifteen hundred years ago. Didst Thou not often say then: ‘I will make you free’?…For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good…

“Let me tell Thee that now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou didst? Was this Thy freedom?”

Ivan attacks the idea that only through large institutions of force could mankind be happy; and that they could only be happy by giving away their freedom to a few who could handle that freedom (i.e. the Vanguard of the proleteriat).

Alexei asks “And what’s the meaning of ‘no lack of warnings'”?

Ivan responds, “Why, that’s the chief part of what the old man (the Inquisitor) must say.”

Ivan then describes the situation surrounding the three temptations of Christ by Satan in the desert. He sets it up by stating, through the Inquisitor:

“Judge Thyself who was right — Thou or he (Satan) who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question. Its meaning was this: ‘Thou wouldst go into the world, and are going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread — for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom.’

“But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though forever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread…

“But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth, if obedience (or political loyalty) is brought by bread alone?

“Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime (we are at this point), and therefore no sin; there is only hunger?

“‘Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!’ that’s what they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple.”

The Inquisitor continues:

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us: ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’

“They will understand at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together. They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless and rebellious…

“Choosing ‘bread’ Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity — to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship…

“But Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone — the banner of earthly bread. And Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven.”

Humans will need to choose between freedom and bread — unless we share bread and care for each other independent of government. If we depend on an institution of force for our bread, we will necessarily give up freedom.

Voluntary Charity

So how do we solve the real problems of poverty and inequity and hunger? We cannot give to government the job belonging to individuals, families, and communities.

We must voluntarily care for others and freely follow the teachings of charity that permeate all religions and culture.

If we are compelled to do give to others, not only does government take increasing control of our lives where it doesn’t belong, but we resent our surplus being taken from us and given to others and we lose the opportunity to interact personally and give and the opportunity to comprehend the dire situations that others sometimes face.

When we receive that assistance, that “bread,” from an institution, we lose the personal appreciation and gratitude that should be expressed to those who have given that we might eat.

Also contributing to the problem is the false view of human nature and human capacity. Humans aren’t naturally wicked, just naturally weak.

If we assume that humans are naturally wicked, what follows is a need to use force in order to “make” us be good.

The Inquisitor misunderstood human capacity: it’s not hunger that makes man unable to exert his free will; it is lack of knowledge and submission to surrounding situations.

Widespread real education (not just the job training that occurs in most schools, but learning to think and reason and be moral and virtuous) and recognition that we have free will and power to exert to act and not to be acted upon allow us to maintain our freedom even in the face of hunger, poverty, and oppression.


Mike Wilson received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from Brigham Young University and pursued graduate work at the University of California, San Diego, where he earned a M.S. degree in Biomedical Sciences prior to obtaining his M.D. at the UCSD School of Medicine.

He lives in Cedar City, Utah with his wife Jenni and their six children and practices emergency medicine in St. George, Utah while working on a Ph.D. in Constitutional Law at George Wythe University. He is also an Associate Mentor at GWU.

Mike’s passion is promoting idea that the common man has power and capacity to affect grand change in the world through true principles of love, goodness, and virtue. Because of his Jeffersonian trust in the common man, he considers himself a “little d” democrat (an ideal, not a political party).


  1. Mona Cole says

    “…The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”Exodus 2: 23-25(NIV). And then … “Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Isralites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.” Exodus 12:42(NIV) and then later on… “They said to Moses, ” Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.’ Moses answered the people,” Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” which the Lord did by drowned the Egyptian forces in the Red Sea. Exodus 14: 11-13 (NIV) and then later on…”In the desert the whole community grumbled…you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16: 2-3 (NIV) “The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.'” Exodus 16: 11-12 (NIV)…but of course the Israelites, like many of the modern day Americans, continued to whine and complain and forget all the great things that had been done in their presence for them…continually being stubborn, rebellious, and myopic. “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?..” Matthew 17: 17 (NIV). God always gives us a way out “….if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV). So He will hear us if we really put forth the effort…he did for Nineveh “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose fronm his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust…” Jonah 3:5-6 (NIV) and then God responded “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” Jonah 3:10(NIV). That did not make Jonah too happy since he was the one saying that God was going to destroy Nineveh. God’s answer to Jonah should give us some possible hope for America’s future…”But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:11…of course our problems include our rulers as well as the ones who can not tell their right hand fron their left hand (which still in some middle eastern areas is the difference between the hand that you use to eat with and the one used to wipe your butt since toilet paper or rags are not always available or used).

  2. Dan Owens says

    Great article!

    My wife and I were talking about this subject the other day. We had caught ourselves in the general mode of complaint about the government. My wife then asked the question, if the government doesn’t take our money to care for the poor then who will do it? We had to ask ourselves if we are taking our responsibility to care for others seriously? I completely agree that if our government does it then we lose agency and the chance to serve. We all need to evaluate our situations to see if we are giving all we can. Then perhaps we can answer, when our liberal friends point the need for us to help others. We can show that much good is being done of our own free will.


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