Christian Socialism: An Informal History
John C. Cort
Orbis Books, 2020, xxv + 422 pp., pbk
This reprint of John Cort’s 1988 original issue of Christian Socialism comes at a propitious time when the word ‘socialism’ among younger demographics in particular is heard no longer as a dirty word carrying connotations of centralised inefficiency, anti-religious sentiment, and the collectivist erosion of individual freedom. Rather, the word ‘socialism’ is received by many as a welcome alternative to decades of neoliberal economics that has widened inexorably the gap between the haves and the have-nots. In the 1980s, Cort’s work juxtaposed neoliberal conservatism and religious socialism. On one side, the neoliberal policies of Reagan and Thatcher dominated the US and UK political scenes, changing both nations radically. On the other side, newspapers in the US carried headlines inspired by liberation theology in its fight against economic exploitation, while UK newspapers revelled in the explosive force of the Church of England’s Faith in the City report of 1985 that placed culpability for spiritual and material poverty in urban centres firmly at the door of Thatcher’s government. Cort’s work has multiple registers as a result. It is part apology, arguing for religious socialism as compatible with (and a valuable contributor to) wider socialist movements, as well as a critical counterpoint to the dominance of Marxian socialism and of untrammelled capitalism. It is part history, telling scenes from the story of Christian socialists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is also part advocacy, calling for a renewal of a particular strand of Christian socialism in the Church as local Christian communities face deep social and economic injustices in wider society. As we face new economic, social, and ecological crises of our own fuelled by a technocratic, global capitalism, the re-issue of Christian Socialism could not be timelier or its call more urgent.