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Vladimir Solovyov

From 1853
 to 1900

Socialism really stands on the same ground as the bourgeois régime hostile to it, namely, the supremacy of the material interest. Both have the same motto: "man liveth by bread alone."

The Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov has been cast in many contradictory ways, not all without merit. Born in Moscow, as a teenager he abandoned Christianity in favor of atheism, only to return to faith by 18 after encountering Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. Despite some syncretistic tendencies and despite plausible rumors that, in the interest of ecumenism, he once took communion at a Catholic mass, to his death Solovyov identified himself as an Orthodox Christian. The thought world of Solovyov's Russia, especially among the upper class of society, contained extremes of atheistic materialism which he set himself against in much of his work, finding favor and criticism in nearly all sectors of Russian society.

In the third book of his work The Justification of the Good, Solovyov focuses on the dignity and infinite, moral potential of every human being, realized in human society. He believed that all social action ought to be limited by morality. Thus, he favored limitations to government power, writing, "[T]he demands of the positive law [of the state] are not absolute but are limited by the natural law which is sanctified by religion...."

In the realm of economics, this leads him to biting criticism of amoral laissez-faire economics and outright condemnation of socialism. According to Solovyov, "To proclaim laissez faire, laissez passer [apart from morality] is to say to society 'die and decompose.'" The free market, to Solovyov, has no value divorced from morality. With regards to socialism, he writes,

Socialism envies [the rich] and Christianity pities them—pities them because of the obstacles which connection with Mammon puts in the way of moral perfection: it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. But socialism takes that kingdom itself... to consist in nothing other than wealth, provided it is differently distributed. That which for Christianity is an obstacle, for socialism is an end; if this is not an antithesis, I do not know what else to call by that name.

One might wonder, with all his criticisms, what Solovyov's political and economic views really were. One commentator has claimed that Solovyov was "an early advocate of... the democratic welfare state" due to Solovyov's view of the state as "collectively organized compassion." However, one must not forget that Solovyov would emphasize its moral limits. Indeed, he writes,

[E]veryone should have the means of existence (e.g. clothes and a warm and airy dwelling) and sufficient physical rest secured to him, and... he should also be able to enjoy leisure for the sake of his spiritual development. This and this alone is absolutely essential...; anything above this is from the evil one.

It is clear how far he intends the "collectively organized compassion" of the state to reach. In this he is no more a proponent of the welfare state than Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. Indeed, after establishing that the state can be a means of morally limiting the market (e.g., by liberating Russia's serfs), Solovyov cautions, "Reference to this fact does not prejudice the question to the extent to which such regulation may be desirable in the future...." Thus, one ought only cautiously to presume that he would have been for or against any particular, contemporary social program. No doubt, we can be certain that Solovyov's position would be limited by humanity's moral potential and innate and inalienable dignity.