In the tenth and eleventh postings in this series, we demonstrated that capitalism is based on two premises, one true, and one false. In today’s posting we will show that socialism is also based on two premises, both of which are false. This is, in fact, why the Catholic Church condemns socialism, while it “only” criticizes capitalism.
Capitalism is based on the true premise that the right to property is absolute, and the false premise that the rights of property are also absolute. For its part, socialism is based on the false premises that the right to property is not absolute, and that the rights of property may be defined in a way that removes the absolute character of the right to property.
Thus, whether a society permits private ownership, even universal private ownership, it remains socialist if the State or the community retains the right to deprive someone of his or her ownership — including the fruits of ownership consisting of control and the receipt of all income attributable to whatever is owned — at the will of the State, a majority of the citizens, or for any other reason without just cause or due process, or in any way that denies that every person has the natural right to be an owner.
The effect of abolishing the absolute character of the right to be an owner, inherent in every human being by nature itself, is to make all natural rights insecure, that is, alienable. This changes the character of the natural law itself. By making any natural right insecure, all natural rights become insecure.
A society may “permit” private ownership — but that is precisely the trouble. It permits private ownership. It does not recognize and protect it as an inalienable, absolute right. This constitutes the abolition of private property as a natural right, and is the essence of socialism.
The basis of society itself is shifted from a theory of law based on reason, to a theory of law based on private interpretation of something those with power accept as the will of a god, whether explicitly or implicitly, and whether actually divine, or a manmade creation with immense power, such as Hobbes’s characterization of the State as a “Mortall God.”
This is completely unacceptable if society is to remain human in any meaningful sense. Thus, as Pope Pius XI declared in no uncertain terms,
“But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion? This is the question that holds many minds in suspense. And numerous are the Catholics who, although they clearly understand that Christian principles can never be abandoned or diminished seem to turn their eyes to the Holy See and earnestly beseech Us to decide whether this form of Socialism has so far recovered from false doctrines that it can be accepted without the sacrifice of any Christian principle and in a certain sense be baptized. That We, in keeping with Our fatherly solicitude, may answer their petitions, We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 117.)