Monday, October 5, 2015

The REAL Problem With Socialism, I: The Form Trick


As we said in last week’s posting on capitalism, where capitalism is many things under one name, socialism is one thing under many names.  Most succinctly put, socialism is best defined by its chief characteristic or tenet: the abolition of private property, or (as Pope Leo XIII put it) “community of property.”  That is, the community, collective, State, or however you want to put it, is the real and ultimate owner of everything and, finally, everybody as well.

Hobbes: the State is a Mortall God.
This understanding of socialism immediately involves us in difficulties.  Right off the bat, the socialists huff and puff and declare that the definition is wrong.  Why?  Because some forms of socialism permit private ownership.  Others agree that socialism’s principal principle is the abolition of private property, but insist that because some forms of socialism permit private ownership, it isn’t really socialism.

Still others jump whichever way will win them the argument.  If you’re defining socialism as the abolition of private property, they deny that socialism abolishes private property, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.  If they agree that socialism abolishes private property, then what they’re talking about isn’t socialism because people are permitted to own.

Do you see the trick?  Of course you do, because you’ve been reading this blog.  The key is that socialism abolishes private property . . . and private property is two things.  The first is the natural right of every child, woman, and man to be an owner.  This is part of human nature, and cannot be taken away; it’s part of what defines someone as human.

Mason: the right to be an owner is inherent in human nature.
The second is the socially determined bundle of rights that define how an owner may use what is owned.  Some of these may be taken away or redefined (they are socially, not naturally, determined), but only insofar as doing so does not infringe on the underlying right to be an owner in the first place.

A system, therefore, that does not recognize private ownership as a natural, inherent right, inseparable from what it means to be human is therefore socialist — even if it permits private ownership.  The system allows private ownership for the sake of expedience or some presumed good to the individual or society, not because it is an inalienable right!  Consequently, private property is abolished in such a society because property is a right; take away private property as a right, and you’ve abolished private property.

Further, you can have a system that claims to acknowledge private property as a natural, inherent, inalienable right . . . but it defines the exercise of that right in such a way as to cancel out the right to be an owner in the first place!  Private property is thereby again abolished, because a right that you cannot exercise is not a right that you really have.

Trying to figure out the basis for the mental gymnastics of socialism, we realize that, while accurate, the definition of socialism as the abolition of private property gives the socialists an “out.”  They don’t really know what rights and property are, and their idea of humanity and society is based on a false theory.  As Pope Pius XI explained,

Pope Pius XI: "No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist."
If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity.  Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.)

This brings us very neatly to the point: just what is this “theory of human society” that socialism espouses that is “peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity”?  Fasten your seatbelts; we’re in for a bumpy, if brief, ride.

The fundamental claim of all socialists is that only the collective (whatever you choose to call it), not individual human beings, has the right to own: the natural right to property.  Atheistic socialists claim that property (private and common) are merely social conventions or self-generated rights created by the collective.  Christian socialists claim that God granted property — the natural right to be an owner — to mankind in general, not to individual human beings.

Some socialists modify this by declaring that individuals have the right to own as private property only what they create by means of their own labor, but not the land or natural materials out of which they make things.  This is not logical.  If that were the case, I could not own a tree and thus have the right — remember, property is a right, not the thing — to cut it down and saw it into lumber, any more than you could trade something to me for the lumber and own what you make out of the lumber — neither of us made the tree, and therefore neither of us could possibly have the right to dispose of the tree in any way.

And what about livestock?  You are not God, and did not make that horse, cow, or dog.  That being the case, you cannot own that horse, cow, or dog, any more than you can own land or natural resources that you did not create.

Thus, how you define (or, more accurately, redefine) property and other rights changes what those things mean, obviously.  This is, in part, why the virtual universal adoption of Keynesian economics throughout the world has been such a disaster: John Maynard Keynes built his system on the principle that the State has the power to (as he put it) “re-edit the dictionary,” that is, change the meanings of terms, alter contracts, and generally exercise absolute control over human life.  As he declared,

Keynes: the State has the right to re-edit the dictionary.
“It is a peculiar characteristic of money contracts that it is the State or Community not only which enforces delivery, but also which decides what it is that must be delivered as a lawful or customary discharge of a contract which has been concluded in terms of the money-of-account.  The State, therefore, comes in first of all as the authority of law which enforces the payment of the thing which corresponds to the name or description in the contract.  But it comes in doubly when, in addition, it claims the right to determine and declare what thing corresponds to the name, and to vary its declaration from time to time — when, that is to say, it claims the right to re-edit the dictionary.  This right is claimed by all modern States and has been so claimed for some four thousand years at least. It is when this stage in the evolution of money has been reached that Knapp’s Chartalism — the doctrine that money is peculiarly a creation of the State — is fully realized.  (John Maynard Keynes, A Treatise on Money, Volume I: The Pure Theory of Money. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1930, 4.)

This is pure moral relativism, the basis of all totalitarian systems, as both Heinrich Rommen and Mortimer Adler pointed out in discussions on the natural law.  All that changes with the many redefinitions is the outward form of socialism.  The substance remains intact, as we will see tomorrow.

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