Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What is Socialism?, I: The Natural Law


Every so often in an argument we define socialism, and almost as often we have people (with varying degrees of exasperation) inform us that we don’t know what we’re talking about, because they define socialism differently.  That, of course, makes us wrong and them right.
"What? Who? Me?"
What such critics don’t seem to realize is something that G.K. Chesterton made a key point in his book that most people think is about St. Thomas Aquinas, “the Dumb Ox of Sicily.”  It’s not.  It’s really about the nature of truth, and is an introduction to a method of understanding truth as truth from the perspective of Aquinas.
That is, in fact, why Etienne Gilson considered a book that actually says very little about Aquinas or his philosophy the best book on Aquinas.  Like a micro version of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book (1940), Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox” (1933) gives you an approach to Aquinas, not Aquinas.
And the point Chesterton made?  After describing how Aquinas blew his top at the leader of the Latin Averroists, Siger of Brabant (who claimed that truth is not always true, and that there are different kinds of truth), Chesterton commented,
At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands, what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand.  It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else’s principles, but not on his own.  After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.  (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox”.  New York: Image Books, 1956, 95.)
"Uh, huh. I don't understand socialism, and you do?"
So, when we define socialism as “the abolition of private property in capital,” we tend not to be convinced by critics and commentators who rush in where the Angelic Doctor fears to tread and inform us that we are stupid.  This is because they claim socialism is not the abolition of private property in capital, but something else entirely that is the opposite of what we just said.
The problem here is twofold.  One, such critics don’t understand private property.  Two, they don’t understand socialism.  This makes for a somewhat volatile mix when trying to convince us we’re wrong (and stupid) about private property and socialism.
It is also a trifle ridiculous, because often these critics are Catholics, which means they allegedly accept papal teachings on, e.g., socialism and private property . . . with which the definitions used by the Just Third Way just happen to agree. . . .
This is because the Just Third Way and Catholic social teaching share a common basis in the natural law — which the Catholic Church has infallibly declared is discernible by the force and light of human reason alone.  This was stated in the Canons of the First Vatican Council, given primacy of place in the Oath Against Modernism, and reiterated in the opening of Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical “Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine.”  The popes have repeated this so many times that you might think they consider it important. . . .
Feel lucky, punk? Ready to take on the Grand Champion?
Let’s start with private property, since that misunderstanding seems to be at the heart of the problem.  To discuss private property intelligently, however, we have to know that it is a natural right . . . and what it means for something to be a “natural right.”
Our answer is going to be given within the confines of the principles of Aristotelian-Thomism, the philosophy that underpins both Catholic social teaching and the Just Third Way.  And that means one thing: don’t try to disprove our arguments or prove we’re stupid based on something that is not Aristotelian-Thomism.
In Aristotelian-Thomism, the natural law, the general code of human behavior, is held to be part of human nature itself.  That means every human being who ever lived, lives, or will live has the full spectrum of natural rights in their fullness by nature itself, no ifs, ands, or buts.  Period.
This is an important point.  Human beings have natural rights.  Humanity does not have natural rights.  That is because a “human being” is a fact created by God, while “humanity” is an idea made by human beings (we’re distinguishing between creating proper and making — artificing out of God-provided materials — here).  Human beings have an existence separate from their Creator.  Humanity has no existence separate from its makers.
The original deep, fat friar.
Human beings have rights because the Creator built them into the fact of existing as a human being as a single act (there is a really deep philosophical argument here about God’s Will and Intellect being inseparable that we won’t trouble you with).  Every human being is therefore automatically a human person; “person” is here defined as “that which has rights.”
Humanity, an artificial construct, only has such rights as the human beings who made and applied the idea choose to delegate to it — if at all.  Humanity, or any other “corporation” (strictly speaking, incorporation means “put into a body,” and thus applies to any organized body of humanity) therefore only has rights — if it has rights — artificially.
That is why human beings are called “natural persons,” and corporations are called “artificial persons.”  God creates natural persons (except Himself; He is “uncreated”) out of nothing.  Human beings make artificial persons out of whatever they need and is available; God is a Creator, human beings are artificers.
God is the natural law, and He built the natural law into each human being.  Each human being therefore has all natural rights, among the most important of which are life, liberty . . . and private property, which we will look at tomorrow.
#30#

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