If you’ve been paying attention for the past two centuries or so, you might have noticed that “social justice” tends to be equated with socialism quite a bit, especially among Catholics of a certain bent,. This comes across as what might rather confusingly be called a “liberal conservatism,” which manifests as a sort of weird “ultramontanism,” a term meaning “favoring greater or absolute supremacy of papal over national or diocesan authority in the Catholic Church.”
|Is socialism and Catholic social teaching really the same?|
Ordinary ultramontanism means that someone is being rigorous or strict in trying to obey and defend the pope’s authority and teaching. “Alternative fact” ultramontanism, however, vests infallibility in the individual believer instead of in the pope's teaching office (in Catholic belief, the pope is not infallible, his teaching office is). This means that someone can cite the pope as his or her authority for something that no pope ever said, and referencing a power no pope ever had.
Each person can thereby proclaim that his or her interpretation of papal doctrine, statement, glance, appearance, or selection of breakfast food is the only correct understanding of everything and is therefore mandatory. Any deviation from whatever the alternative fact ultramontanist has decided is infallible — regardless what the actual teaching might be or the common sense meaning — means the person doing it is a heretic, dissenter, vile prevaricator, and a really, really, really bad person.
|"Catholic" socialism might not be completely "sane."|
Nowhere has this been more evident than with the claim that socialism is true Catholic doctrine. No matter how often the Catholic Church reminds people that it condemns socialism, a growing number of people insist that their socialism is exempted, isn’t real socialism, or there was never any condemnation, anyway.
That is why, even though the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) is not (as you might guess from that "interfaith" bit) a Catholic or even specifically a religious organization, we were saddened but hardly surprised to read an article from The Catholic Herald, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, “China Is the Best Implementer of Catholic Social Doctrine Says Vatican Bishop.” As the article stated,
“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.
Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.
Now, we’re sure you’ll excuse us if we take His Excellency’s declaration with a little grain of salt. We believe it might not be entirely factual. Amend that. We can’t say that it borders on the delusional, as it entered deep into the Land of Looney long ago and has established permanent residency status.
|Chesterton: neither Catholic teaching nor distributism is socialist.|
The truly sad thing is that the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is supposed to be dedicated to studying applications of Catholic social teaching, not whitewashing totalitarian regimes to advance the socialist agenda. Members evidently don't study something like an orthodox (i.e., non-socialist) version of G.K. Chesterton’s and Hilaire Belloc’s “distributism” or the Just Third Way. Instead they go in for the sort of unsanctified slop that gets peddled as “authentic” Catholic teaching, even as it contradicts the fundamental principles of natural law that provide the foundation for that same Catholic social teaching.
Are Catholic social teaching and socialism of any kind the same thing or even marginally compatible? Hardly. Let’s set aside for the sake of the argument the many and varied human rights abuses, the coercive abortion, the abandoned children and elderly, the overt materialism, consumerism (yes, consumerism — it’s worse than in the U.S. or the U.K.), so on, so forth, rife in the Democratic People's Republic. Let’s just look at the idea of social doctrine itself and see how any form of socialism (and communism is simply “scientific socialism”) measures up with respect to its theoretical and philosophical soundness.
|Taparelli: the principle of social justice.|
First, what is "social justice"? It was in the late 1840s that Monsignor Aloysius Taparelli d’Azeglio, S.J. (1793-1862), a leader in Gregory XVI’s Thomist revival, developed the idea of social justice as a specific, identifiable principle, very nearly a virtue. (Social justice would not be defined as a particular virtue until the work of Pius XI in the twentieth century.) Taparelli intended this as an alternative to the socialist “democratic religion” and Neo-Platonism of the socialists, particularly the renegade priest Hugue Felicité Robert de Lamennais, whose “theory of certitude” posited that the collective, an abstraction created by human beings, was somehow greater than human beings created by God — the principle error of socialism.
“Social justice” was not a new term. It was in occasional use prior to the 1840s but was of extremely ambiguous import. It meant many things, such as common civility, that is, fair and impartial treatment of others outside of the legal system, absorption into the collective in conformity with the socialist Charles Fourier’s blueprint for the “Divine Social Order,” and even the general administration of the legal system and the enforcement of the law, just or unjust.
Under the influence of socialist thought in the 1840s, however, social justice was gradually coming to mean any and all applications of the fundamental socialist, modernist, and New Age principle, i.e., another term for socialism. That is, all things, including the natural law, are subordinate to whatever is desired, especially the amelioration of social conditions. Thus, the principle of socialism relies on changing human nature.
In contrast, the principle of social justice relies on changing human institutions. Taparelli’s principle of social justice was that all things, even (or especially) social improvement and the general welfare, must be subordinate to the natural law as understood in Aristotelian-Thomism.
There are thus absolutes — natural rights inhering in each human person, such as life, liberty, and private property — that must remain sacred and inviolate, regardless of the needs of individuals or society as a whole.
|"No one ca be a good Catholic and a true socialist."|
That is why the popes have condemned all forms of socialism: the idea that a human creation has rights that a divine creation does not, thereby making human beings at one and the same time greater than God, and less than their own creation! (Talk about having false gods before you!) As Pius XI explained in Quadragesimo Anno, the encyclical in which he started to define social justice (which he completed in Divini Redemptoris),
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. . . . 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.
Communist China the best implementer of Catholic social doctrine? We don’t think so. . . .