As Popes Leo XIII and John Paul I well knew (and as Karl Marx summed up), socialist theory can be stated most succinctly as “the abolition of private property.” As we saw in the previous posting in this series, that is why Leo XIII declared that widespread capital ownership is the sure specific for socialism, modernism, and the New Age.
Simply saying that the pure theory of socialism can be summed up in a short phrase is, obviously, insufficient. As with all such declarations, a great deal is left out, and people must extrapolate to get the broad picture.
|Karl Marx was not a socialist?|
This gives socialists, modernists, and New Agers the opening or escape hatch they need. They will argue endlessly about those five words. Adherents of the “new things” will claim that the communism Marx specified is not true socialism, that socialism doesn’t really abolish private property, etc., so on, so forth. In other words, they will say whatever comes to hand that allows them to remain socialists, especially if they don’t want to call themselves socialists.
This does not, however, change the fact that private property is important for two reasons. One, private property gives the owner the right to receive the “fruits of ownership” (control and income), whether what one owns is labor or capital. Two, private property is the chief protection of life and liberty and is thus the principal vehicle for ensuring justice.
One of the most serious problems with socialism, as well as its offshoots modernism and the New Age, then, is the fact that no one seems to mention justice and charity more loudly and more often than socialists, modernists, and New Agers. At the same time, no one seems less in touch than they with the fundamental understanding of truth, justice, and charity.
|G.K. Chesterton, a sense of justice.|
Admittedly the socialists, et al., at least acknowledge that the sense of justice is inherent in every human being. As John Paul I said in his letter to G.K. Chesterton (a strong advocate for widespread ownership of capital and fellow opponent of the “new things”), “The sense of justice that is in every man, of whatever faith, demands that the good done, the evil suffered, be rewarded, that the hunger for life innate in all be satisfied.” (Albino Luciani, Illustrissimi: Letters from Pope John Paul I. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978, 17.)
Socialism and its offshoots, however, always neglect, ignore, or out-and-out reject a fatal weakness in their programs, even when they seem to have achieved their greatest triumphs. That is, changing the definition of natural rights is not substantially different from abolishing them outright, thereby trying to change human nature, whatever rhetoric is employed to convince themselves and others to the contrary.
This is delusional. Truth that is not true is not, well, true, any more than justice that is unjust, or charity that is not charitable are either true justice or charity. Nothing can both “be” and “not be” at the same time under the same conditions — that is the “negative” expression of the first principle of reason, the “law of (non) contradiction.”
Thus, as John Paul I said in his letter to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, “An apparent success, even sensational, is in reality a failure if it is won by trampling underfoot truth, justice, charity.” (Ibid., 35.) A lie is thereby embedded at the most fundamental level of one’s thought and actions despite the fact that, as John Paul I stressed a number of times, the end does not justify the means.
Obviously, then, whether you call it socialism, communism, or anything else, if something remains inherently socialist and changes or abolishes what it means for something to be a natural right, it is not compatible with either natural or supernatural law — which assumes the validity of natural law as a necessary precondition. This is because it is based on a “concept of society . . . utterly foreign to Christian truth.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 117.)
The abolition of private property is simply the most obvious manifestation of socialism’s war on truth. That is the case whether that abolition consists of outright confiscation, or merely allowing private ownership as long as the community finds it useful or expedient, or someone with a bigger club comes along and takes it.
|Leo XIII: private property is important.|
But why is private property so important, and why did Leo XIII stress so much that capital must be widely owned as the essential counter to the “new things” of the modern world? To understand that, we have to understand what property is.
First of all, property is not the thing owned. It is a right or, more accurately, a bundle of rights that define an owner’s relationship to other persons with respect to the thing owned.
To oversimplify somewhat, there are two “parts” to private property or to any other natural right, for that matter. First and foremost, there is the right to be an owner inherent in human nature itself. This “part” of property is absolute and inalienable.
It is important to note that, contrary to assertions of the socialists, the right to be an owner — the right to property — is not vested in humanity, but in humans, not in mankind, but in men (meaning “member of the human species,” which includes but is not limited to adult human males). To maintain otherwise is to make a tremendous error.
|Durkheim: religion is social, not spiritual.|
To say that humanity in general, the abstraction of the collective created by human beings, has rights that actual flesh and blood human beings created by God do not have is (not to mince words) ludicrous. That is just a way of saying that collective man is greater than God . . . which not surprisingly is precisely what the New Age guru David Émile Durkheim claimed when he said that religion is a social, not a spiritual phenomenon, and that “God” is a “divinized society.”
That is the first “part” of property and is necessarily a little vague other than to say that every human being has the right to be an owner. As Dr. Heinrich Rommen said of the natural law, himself using the example of private property, it gives general norms only, not specifics. The universal prohibition against theft, e.g., “Thou shalt not steal,” as Rommen said, necessarily implies that private property pertains to natural law. It says nothing about any specific social or economic application of that principle, whether capitalism or the Distributist State.
Reason does tell us, however, that whatever the particular arrangement of society or the economy, the exercise of a natural right must never be defined in any way that nullifies the right itself. As Pope Pius XII explained,
The dignity of the human person then, speaking generally, requires as a natural foundation of life the right to the use of the goods of the earth. To this right corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant private ownership of property, if possible, to all. Positive legislation, regulating private ownership may change and more or less restrict its use. But if legislation is to play its part in the pacification of the community, it must see to it that the worker, who is or will be the father of a family, is not condemned to an economic dependence and servitude which is irreconcilable with his rights as a person. (Evangelii Praecones, § 52.)
This, then, is the second “part” of property and all other rights: defining how a right may be exercised within the limits of the natural law and the bounds of the common good. What often baffles socialists and capitalists alike (albeit in different ways) is the fact that “absoluteness” and “limitedness” are inextricably joined in the same thing at the same time, and that both socialists and capitalists rely on the combination to arrive at their respective positions:
· The socialist believes that only the collective (whether in the person of the State or any other form) has the absolute right to own. The right to be an owner, what can be owned, and how it can be used, are all limited.
· The extreme capitalist (we did not specify “extreme socialist” because the socialist position is itself inherently extreme) believes that the right to be an owner is absolute, but so is the right to own whatever you want — up to and including other human beings — as well as what you can do with what you own . . . but the number of people that may exercise these absolute rights to and of property is very limited.
|John Paul I: socialism contrary to nature.|
Here, by the way, is another reason why the Catholic Church condemns socialism outright, but “only” condemns the abuses inherent in capitalism. That is a fine point, true, but theology and philosophy are filled with such hairsplitting and fine distinctions that end up being very large differences.
This is because socialism abolishes private property as a natural right altogether. Forms of socialism might recognize private property as a statutory or civil right of some kind, but it is not considered inalienable. If the need is deemed great enough, whether individual or social, the right to and the rights of private property can be rescinded. Socialism may on occasion bring more material benefits to some groups than capitalism for a time, but it only does so by denying human nature itself, and often only works for a short time before its inherent weaknesses begin appearing.
Capitalism does not abolish private property altogether, only for most people. Capitalists often pay lip service to the universal and inalienable right to be an owner, but their acknowledgement of the universal right to be an owner is voided in practice.
Thus, where socialism abolishes natural law (or claims to), capitalism distorts natural law all out of recognition, to the point where Marx’s claim that the capitalists have already abolished private property has the ring of truth — but only the ring, sound without substance. Capitalism can and often does impose horrifying conditions on others, not by denying human nature across the board, but by limiting full humanity and participation in the common good to a few.#30#