In today’s world it is easy to get the impression that the meaning and purpose of life is for everyone’s needs to be provided by someone else and all desires gratified without effort on the part of the recipient. Current thought as reported in the media suggests that a justly structured social order is one in which matters are arranged in such a way that as many people as possible can remain permanent children, complete with “safe spaces” and periodic “time outs” for temper tantrums.
|"Like, wow, man, get your own safe space. This is mine."|
In all probability, however, that impression is largely generated by media hype. It is helped along by academics who, if they believe their own propaganda, think they can design the perfect society. Life would be free from want and care simply by stripping everyone (except academics and politicians) of power and turning people into dependents of the State.
In the modern world most people — the ones generally disregarded by the media — would probably go along with or remain ignorant of the proposals of academics, fringe groups, or the economic and financial élites that control the world’s monetary systems. This would not necessarily be because they want to, but because they see no alternative to the current system that concentrates wealth and distributes power on the basis of political expedience instead of justice. They have to go along to get along.
|Notice we put this image on the left. . . . ?|
According to media reports, the democratic socialist movement in America originated in the three socialist parties co-founded by Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926), Social Democracy of America (1897), Social Democratic Party of America (1898), and the Socialist Party of America (1901). Despite Debs’s remarkable performance in the 1912 presidential race, however, the movement did not pick up steam until the so-called global “Great Recession” of the late 2000s and early 2010. (“Rise of the Democratic Socialists,” The Week, July 30, 2018, http://theweek.com/articles/786937/rise-democratic-socialists, accessed August 1, 2018.)
Democratic socialism actually goes back much further than its adherents believe, however. As our research demonstrates, modern socialism began in the early nineteenth century as “the democratic religion,” a materialist replacement for traditional faiths.
|"Party like it's 1848, Dude!"|
Modern socialism first appeared in reaction to the totalitarian excesses of the French Revolution. It was promoted as a replacement for outdated traditional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, which seemed incapable of dealing with the problems that arose with the rise of nationalism and the Industrial Revolution. Atheistic “scientific socialism,” which Karl Marx (1818-1883) called “communism” to distinguish it from forms of socialism tainted by religion, only made its appearance a generation later.
Whatever its roots, the latest phase of the movement got its primary impetus from the growing uncertainty many people today have about the future. Especially in the United States, millennials were confronted with a rapidly rising cost of education and a greatly diminished “jobs market” — the latter an interesting concept in itself.
In search of something, anything, that would guarantee them the security they believed they had been promised and that was their due, millennials flocked to the standard of democratic socialism. Official membership of the Democratic Socialists of America increased 900% from 2005 to 2015. (Ibid.)
|"Guys, like, you know I never said half the things I said."|
In religious society, particularly in the Catholic Church, the election of Pope Francis in 2013 seemed almost as if Heaven itself was handing down a mandate for democratic socialism. Francis was now head of an organization wracked by scandal and saddled with what many perceived as outdated and inadequate responses to the evils afflicting the modern world. His initial statements as reported in the media appeared to endorse democratic socialism in all but name as his proposed solution to the problems of Church and State.
When — as was inevitable — Francis failed to live up to the expectations of the socialists for not following through on things he never said and promises he never made, advocates of the new socialism cast their nets wider. This led seekers to “Europe and Its Discontents,” an essay in the anthology Europe: Today and Tomorrow (2004) by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. After Ratzinger’s election as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the essay was revised and included in Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam (2006). The latter is a compendium in the form of a dialogue with the atheist philosopher and politician Marcello Pera, at that time president of the Italian Senate.
Although it was written before Ratzinger became pope, a passage from the essay was widely touted as proof of a papal endorsement of democratic socialism. Like Francis’s reported statements, however, the piece was not what it might have seemed at first glance.
|"I do wish people would would stop putting words in my mouth."|
In the essay, after sketching a very brief history of Europe up to the French Revolution, the cardinal noted that out of the wreckage of the vestiges of the Holy Roman Empire two views of the State emerged, both of which were “liberal.” These, to paraphrase and summarize, were:
· French or European (Totalitarian) Liberalism. The collective or the State itself is sovereign. People have only such rights as are useful or expedient and are agreed upon by consensus or by those who have power. Church and State are completely divorced; the State absorbs the Church, or the Church takes over the State.
· English or Germanic (Laissez Faire) Liberalism. The political or economic élite that controls the State is sovereign. This élite has whatever rights it can maintain against others, while ordinary people only have such rights as the élite finds useful or expedient.
Ratzinger then noted a third model, the American system which he hesitated to call “liberal,” although the label is accurate. In the system that developed in the United States, people come together to form a state, a state does not create people.
|"You ought to see what they've done to me, Ben."|
As declared in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, the idea of the American system is that the State “establish[es] justice” and keeps order at the direction of “We, the People.” In this way a “more perfect union” is formed that provides the proper environment for every person to promote “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as the Declaration of Independence puts it.
In a state in which economic and political sovereignty starts with the human person — not society in any form (Cf. Divini Redemptoris, § 29.) — the State has only such rights as the citizens delegate to it. Organized religion (“Church”) and State are separated into their respective spheres, but with common areas of interaction and mutual support. Each person is free to follow any religious or spiritual belief or philosophy as long as no one is harmed. Nor may the State, the only “social tool” with legitimate monopoly power, interfere.
Although the United States is predominantly Protestant (at least in culture), the future pope noted that the American model allows more equitable cooperation between any organized religion and the government. As he noted favorably, if not entirely correctly, “[t]he religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a pre-political and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life.” (Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. New York: Basic Books, 2006, 70.)
|"Uh, huh. Don't tell ME God told you that."|
(Ratzinger, of course, seems to have meant “political” in its much broader, Aristotelian sense. This would not be prohibited under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which precludes control by any religious body over the monopoly powers of the State, i.e., governance and administration.)
Despite the prevailing Protestant culture and the limitations on organized religions — and surprising many — Ratzinger maintained that in regard to Church-State relations the U.S. “is in profound compliance with the faith.” (Ibid., 71) He then made the statement that a number of people have taken as an endorsement of democratic socialism:
Let us return to the situation in Europe. In the nineteenth century, the two models that I described above were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic. Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected. It also managed to appeal to various religious denominations. In England it became the political party of the Catholics, who had never felt quite at home among either the Protestant conservatives or the liberals. In Wilhelmine Germany, too, Catholic groups felt closer to democratic socialism than to the rigidly Prussian and Protestant conservative forces. In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine, and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness. [Emphasis added.] (Ibid., 71-72; cf. Joseph Ratzinger, Europe: Today and Tomorrow. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2004, 28.)
As this passage gives the impression that Ratzinger gave a moderate approval of socialist goals, it is possible for someone seeking to justify democratic socialism to take it as something of an endorsement. A critique of Marxist or totalitarian socialism that follows (Ibid., 72-74.) only strengthens that impression. There are, however, two serious problems with asserting that the passage constitutes an endorsement of democratic socialism or anything else.
|"They've twisted our words since before my day."|
One, given the context, it is difficult to see how the expression “close to” could be construed as an endorsement of socialism of any kind. Instead, Ratzinger explained that when socialism first appeared, it split into a totalitarian branch corresponding to European liberalism, and a democratic branch that did not quite correlate with English liberalism. (Ratzinger dated the origin of socialism from the first general use of the term in the late 1840s, although it was coined in in the early 1830s.)
Consequently, as Ratzinger related, European Catholics rejected both the “conservative” (elitist) liberalism on the English/Germanic model and French/European collectivist liberalism. They turned instead to the democratic socialist model.
This, in the absence of the American alternative, appeared to hold the middle ground between totalitarian liberalism and its socialist counterpart in the form of Marxist communism, and elitist liberalism and its monopoly capitalist counterpart. Democratic socialism was therefore the closest to Catholic teaching among the available alternatives in Europe where the American system did not operate.
As Ratzinger implied by contrasting the situation in the United States with that of Europe, however, democratic socialism and the alternatives are not Catholic teaching. Democratic socialism not only does not tend to the good, but in Ratzinger’s opinion is part of the problem.
|Durkheim: "God is a divinized society!!"|
Two, in his conclusion to his critique of Marxism a few pages after the cited passage, Ratzinger noted that “[t]he unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe.” (Ratzinger and Pera, Without Roots, op. cit., 74.) He then declared,
[H]uman rights and human dignity should be presented as values that take precedence over the jurisdiction of any state. Fundamental rights are neither created by the lawmaker nor granted to the citizen. “But rather they exist in their own right and must always be respected by lawmakers, to whom they are given beforehand as values belonging to a higher order.” [Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, 88, 114-15. (Note in text.)] The value of human dignity, which takes precedence over all political action and all political decision-making refers to the Creator: only He can establish values that are grounded in the essence of humankind and that are inviolable. The existence of values that cannot be modified by anyone is the true guarantee of our freedom and of human greatness; in this fact, the Christian faith sees the mystery of the Creator and the condition of man, who was made in God’s image. (Ratzinger and Pera, Without Roots, op. cit., 74-75.)
Since the fundamental principle of all forms of socialism is that the welfare of the people as a whole takes precedence over the needs, wants, desires, and even rights of any child, woman, or man, there is only one possible interpretation of Ratzinger’s statement. That is, while socialism, democratic or otherwise, may contain much that is good and true, even to the extent of a certain similarity to Catholic social doctrine — “which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.) — it is essentially and irrevocably directly contrary to nature itself.