Unless you’ve been living in a bottle or on the top of a mountain in Tibet, you are probably aware of the massive confusion surrounding the terms “capitalism,” “socialism,” “private property,” “rights,” “duties,” “person,” etc., etc., etc. The fact is that a lot of people are using terms when they have no idea what they really mean, and just put their own private meaning on to things.
|G.K. Chesterton: "I said that?"|
This does not make for civil or even rational discussion. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out in his little book on Thomas Aquinas when he related what happened when Aquinas lost his temper at people who insisted on twisting his words (one of two times he is known to have gotten angry in his entire life),
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. We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue “on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox”. New York: Image Books, 1957, 95-96)
So what has this got to do with anything? Just this. In addition to the constant complaints we’ve always gotten from people who insist that the Just Third Way is capitalist because it promotes widespread capital ownership, we have a rising tide of people who claim that the Just Third Way is socialist because it promotes widespread capital ownership!
|Hilaire Belloc: "Not in this universe."|
No, you read that correctly. It reminds us of Michael Novak’s and Martin Gardener’s respective definitions of what Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc called “distributism.” According to Novak, what Chesterton meant by distributism is what he, Novak meant by “democratic capitalism.” According to Gardener, what Chesterton meant by distributism is what he, Gardener, meant by “democratic socialism.”
Within the past week we had yet another capitalist of some form or other insisting that the Just Third Way is socialist because it calls for widespread capital ownership, and that’s socialism. When we pointed out that socialism is the abolition of private property, not working to make more people owners, the capitalist came back with a long, involved explanation about how making poor people into capital owners is socialism. He wouldn’t say why.
Then we pointed out that Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan encouraged and endorsed the Just Third Way. The capitalist sneered that we were just “dropping names.”
|Ronald Reagan: "I am not now, nor have I ever been a socialist."|
Here is what Reagan said to us, directly, in the speech he gave before the Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice, August 3, 1987:
I’ve long believed one of the mainsprings of our own liberty has been the widespread ownership of property among our people and the expectation that anyone’s child, even from the humblest of families, could grow up to own a business or corporation.
Thomas Jefferson dreamed of a land of small farmers, of shop owners and merchants. Abraham Lincoln signed into law the “Homestead Act” that ensured that the great western prairies of America would be the realm of independent, property-owning citizens-a mightier guarantee of freedom is difficult to imagine.
|John Paul II: "Me neither, Gipp."|
And Pope John Paul II? Did he equate widespread capital ownership with socialism? No, he said just the opposite:
[M]erely converting the means of production into State property in the collectivist system is by no means equivalent to "socializing" that property. We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with every one else. A way towards that goal could be found by associating labour with the ownership of capital, as far as possible, and by producing a wide range of intermediate bodies with economic, social and cultural purposes; they would be bodies enjoying real autonomy with regard to the public powers, pursuing their specific aims in honest collaboration with each other and in subordination to the demands of the common good, and they would be living communities both in form and in substance, in the sense that the members of each body would be looked upon and treated as persons and encouraged to take an active part in the life of the body. (Laborem Exercens, § 14.)
|Fulton Sheen: "When did I become a socialist?"|
Don’t care for that, either? How about Fulton Sheen? In his book, Freedom Under God, he said,
Once you concentrate property in the hands of the few, you create slaves; when you decentralize it, you restore liberty. . . . Private property is the economic guarantee of human liberty. . . . Because the ownership of external things is the sign of freedom, the Church has made the wide distribution of private property the cornerstone of her social program.
Fulton Sheen a socialist? Widespread capital ownership is socialism? Frankly, we couldn’t figure out what the capitalist’s deal was. His response to everything was that he was right and we must be socialists because we’re advocating widespread capital ownership . . . which is the direct antithesis of socialism!
Evidently, in today’s world, it is easy for something to “be” and “not be” at the same time under the same conditions. All you have to do is scream loud enough and you must be right, especially if you can toss in a condescending insult or two.