As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Pope Benedict XV was not able to make any significant progress against the advance of the new things of socialism, modernism, and the New Age first because of World War I, and then his premature death in the flu pandemic following the war. It was left to his successor, Pope Pius XI, to carry on the struggle.
|Pope Pius XI|
As he stated in Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, his first encyclical, the new things of the modern world and their rapid spread were of primary concern to Pius XI. He was aware, of course, that modernism — under which he included socialism and New Age thought — permeated all levels of society “like a contagious disease.” (Ubi Arcano, § 59.) Worse, “even some among the best of our laity and of the clergy, seduced by the false appearance of truth which some of these doctrines possess, have not been altogether immune from error.” (Ibid.)
Foremost among the modernist doctrines Pius XI condemned were totalitarianism, which opposes the dignity and sovereignty of every human being, and socialism, which attacks private property, the chief support of human dignity. (Ibid., § 60.) Both totalitarianism and socialism, while claiming to establish and maintain some form of Heaven on Earth, only succeed (as Fulton Sheen warned) in creating a living Hell. For that reason, Pius XI took as the motto of his pontificate — and as the title of his first encyclical — “The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.”
Nor was Pius XI whitewashing or “baptizing” modernism and socialism, attempting to distinguish “good” modernism and socialism from “bad” modernism and socialism as so many commentators still insist. It was, rather, a complete refutation of the New Christianity and Neo-Catholicism.
Pius XI made it clear that sovereignty resides in the human person and not the collective, and that the goal is the spiritual Reign of Christ the King in the hearts of men, not the material Kingdom of God on Earth. The pope’s social doctrine thereby directly challenged the central tenet of modernism and socialism that puts sovereignty in the collective instead of in actual human beings.
This breakthrough in moral philosophy relied on Pius XI’s realization that ordinary people can directly access the common good, the common good being that vast network of institutions within which people as “political animals” acquire and develop virtue. This sounds unimportant until we know that before Pius XI, even authorities such as Msgr. Taparelli assumed that no one can access the common good directly. They believed the institutions of society — the common good — are either fixed and unchangeable, or too big for “just folks” to deal with, and consequently can only be affected indirectly.
Assuming the common good is not directly accessible automatically means that the best anyone can do socially is to be personally virtuous and hope his good example inspires others to act virtuously as well. Since the usual way people act virtuously in society is by rulers passing good laws and citizens obeying them, Aristotle and Aquinas called the virtue that relates to the common good “legal justice.”
To some commentators, calling the virtue directed to the common good “legal justice” means that if people refuse to act virtuously (or in the way those in power claim is virtuous) the State not only has the right, but the duty to force them to be virtuous. This changes the role of the State from punishing evil to coercing good. From a Catholic perspective, this offends against human dignity, violates free will, and nullifies or denies natural rights inhering in the human person, vesting them in the collective — the hellish Kingdom of God on Earth of the socialists and modernists.
|Fulton J. Sheen|
Centuries later, Taparelli needed something to counter the “democratic religion” of socialism. The error of socialism is that humanity as a whole can be perfected and the Kingdom of God on Earth established by denying natural rights and only letting people have such rights as benefit humanity as a whole.
The problem, of course (as Fulton Sheen would point out) is that socialism upends the proper order of things by reversing the direction of legal justice. Traditionally, the way to develop and maintain a culture of virtue is for individuals to act virtuously and influence humanity as a whole indirectly, by example. Socialism takes the virtue that already presumably exists in the collective and tries to force individuals to conform to whatever “vision of virtue” the most powerful, such as the Incorruptible paragon of Republican Virtue, Citizen Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (1758-1794), wish to impose directly on everyone else. (Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 51-52.)
Taparelli therefore expanded Aristotle’s concept of legal justice and restored the proper direction to legal justice. His principle of social justice did this by adding that whatever is done to reform the common good, even though indirect, must always be in conformity with the natural law.
|Pope Leo XIII|
This is important because the natural law is written in the hearts of all human beings and not in the collective. That being the case, all laws must respect fundamental natural rights such as life, liberty, and private property, which cannot be violated even to obtain the greatest good. (Cf. John 11:50, 18:14.) Very broadly, this is what Pius XI meant by “the Reign of Christ the King.” It is not an earthly empire like the socialist or modernist Kingdom of God on Earth, but a justly structured common good that provides the environment within which people can become virtuous and prepare them for Heaven.
There was, however, a problem. Leo XIII clearly had Taparelli’s principle of social justice in mind when he issued Rerum Novarum. He had been precise in what was needed to provide the institutional environment for people to become virtuous: widespread capital ownership. What he did not do was explain effectively how to restructure the institutions of society to provide that environment or give a feasible means to finance widespread capital ownership.
As a result, both capitalists and socialists assumed that the pope was just telling people to do the right thing, with “the right thing” depending on what the capitalists and socialists wanted it to be. All of them believed the common good could not be accessed directly. It was therefore not subject to restructuring.
Further, they believed the only way to finance widespread capital ownership was to rely on poor people cutting consumption to save out of an inadequate income. They could then be incapable of purchasing assets that the rich refused to sell.
Capitalists therefore decided that things were fine the way they were because the pope had defended private property as sacred and inviolable, justifying their greed. Socialists thought that things would be fine the way they planned because the pope had redefined private property to provide widespread capital ownership, justifying their envy.
It turned out both were wrong.