Someone recently sent us a link to an article from the Houston Catholic Worker, Volume XXVI, No. 2, March-April, 2007, “How an Unknown Text Could Throw New Light on John Paul II’s Views on Economics.” The article was reprinted with permission from Catholic Life of Cheshire, England.
The author, Jonathan Luxmoore, comes across as somewhat confused about the difference between capitalism and socialism, and why the Catholic Church criticizes the former, but condemns the latter. As with most articles in the Houston Catholic Worker, there is a definite bias in favor of socialism (which we, along with Karl Marx and the Catholic Church [Rerum Novarum, § 15], define as the abolition of private property in capital), with the unconscious assumption that the only alternative to socialism (considered by, e.g., G. K. Chesterton to be the only thing worse than capitalism) is capitalism, construed by the advocates of socialism as the only thing worse than socialism. (Some choice. . . .)
Now, we are automatically suspicious of anything coming from the Houston Catholic Worker. A while back they published a calumnious article attacking CESJ. This was in their June 2005 issue. When the errors were pointed out to them, the editors — Mark and Louis Zwick (who were also the authors of the article) — refused either to acknowledge requests for correction or issue any retraction. We wrote to them three times, asking them to listen to our side, and they completely ignored the requests.
The Zwicks’ article remained up on the internet until a year or so ago. At that time we cited their article in a letter to a former supporter of CESJ as evidence that the calumnies spread by another critic of CESJ, on whom the Zwicks relied in writing their article (and who was copied on the letter), were apparently having the intended effect. The critic evidently warned the Zwicks that their article and subsequent actions had been used to substantiate the case against the critic.
Faced with irrefutable evidence that they had published an article that contained obvious falsehoods, and that they had failed to correct the situation after repeated requests, the Zwicks took immediate action: they removed the article, sweeping the evidence of their lack of journalistic integrity under the rug.
What makes the Zwicks’ actions particularly . . . interesting . . . is the fact that they had previously accepted a monetary contribution from CESJ (we have the cancelled check). Students of Medieval literature will recall that Dante put such "Betrayers of Benefactors" in the Ninth Circle of Hell, Round 4, Judecca (after Judas Iscariot), completely encased in ice for all eternity.
That being said, the article by Jonathan Luxmoore has, despite the dubious reliability of the venue in which it (re)appeared, a great deal of good in it. Nevertheless, the author completely misinterprets John Paul II's views. He (correctly) argues that the "conservatives’" insistence that the pope supported capitalism is wrong, but undermines his own argument because he suggests that the pope was really (wink, wink) supporting socialism (tee hee), although not the Marxist variation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Sifting through the article, it is clear that neither the author nor the “conservatives” the author denigrates understands the difference between capitalism and socialism (both necessarily based on past savings), and the Just Third Way (based on future savings).
By rejecting or remaining deliberately ignorant of future savings (the banking principle) you are necessarily, repeat, necessarily forced into either capitalism or socialism. There is no other alternative in the limited worldview dictated by the slavery of past savings. Thus the capitalists — necessarily — regard anyone who disagrees with them as socialists, and the socialists — necessarily — regard anyone who disagrees with them as capitalists.
Trapped by the slavery of past savings (the currency principle), both the capitalists and the socialists assume as true what has been proven completely untrue: that the only way to finance new capital formation is to cut consumption and save, then invest. (Cf. Dr. Harold G. Moulton, The Formation of Capital, 1935.)
Accepting the past savings fallacy means that, if you respect the traditional, natural law understanding of private property, only the rich as a rule can own. If, however, you assume that you can change the definition of a natural right such as private property, liberty (and, usually, life) — as Keynes did in his Treatise on Money (1930) — you can implement (your version of) God's Will by forcing others to adopt your views, using the coercive power of the State to crush all opposition to your opinion that slander and libel didn’t take care of.
Frankly, both the capitalists and the socialists are wrong, but the socialists are more wrong than the capitalists. That is why the Catholic Church criticizes capitalism, but condemns socialism (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120). The only hope is the Just Third Way, which (not coincidentally) Pope John Paul II personally encouraged CESJ's work in developing.
The people at the Houston Catholic Worker, the neo-distributists, the Professional Chestertonians, the neo-solidarists, and others who tout their faith-based “Catholic systems” in opposition to the Just Third Way are, not to put too fine a point on it, on rather shaky ground. First, they very carefully ignore the simple fact that CESJ received the personal encouragement of a pope that many regard as the greatest pope of modern times.
There is also the clear statement by the Catholic Church on more than one occasion that the Catholic Church neither presents nor endorses any [economic] system (Centesimus Annus, § 43). Its only concern is that whatever system is in place adhere to some rather obvious natural law principles to respect essential human dignity. Kelso and Adler’s three principles of economic justice from Chapter 5 of The Capitalist Manifesto are an application of sound precepts of the natural law, and which amplify existing Catholic social teaching in a way that can be applied in the Just Third Way.
If anything else is needed, the reliance of all these groups and more on faith in an area where reason is presumed to apply also directly contradicts explicit teachings of the Catholic Church that the natural law can be discerned by the force of human reason alone.
Faith may guide our understanding of the natural law, but it does not determine it. That is why religions that have different faith traditions, Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and so on, can come to identical conclusions about the principles of natural law based on reason (especially life, liberty, and property), yet continue to disagree on matters based solely on faith.
As Fulton J. Sheen pointed out in his first book, God and Intelligence (1925), people who undermine reason may have good intentions (heck, even Hitler thought he was doing good — just read Mein Kampf), but by abandoning or rejecting the first principle of reason — truth — they have committed “mental suicide.”