When is socialism not socialism? When you have defined it as Something Else? No. Socialism that is truly socialism remains socialism, regardless what you may call it.
|Pope Pius XI|
What with the widespread re-editing of the dictionary that’s been going on for the past couple of centuries, as we might have mentioned previously on this blog once or twice, where capitalism is many things under one name, socialism is one thing under many names. The bottom line is that socialism’s theory of human society was condemned by Pope Pius XI: in socialist thought, only humanity in general has rights that may or may not be vested in individual human beings, and this is most clearly seen in the chief tenet of socialism, the abolition of private property. Obviously, no one who truly respects human dignity could accept such a theory.
The problem is that, given the presumed constraints imposed by the slavery of past savings, socialism is so very attractive. It seems divinely inspired, even mandated . . . if (unlike Chesterton and Belloc) you assume that humanity, not God, is at the center of things. As Orestes Brownson put it,
|Orestes A. Brownson|
“[Socialism] wears a pious aspect, it has divine words on its lips, and almost unction in its speech. It is not easy for the unlearned to detect its fallacy, and the great body of the people are prepared to receive it as Christian truth. We cannot deny it without seeming to them to be warring against the true interests of society, and also against the Gospel of our Lord. Never was heresy more subtle, more adroit, better fitted for success. How skillfully it flatters the people! It is transformed into saints, and invested with the saintly character and office. How adroitly, too, it appeals to the people’s envy and hatred of their superiors, and to their love of the world, without shocking their orthodoxy or wounding their piety! Surely Satan has here, in Socialism, done his best, almost outdone himself and would if it were possible, deceive the very elect, so that no flesh should be saved.” (Orestes Brownson, Essays and Reviews Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co, 1852, 502)
Adjusting a little for Brownson’s nineteenth century language (e.g., understand “It is transformed” as “The people are transformed”), we see that socialism puts man, not God, in charge. It does this by taking rights away from the ungodly or undeserving who presumably don’t deserve them, and vests rights only in the godly and deserving . . . as defined by those with the power to impose their will on others.
|Socialism: man becomes God.|
Since not even God can take away the natural rights He has built into human nature without making humanity other than what He made it, or take away the gift of the capacity to acquire and develop faith, hope, and charity (Romans 11:29), socialism requires that man be greater than God. How else could even the collected mass of humanity take away that which God Himself cannot?
Fortunately for the people who desired to circumvent the slavery of past savings instead of abolishing it (and unfortunately for the rest of us), the groundwork had been laid to undermine and subvert the Aristotelian-Thomist foundation of Catholic social teaching even before it had been firmly established. Ironically (a word we’re on the verge of overusing in this series) the attack came from a combination of the two things that Chesterton most despised: theosophy and socialism.
Almost as if it were planned, the attack was all the more devastating because it came simultaneously on two fronts, in the United States and in England. As Chesterton was later to note,
“This error then had many forms; but especially, like nearly every error, it had two forms, a fiercer one which was outside the Church and attacking the Church, and a subtler one, which was inside the Church and corrupting the Church. There has never been a time when the Church was not torn between that invasion and that treason.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox”. New York: Image Books, 1956, 108.)
To summarize (a detailed account would be much too lengthy even for our blog postings, but rest assured, we have the evidence, mostly from contemporary newspaper reports, letters, and diaries of those involved) the first obvious assault came in England from outside the Church with the founding of the Fellowship of the New Life in 1883. The Fellowship was a part of the greater New Life movement within theosophy.
|Annie Besant, co-founder of the Fabian Society.|
Reflecting a distorted understanding of human nature (“New Age is essentially Pelagian in its understanding of human nature.” Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, Pontifical Council for Culture and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 2003, § 4; cf. Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1996, 161), the group sought to attain “the cultivation of a perfect character in each and all” in this life through pacifism, vegetarianism, and simple living. In other words, humanity can become perfect, i.e., divine.
Soon after the founding of the Fellowship, heavily influenced by Henry George’s theories, but expanding them to all forms of capital (George Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, 693), members wanted to begin using the power of the State to convert society to their views. On January 4, 1884 they founded the Fabian Society as their political arm. Largely through the efforts of theosophist, Fabian, and fascist Arthur Joseph Penty (1875-1937), Fabian socialism made great inroads into distributist thought, from which it has yet to be removed.
Nor were the English alone in this, as we will see tomorrow.