The reason so many socialists insist either that they are not socialists, or that socialism doesn’t involve the abolition of private property as a fundamental tenet, is that they don’t understand property — private or otherwise. This, in turn, leads to a misunderstanding of money and credit, and even of “personality,” i.e., having rights — keeping in mind that having rights defines you as a person.
|"Property" is the right to be an owner and the rights of use.|
Which segues into a discussion on rights and socialism. That’s convenient, because “property” is not the thing owned, as many otherwise intelligent people think, but the right to own things, and the bundle of rights that define how an owner may use things. Property is rights you have to and over things, not the things themselves.
The socialist understanding of rights is relatively simple. The human race as a whole — humanity, the collective, community, State, or however you want to put it — has rights, but individual children, women, and men do not, except as delegated to them by the collective as necessary or expedient.
And therein lies the problem.
|Aristotle: the general derives from the particular.|
You see, “humanity” is an abstraction, and abstractions are human creations, at least within the Aristotelian-Thomist framework. Also known as “generalizations” and “ideas” or “ideals,” human beings create abstractions to help them deal with reality. We can’t know everything in its entirety, so we apply our reason to what we observe with our senses, and come up with a way of classifying things so our brains can handle them.
This is called “speculative reason” or “theoretical reason,” as opposed to “practical reason.” Speculative reason is based on generalities and abstractions. Practical reason is based on specific instances.
For example, every animal we have come across that has four legs, fur, teeth, barks, and slobbers all over our best shoes right before we need them has been called a “dog.” This is practical reason.
We therefore “abstract” from this evidence and form an “abstraction” by means of which anything we come across that has four legs, fur, teeth, barks, and slobbers all over our best shoes right before we need them we term a “dog.” This is speculative reason.
We usually refine our abstractions as we grow older and gain experience, but that’s not the point here. The point? That human beings go from the “particular” to the “general” or the “abstract” when forming ideas. We do not go from ideas that are somehow born into us and that exist before we are born.
|"I'm a real dog, not an abstraction."|
We call that critter a dog because it conforms to the general, abstract idea of dog that we have put together from observing other, particular dogs, not because we already have an inborn general idea of what a dog is and the beast conforms to that. Real dogs exist before we can create the abstraction “dog”; dogs do not come into existence because of a need or use for something that conforms to the ideal dogginess. Dogginess has no existence independent of actual dogs. Dogginess exists because dogs exist, dogs do not exist because dogginess exists.
It’s the same with natural rights. Particular people do not have rights because the generalization/abstraction of the collective has rights and grants them as needed or expedient to individuals.
|"I'm Themis, dude. 'Justice' is my job, not my name."|
No, people have rights because they are built in to human nature. We figure out what these rights are and how to exercise them based on reason and observation, forming a general idea of what our rights are. We then conclude that all human beings have these rights because every human being we’ve come across has them (at least, we should, if we’re thinking logically). Consequently, we say that “humanity” has rights not because “humanity” is a thing with an existence independent of human beings, but because it’s the easiest way of saying that every single human being who has existed, exists, or ever will exist, has rights.
The bottom line here is that rights exist because persons exist; persons do not exist because rights exist. Rights derive from the fact of individual, personal existence; personal existence does not derive from rights. Consequently, the abstraction of humanity only has such rights as derive from individuals; individuals do not have such rights as derive from humanity.
Not according to socialism, though. It is a fundamental principle of socialism — and the primary reason that, e.g., the Catholic Church condemns socialism — that rights are vested in the collective, in humanity, and not in individual human beings. In socialism, therefore, rights can be taken away or redefined if, in the opinion of those in power, the common good or the greater good demands it.
In socialism, human beings only have such rights, or rights at all, if the collective (or whoever claims to speak for the collective) so decrees, and rights can be taken away at the will of the strongest. This is what Pope Pius XI meant when he explained,
|Pius XI: Socialism is bad.|
If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.)
Not that we need to rely on what the Catholic Church says. That’s just a handy “third party endorsement” of our reasoning as to why socialism is, frankly, delusional. It is based on an assumption that anyone who applies the principles of reason consistently must reject as illogical.
So much for the broad discussion, i.e., the Big Reason why socialism is not a good model for the structuring of a society. It sounds good, of course, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” but while redistribution may be necessary in emergency situations, it cannot be implemented as the usual way of doing things. Why should I work so that you can eat? Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it in one of his debates with Stephen Douglas,
That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle. (Abraham Lincoln, October 15, 1858, Seventh Debate with Stephen Douglas.)
But let's get down to particulars. Why private property? Aren’t life and liberty more important than mere things . . . oops, we mean, rights to and over mere things? Why private property is so important is something we’ll look at tomorrow.