As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, disconnecting ordinary people from the ability to produce and the resulting loss of power had serious repercussions throughout the social order in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Traditional institutions no longer seemed able to fill human wants and needs, whether material, moral, or spiritual, and were increasingly seen as irrelevant or, worse, opposed to human development.
While this had been building up for some time, the French Revolution provided a trigger in a way that the American Revolution never could have.
|Not perfect, but still the only game in town.|
To oversimplify, the goal of the American Revolution was to restore and reform the old principles (that actually had never been implemented, but that's another story). In so doing the Founding Fathers hoped to create a “more perfect union” under the direction of a sovereign people exercising the natural rights they believed had been denied them by the British Crown. Human chattel slavery very nearly derailed the effort and would eventually almost destroy the vision of the Union, but at least the idea was there and could be implemented.
On the other hand, the goal of the French Revolution, while superficially similar to the American Revolution, was not to reform the old order. Rather, the goal was to destroy l’Ancien Regime and everything associated with it. The abstraction of the collective was sovereign, not actual human beings.
Thus, in a broad sense and up to a point, in America everything stayed pretty much the same following the revolution, while in France everything was different. And the institutions of Church, State, and Family in their traditional forms in Europe were under pressure to change and change fast to accommodate the growing demand for reform . . . that easily slipped into more revolution — and revolution meant socialism.
Not that it was called socialism. The term did not even exist prior to the early 1830s when the French socialist (yes, we realize the anachronistic use of the label) Pierre Leroux coined the term — as a pejorative! A decade later, however, it was being used in a positive way to describe all forms of “the democratic religion.”
Yes, religion, for that was how socialism was promoted when it first appeared. A number of people put forth various schemes for the complete reformation of society, virtually all of which called for a merger of Church and State, the suppression of the State in favor of or absorption of the State by organized religion, or the suppression of organized religion in favor of or absorption of organized religion by the State. Some of the more radical proposals were for the abolition of marriage and family with the community taking over the traditional functions of parents.
The one common strain throughout all socialist thought of every kind was that the "collective," an abstraction created by human beings for human beings, has rights that actual human beings created by God do not have. (Keep in mind, of course, that a "collective," like any other social institution, is not a human person created by God, but an "artifact" created by human beings. To emphasize this difference, one should recognize that all institutions are not natural persons. They are "social tools" that in a just society should promote the freedom, power, and development of every child, woman, and man.) Inevitably the one right that all socialism focused on was private property — the chief support of both life and liberty.
Not that the idea of Christian or religious socialism was really anything new. During the Middle Ages the Franciscan “Spirituals” who evolved into the “Fraticelli” did a little editing of the natural law as well as of the Rule established by their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. They decided that private property was not a natural right, but a manmade invention.
|Chesterton was not a socialist, democratic or otherwise.|
G.K. Chesterton addressed this in the book on Il Poverello (“the Little Poor Man”) he wrote in 1923 soon after his own conversion to Catholicism in 1922. This suggests that Chesterton, in common with Newman and other noted converts from the Church of England, might have felt himself forced to “swim the Tiber” by the institutionalization of socialism, modernism, and New Age influence in the Church of England. As he wrote, after noting that a Franciscan friar was as free as anyone else to decide not to own anything as a personal choice,
Nobody . . . proposed to interfere with his negation of private property. But some Franciscans, invoking the authority of Francis on their side, went further than this and further I think than anybody else has ever gone. They proposed to abolish not only private property but property. (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi. London: Saint Francis of Assisi, London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1923, 173.)
Closer to modern times, the experience of “the Diggers” in 1649 illustrates the lengths to which some people were prepared to go in an effort to realize their new visions of a society in which private property was abolished and everyone’s material needs were met. Possibly the original democratic socialists, the Diggers (a pejorative term for “True Levelers”) seized some unoccupied commons in the name of “the People.”
The idea was that the group would raise crops and distribute the food free to the poor. After struggling along for a year (during which time it does not appear to be recorded that they actually distributed any food to the poor or anyone else), they were driven off by threats and violence from the villagers they had dispossessed and legal action by the local landlords.
The only lasting results of the experiment were a few pamphlets by Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676), a businessman who blamed his financial ruin on the crass materialism and greed of ungodly worldlings, especially lawyers and the clergy. Taking refuge in religious mysticism, Winstanley based his philosophy on faith alone and declared, “Jesus Christ is the head Leveler.”
Socialism in its modern phase appears to have begun sometime around 1820 in France. In the wake of the chaos of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, numerous cults sprang up, mostly in opposition to the Catholic Church and to the government. At first these were all lumped together under the term l’démocratie religieuse (“the democratic religion”). By 1847 the term “socialism” had come to be applied as the generic term. (Julian Strube, “Socialism and Esotericism in July Monarchy France,” History of Religions, July 2016, (postprint), 7.)
Today the socialist influence on the Revolutions of 1848 is often downplayed or ignored altogether. Part of this may be due to the fact that it was in that year that Karl Marx published what was to become possibly the single most influential socialist book ever published, The Communist Manifesto, in which religious and democratic socialism — the same thing, really — were shown to be inferior to communism . . . or so Marx claimed.
|Marx rejected even socialism when religious.|
Utterly disgusted with the religious trappings that masked virtually all forms of socialism up to that time, Marx proposed getting rid of God altogether, whether His adherents belonged to traditional organized religions or to the socialist democratic religious cults. All religion, according to Marx, is “the opiate of the masses,” and it must be replaced with the most advanced form of socialism, scientific socialism, to which he appropriated the term “communism.”
Prior to Marx, the terms communism and socialism were used interchangeably, causing massive confusion among some modern scholars. Afterwards, although there continued to be some ambiguity, communism and Marxism were generally considered synonyms, and an effort was made to distance socialism from Marxism/communism.
The problem with Marx’s atheistic communism was, however, obvious as far as the authorities of Church and State were concerned. Marx’s program stated explicitly those things at which other forms of socialism only hinted, viz., the abolition of private property, the destruction of traditional religion, and the overthrow of the State — and the cornerstone of the program could, according to Marx in The Communist Manifesto (1848), be summed up in the single sentence, the abolition of private property in capital. And what is "property?" It is not the thing owned, but the unlimited and absolute natural right to be an owner inherent in every human being, and the socially determined and necessarily limited bundle of rights that define how an owner may use what is owned. Beware: the right to be an owner and the rights of ownership are almost always confused these days, making people think that the discussion of the rights OF private property in, e.g., Catholic social teaching is a limitation of the right TO private property, and thus effectively socialism. No, the distinction between the natural right to be an owner and the rights of ownership must be kept clearly in mind.
Nor did the ideas that were born in France stay in France. They soon made their way across the channel to England, where they found a ready reception with a people largely alienated from both Church and State. The ideas rapidly seeped into the popular consciousness.
Socialist religious ideas combined with radical political ideas from the French Revolution that promised much that they simply could not deliver or that went contrary to truth, as commentators like Edmund Burke (1730-1797) were quick to point out. These religious or democratic socialist ideas, too, quickly found a home among people whose allegiance to the Established Church was often limited to paying the government-imposed tithe to support a church whose services they rarely if ever attended, and whose clergy they almost never saw.
Governments, of course, could use their coercive power to suppress socialist activity, at least up to a point. Organized religion, even in an established church like the Church of England, had a more serious problem.
Technically, of course, anyone not a member of the Established Church was officially a second class (or even third class) citizen. Most professions were closed to non-Anglicans and they had few if any civil rights.
Realistically, of course, relatively few members even of the Church of England had the wherewithal to enter any profession at all, and few qualified to vote in any event. With increasing numbers of people stripped of economic power, however, something had to be done to give people at least the illusion of political power, and the franchise gradually began to be extended. Dissenters got civil rights in 1828, Catholics in 1829, and the decades-long process of Jewish Emancipation began soon after that.
It was not enough, however. Many people seemed to have an inherent appreciation of the fact that political democracy without economic democracy is an empty shell. Even if you sold your vote (as many did), it could not possibly make up for the income lost as wage income replaced ownership income for the many, and even wage income disappeared as human labor was displaced by ownership income for the few from their private property in advancing technology.
To people saddled with what they saw as a do-nothing church and an indifferent government, socialism sounded very good, indeed.