In the previous posting on this subject we looked at a statement made by Pope Francis to the effect that “food is not private property,” which a number of people declared meant that His Holiness had abolished private property in food, and that therefore socialism is a true interpretation of Catholic social teaching.
|Pope Francis: What did he mean?|
We explained that, if we take what was said in context and remember that he was speaking as the head of the Catholic Church, there is a perfectly orthodox understanding of Pope Francis’s statement. To be aware of how people could possibly misunderstand His Holiness, and construe an isolated statement as changing at least 2,500 years of philosophy and a few millennia more of fundamental moral teaching, it might be helpful to review quickly some of the changes that have been forced on to how people understand fundamental principles of natural law. This, of course, does not apply solely to Catholic social teaching, but to the very basis of civilization itself.
Roughly two hundred years ago, the combination of the way in which new capital is financed, advances in technology, and a shift in political philosophy resulted in ordinary people being stripped of power at an incredible rate. Where the transformation of the small owner into serf from the Classical period to the Medieval world took centuries, the shift from small farmer and artisan business owner to proletarian wage serf took barely a generation, a few decades at most.
|Owen: Abolish property, religion, and marriage|
By limiting access to money and credit (a problem closely associated with what Louis Kelso called “the slavery of [past] savings”), people without accumulated wealth (“past savings”) were unable to purchase the new capital instruments that were displacing human labor as the predominant input to production. Without ownership of the new capital instruments and unable to employ their labor directly for their own benefit, many people were forced into a deadly dual competition: their own labor against both that of other people, and of advancing technology. This stripped a great many people of power over their own lives, turning them into dependents of either private sector employers or the government.
Society was not working, except for the benefit of relatively few people. As a result, a number of thinkers came to the conclusion that because the system was not working, it could not work, given traditional principles that governed society in all its forms, whether civil (the State), religious (the Church [meaning organized religion]), or domestic (the Family).
The whole of society would have to be reorganized on new principles. First, however, whatever was causing the problem(s) in the social order as it was currently structured would have to go, and everything start over from scratch. As summarized by the “utopian socialist”* Robert Owen in his speech, “A Declaration of Mental Independence,” delivered July 4, 1826 in New Harmony, Indiana, humanity needed to abolish three things in order to create the perfect society:
· Private Property to remove the greatest problem in civil society and the chief support of the State as then-currently conceived,
· Organized Religion to free people from the shackles imposed on their natural morality by priests and kings, and
· Marriage to free people from the artificial constraints of family life.
|Marx: Useful classification of socialism|
* Classification of the various forms of socialism is not very clear or particularly helpful, especially since there are so many different kinds of socialism and so much overlap amidst constant change that an adequate definition one moment may be completely misleading the next, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his remarks on the 1848 Revolution in France, where everyone seemed to have his or her own program, with the only connection being that they were all described as socialism, and all advocated the abolition of private property as a natural right in the classic sense. Karl Marx’s taxonomy perhaps comes closest, with slight modification. Marx divided socialism into scientific socialism, which he called communism, and all other forms, making no distinction between utopian socialism, which seeks to abolish organized religion and replace it with some form of worship of humanity, and religious socialism, which seeks to adapt religious doctrine to socialist principles. As far as Marx was concerned, the only difference between utopian socialism and religious socialism is which god they choose to worship, a real but inadequate State (which Marx said would wither away), or an imaginary Being. According to Friedrich Engels, he and Marx decided to use the older term “communism” instead of “socialism” because Robert Owen and his followers had preempted the term “socialism.”
|Pius IX: Forced into exile.|
In 1848 all the different forms of socialism — scientific, utopian, and religious — came to a boil and Europe erupted in a series of revolutions. The July Monarchy in France fell, Pope Pius IX escaped into exile as the Papal States were abolished and the Roman Republic declared, and no government remained unaffected.
Aside from the economic and political factors (e.g., competition with advancing technology and the potato blight were causing widespread economic distress everywhere, while governments had never really come to terms with the social and political disruption caused by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars), the three different types of liberal democracy made it very unclear what, exactly, people meant by “reform.” In brief, the three types of liberal democracy — with a great deal of overlap among them — are,
· French or European. Sovereignty is vested in the collective. The State grants rights to individuals as necessary or expedient. This is the political theory of collectivism that underpins all forms of socialism.
· English. Sovereignty is effectively vested in a private sector economic élite. While in theory all human beings are sovereign and have rights, only those with special abilities have the capacity to exercise that sovereignty. This is the political theory of individualism that underpins all forms of capitalism.
· American. Sovereignty is vested in every human being. The State is charged with defining how rights are to be exercised, but never in such a way as to nullify the right itself. This is the political theory of personalism that underpins the Just Third Way.
|Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.|
Obviously, there are no pure forms of any of these systems. Applied socialism almost always finds it necessary to permit some form of individual sovereignty and private property, although never as an inalienable right. Capitalism always finds some applications of collectivism essential to sustain the economy, such as redistribution and entitlements imposed by government.
Inevitably, French and English liberal democracy merge into a form of what Hilaire Belloc called “the Servile State.” Even the classic form of American liberal democracy had serious slaws as applied, permitting slavery and inadequate access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in capital.
Nevertheless, despite the weaknesses of its application in the real world, the theory of American liberal democracy best conforms to the philosophy of personalism (the Aristotelian-Thomist variety, anyway), and respects the dignity of the human person. Thus — as reported by Dr. Heinrich A. Rommen, a student of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., — “[T]he Apostolic Delegate Satolli, inspired by the American way, asserted that the Magna Charta of humanity comprises the Gospels of our Lord and the Constitution of the United States.” (Heinrich Rommen, The State in Catholic Thought: A Treatise in Political Philosophy. St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder Book Co., 1947, 370.)
What this has to do with how Catholic social teaching must be understood will be looked at in the next posting on this subject.