On Sunday, July 14, 1833 at Oxford University in England, the Reverend John Keble (1792-1866) ascended the University Pulpit and preached his scheduled “Assize Sermon.” An “Assize Sermon” is preached in the Church of England at the opening of a term of the civil and criminal courts — “the Assizes” — hence the name. The sermon is officially addressed to the judges and officers of the court and is intended to exhort them to do their duty and render justice.
|Rev. John Keble|
The Assize Sermon for 1833 was a little different that year. Published later under the title, “National Apostasy,” the sermon is credited with launching the Oxford Movement. The Whig (liberal) government had recently decided to shut down ten Church of Ireland bishoprics and merge them into others as a cost cutting measure.
On the surface, the decision sounds reasonable, and Keble’s reaction comes across (especially today) as a trifle hyperbolic, even hysterical. The fact is that although the Church of Ireland was legally established as the official religion of Ireland and was supported out of tax monies collected from the (Catholic) native Irish, hardly anyone attended services. Most people attended Catholic services, recently legalized, just as they had when Catholicism was illegal.
Eliminating a few redundant bishoprics (and the stipends and other expenses that went along with them) seemed a politically wise thing to do, not to mention being fiscally responsible. Why, then, did Keble label the merging of bishoprics “national apostasy” and launch a movement that has had repercussions down to the present day?
We believe the answer can be found in the proposals of Robert Owen (1771-1858). Owen has generally been ignored in the annals of Christian socialism for his explicit rejection of all religion, but Christianity especially. This has relegated Owen to a presumed minor role when, in fact, his influence has been pervasive and lasting.
Much to the surprise of people who attempt to separate all the various forms of socialism from Marxist communism, Owen was an inspiration to Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) as well as Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837), and possibly — although the connection is not explicit — Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854), especially since he spent a great deal of time in England at the height of Owen’s influence.
Marx and Engels greatly admired Owen, especially for his rejection of religion. During the writing of The Communist Manifesto (1848), they debated whether to use the new term socialism for their proposals, but they decided instead on the older term communism. This is because they felt that Owen’s followers had preempted the term socialism, but those same followers had also betrayed Owen’s principles by adding a religious veneer to the pure socialist ideal. Marx and Engels condemned both other socialists and adherents of traditional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, for promoting the opiate of the masses.
Socialism did not start to catch on, however, until it became explicitly religious and promoted as a replacement for traditional forms of Church and State. Even Marx’s “scientific socialism” under the label of communism is a religion, with Collective Man substituted for a transcendent God.
Thus, the anxiety of today’s socialists to prove that their socialism and Marxism (or Germany’s National Socialism, or Italy’s fascism, or any other form of state or community control over private property or any other natural right, such as democratic or religious socialism — control over natural rights being the essence of all forms of socialism) have no connection with each other is, at best, badly mistaken, or delusional. At worst, of course, are those socialists who are aware that any distinction between all the various forms of socialism is merely a difference in degree, not in kind, but attempt to cover it up.
Fortunately, however, those who are fully aware that all socialism is fundamentally the same (despite, e.g., the constant teaching and reminders of the Catholic Church) and seek to deceive others are rare. Either they quit socialism altogether like Orestes Brownson and fight against it, or persuade themselves that there must be differences, after all, and continue as “Christian” or “democratic” socialists.
The fact remains, however, that the fundamental error of socialism is not the abolition of private property per se, although Marx’s summation of communism is, taken broadly, simple fact, as all socialism abolishes private property as a natural right. Henry George tried to argue that ownership of land and natural resources is not a natural right, but that ownership of anything created by human beings out of land and natural resources is a natural right.
The Fabians corrected George’s contradiction with a greater error by asserting that all socialism abolishes private property except when it doesn’t — meaning that private property is not a natural right, but something granted by the collective when or if expedient. It is the shift of the source of natural rights from the individual human person made by God to an abstraction made by man, usually the collective or some form of the State.
Thus, Pope Pius XI spoke nothing less than the truth in Quadragesimo Anno when he declared,
|Pope Pius XI|
117. But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion? This is the question that holds many minds in suspense. And numerous are the Catholics who, although they clearly understand that Christian principles can never be abandoned or diminished seem to turn their eyes to the Holy See and earnestly beseech Us to decide whether this form of Socialism has so far recovered from false doctrines that it can be accepted without the sacrifice of any Christian principle and in a certain sense be baptized. That We, in keeping with Our fatherly solicitude, may answer their petitions, We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.
118. For, according to Christian teaching, man, endowed with a social nature, is placed on this earth so that by leading a life in society and under an authority ordained of God he may fully cultivate and develop all his faculties unto the praise and glory of his Creator; and that by faithfully fulfilling the duties of his craft or other calling he may obtain for himself temporal and at the same time eternal happiness. Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone.
119. Because of the fact that goods are produced more efficiently by a suitable division of labor than by the scattered efforts of individuals, socialists infer that economic activity, only the material ends of which enter into their thinking, ought of necessity to be carried on socially. Because of this necessity, they hold that men are obliged, with respect to the producing of goods, to surrender and subject themselves entirely to society. Indeed, possession of the greatest possible supply of things that serve the advantages of this life is considered of such great importance that the higher goods of man, liberty not excepted, must take a secondary place and even be sacrificed to the demands of the most efficient production of goods. This damage to human dignity, undergone in the “socialized” process of production, will be easily offset, they say, by the abundance of socially produced goods which will pour out in profusion to individuals to be used freely at their pleasure for comforts and cultural development. Society, therefore, as Socialism conceives it, can on the one hand neither exist nor be thought of without an obviously excessive use of force; on the other hand, it fosters a liberty no less false, since there is no place in it for true social authority, which rests not on temporal and material advantages but descends from God alone, the Creator and last end of all things.
120. 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.
|John Henry Newman|
So, while they may have different names, and may apply the abolition of private property in different ways (e.g., asserting like the Nazis that individuals may own privately until society’s need becomes greater or the nominal owner is not using it properly), all forms of socialism, whatever they may be called, and how much the different groups of adherents may loathe and even slaughter one another, are in essence the same thing: the exaltation of an abstraction created by human beings over human beings created by God, and thus the abolition of God as well as private property.
Where, however, does Robert Owen fit in, other than the fact that virtually all modern forms of socialism claim to trace their philosophy and origin to him? And what has this got to do with the Oxford Movement and John Henry Newman? That is what we will address in the next posting on this subject.