As we saw in the first posting on this subject, and (purely by coincidence) in Wednesday’s posting, there are four primary aspects of socialism: philanthropy, communitarianism, reform or abolition of religion, and abolition of private ownership. Again, it is important to note that a particular form of socialism may not include all or even any of these aspects, and yet still be true socialism.
|Pope Leo XIII|
That is because the essence of socialism is not really the abolition of private property in capital — although as both Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto (1948) and Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (1891) agreed, it is the most succinct way to summarize the theory of socialism and the chief tenet thereof.
But what is the essence of socialism? The shift of natural rights such as life, liberty, and private property from the human person created by God, to the collective or some form thereof created by human beings. This, as Fulton Sheen pointed out in his first two books, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925) and Religion Without God (1927), puts man in the center as the Ruler of the Universe with God the servant of man.
The idea that a manmade creation is more powerful than God Who made man is the main idea behind the socialist push either to reform religion to meet people’s material needs better or more efficiently, or to abolish religion entirely. That is, in fact, why socialism was originally called “the democratic religion” and was intended to replace all existing forms of Church, State, and Family.
|Fulton Sheen writing what people didn't want to hear.|
Private property is the chief support of civil society (the State) and domestic society (the Family), so that it is no coincidence that socialists went after organized religion, as the presumably soft underbelly of society, and the only one of the three societies of humanity that does not absolutely rely on private property — at least, directly. By twisting the words of Jesus to disparage private property, as well as claiming that private property and civil government (and in extreme cases the Family itself) postdated the Fall of Man, the old order could be swept away completely and the new democratic religion — socialism — take its place and the Kingdom of God on Earth established.
|So many errors, so little time.|
Aside from the obvious usurpation of the role of God in the socialist agenda, the most immediate problem is the offense against the dignity of the human person. By depriving people of inalienable, natural rights, socialism takes away the principal means by which people become virtuous. By reforming or repurposing religion away from God and toward man, socialism takes away the reason to be virtuous.
Even so, the difference between what organized religion and what socialism demand can be very, very subtle, so subtle that many people even today fail to see any distinction between the two — which was the goal of the socialists in the first place. Take, for example, the issues of helping the needy and “social justice.”
Up to a point, Christian and socialist proposals are identical. If you did not label the corporal works of mercy — acts of charity — as such, there is nothing to distinguish them from the typical agenda of a “Social Justice Warrior.” Many Christians, in fact, incorrectly refer to the corporal works of mercy as “social justice,” which only muddies the water.
There is, however, a very great difference. The corporal works of mercy, or any other virtuous act, are necessarily voluntary, or they cease to be virtuous. You are virtuous if you give alms of your own free will, but not if you do it because someone held a gun to your head or because you fear punishment. Similarly, someone who only obeys the speed limit on the highway because he thinks the police are watching is not really being a good citizen, since he would put the pedal to the metal if he thought he would get away with it.
Socialism shifts redistribution from a purely voluntary act under charity (extreme need is a separate case), to “social justice” that as justice can be coerced if people fail to do what is wanted voluntarily. That is why to an Aristotelian-Thomist of any faith (or none), “social justice” is the particular virtue directed to the common good.
The purpose of the act of social justice is not to supplement or replace individual charity or justice, but to reform the institutions of the common good so that individual charity and justice function once again as they are supposed to. The corporal works of mercy are an expedient on the way to a more just social order, to give the opportunity for people to become virtuous, and prepare people for their true ends.. They are not ends in themselves.
Socialist “social justice” means something else. It is not directed to the common good as understood in Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy (the vast network of institutions within which the human person as a political animal acquires and develops virtue), but to individual good and general betterment according to the vision of whoever happens to have power. What to a Christian is an act of charity, a means to an end, to a socialist is an act of justice, an end in and of itself.
In order to resolve this conflict, socialism demands that religion either buy in to the socialist agenda, or have the decency to just go away. To a socialist, religion is only useful if it advances socialism. At least Karl Marx in his brand of scientific socialism realized that such duplication of effort is a waste of resources, condemned both traditional religion and religious socialism as the opiate of the masses.
Thus, the problem is not that socialism and Christianity are different in form, but different in substance. They may in many cases look the same, but are in fact very different. As Pope Pius XI explained in Quadragesimo Anno in 1931,
|Pope Pios 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.