In the previous posting on this subject, we noted that there are four primary aspects of socialism: philanthropy, communitarianism, reform or abolition of religion, and abolition of private ownership. We also noted that a particular form of socialism may not include all or even any of these aspects, and yet still be true socialism. As Pope Pius XI noted,
|Pope Pius XI|
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. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 117.)
In other words, just as a human being need not have any actual virtues or other “accidentals” to be fully human and human in the same way as all other humans, socialism does not have to include any of its accidentals to be truly socialism. That, of course, raises the question as to what is socialism? What is the concept of society utterly foreign to Christian truth of which Pius XI spoke?
This is because, as we also noted in the previous posting on this subject, the essence or substance of socialism is not any of the characteristics, but the thing that makes the characteristics what they are. And that is? The shift of natural rights, especially life, liberty, and private property, from the human person to the collective.
Including philanthropy under socialism might at first seem contradictory, but it makes perfect sense once we understand the essence of socialism. The impression is that socialism (and, of course, socialists) is hostile to the wealthy.
That, however, was never the case as a characteristic of socialism, although a goodly (or badly) number of socialists do take a doctrinaire rejection of the wealthy as a standard line . . . until they get some of the wealth directed at them or their particular causes. It comes as a distinct shock to many doctrinaire capitalists as well as socialists that Robert Owen, considered by many authorities to be England’s first modern socialist, was also one of England’s wealthiest industrialists. He is also one of the few socialists (if not the only one) to finance his own schemes of social betterment out of his own pocket . . . once he was unable to get funding from other philanthropists or the government (many members of which were appalled at Owen’s religious views and his demand for the abolition of religion).
Virtually all of the early socialists, such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Félicité de Lamennais, sought wealthy patrons or government funding to finance their visions of the Kingdom of God on Earth. It was only when the rich and the government failed to give them the money they wanted to reform Church, State, and Family that socialists turned against them and began condemning them instead of importuning them.
To this day, the wealthy who use their wealth in ways deemed appropriate by the reformers (usually giving money to the socialists or their causes) escape opprobrium. Of course, the distinction between the wealthy who give their money to socially acceptable individuals and causes, and those who give to the wrong individuals and causes is often unclear, depending on circumstances and the right kind of PR.
|Félicité de Lamennais|
The bottom line is that philanthropy is actually something of a bridge between socialism and capitalism, suggesting that the two systems might not be as far apart as adherents like to think.
In both socialism and capitalism, philanthropy is a major component of an individualistic version of “social justice,” which in common parlance is a euphemism for redistribution as a replacement for traditional justice and charity. The only question is whether redistribution is voluntary or involuntary. If redistribution is voluntary, it is termed philanthropy. If redistribution is involuntary, it is termed “distributive justice” (a term only very distantly related to its meaning in classical philosophy).
True social justice, of course, is the particular virtue directed to the institutions of the common good, not to the good of individuals, regardless how many are affected. True social justice is not a replacement for traditional justice and charity, but a means of making traditional justice and charity once again effective.
This explains why both socialists and capitalists often prefer philanthropy to charity. Charity is considered a temporary helping hand, the highest form of which (according to Maimonides’s Eight Orders of Charity) is to lend someone money to go into business so that he can become productive and able to give alms and be charitable himself.
In contrast, philanthropy is often viewed not as a temporary expedient on the way to a just solution, but itself as the solution by both capitalists and socialists. The only question is how much money the rich can afford to give without harming their own interests and making the well go dry. This is not only self-defeating, but it puts the recipient in a condition of dependency on the giver.
To impose dependency is an offense against human dignity, but that, too, is common ground on which capitalism and socialism meet. In the next posting on this subject we will look at communitarianism, another surprising area of common ground between the two presumably opposed systems. As Hilaire Belloc predicted, capitalism and socialism continue to draw ever-closer together in forming what he called “the Servile State,” although not in the form he envisioned.