Many people these days assume that if they can find a precedent or some statement that they can twist into meaning what they want or need it to mean, that they have discovered a new right or truth, conveyed to them by whatever they worship as God and to be understood in the light of faith alone. Such people forget (if they ever knew) that truth is objective reality. Their own perceptions and beliefs are, on the other hand, subjective. As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, nowhere has this tendency been more evident than in the ongoing effort to reformulate or repurpose Christianity as a form of socialism.
|Ralph M. McInerny|
According to Ralph McInerny (1929-2010), perhaps best known as the author of the “Father Dowling” mystery stories, this sort of thing (called “fideism”) is the single greatest threat to the Catholic Church in the modern world. And it’s not doing much good for any other natural religion or philosophy in the world, either.
Fideism is the idea that truth is determined by what one believes rather than what can be proved by reason, is consistent with reason and thus conforms to the natural law, or that does not contradict reason. (Ralph M. McInerny, Miracles: A Catholic View. Huntington, Indiana, 1986, 22.) Nor was McInerny alone in this assessment. Heinrich Rommen in his book on the natural law made similar comments, while Mortimer Adler went into it in one of the chapters in Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985).
That is where both capitalism/individualism and socialism/collectivism go wrong in kind, although in somewhat different degrees. It is a matter of reason that human beings have the right to be owners by nature. How that right is to be exercised and to what degree is a matter for people to work out in association with others, but the fact remains that private property necessarily pertains to the natural law. This is demonstrated by the universal prohibition against theft, expressed in the Ten Commandments as “Thou shalt not steal.”
According to the theory of socialism, however, the right to be an owner (and thus by extension all rights) is not inherent in the human person, but in humanity as a whole. Depending on which form of socialism is involved, individuals may have the right to be owners, but (and this is the key point) they do not have that right by nature; it is not a “natural right.”
Instead, socialist theory is that, assuming those in charge of the collective have deemed it necessary or expedient that people be permitted to own things as “private property,” they may do so. A number of socialists cite this as proof that socialism is not really socialism, that socialism has changed from the days of Marx, or that (for example) the teaching of the Catholic Church condemning socialism has been changed. None of these is correct.
Karl Marx was correct in that the theory of the communists (“scientific socialists”) can be summed up as “the abolition of private property.” This is because private property is a natural, inalienable right by definition. If you change that definition in any way, whether by denying that private property is a natural right, changing what you mean by “natural right,” claiming that property is the thing owned instead of the rights to and over the thing owned, altering the definition of human being or person, or any one of the countless ways people have found to get what they want by ignoring objective truth and reason, you have abolished private property.
For example, if you argue that a proposal is not socialism (or Marxism, or anything else) because people are permitted to own, or that something is ownership that does not include the right to control and enjoy the fruits of ownership, all you have done is play word games. How, after all, are you supposed to “own” something that can be taken away from you if someone changes a law or decides his need or want is greater or more important than yours?
That is why, for example, Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, his manual for totalitarian government, declared the abolition of private property. He claimed that “the sovereign” — the collective — alone has the natural right to own everything, and that individuals only own insofar as the sovereign permits it. Taxation, for example, was to Hobbes not a grant from the people to the government, but the exercise of a property right by the sovereign. Since the State owns everything anyway, it has every right to take back some of it for its own purposes. Thus, as Hobbes explained in Chapter XXIX,
A Fifth doctrine, that tendeth to the Dissolution of a Common-wealth, is, “That every private man has an absolute Propriety in his Goods; such, as excludeth the Right of the Soveraign.” Every man has indeed a Propriety that excludes the Right of every other Subject: And he has it onely from the Soveraign Power; without the protection whereof, every other man should have equall Right to the same. But if the Right of the Soveraign also be excluded, he cannot performe the office they have put him into; which is, to defend them both from forraign enemies, and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Common-wealth.
John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government, however, gave a better understanding of private property, although his understanding of human nature (and thus natural law) was still somewhat flawed. Insisting, contrary to Hobbes, that every human being has the natural right to be an owner, Locke’s view of, e.g., taxation is that it is not the exercise of an ultimate property right by the collective (which would abolish private property), but the recognition that government is necessary, and those who enjoy the benefits of government should expect to pay the cost of government. Thus, as Locke explained,
Men therefore in society having property, they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are their’s [sic], that no body hath a right to take their substance or any part of it from them, without their own consent: without this they have no property at all; for I have truly no property in that, which another can by right take from me, when he pleases, against my consent. . . . It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself? (§§ 138, 140)
True, part of Locke’s theory is flawed. He claimed, for example, that man is not by nature a political animal, i.e., man’s “state of nature” is outside of society, and that it is only when people agree to enter society that they are entitled to the protection of their natural rights of life, liberty, and private property. Someone who removes himself from society by violating the rights of others thereby loses protection for his own rights.
Locke’s error, however (while important), does not alter the validity of his argument regarding private property or any other natural right, viz., that since life, liberty, and private property are part of human nature (natural rights), no one can limit or abrogate those rights except for just cause and through due process. Once you take the source of rights away from the human person created by God and put it into something created by man, you have de facto socialism, whatever you may call it.
But does that mean capitalism gets off scot free? After all, no system today trumpets the importance of individual rights, especially private property, more loudly than capitalism.
Nice try, but no panatela.
Capitalism, although it pays lip service to the presumed right of every human being to be an owner (and by implication to enjoy life and liberty), in practice violates “participative justice,” i.e., the virtue associated with Aquinas’s “analogy of being.” It therefore contradicts the first principle of reason. It does this by limiting capital ownership to a relatively small élite group of owners. For the propertyless wage worker, there is little difference between the theory of socialism, and the practice of capitalism.
The bottom line, of course, is that socialism is condemned in part because there is no hope for it: correcting any presumed flaws in its application only results in greater injustice. The purer socialism becomes in practice, the less human it is. Its theory of society is utterly foreign to truth.
There is, however, hope in capitalism, as capitalism is flawed not in its principles but in their application. Of course, capitalism being defined as concentrated private ownership of capital, if capitalist principles were applied consistently to and by every person, it would cease to be capitalism and be something much closer to economic personalism.
There is, after all, nothing wrong with the principles of capitalism. They are just incomplete, and they are not applied consistently. That is why the Catholic Church, which condemns socialism without qualification, makes many qualifications in its critique of capitalism.