As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, socialism — whatever it turned out to be (depending on the particular variety espoused, promoted, or worshipped) — did not originally begin specifically as a reaction against capitalism. Rather, it was against Christianity, most particularly the Catholic Church, although all of the “mainstream” churches, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, were targeted.
|Return to the Muddle Ages|
That is not to say that what eventually became known as “capitalism” did not help create the situation that led to the rise of socialism, but socialism from the beginning was intended as a new religion, usually (as G.K. Chesterton hinted) under the name of Christianity. As Chesterton described this phenomenon in his little book on Saint Francis of Assisi, drawing a clear parallel between the Fraticelli of the Middle Ages, and the Fabian socialists and others of the Muddle Ages,
St. Francis was so great and original a man that he had something in him of what makes the founder of a religion. Many of his followers were more or less ready, in their hearts, to treat him as the founder of a religion. They were willing to let the Franciscan spirit escape from Christendom as the Christian spirit had escaped from Israel. They were willing to let it eclipse Christendom as the Christian spirit had eclipsed Israel. Francis, the fire that ran through the roads of Italy, was to be the beginning of a conflagration in which the old Christian civilization was to be consumed. (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi, London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1923, 175.)
Of course, where Chesterton only hinted, Orestes Brownson let people know exactly what was going on, and gave it to them with double-shotted guns and colors nailed to the mast:
|Brownson: "Socialism would deceive the elect."|
The spirit that works in the children of disobedience must . . . affect to be Christian, more Christian than Christianity itself, and not only Christian, but Catholic. It can manifest itself now, and gain friends, only by acknowledging the Church and all Catholic symbols, and substituting for the divine and heavenly sense in which they have hitherto been understood a human and earthly sense. Hence the religious character which Socialism attempts to wear. . . . . [Socialism] is as artful as it is bold. It wears a pious aspect, it has divine words on its lips, and almost unction in its speech. It is not easy for the unlearned to detect its fallacy, and the great body of the people are prepared to receive it as Christian truth. We cannot deny it without seeming to them to be warring against the true interests of society, and also against the Gospel of our Lord. Never was heresy more subtle, more adroit, better fitted for success. How skillfully it flatters the people! It is said, the saints shall judge the world. By the change of a word, the people are transformed into saints, and invested with the saintly character and office. How adroitly, too, it appeals to the people’s envy and hatred of their superiors, and to their love of the world, without shocking their orthodoxy or wounding their piety! Surely Satan has here, in Socialism, done his best, almost outdone himself, and would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect, so that no flesh should be saved. (Orestes A. Brownson, Essays and Reviews, Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1852, 499-502.)
And Brownson knew whereof he spoke. As reported by his friend and colleague, Father Isaac Hecker, both of them former socialists, the whole emphasis of socialism was to get rid of the Christian God and put Collective Man in His place. This was just as Fulton Sheen noted in his first two books, God and Intelligence (1925) and Religion Without God (1927) . . . which got Sheen labeled a heretic and traitor to Christ by the great Msgr. John A. Ryan of the Catholic University of America. As Father Hecker later recalled of a series of lectures Brownson gave when he and Brownson were still socialists and before their conversion to Catholicism,
|Fr. Isaac Hecker|
At bottom [Brownson’s] theories were Saint-Simonism, the object being the amelioration of the condition of the most numerous classes of society in the speediest manner. This was the essence of our kind of Democracy. And Dr. Brownson undertook in these lectures to bring to bear in favor of our purpose the life-lessons of the providential men of human history. Of course, the life and teachings of our Saviour Jesus Christ were brought into use, and the upshot of the lecturer’s thesis was that Christ was the big Democrat and the Gospel was the true Democratic platform!
We interpreted Christianity as altogether a social institution, its social side entirely overlapping and hiding the religious. Dr. Brownson set out to make, and did make, a powerful presentation of our Lord as the representative of the Democratic side of civilization. For His person and office he and all of us had a profound appreciation and sympathy, but it was not reverential or religious; the religious side of Christ’s mission was ignored. Christ was a social Democrat, Dr. Brownson maintained, and he and many of us had no other religion but the social theories we drew from Christ’s life and teaching; that was the meaning of Christianity to us, and of Protestantism especially. (Walter Elliott, The Life of Father Hecker. New York: The Columbus Press, 1891, 20.)
Of course, Fr. Hecker completely repudiated socialism of any kind when he became a Catholic. As he recounted,
|Fr. McGlynn: Excommunicated for disobedience.|
But, as for my part, at the time Bishop Fitzpatrick wanted me to purge myself of communism, I had settled the question in my own mind, and on principles which I afterwards found to be Catholic. The study and settlement of the question of ownership was one of the things that led me into the Church, and I am not a little surprised that what was a door to lead me into the Church seems at this day to be a door to lead some others out.* But when the bishop attacked** me about it, it was no longer with me an actual question. I had settled the question of private ownership in harmony with Catholic principles, or I should not have dared to present myself as a convert. (Rev. I.T. Hecker, “Dr. Brownson and Bishop Fitzpatrick,” The Catholic World, April 1887, 3.)
* Fr. Hecker was referring to Father Edward McGlynn, with whom he was well acquainted and who would be excommunicated for disobedience on July 4, 1887 for refusing to go to Rome at the command of Pope Leo XIII to explain his adherence to the theories of the agrarian socialist Henry George. McGlynn was not reinstated until he promised to go to Rome, accepted Rerum Novarum, and apologized to the people he insulted.
** “Questioned”; Fr. Hecker used the word “attack” in a different sense than readers today would take it. That Bp. Fitzpatrick was not “attacking” him in today’s sense is demonstrated by the fact that Fr. Hecker described Bp. Fitzpatrick’s conversation as “bantering,” and noted that he had a small problem trying to decide when the bishop was being completely serious.
|Chesterton: socialism, modernism = muddle-headed|
For two hundred years socialists and modernists — the same thing, according to Chesterton (G.K. Chesterton, “There Was a Socialist,” G.K.’s Weekly, May 10, 1930; cf. Ubi Arcano, § 61) — have tried to assert that socialism is the only true Christianity. For nearly as long, the Catholic Church has worked to counter what Fulton Sheen called socialism’s “religion without God.”
Being anti-capitalist does not, therefore, necessarily make one a socialist, any more than being a true socialist necessarily makes one a good Christian. Just the opposite, in fact, if we are to believe Pope Pius XI:
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. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.)
We will sum this up in the next posting on this subject, conclude, and get on to more pleasant topics.