We’ve been looking into the roots of socialism, and how socialism and social justice became confused. One of the things that struck us that we had never noticed before was the insistence of the early socialists that, one, what became known as socialism was originally not intended as an alternative to capitalism, but to Christianity, especially the most organized and hierarchical form of Christianity, Catholicism.
|The Kingdom of God on Earth|
Two, there was the explicit or implicit goal of establishing the perfect society in this world. Sometimes called “the Kingdom of God on Earth,” and sometimes “the Workers’ Paradise,” it assumed as a matter of course that temporal perfection is not only possible, but essential if humanity is to live in a manner befitting the demands of human dignity. No actual, individual human persons — humanity as a whole; “society.”
And that is possibly the most fundamental problem with socialism: that individual human persons do not matter when compared to the demands of the collective. All the “new things” — socialism, modernism, and esotericism — shift sovereignty and the source of rights in this world from the individual human person, to some abstraction, such as the State, a religion, an élite, a god-king — whatever.
Nor did the program alter when socialism began rejecting religion altogether, e.g., Robert Owen’s infamous “Declaration of Mental Independence” speech delivered on July 4, 1826 in New Harmony, Indiana, that called for the abolition of private property, marriage and family, and all organized religion.
Yet Owen and others (including Karl Marx) didn’t really call for the abolition of religion. They simply changed the definition of God and religion to conform to a more atheistic orientation. God became a “divinized society,” while religion was transformed into “the group’s worship of itself,” as the atheist solidarist David Émile Durkheim put it.
|Durkheim: God is a divinized society|
This is the same whether we’re talking about the “scientific socialism” of Marxist communism, the neo-paganism of Nazism, the authoritarianism of fascism (yes, fascism is a form of socialism; the State controls the economy, even if it doesn’t take title to capital), the vague and undefinable Fabian socialism, or anything else. The issue is that all forms of socialism put sovereignty into the collective instead of the individual human person. This is still a “religion” of sorts, and the government is a sort of theocracy.
Nor should this be unexpected. As Msgr. Ronald Knox noted of all forms of what he called “enthusiasm” or “ultrasupernaturalism” (and defined as an excess of charity that causes disunity), the enthusiast always longs for a theocracy to create the perfect society in this world, the Kingdom of God on Earth, however “God” may be defined. As Knox said,
A new set of faculties, and also a new status; man saved becomes, at last, fully man. It follows that “the seed of grace”, God’s elect people, although they must perforce live check by jowl with the sons of perdition, claim another citizenship and own another allegiance. For the sake of peace and charity, they will submit themselves to every ordinance of man, but always under protest; worldly governments, being of purely human institution, have no real mandate to exercise authority, and sinful folk have no real rights, although, out of courtesy, their fancied rights must be respected. Always the enthusiast hankers after a theocracy, in which the anomalies of the present situation will be done away, and the righteous bear rule openly. Disappointed of this hope, a group of sectaries will sometimes go out into the wilderness, and set up a little theocracy of their own, like Cato’s senate at Utica. The American continent has more than once been the scene of such an adventure; in these days, it is the last refuge of the enthusiast. (Msgr. Ronald Knox. Enthusiasm. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950, 3.)
|Knox: an excess of charity causing disunity|
Although Knox published in 1950 (and spent decades working on his book), what he said about the tendency of the enthusiast — or adherent of the new things of socialism, modernism, and esotericism — rings even more true today. This is especially the case about the urge to establish an élite or segregated community-within-a-community, or go off into the wilderness to get away from the sinful world seems to be endemic in many forms of American Christianity. Business magnates have financed their ideal communities, and bestselling books have been published urging people to get away from the evil world around us.
Of course, such a thing seems to go against the whole idea of Christianity, which is to be a light unto the world. Hiding one’s light under a bushel — or inside a ghetto, however comfortable — seems contrary to the whole idea of Christianity. As long as the “outside world” isn’t contrary to a religion, or doesn’t enact laws that go against fundamental beliefs, there is no good reason to separate.
Even if the “outside world” is sinful (or at least appears to be), the idea is to convert it, not run away from it. Frankly, the whole idea of social justice is to reform society to make it the proper environment within which people can become more fully human — and that includes making it possible to practice one’s religion as one sees fit.
|A Kingdom NOT of This World|
That is why the calls for some kind of theocracy are so troubling, at least from a human rights standpoint. Even Jesus informed Pontius Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world, something that those who want to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth seem to forget.
One popular Catholic commentator with more cleverness than intelligence has countered Jesus’s declaration that His kingdom is not of this world with “even Caesar must render to God the things that are God’s” . . . which is absolutely correct. The State must render to God that which is God’s . . . but not that which is man’s. Human persons are given free will, however you think we got it, and no State can dictate religious belief or practice, except where that belief or practice is clearly against natural law or the overwhelmingly obvious good of the social order.
For example, the State cannot demand that citizens believe in one God or a thousand, or even any god at all. Nor can it dictate religious doctrine or make the administration of a religion subject to the State or turn it into a de facto branch of the government. On the other hand, the State does not go beyond its authority to forbid, e.g., human sacrifice. At the same time, a religion cannot demand that purely religious beliefs or practices be imposed on anyone with force of law.
The plain fact is that a theocracy does not render to God that which is God's, but to God that which is man's. Life here on Earth is not for the creation of Heaven right now (the socialist/modernist Kingdom of God on Earth), but to prepare us for our final end, however we define that — how we define it, not others for us.
For Christians of an orthodox bent, a human being’s proper end is Heaven in the next life, what Pope Pius XI called “the Reign of Christ the King” in contrast to the socialist and modernist efforts to establish the perfect society in this life. What “Caesar” must render to God is to refrain from interference in religious administration and the determination of doctrine, and to ensure that the laws of the State do not contradict the laws of God or the natural law.
Of course, neither may “the Church” (read “organized religion”) interfere in the civil administration or use the civil power to impose religious beliefs by coercion. The most the Church can do is demand that no law contravene or contradict religious teaching. Confusing the roles of Church and State is one of the fruits of the new things, and the reason Pope Pius XI was so adamant about the Reign of Christ the King in opposition to the Kingdom of God on Earth — which, properly understood, you don’t have to be a Christian or even a theist to agree with.