A recent article in Catholic World Report opined “On the Troubling and Growing Popularity of Cultural Marxism“ in global society, especially (as might be expected) among Catholics, many of whom seem to understand Christianity more in terms of, e.g., Henri de Saint-Simon’s “New Christianity” as Jesus as the first socialist than in the more traditional manner. Many Catholics, in fact, seem completely oblivious of the fact that their own church’s “social teachings” came into being as a discrete area of study specifically to counter the threat posed by socialism, modernism, and esotericism (“New Age”) to the human-centered personalism of traditional Christianity.
|A Bit of Wishful Thinking|
Not that Marxism is really any different from the rest of the “new things” as they were called. Frankly, the problem with Marxism is the same as with all forms of socialism and the “new things” that have infiltrated western civilization and culture since introduced as “the Democratic Religion” in the late 18th and early 19th century. There is no substantive difference between communism and socialism; Marx and Engels decided to use the term “communism” for their variety of “scientific socialism” (in contrast to the other forms of socialism that changed religion instead of abolishing it) because the followers of Robert Owen had (in their opinion) preempted the term socialism for Owen’s program of abolishing private property, organized religion, and marriage and family (as announced in Owen’s “Declaration of Mental Independence” speech on July 4, 1826 in New Harmony, Indiana).
Observing the 1848 Revolution in France, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that there were thousands of individuals and groups all touting something different, but united under the common name of socialism. Edward Pease, historian of the Fabian Society noted that the only difference between what Marx was saying and the Fabian position was a matter of tactics, not goals and objectives. George Bernard Shaw, the most noted Fabian, claimed after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1931 as the guest of Stalin, that there was no difference between what Stalin was doing and what the Fabian Society hoped to accomplish.
|Waugh begs to differ.|
Ironically, a number of people have taken the writings of R.H. Tawney (on the Fabian Executive from 1920 to 1933) and E.F. Schumacher (Keynes’s protégé, author of Fabian tracts and a member of the post-war Fabian government ridiculed by Evelyn Waugh in Love Among the Ruins) as somehow presenting an authoritative analysis of Catholic social teaching. Schumacher’s treatise on “Buddhist economics” and “New Age guide to economics” — Small is Beautiful — was even cited in the 1986 U.S. Bishops’ pastoral on the economy, Economic Justice for All.
The list of individuals and groups that have distorted and twisted Catholic social teaching to fit an agenda shaped by the “new things” is virtually endless, but the bottom line is always the same, as Fulton Sheen pointed out in his first book, God and Intelligence. That is, the abstraction of humanity (a concept created by man for man) is deemed superior to the actuality of man created by God (a reality created by God for God). As Sheen explained, this upends reality, by placing a human creation above a divine creation, and turns God into collective man’s servant. God, as the solidarist Émile Durkheim declared, becomes a “divinized society,” and religion consists of the group’s worship of itself.
|So does Karol Wojtyła|
The natural law ceases to be construed as based on God’s Nature, self-realized in His Intellect, and becomes based on faith in something accepted as God’s Will. When society itself is viewed as God, then whatever the most powerful demand becomes divine fiat, whether it be abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, forced eugenics, death camps, slavery, or anything else, as long as enough people with power accept it.
Having said that, we had someone ask, “Is there any substantive difference between communitarianism and individualism?”
We could only answer that, from the perspective of personalism à la Karol Józef Wojtyła, no. Both shift the focus away from the human person as (in Aristotle’s phrase) a “political animal,” i.e., a being with both an individual and a social nature.
True, individualism and collectivism/communitarianism do this in different ways, but whether the focus is shifted to the abstraction of the collective or community, to an élite, or to the lone individual without reference to God or other individuals and society as a whole, it remains an abstraction, and thus diverts from the human person created by God to an abstraction created by man.
|...while Belloc doesn't beg, he thunders|
As Hilaire Belloc noted in The Servile State (1912), when push comes to shove, there really isn’t very much difference — if any at all — between socialism and capitalism (properly understood; “free market capitalism” is an oxymoron). Capitalism and socialism will tend to move toward each other, each depriving ordinary people of capital ownership and thus power, and forcing as many as possible of the people into dependence on the wage/welfare system so deprecated by Dorothy Day, yet touted as the ideal by Keynes and the New Dealers.
Ironically, where Belloc saw the danger of the Servile State as being in forcing people into the wage system whether or not they wanted to, the problem today (as the solidarist economist Goetz Briefs noted in his 1937 book, The Proletariat: A Challenge to Western Civilization) the task is trying to find enough jobs for everyone who needs one (or two, or six) and to fund the State welfare system for those who can’t.
This, in fact, accounts for the massive government debt throughout the world today as governments struggle with trying to make unworkable Keynesian solutions work in the face of reality and the simple hard fact that you can’t get away from Adam Smith’s first principle of economics: “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.” This is the basis of Say’s Law of Markets, which acknowledges that if you want a sane economy, as a rule, if you consume you must produce, and if you produce, you must consume.
|"Let me think about that . . . No."|
The problem is that the assumption underlying the Servile State precludes people from becoming productive through capital ownership as posited by Chesterton’s and Belloc’s distributism, which may be summarized as a policy of widespread capital ownership. There is also the problem that neither Chesterton nor Belloc understood money, credit, banking, and finance, and never considered the possibility of people purchasing self-liquidating capital the way the rich typically do.
The bottom line is that there really is no paradox or contradiction in, e.g., Japan’s communitarian society having a collectivist philosophy and having a capitalist economy (it’s actually Keynesian, not capitalist, per se). It’s only a slight difference in which group owns (or controls, the same thing in law) capital, a small private sector élite (capitalism) or a State bureaucracy (socialism), and whether the capitalists use the economy to control the State, or the socialists use the State to control the economy. Belloc noted in 1912, it doesn’t make any difference to the propertyless citizen. As William Cobbett pointed out,
Freedom is not an empty sound; it is not an abstract idea; it is not a thing that nobody can feel. It means, — and it means nothing else, — the full and quiet enjoyment of your own property. If you have not this, if this be not well secured to you, you may call yourself what you will, but you are a slave. (William Cobbett, A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, 1827, §456.)
Ultimately, it boils down to one thing:
Own or be Owned