By Luke Parker
“Dignity. Always Dignity.”
The sentiment behind Don Lockwood’s words in Singing in the Rain underlies our consideration of which economic system is best. Clearly, we all want a system that supports all human dignity and allows everyone to flourish. In the age-old pursuit of prosperity, however, many Catholics in modern America began to entertain the idea that Communism and its watered-down relative, Socialism, are the best solutions to affirming economic justice. This a reaction to the perceived atrocities of Capitalism, the apparent source of all greed and misery. Social justice has taken a prominent place in our Church, and rightfully so, but its blinding effects have prompted countless Catholics to combat an illusion of tyranny, thereby empowering the very thing they sought to destroy.
In late July 2019, a Jesuit-run news source titled America Magazine published “The Catholic Case for Communism” (which can be found here), to which this article is a response. In America’s article, the author portrays Communism as misunderstood; it is rather a benefit to the Catholic cause, seeking economic justice and disabling exploitation.
Sounds pretty good, right?
The thing is that we are so easily-suckered into what sounds like a good deal, but is actually a subversion to everything we hold dear. Anyone who is keen on history is well-aware of the repeated misery of communist countries. This misery is not only associated with material scarcity, but also moral famine where the state takes precedence over conscience: the most troublesome aspect of any communist or socialist society. It is inevitable that the more we relinquish to the state, the more the state can control our moral convictions. Such is the case for every nation that has embraced Communism. Karl Marx, the father of Communism, said in The Communist Manifesto, “The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” Might we say that Christian principles are among this abolished private property? In practice, this seems to be so. Every country that boasts a hammer and sickle is pagan; the state fully replaces Christ on the Crucifix. Lucifer behaves similarly.
This is a direct affront to our Catholic faith, and it is one thing for me, a conservative Republican, to say this — it is another when multiple popes sound the alarm. Both Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII, in no uncertain terms, decried the elusive malice of Communism. Pope Pius X exposes in eerie detail the current state of a socialist-leaning Church engaged in a nondiscriminatory chase after justice’s shadow:
But stranger still, alarming and saddening at the same time, are the audacity and frivolity of men who call themselves Catholics and dream of re-shaping society under such conditions, and of establishing on earth, over and beyond the pale of the Catholic Church, ‘the reign of love and justice’ … What are they going to produce? … A mere verbal and chimerical construction in which we shall see, glowing in a jumble, and in seductive confusion, the words Liberty, Justice, Fraternity, Love, Equality, and human exultation, all resting upon an ill-understood human dignity. It will be a tumultuous agitation, sterile for the end proposed, but which will benefit the less Utopian exploiters of the people.
As Socialism reared its head and took root around the world, popes maintained a safe distance from socialist ideology and required that all Catholics do the same. Pope Pius XI makes this explicit:
Whether considered as a doctrine, or a 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.
Pius XI gets personal:
[Socialism] 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.
Papal statements condemning Communism and Socialism can be found here.
Several misled, Catholic sympathizers of Socialism will make a religious appeal and bring up the tired analogy of the Apostles and early Christians in the book of Acts, where all shared everything in common. We can consider, too, the religious communities with vows of poverty, of which my brother is a part, who renounce all personal possessions. In light of this, what would Jesus do? In the Gospel of Luke (my favorite), Christ is approached by a man who is angry that his brother would not share their inheritance and asks Jesus to intercede on his behalf. Our Lord replies, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” The Son of God, Judge of souls, refuses to insert Himself into economic matters, prioritizing His message of salvation. We like to conflate the attractive aspects of Christian, communal living with the selling points of Communism, but do so to our own demise. The aforementioned popes saw the distinction and hidden fangs plainly.
Capitalism is a more likely target for several Catholics than the evil philosophies of Socialism and Communism. This is peculiar, as Capitalism is rooted in personal choice. A transaction only happens when a client and service provider both assent to it. The businessman can sell what he wants, and the client can buy what he wants. A free will is granted to us by God so that we may freely love Him; this should also be applied to our economic society. Socialism and Communism attempt to derail this autonomy.
Capitalism produces abundant technological and economic progress. I owe my ability to type this article on my laptop to the ingenuity and innovation fostered by Capitalism. In charity, also, Capitalism is superior. It compels us to give on our own, individual to individual, instead of relying on the impersonal state to mediate generosity. It is underestimated how much cash flow there is through American charities, both at home and abroad. The United States has been economically-enabled by Capitalism to be the world’s most generous nation and a dominant force in the humanitarian sphere. Where Capitalism is well-applied, plenty abounds. From whence plenty abides, generosity flows. This is the America that many Catholics are dissatisfied with and seek to overturn in the name of social justice. If the idea is to eradicate greed, then the eradication of humanity is in store. Whether Capitalism or Communism prevail, greed will always be present and seeking to exploit.
Corruption flourishes within Capitalism, but exploitation gets its hands into everything, including our beloved Catholic Church. Shall we dismantle our Church over the disgusting actions of some of its leaders? This does not seem to cross our minds. Capitalism, in all its deficiencies, is the least destructive among all economic systems. It may help to keep in mind that, if things turn sour, a tyrannical corporation is much easier to disband than a tyrannical government. When the government dominates the market, there is no refuge for citizens. Capitalism, with proper regulation, provides individuals the opportunity to wield their God-given rights, an alien concept to Socialism and Communism.
America Magazine is not officially adopting Communism, but by entertaining the idea of an evil system that has wrought terrible anguish in any country that has tried it and has attracted the denunciation of multiple popes as intrinsically depraved, it is planting seeds among impressionable Catholics, potentially growing into briars that will strangle and choke out the blossoms that Capitalism has bountifully produced. Though America does not endorse Communism, it is sugarcoating poison then encouraging Catholics to taste it and digest the possibilities. May we always stand vigilant against any ideological beast that strives to sneak past us under the guise of Christian charity. The Church, as it has in the past, should take issue with sympathizers of Socialism and Communism, the greatest systemic threats of human dignity. Safeguarding the dignity of personal liberty, which allows us to love freely, is our highest earthly duty.
The effects of original sin on humanity cannot be removed by any Godless ideology. Threats of punishment and death by Godless enterprises may temporarily alter human behavior, but only Christ can transform the individual. This is why they eventually fail.
This article very insightfully identifies the preservation of choice as a key objective for any economic system. However, capitalism as we see it in the US today continues to offer less and less choice. Corporations get bigger and reduce the choice offered by legitimate competitors while they continue to exploit the labor of workers overseas and at home who have no choice about the conditions of their labor. Communism may not be the solution, that point is well taken, but “safeguarding the dignity of human liberty” requires us to remain critical of capitalism as well and seek reform and moderation.
You might want to switch out the picture of Pope Pius XII for one of Pope Pius XI, tho’, since that’s who the caption identifies.