Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If you must know…

The following are notes on recent discussion I've been having in this post. I provide them partially to aid myself and partially to clarify a few things for my interlocutor or other readers. My interlocutor sees the Catholic Church as the ancient engine of global socialist oppression––which makes it all the more ironic that out-and-out socialists would beg to differ.

For instance, in the concluding remarks of this 1949 debate (cf. this citation) between a socialist, Max Shachtman, and a Catholic priest, Charles Owen Rice, Shachtman explains that:

socialism demands the collective ownership and democratic control and management of the means of production and exchange for the benefit and welfare of the people as a whole. … Do not be tickled under the chin by the idea that socialism has an absolutely fierce and murderous objective — against whom? a corner grocery? or a peanut stand? Are the corner grocers and the peanut stands ruining civilization? … The Catholic Church as an institution has been in all decisive events on the side of [anti-socialist] reaction. … The Pope in the Quadrigesimo Anno, the encyclical of 1931, says: no sincere Catholic may be a true socialist. Clear enough, isn’t it? … [T]he Catholic Church, even when it has not shared the view of reaction — and in many cases it has not — has always managed to work with reaction, has always managed to cooperate with reaction. Therein lies the fundamental basis for its opposition to socialism and on no other grounds.

Fr. Rice replies in conclusion:

[Citing a socialist pamphlet that cites Leo XIII:] ‘ “Human labor of every kind is the general source of the increase in wealth in this world.” Pope Pius IX quotes Leo to the effect that the wealth of states is produced in no other way than by the labour of workingmen.’ That is the quotation. That is exact.

The context in which it is, is a discussion of the functions of the two classes. Our Holy Father the Pope points out that both the managing or the employing class and the working class perform a function. Management performs a function. There will be a management class in your socialist utopia. In no place does he say that the workers are entitled to all the profits, that they give the only thing of value….

The stand of the church on the classes is that both classes are necessary, both classes perform a function. There are great evils and great corruptions in the capitalist system. There are great corruptions connected with the ownership of private property; but private property is such a bulwark of the liberties of man that you cannot permit it to be taken away from people and put in the state, because the thing you don’t like about capitalism is that not enough men have shares in productive ownership. …

Tyranny of the left is just as evil as tyranny of the right, and we’ve got to be against both. If we give our destinies into the hands of the state, as this little group proposes, we turn our entire destinies and put them in the hands of the state, you can call it anything you want, you can call it anything you want, it will be dictatorship. …

The Catholic Church is against all statism and all totalitarianism. There’s a place for the state and a place for the church. There are moral laws and there is justice that always, always, must be observed. And if you get away from your moral concepts, and if you think that any vast nation can live by a system akin to that of village atheism, you’re crazy. Wherever it’s been tried, you’ve had the madhouse of Hitler, an ex-socialist, Mussolini, an ex-socialist, and Stalin, who is now — at least he claims today that he still is — a socialist.

It seems Fr. Rice missed a grand opportunity to convince Shachtman of the Church's socialist foundation.

Indeed, according to a 1957 Time article,

From socialism's earliest beginnings down through the years to the present, the Roman Catholic Church has branded the Marxist doctrine of socialism with its disapproval. That disapproval became such a political reflex that Catholic parties often seemed to be identified with opposition to social progress itself. The effort to correct this impression, plus the urgent menace of Communism, gave birth, in post-World War II in Europe, to the surprisingly successful Christian Democratic movements in Italy, Western Germany, Belgium and France. …

The Catholic Archbishopric [in the Netherlands] reiterated a mandate issued three years before, when the Catholic People's Party became alarmed over the inroads made among Catholic voters by the Labor (socialist) Party. Warned the mandate: "Whoever follows the development without prejudice must fear that our political power and influence will crumble. It is not permissible for a Catholic to be a member of socialist associations, such as The Netherlands Federation of Trade Unions, or to visit socialist gatherings regularly, to read the socialist press regularly, or to listen to the socialist radio network regularly." Those who defied the mandate were threatened with refusal of the sacraments. If an offender died unrepentant, he could be refused church burial.

Explaining this new insistence on an old position, a high Vatican official was candid. "Any time we collaborate with the socialists, it is to combat the worse evil of Communism. Whenever there is a danger that socialism may attain its program, we are against it. Now in West Germany, Holland and Belgium, socialism, instead of being an added strength against Communism, has turned into a strength-sapping preacher of neutralism. Those who vote for it, vote against a Christian concept of society."

Facts is troubling things.

I shall now provide quotations from the 1912 article on "Socialism" in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

[Socialism is a] system of social and economic organization that would substitute state monopoly for private ownership of the sources of production and means of distribution, and would concentrate under the control of the secular governing authority the chief activities of human life. The term is often used vaguely to indicate any increase of collective control over individual action, or even any revolt of the dispossessed against the rule of the possessing classes. But these are undue extensions of the term, leading to much confusion of thought. State control and even state ownership are not necessarily Socialism: they become so only when they result in or tend towards the prohibition of private ownership not only of "natural monopolies", but also of all the sources of wealth. Nor is mere revolt against economic inequality Socialism: it may be Anarchism…; it may be mere Utopianism…; it may be a just resistance to oppression. Nor is it merely a proposal to make such economic changes in the social structure as would banish poverty. Socialism is this … and much more. …

[T]he Collectivist idea, which is the economic basis of modern Socialism…, really emerges only with "Gracchus" Babeuf and his paper, "The tribune of the People", in 1794 [in the very midst of the French Revolution, no less, when the Catholic Church's influence was weakest in France!]. In the manifesto issued by him and his fellow-conspirators, "Les Egaux", is to be found a clear vision of the collective organization of society, such as would be largely accepted by most modern Socialists. Babeuf was guillotined by the Directory, and his party suppressed. …

[By the early nineteenth century,] the leaders of Socialism have not been slow to emphasize the lesson [of the poor support for co-operative economics] and to extend the argument, with sufficient plausibility, towards state monopoly and the absolutism of the majority. The logic of their argument has, it is true, been challenged, in recent years, in Europe by the rise of the great Catholic trade-union and co-operative organizations. …

As St. Paul pointed out, there must be a continual struggle between [material and spiritual prosperity]. If the individual life is to be a success, the spiritual desire must triumph, the material one must be subordinate, and when this is so the whole individual life is lived with proper economy, spiritual things being sought after as an end, while material things are used merely as a means to that end.

… From the Christian point of view material necessities are to be kept at a minimum, and material superfluities as far as possible to be dispensed with altogether. The Christian is a soldier and a pilgrim who requires material things only as a means to fitness and nothing more. In this he has the example of Christ Himself, Who came to earth with a minimum of material advantages and persisted thus even to the Cross. The Christian, then, not only from the individual but also from the social standpoint, has chosen the better part. He does not despise this life, but, just because his material desires are subordinate to his spiritual ones, he lives it much more reasonably, much more unselfishly, much more beneficially to his neighbours.

The point, too, which he makes against the Socialist is this. The Socialist wishes to distribute material goods in such a way as to establish a substantial equality, and in order to do this he requires the State to make and keep this distribution compulsory. The Christian replies to him: "You cannot maintain this widespread distribution, for the simple reason that you have no machinery for inducing men to desire it. On the contrary, you do all you can to increase the selfish and accumulative desires of men: you centre and concentrate all their interest on material accumulation, and then expect them to distribute their goods." This ultimate difference between Christian and Socialist teaching must be clearly understood. Socialism appropriates all human desires and centres them on the here-and-now, on material benefit and prosperity. But material goods are so limited in quality, in quantity, and in duration that they are incapable of satisfying human desires, which will ever covet more and more and never feel satisfaction. In this Socialism and Capitalism are at one, for their only quarrel is over the bone upon which is the meat that perisheth. Socialism, of itself and by itself, can do nothing to diminish or discipline the immediate and materialistic lust of men, because Socialism is itself the most exaggerated and universalized expression of this lust yet known to history. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches and practices unselfish distribution of material goods, both according to the law of justice and according to the law of charity. …

Again, ethically speaking, Socialism is committed to the doctrine of determinism. Holding that society makes the individuals of which it is composed, and not vice versa, it has quite lost touch with the invigorating Christian doctrine of free will. This fact may be illustrated by its attitude towards the three great institutions which have hitherto most strongly exemplified and protected that doctrine — the Church, the Family, and private ownership. Socialism, with its essentially materialistic nature, can admit no raison d'etre for a spiritual power, as complementary and superior to the secular power of the State. …

The State, it is true, must ensure a proper basis for its economic life, but beyond that it should not interfere: its business is not to detach the members of the family from their body in order to make them separately and selfishly efficient…. The business of the State is rather that of helping the Family to a healthy, co-operative, and productive unity. The State was never meant to appropriate to itself the main parental duties, it was rather meant to provide the parents, especially poor parents, with a wider, freer, healthier family sphere in which to be properly parental. Socialism, then, both in Church and Family, is impersonal and deterministic: it deprives the individual of both his religious and his domestic freedom. And it is exactly the same with the institution of private property. …

If man, then, has the right to own, control, and use private property, the State cannot give him this right or take it away; it can only protect it. Here, of course, we are at issue with Socialism, for, according to it, the State is the supreme power from which all human rights are derived; it acknowledges no independent spiritual, domestic, or individual power whatever. … It is true that the institutions of religion, of the family, and of private ownership are liable to great abuses, but the perfection of human effort and character demands a freedom of choice between good and evil as their first necessary condition. This area of free choice is provided, on the material side, by private ownership; on the spiritual and material, by the Christian Family; and on the purely spiritual by religion. The State, then, instead of depriving men of these opportunities of free and fine production, not only of material but also of intellectual values, should rather constitute itself as their defender. …

If it be found on examination that the general trend of the Socialist movement, the predominant opinion of the Socialists, the authoritative pronouncements of ecclesiastical and expert Catholic authority all tend to emphasize the philosophical cleavage indicated above, it is probably safe to conclude that those who profess to reconcile the two doctrines are mistaken: either their grasp of the doctrines of Christianity or of Socialism will be found to be imperfect, or else their mental habits will appear to be so lacking in discipline that they are content with the profession of a belief in incompatible principles. Now, if Socialism be first considered as embodied in the Socialist movement and Socialist activity, it is notorious that everywhere it is antagonistic to Christianity. This is above all clear in Catholic countries, where the Socialist organizations are markedly anti-Christian both in profession and practice. …

The trend of the Socialist movement, then, and the deliberate pronouncements and habitual thought of leaders and followers alike, are almost universally found to be antagonistic to Christianity. Moreover, the other side of the question is but a confirmation of this antagonism. For all three popes who have come into contact with modern Socialism, Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X, have formally condemned it, both as a general doctrine and with regard to specific points. The bishops and clergy, the lay experts on social and economic questions, the philosophers, the theologians, and practically the whole body of the faithful are unanimous in their acceptance of the condemnation. …

Christianity and Socialism are hopelessly incompatible, and the logic of events makes this ever clearer. It is true that, before the publication of the Encyclical "Rerum novarum", it was not unusual to apply the term "Christian Socialism" to the social reforms put forward throughout Europe by those Catholics who are earnestly endeavouring to restore the social philosophy of Catholicism to the position it occupied in the ages of Faith. But, under the guidance of Pope Leo XIII, that crusade against the social and economic iniquities of the present age is now more correctly styled "Christian Democracy", and no really instructed, loyal, and clear-thinking Catholic would now claim or accept the style of Christian Socialist.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, facts is some very troubling things.

Note Leo XIII, Quod Apostolici Muneri, 9 (28 Dec. 1878):

…Catholic wisdom, sustained by the precepts of natural and divine law, provides with especial care for public and private tranquillity in its doctrines and teachings regarding the duty of government and the distribution of the goods which are necessary for life and use. For, while the socialists would destroy the "right" of property, alleging it to be a human invention altogether opposed to the inborn equality of man, and, claiming a community of goods, argue that poverty should not be peaceably endured, and that the property and privileges of the rich may be rightly invaded, the Church, with much greater wisdom and good sense, recognizes the inequality among men, who are born with different powers of body and mind, inequality in actual possession, also, and holds that the right of property and of ownership, which springs from nature itself, must not be touched and stands inviolate. For she knows that stealing and robbery were forbidden in so special a manner by God, the Author and Defender of right, that He would not allow man even to desire what belonged to another, and that thieves and despoilers, no less than adulterers and idolaters, are shut out from the Kingdom of Heaven. But not the less on this account does our holy Mother not neglect the care of the poor or omit to provide for their necessities; but, rather, drawing them to her with a mother's embrace, and knowing that they bear the person of Christ Himself, who regards the smallest gift to the poor as a benefit conferred on Himself, holds them in great honor. She does all she can to help them; she provides homes and hospitals where they may be received, nourished, and cared for all the world over and watches over these. She is constantly pressing on the rich that most grave precept to give what remains to the poor; and she holds over their heads the divine sentence that unless they succor the needy they will be repaid by eternal torments.

Note Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 15 (15 May 1891):

"[I]n addition to injustice [wrought by Socialism], it is only too evident what an upset and disturbance there would be in all classes, and to how intolerable and hateful a slavery citizens would be subjected. The door would be thrown open to envy, to mutual invective, and to discord; the sources of wealth themselves would run dry, for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents or his industry; and that ideal equality about which they entertain pleasant dreams would be in reality the levelling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation. Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property. This being established, we proceed to show where the remedy sought for must be found."

As I have said more than once, opposing socialism does not entail that the Church simply endorses capitalism. Cf. e.g. Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI, 1931 (clarifies opposition to pure free market capitalism):

“Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life.... No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist".

Note also the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 27:

Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity,(8) so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.(9)

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, "As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me" (Matt. 25:40).

The socialist shoes doesn't fit. That doesn't prevent my interlocutor from stuffing it on the Catholic foot, however.


djr said...

Many people I know like to mock tea party-style conservatives in the U.S. for calling Obama a socialist. I used to believe that the mockery reflected a tacit acknowledgment that of course Obama isn't a socialist, and that these nutjobs can't distinguish any government regulation of the economy or property from socialism. Lately I've begun to believe that many people on the left actually share the conflation of socialism with support for government regulation, and that the mockery was just poking fun at people who use "socialism" as a bad word.

Really, though, the careless use of "socialism" is just one of the countless cases in which our political culture operates by creating false dichotomies.

mightygreekwritingmachine said...

There are none so blind as the adherent to socialism.

They don't have the free will or desire to remove the plank from their own eye, because they are told the plank is not there by, yet, another adherent with an equally imbedded plank, who insists that blindness is bliss.

djr said...

Can you tell me what an adherent to socialism believes? Can you give me any examples?

mightygreekwritingmachine said...

Just read Marx. After he initally thought Socialism could be built on some of the principles Christ set forth, there came pressure from the authorities, and he changed his thinking. I'm speaking primarily of socialism that is hard line and not the sort of utopian socialism advocated, say during the "radical" 1960s or by Huxley or More. Socialism, masked as welfare, in the US has resulted in less motivation and more crime and joblessness than expected, and, if you are checking the news regularly, it's gotten worse. Hitler, comes to mind. I believe Horace, or perhaps, Cicero, spoke of the "Golden Mean," which sought out truth without mediocrity. We have, in our society today, and in some around the world, accepted mediocrity as the standard. Instead of choosing that which is noble, we choose the liberally convenient. Firing up the passions of the people does not establish truth. Socialist adherents, I believe, hold virtue in contempt. Lenin comes to mind. I do for you...all for you...and you follow and accept. Anything seemingly good and "utopian" usually ends up a nightmare, which can, in some instances, be said of democracy. The early socialists made specific mention of the desire for co-existence, but that was actually a myth. Latvia, Estonia, the Baltic countries were promised peaceful co-existence one day, and the very next were wiped from the face of the earth.

This will have to do for now, as I am very tired. I'll try to get back to this in the next few days.

djr said...

So, then, your answer is "no"?

I have read some Marx. He has different views at different times. So if, to be a socialist, one needs to believe what Marx believed, that will be problematic. Then again, being a socialist may be compatible with having incoherent beliefs. Even still, if to be a socialist is to believe what Marx believes, then you're misidentifying the United States as having anything to do with Marx. Marx, at various times and in various ways, identified the abolition of the state and a completely state-controlled economic system as ideals. If you are somehow under the impression that the U.S. is headed toward anarchy or a bureaucratic command economy, you must be living in a different country than I am: in my country our government appeals to corporate C.E.O.'s for political advice, subsidizes industries to benefit large corporations whose wealth is controlled by a small number of people, violates individuals' property rights for the benefit of private corporate entities, and allows some of its wealthiest private businesses to pay no taxes. It ain't laissez-faire -- which, in its genuine form, would be amenable to many self-identified socialists including Marx in some moods -- but it sure isn't a state-controlled command economy either.

Instead of dropping a bunch of names without saying anything intelligible about them, perhaps you could try to present a list of propositions to which one needs to assent in order to be a socialist. Until you get clearer on this, you're just using the word as a bogey to scare others and a crutch to keep yourself from thinking carefully. So perhaps another alternative would be for you to rephrase all this without using the word "socialist" or name-dropping.

And by the way, Horace's "golden mean" is, in Latin, aurea mediocritas.

mightygreekwritingmachine said...


Thanks for your superior, sort of corporate-CEO-like, Latin dig and conversion for Golden Mean. Socialist Society is full of those, who presume for others.

I said I would get back to you as I had not completed my post, wishy-washy as you may think.

I believe that the USA is fully committed to a serious agenda of socialist encapsulation, so to say. I have witnessed this uptake for many years, particularly having followed the dire consequences of ignoble and debilitating welfare hand outs that seem to never end. I do believe, along with Chesterton, in distributism, but not in "same our vote, save our party" welfare that is so demeaning that most people, principally minorities, are made to become shells as people with little or no sense of goals, desire, or need for learning and doing.

I saw this unfortunate display of social addiction when I tutored and mentored in public housing sites, where the government provide wonderful facilities and technology for people to learn how to get a job, but getting a job is a complicated matter for people who have been subsidized into fantasy land.


"Harnack, for his part, notes that the Gospel provides no direct social programme to combat and abolish poverty; that it makes no judgments about the organisation of labor and other aspects of life which are so important for us today, such as art and science. But, he adds, it is fortunate that this is the case! We would have been sorry if it had tried to make rules about the relations between classes, working conditions and so on."

I am with the Catholic Church on this issue that giving without requiring, teaching, guiding is a dead end street and makes the recipient a pawn in the hands of the government, which is, as noted, becoming more prevalent in the USA.

From the writng of Fr.Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa:

"Perhaps the greatest sin committed against the poor is indifference, pretending not to see, “passing by on the other side”. (cf. Lk 10, 31). What Jesus objected to in the rich man who feasted sumptuously, was not so much the unbridled luxury of his lifestyle, as his indifference to the poor man lying at his gate."

Yes, indeed, taking the advice of the worldly makers and government shakers creates a way of isolating the poor and weak, making them drool for the state's help and love the state, as they are controlled by the state (whether loving it or not, they’re stuck), which happens even to the so-called middle-class educated professionals and blue collar workers. It's a sort of backhanded compliment of indifference, which is the manner and method of socialism.

Having come from a family of workers and doers, and people who do not take welfare, but find out how to fish on our own, I am greatly concerned about our country and the power that rests in very few indifferent men and women.

djr said...

So, your answer is still no.

If you can't characterize "socialism" as you understand it, I can't even begin to assess the coherence, let alone the plausibility, to say nothing of the truth of your claim that the U.S. is "fully committed to a serious program of socialist encapsulation." I'd also need to know what on earth you mean by "encapsulation" here, but since you've now failed twice over to tell me what you mean by "socialism," I'm not too optimistic that I'll be able to understand you.

So, for all I know you're dead right. For all I know, you're the wisest person in America. But so far I can't tell you apart from the schizophrenics I pass on the street on my way to work, because you're no more capable than they are of telling me what you mean by a term that is apparently important to you.

If it helps you at all, I should make clear that socialism as I understand that term is not something that I endorse. But I also don't think that the U.S. is anything remotely like, or is geared to become anything remotely like, a socialist nation as I understand that term. I have already made clear that I associate the term "socialism" with a thoroughly state-controlled command economy. So I've done my part. If you want to satisfy anyone but yourself, you'll need to tell me what you mean.

As for aurea mediocritas, you seem to have read that comment as though I meant only to show off my knowledge of Latin (which you then condemn as 'socialist'; if knowledge of Latin is particularly socialist, then your claim that the U.S. is a leaning toward socialism is empirically false). Rather, it was intended to point out what seems to me to be the incoherence of appealing in one breath to Horace's "golden mean" and in the next to a wholly un-Horatian, not to mention un-Christian, quasi-aristocratic denigration of the "mediocre." The classical meaning of "mediocre" is precisely what you pretended to be praising in Horace's golden mean, and though the meaning of the word has changed, the Latin that you praise is no less opposed to your aristocratic snobbery than the English that you contemn. If this is all lost on you, I apologize. Your pretense to understanding our obviously confusing political and cultural predicaments had suggested to me that you were capable of reading subtly.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

While I don't agree the U.S. is on its way to becoming a socialist nation––and the very notion seems an oxymoron, considering the allegedly classless telos of socialism and the seemingly intrinsically bureaucratic nature of national governance–– , I would ask for no more aspersions of mental illness to be cast on my family members or anyone else. Having said that, the thrust of this post and the subsequent comments has me thinking the good news for the U.S. is that it is losing some of its harder capitalistic edges by the providential sloping towards a more Catholic balance, though it is easy for this sloping to be (mis)construed as a descent into socialism.