"My individual salvation always depends on our collective salvation"
-Barak Obama, President of the United States
"...I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to progressive. Liberals amuse me. I am a socialist."
-Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC News Anchor
Socialism: A Way of Life
Below are arguments and excerpts taken from Brownson’s Quarterly Review, (January 1849) called, Socialism and the Church. About thirty years before Pope Leo XIII started writing on socialism and the evil it portends for society, Orestes Brownson, a convert to the Catholic Church, diagnosed it with stunning accuracy. Mind you, he had written about this challenge to Christianity while it was still in its infancy. Today, I believe that Christians have yet to articulate just how all-encompassing socialism is.
Socialism is not only an economic rival to the free market, but it is a rival worldview to that of Christianity. It inspires, not just economic policy, but a way of living one's life. Because it appeals to Gospel themes such as serving the poor and protecting the little guy, and because it capitalizes on Christian sentiment, socialism has taken on a messianic appeal and a religious fervor. However, at the very heart of socialism lurks irreconcilable differences with Christianity. Few in our century are bold enough to say it but nineteenth century men like Orestes Brownson and Pope Leo XIII called it for what it was: An enemy of the Gospel.
Socialism is, perhaps, the greatest challenge to America and to Christianity itself. And yet we must take the first step: facing up to the truth!
As long ago as 1848 Brownson presented some insights that are quite useful for our political discourse today. The kind of socialism being advanced by politicians and the media needs to be juxtaposed to Christian and constitutional principles. There are four insights from Browson's piece on Socialism and the Church worth considering.
Socialism: Dismissing the Supernatural
1. Quote: "The socialist is right in saying that there is good for us even in this world; his error lies in placing that good in the natural order and in making it unattainable by individual effort. Our good lies not in the natural order, but in the supernatural order, in the order which our Lord came to establish. In that order there is the good that we can conceive, and attainable by simple voluntary efforts."
Socialism totally dispenses with the supernatural order. To be fair, conservatism is tending toward this negation as well. Nevertheless, civility and charity is dependent upon the sanctity of the soul. The incentives which the Christian Faith provides such as the prospects of going to heaven or hell, the desire to please God in the privacy of the home as well as the public square and the strength to do it via divine grace are the best incentives for good behavior. The Christian, furthermore, believes that the means to make us better people and the destiny for which we were created is of the supernatural order. Again, Socialism and Secular-liberalism offers nothing beyond this world. The kingdom of heaven, they say, is to be found here. But we Christians who want to save this Republic cannot afford to ignore the importance of the supernatural order in political discourse. Christ said, "Without Me, you can do nothing." The question is: Do we take him at his word?
Socialism: Following Nature
2. Quote: "No evil is removable, no good is attainable, as long as any earthly or merely natural end is held up to be, for its own sake, a legitimate object of pursuit."
To this effect, Arnold Toynbee, British historian, said several decades later: “[T]he most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.” For Christians that more ambitious goal is eternal happiness. No natural or earthly good can rightfully be pursued for its own sake without his or her supernatural end in mind. In the absence of faith, people will not only misunderstand the goods this world has to offer, but they will end up misusing them to their own detriment. As our Lord promised, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
The goals of Socialism are, therefore, materialistic in nature. What is more, the Socialists bid us to follow human nature indiscriminately! Keep in mind that from our fallen human nature comes lust, pride and envy. Lust translates into sexual promiscuity and sexual promiscuity leads to broken marriages and families. In fact, Douglas Jerrold, author of Future of Freedom, once wrote that if you ever want the State to rule with an iron fist, just preach unbridled sex. To be sure, moral liberalism is the precursor to an all-powerful State.
As for the base human inclinations of pride and envy, they manifests themselves politically in men's quest for unlimited power and their provocation of class warfare. Christianity, on the other hand, bids us to resist those fallen inclinations which lead to our ruin. St. Paul said, "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." That's right. Chastity, charity, liberty and right living all require a dose of grace and discipline.
Socialism: Individual Slavery
3. Quote: "But the liberty the socialists commend, and which the people are seeking, is not Christian liberty, for it is not liberty at all. Socialism, by its very principle, enslaves us to nature and society, and subjects us to all the fluctuations of time and sense...The individual, it teaches, can make no advance towards his destiny but in proportion as he secures the cooperation of his race. All men must be brought down or brought up to the same level."
In the Socialistic system the individual becomes a slave precisely because his well-being is dependent upon the "salvation" of the collective or a given community of people. As such, this kind of salvation for the individual is forever outside his control. He is at the mercy of others. But Christianity, as Brownson points out, is simple and accessible. All the individual has to do to be saved is to will it. The key to the door, so to speak, resides within the sanctuary of his heart; whereas admission and good standing of a Socialist is dependent upon other gatekeepers. This may sound abstract to some but it does translate into real policies. The primacy of the individual over the collective or the social body is paramount. Moreover, although the individual has moral obligations towards the common good or society, he is never to be of secondary importance to society or made to be its slave. This is what the Catholic Church has always taught in contradistinction to paganism and the "collective salvation" which Socialism pretends to offer mankind.
Equal Dignity or Equal Results:
4. Browson added that what Socialism calls evil is not evil and what it calls good is not good. Socialism promotes a kind of equality which resembles the Christian doctrine of equality. The Catholic Church, for instance, has always taught that every person has equal dignity; that God wills everyone to be saved; and that every person possesses the same human rights. But Socialism takes equality to another level. Not only is every person is to have equal opportunity but every person out to have an equal outcome; that is, equal salary, property and material belongings. But as Pope Leo XIII cautioned, "Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community."
Poverty and the Parable:
Another thing, socialists refer to poverty as inherently evil and therefore something to be eliminated completely. Hence, many politicians, inspired by the principles of Socialism, claim to wage “a war on poverty.” They talk as though their policies will make poverty a thing of the past. However, the Catholic Church, through her magisterial teachings and through the writings of the Saints, never declared poverty to be evil. In fact, Jesus Christ embraced poverty at his birth, during the thirty years of his hidden life, during his public ministry and at his death. By doing this he dignified poverty and made it holy. St. Francis of Assisi goes so far as to say this: "You know, my brothers, that poverty is the queen of virtues, because it is shone so brightly in the King of kings, and in the queen, his mother. Know my brothers, that poverty is the straight road to salvation, the nurse of humility, the root of perfection; its fruits are numerous, but hidden."
Throughout the last two thousand years, the Catholic Church followed suit. Monastic and religious orders and clergy have taken vows of poverty. Indeed, one of the three evangelical counsels is poverty. Look this up for yourselves if you do not believe me but the Saints teach unanimously that poverty is to be accepted as coming from the hand of God. Humble circumstances can have great spiritual value. Fulton Sheen said that the poor need the rich for material reasons but the rich need the poor for spiritual reasons.
Let there be no doubt, Jesus taught that his followers should seek to relieve the poor and the needy. To be sure, no other institution can exceed or even equal the amount of charity the Catholic Church has done in relieving the poor, the infirmed and the unloved. But never did Christ or the Church help the poor under the illusion that poverty as such is evil! or that it can be totally eliminated! or that we should use other peoples money for such relief! or that such relief is best mediated by the State!
You also might find it interesting that in the Parable of the Talents our Lord gave a certain amount of talents to three men. The first two invested those talents, earned interest on it and were given more by the Master because of their lucrative investments. As for the third person, he buried his talents, getting nothing in return for them and was severely punished by the Master. Whatever little the third person had was taken away and given to those who had more. Now, it seems to me that a Socialist, in contradistinction to the Master of the parable, would do precisely the opposite. He would berate those who made a lucrative investment, confiscate the interest made on the investments and give it to those who buried their talents. But in order to do this, he would have to first promise people that prosperity and happiness is only to be had by reducing everything to one dead level. When the upper classes have given their surplus, not to the lower classes, but to the government, then all will be well. Such is the logic of Socialism. But it seems to be a significant departure from what the Master of the parable rewarded achievement!
Conclusion: The Lot of Humanity:
Let every American voter read the words of Pope Leo XIII carefully. It will spare him much disappointment when politicians hold out their utopian promises:
“To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently -- who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment -- they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present. Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere, as We have said, for the solace to its troubles.”
Will America embrace Christian liberty or will it succumb to the illusions that Socialism invariably creates? If the New Evangelization can provide any service to America, it is this: To make known that Christianity and Socialism are irreconcilable and then explain why!