This is an abridged edition of Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech. The section below outlines the enmity that inheres between Catholicism and its "rival way of salvation," secular-liberalism, socialism and communism.
The Rival Way of Salvation:
If you want to know where American liberalism is headed and how human rights such as freedom of speech and religious liberty will fare, then it is absolutely essential to make an honest assessment of communism in the twentieth century. I say, “make an honest assessment” because liberalism or progressivism bears much similarity to socialism and communism. Many in Washington and in the Church are reluctant to concede this point. The difference between them is not one of substance but of degree.
Liberalism or progressivism is a prelude to the harder, more rigid forms of socialism and communism precisely because it is less intense. As T.S. Eliot, author of Christianity and Culture, rightly noted: “That Liberalism may be a tendency toward something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite.” That is, it doesn’t move towards a definite moral or spiritual end. In the 1960’s spirit of protest, it is rather the case that it reacts to the things that it hates.
From the outset, in its social from, liberalism began in the 1960’s by protesting parental, religious and even civil authority. By exaggerating freedom (usually sexual and “reproductive” freedom) it was forced to call upon others to tolerate behaviors and lifestyles that are morally evil. But as the representatives of this movement came of age and assumed leadership positions in the political arena, it evolved into a new species altogether. It became authoritarian. As T.S. Eliot said, liberalism is “a tendency toward something very different from itself.” What began as a social movement of indiscriminate tolerance and freedom has evolved into a political movement against freedom and tolerance. This should not surprise us because those who were not good followers and who did not know the humility of obedience will not know the methods of good leadership. Christ washed the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper precisely to show what a God-inspired leader should be; namely, the servant of all.
The comparison between today’s American liberalism and socialism/communism in the twentieth century is easy enough. Simply juxtapose these two sets of principles and then you will see the similarities. What they have in common is an aversion towards doctrinal Christianity; a disregard for the dignity of life and the autonomy of the family; it exercises a suspicion towards the free market; it emphasizes the collective over the individual; it puts its trust in the public sector over the private sector; and it thrives off of class and ethnic divisions. Regardless of the label, all of these similarities lead to but one thing: An all-powerful State.
To grasp its true nature and what it portends for the individual and the nation at large, then reading the following material will help:
• On the Nature of Human Liberty and On Socialism (encyclical) by Pope Leo XIII
• On Atheistic Communism (encyclical) by Pope Pius XI
• Communism and the Western Conscience (book) by Bishop Fulton Sheen
However, a word of caution should be mentioned: When the connection is made between American liberalism and socialism/communism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, people on both sides of the political aisle- as well as many Catholics -get uncomfortable. After all, labels such as “Nazi’s” and “Fascist’s” have been carelessly bantered about in the media and in the political arena. In response, some have an understandable aversion to the use of such labels. Nevertheless, there are certain labels or characterizations that serve a useful purpose. As for the “liberal” or “progressive” label, it signifies a real set of principles; principles that need to be publicly identified and guarded against if freedom of speech and religious liberty are to be preserved.
You may be surprised to know that popes like Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI used the term "liberalism" in much the same way we use it today. Between early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, liberalism was used to mean the following in many papal encyclicals:
1. Denying the existence of divine authority.
2. Each person defining their own morality and redefining liberty to mean license.
3. Advocating big government.
4. Causing social and political ruin.
5. Excluding the Church hierarchy from the State and other public institutions.
In many respects, the Catholic Church treated liberalism in much the same way as it did socialism and communism. For instance, in his letter On the Nature of Human Liberty, Pope Leo XIII was critical of liberalism in that it too often promoted an all-powerful State. He said, "By the patrons of liberalism, however, who make the State absolute and omnipotent, and proclaim that man should live altogether independently of God..." What is to be equally reproved is the economic policy found among socialistic governments. On Capital and Labor he writes the following: “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.”
What is more telling is that Leo XIII asserted that only the “Church of Christ has such power to ward off the plague of socialism.” It just so happened that Christ bequeathed the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter in Caesarea-Philippi, a city named after Caesar Augustus and Herod. Jesus was not only making a statement by choosing this location but he further did what the Greeks and Romans only dreamed of doing. He set up an institutional force and a spiritual-moral power that would challenge and limit the supremacy of the State.
The enmity that inheres between Catholicism on the one hand and liberalism- socialism-communism on the other, can be summarized in this quote by Christopher Dawson from 1935:
"For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest. Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed.
And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, 'Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.'”