Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Socialism vs. Capitalism, Part 1

The debate between socialism and capitalism was once a much more fearsome battle. The cold war between the two had not been completely won by capitalism until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet the debate lingers in some parts of the world in a new form, that between free market capitalism with little or no government intervention and the welfare state. Because it is the center of the economic debate between America’s liberals and conservatives, I hope to shed some light on the teachings of the Church as to the proper role of the State and the shortcomings and benefits of the two economic regimes of socialism and capitalism.

To be clear, “the Church has no models to present” (43 Centesimus Annus (CA)). Their teaching is simply meant to guide our decisions and our political/economic models. It is meant for us to apply the teaching to specific problems or situations.

So what is wrong with socialism?

Socialism is built on public ownership of goods and capital equipment. It requires a central planning group to organize production and distribution. It desires a more equitable distribution of wealth and goods than capitalism produces. There are many levels of socialism, but most call for the abolishment of private property and they also believe that class is naturally hostile to class, that is, they think class warfare is the only or only desirable way to bring about their socialist ends.

Pope Leo XIII spent much time in Rerum Novarum (RN) defending the right to private property and therefore calling socialism unjust:
[Socialists] are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community – RN 4

A big argument for private property is that it is the way a man earns a living for him and his family. He needs to own property (food, shelter, etc.) in order to do so. It is also necessary to own property in order to give it to others, a form of charity. Also, the motivation to work is the obtaining of remuneration in the form of wages or property. That is, one works in order to obtain the means necessary to survive and live well. So abolishing private property altogether would distort this incentive, disable charitable giving, and make it difficult to provide for one’s family. Pope Leo XIII writes:
It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own – RN 5

Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life. – RN 5

The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home. – RN 14

The sources of wealth themselves would run dry, for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents or his industry – RN 15

And he concludes:
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 – RN 15

Even a more moderate Socialism doesn’t fit well with the Church’s teachings. Pope Pius XI wrote more on the topic in 1931 in Quadragesimo Anno as communism was beginning to take hold in the east. He noted that socialism’s desire to distribute property more equitably was not unjust, but that it is not a desire unique to socialism:
Socialism inclines toward and in a certain measure approaches the truths which Christian tradition has always held sacred; for it cannot be denied that its demands at times come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon – QA 113

Such just demands [such as the redistribution of goods] and desire have nothing in them now which is inconsistent with Christian truth, and much less are they special to Socialism. Those who work solely toward such ends have, therefore, no reason to become socialists. – QA 115

Yet, even a more moderate socialism (one with tempered class warfare and property redistribution) cannot be reconciled with the Church because of its concept of society:
Whether considered as a doctrine, or an 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 – QA 117

Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone – QA 118, emphasis added

Because of the fact that goods are produced more efficiently by a suitable division of labor than by the scattered efforts of individuals…[socialists] hold that men are obliged, with respect to the producing of goods, to surrender and subject themselves entirely to society – QA 119

So Pope Pius XI concludes:
Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist. – QA 120

Then in 1991, Pope John Paul II elucidated even more the problem with Socialism. He wrote that the main problem was of an anthropological nature, that their concept of human nature was incorrect:
The fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order. From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property. A person who is deprived of something he can call "his own", and of the possibility of earning a living through his own initiative, comes to depend on the social machine and on those who control it. This makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community. – CA 13

The reason for this misconception of human nature lies in socialism's atheistic, materialistic beliefs.
If we then inquire as to the source of this mistaken concept of the nature of the person and the "subjectivity" of society, we must reply that its first cause is atheism. – CA 13

The atheism of which we are speaking is also closely connected with the rationalism of the Enlightenment, which views human and social reality in a mechanistic way– CA 13

From the same atheistic source, socialism also derives its choice of the means of action condemned in Rerum novarum, namely, class struggle. – CA 14

Not all class struggle is bad if it “abstains from enmities and mutual hatred.” If it is carried out as a struggle for justice by just means, then it can be a cause for good. But:
However, what is condemned in class struggle is the idea that conflict is not restrained by ethical or juridical considerations, or by respect for the dignity of others... Therefore class struggle in the Marxist sense and militarism have the same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law. – CA 14

The last problem with socialism, is that its concept of the human person results in alienation, which Marx criticized capitalism heavily for creating:
Marxism thus ends up by affirming that only in a collective society can alienation be eliminated. However, the historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency. – CA 41

Alienation — and the loss of the authentic meaning of life — is a reality in Western societies too. This happens in consumerism when people are ensnared in a web of false and superficial gratifications rather than being helped to experience their personhood in an authentic and concrete way. Alienation is found also in work, when it is organized so as to ensure maximum returns and profits with no concern whether the worker grows or diminishes as a person. [Alienation occurs] in which he is considered only a means and not an end. – CA 41

A man is alienated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the experience of selfgiving and of the formation of an authentic human community oriented towards his final destiny, which is God. A society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self and to establish this solidarity between people. – CA 41

In summary, the Church denies the legitimacy of socialism because:

1)It abolishes the private property, a violation of our natural right to provide for our families
2)It engages in [violent] class warfare, a violation of solidarity, charity, and social justice
3)It is atheistic in nature causing a misconception of the human person that emphasizes material gain in this life because there is no sublime end for man, a violation of man’s dignity and sublime end
4)It causes alienation, regarding men as means, not ends, a violation of man’s dignity and development

To be sure, the welfare state is not socialism and should not be called socialism. Taxation and redistribution is not the abolition of private property. The legitimacy of the welfare state will be examined in a later post, but inasmuch as it incorporates these 4 tenets of socialism, it is illegitimate as a form of social organization for the authentic development of man.

Part 2

Part 3

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