Monday, July 16, 2018

Dancing With Mr. D.: The Socialist Impulse




Some 25 years after its collapse in Eastern Europe and Russia, many Americans, especially college-age students, once again see socialism as best amongst political economies, even  American Catholics. Let us remember, though, that Saint John XXIII reaffirmed the instruction of Pope Pius XI that “no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate socialism.” Saint John Paul II pointed to “the fundamental error of socialism,” specifically, that it “maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice.” Nevertheless, these days we see good and intelligent people styling themselves “democratic socialists”, or “Christian socialists.” Why?

Many people find socialism irresistible. Life is unfair, as we all know, but unfairness can often be remedied over time, as the American story demonstrates. When one thinks that life is unfair, justice demands a solution. The key questions here: isn’t it the responsibility of government to establish justice? Is it desirable to establish bureaucratic control of social life for the sake of fairness? In a prosperous modern society, does fairness/justice mean that  could include providing everyone should be provided with all things necessary for well-being? A yes answer labels one a socialist at present, never mind the traditional definition of socialism as state ownership of the means of production and distribution. Listening to Bernie Sanders, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, our present view of socialism seems to refer to the open-ended expansion of government activity to redress life’s unfairness.
Historically, has socialism proven efficient? Does it deliver on its promises? The record shows that it offers not “justice” but attempts “equality” and so divests people of responsibility for their situation. History shows that it concentrates power, displaces traditional institutions like family and religion, and makes it impossible for associations independent of a state bureaucracy to exist. The result? A society under a corrupt, ineffective and unchecked government. Since socialism abolishes personal feelings of responsibility, those in government are hardly motivated to sacrifice their personal advantage to for the common good.
If the goal of the socialist state is to guarantee and equalize material goods, including incorporeal goods like social respect, then these will be seen as the greatest social good. If this is the highest good, it will be argued that the country owes them this no matter what their lifestyle. If this is the case, then how concerned will a socialist electorate be about achieving their personal responsibilities?
In my experience, the socialist-minded think  debates about “people’s responsibility for their own situation” is blaming the victim and should therefore not be part of the discussion. Also, if what sustains the institutions of family, local community, and religion is government failure to deal with social injustice, then they are the “opiate of the masses” and are thus unworthy of safeguarding.           
As I argued in my book, the sense of the eternal and transcendent has been waning, leaving social action as the main focus of the Church. Perusal of left-of-center social media sites indicates that bureaucratic management is the preferred way to deal with problems. Socialists argue  the democratic claim that action by the state is action by the people, so genuine Catholics should be socialists, for God’s kingdom for them is all about efforts to advance universal justice.  So—to beguided by historical experience, reason, and the teachings of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, Catholics must change the basic understandings that  lead down the destructive path to present-day socialism. We must come to understand:
  1. Acts of government and acts of the people are two different things. Confusing the former with the latter, history has shown, is the road to totalitarianism and other madness.
  2. Catechesis on the Church’s understanding of man based on classical natural law rather than technology is also in order. Bureaucratizing a society composed of natural institutions like the family and cultural community destroys rather than perfects it.
  3. The Church must renew commitment to bringing about a rebirth of the sense of the eternal and transcendent that places earthly affairs in perspective to be able to deal with them according to the theological virtue of prudence rather than a this-worldly emphasis. As Saint John XXIII noted in Mater et Magistra: “The most perniciously typical aspect of the modern era consists in the absurd attempt to reconstruct a solid and fruitful temporal order divorced from God.” OREMUS.