Throughout the presidential campaign, the term “socialism” has been cited ad nausem. In fact, the folks at Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced that “socialism” was the most searched word on its website in 2015.
The stampede to embrace socialism has been driven by the quixotic campaign of life-long socialist, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Most difficult, however, has been pinning down Sanders and others to define “socialism.” Sanders has stated his governing model is Denmark — even though the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, made it clear in a recent Harvard lecture that his country “is far from a socialist planned economy, Denmark is a market economy.”
When Hardball host, Chris Matthews, asked the DNC chairperson, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, to explain the difference between a Democrat and socialist, she looked like a deer caught in headlights and declined to answer. Ditto Hillary Clinton. When asked, she panicked and proclaimed she is a progressive.
Worse yet, is the mind-frame of millions of millennials who have flocked to the Sanders campaign. A Reason-Rupe poll revealed that socialism to them means being kind, being together, and “the government [paying] for our own needs.”
Millennials may be shocked to learn that socialism is not a new concept and is rooted in the French Revolution of 1789. Revolutionary extremists argued that liberty without security for the poor was a farce and demanded community ownership of property.
One of the earliest French socialists, Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), called for a secular “priesthood of humanity” devoted to ridding the world of starving working classes, “idle rich” parasites and the governments that protected them. St. Simon called for a hierarchical organization of expert managers to control and plan the economy. He expected a European confederation to eventually replace the Catholic Church.
St. Simon influenced utopian socialists Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen (1771-1858). To achieve “heaven on earth,” 19th century socialists promoted programs to dispossess private owners of their property and to create a community of goods.
The heyday of socialism in the United States was in the early 20th century. Eugene Debs (1855-1926), a founder of the Socialist Party of America in 1901, was its presidential candidate four times.
Interestingly, Debs, like most European socialists, despised the Catholic Church. He called it “a pious pretender who is but the livered lackey of the exploiting capitalist.”
Socialists have hated the church because it has historically rejected economic and cultural theories that promised perfection on earth, opposed private property, and supported class antagonisms. In Rerum Novarum, his famous 1891 encyclical dealing with the new socio-economic order, Pope Leo XII declared: "the Socialists, exciting the envy of the poor toward the rich contend that it is necessary to do away with private possession of goods and in its pace to make the goods of individuals common to all, and that the men who preside over a municipality or who direct the entire state should act as administrators of these goods."
But their program is so unsuited for terminating the conflict that it actually injured the workers themselves. Moreover, it is highly unjust, because it violates the rights of lawful owners perverts the functions of the state, and throws governments into utter confusion.
Writing 50 years later, Pope Pius XI, in Quadgesimo Anno, agreed with his predecessor: “If socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, more-over, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true Socialist.”
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, St. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus, praised Leo for recognizing the dangers socialism posed to the masses in its infancy. He added: "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 and evil . . . 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."
If Millennials and other Americans who believe socialism is “chic” turn to papal writings, they will learn that socialism means more than getting “free stuff” and student loan forgiveness. They’ll learn socialism is both a cultural and economic doctrine that endangers their human liberties and ultimately subordinates their activities to the service of the state.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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