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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Communism, Christianity, and Capitalism Part I

By Michael P Tremoglie

The first recorded use of the word ‘communism’ was in a 1782 letter by French philosopher Victor d’Hupay. Between d’Hupay’s 1782 letter and Marx’s 1848 Communist Manifesto the word communism was used by Pope Pius IX in his 1846 encyclical Qui pluribus.

Pius IX wrote, “…the unspeakable doctrine of Communism, as it is called, a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow.”

As Grove City College Professor Paul Kengor, a distinguished political scientist, points out in his lectures, Pope Pius IX was prescient.  But Pius IX did not stop there; he repeated his clarion call in a 1849 encyclical “Nostis et Nobiscum.”

He wrote:  “…that the goal of this most iniquitous plot is to drive people to overthrow the entire order of human affairs ….to introduce to the people the pernicious fictions of Socialism and Communism by misapplying the terms ”liberty” and ”equality.” The final goal …is to excite by continuous disturbances workers and others… whom they have deceived by their lies and deluded by the promise of a happier condition. They are preparing them for plundering, stealing, and usurping …they will profane all law, human and divine, to destroy divine worship and to subvert the entire ordering of civil societies.

The Catholic Church’s warnings about communism did not end with Pope Pius IX. Pope Leo XIII in 1878 also sounded the alarm. He cautioned about the dissolution of the family. He wrote: Even family life itself, which is the cornerstone of all society and government… the foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law, and is completed in the mutual rights and duties of parents and children, masters and servants. You know also that the doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union.

Pope Piux XI repeated this warning in his 1937 Divini Redemptoris. He declared:

“Communism is particularly characterized by the rejection of any link that binds women to the family and the home, and her emancipation is proclaimed as a basic principle. She is withdrawn from the family and the care of her children, to be thrust instead into public life and collective production under the same conditions as man. The care of home and children then devolves upon the collectivity. Finally, the right of education is denied to parents, for it is conceived as the exclusive prerogative of the community, in whose name and by whose mandate alone parents may exercise this right. …(Communism) subverts the social order, because it means the destruction of its foundations; because it ignores the true origin and purpose of the State; because it denies the rights, dignity and liberty of human personality….The preachers of Communism are also proficient in exploiting racial antagonisms and political divisions and oppositions. They take advantage of the lack of orientation characteristic of modern agnostic science in order to burrow into the universities, where they bolster up the principles of their doctrine with pseudo-scientific arguments.

The Catholic Church has been a bulwark against communism. But it also has been a constraint to unbridled capitalism. Efficient capitalism depends upon increasing standard of living without sacrificing the spiritual side of life. Until the past thirty years American capitalism accomplished this. But at some unknown point the idea that “greed is good” became a mantra among the American business class. This has helped to erode American society every bit as much as the communists.

An equal economic system is contingent upon citizens not making demands on the government. This creates a tax burden that interferes with the ability of citizens in a republic to save and invest. Living standards increase with the flow of savings dollars into the business system. Taxation inhibits this and – as is the case in communist systems – money flows to those favored by the dirigistes. This destroys society.

Conversely reducing wealth to an end unto itself also destroys a society. It destroys the morality and ethics that bind people to one another.  It is simply the other side of communism.

One of the most learned of the American anti-communist crusaders was the Catholic Bishop Fulton J Sheen. He hosted a popular 1950s American television show during which he often spoke about communism. During one particularly poignant 1955 episode he juxtaposed Karl Marx and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Sheen said that Marx preached that society was economically determined. But Marx was wrong about many things. Marx said the state would vanish in a communist society. Instead it flourished in the USSR, China, etc. Marx said communism would take root in the most advanced economy. Instead communism took root in backward economies.

Marx’s contemporary, the great Russian writer Dostoevsky, thought differently. Unlike Marx, he felt society was theologically determined. His 1871 work “The Possessed” described people who displayed the traits of the 20th century Left and to a certain degree the amoral Right. He described metaphorically who is a communist.

Dostoevsky wrote, “…a teacher who laughs with children at their God and at their cradle; is on our side. The lawyer who defends an educated murderer because he is more cultured than his victims and could not help murdering them to get money is one of us. …The juries who acquit every criminal are ours. The prosecutor who trembles at a trial for fear he should not seem advanced enough is ours, ours. Among officials and literary men we have lots, lots, and they don’t know it themselves.” 


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