Conservative Colloquium

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Pope Dissects and Denounces Socialism

Posted by Tony Listi on February 2, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Faith and policy

Benedict dissects problem with socialism

Fr. Robert Sirico

Pope Benedict XVI has delivered a wonderful — and oh-so-needed — reminder of what socialism was (and is), and why it went wrong.

Large swaths of American academia are in denial. So too are major parts of the American and European clerical class, which is still under the impression that socialism represents a gospel ideal that has yet to be tried.

Benedict explains this in his encyclical Spe Salvi(“in hope we are saved”).

The pope concentrates on Karl Marx in particular. Here was an intellectual who imagined that salvation could occur without God, and that something approximating the Kingdom of God on earth could be created by adjusting the material conditions of man.

History, in Marx’s view, was nothing but the crashes and grinding of these material forces. There was no such thing as a fixed human nature.

Marx said the expropriated working classes must take back what is rightfully theirs from the exploiting capitalist classes.

Benedict sums the fundamental error with Marx neatly:

“He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out.”

Having accomplished the revolution in Russia, Vladimir Lenin must have realized that the writings of the master gave no indication as to how to proceed. Marx had only spoken of the interim phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity which in time would automatically become redundant.

What resulted is that millions of Russians died in famine and wholesale slaughter. It became clear to Lenin that he had to back away, lest there be no one left to rule. But the dictatorship continued. So too did the poverty relative to capitalist nations.

So the pope has put the problems of economics exactly in the right light: The practical issue needs to be settled within a sound morality and understanding of human nature. Socialism fails because it has no system for pricing factors of production to make economic calculation possible. Prices come from the exchange of the very private property with which socialism dispenses.

And yet the moral problem with socialism is more profound: It exalts theft as an ethic and overlooks the human right of freedom.

Would that every Catholic interested in economics would read this encyclical. Some are getting the message already: The Catholic Church in Venezuela worked against Hugo Chavez’s dangerous plan for nationalization and regimentation of economic life. Someday, the world will come to learn the lessons that the history of socialism has taught.

Father Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids. Fax letters to (313) 222-6417 or e-mail them to

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