Plutocrats and Democrats

I’m re-reading Joseph Pearce’s excellent biography of Chesterton, and am struck at how the same battles we are facing today, Chesterton faced a hundred years ago.

The portly prophet wrote on just about every subject under the sun, but one of his passions, and one of the areas in which he was most controversial was the subject of economics and politics. He pointed out that there were two kinds of slavery, the slavery of socialism and the slavery of capitalism. He was very careful to define capitalism as what we might call unrestrained capitalism or greed-dominated capitalism.

The way he defined this unrestrained capitalism is that it was the form of economic system which was motivated by making as much money as possible in whatever way possible no matter what the price. Chesterton was not against people making money and he was in favor of “capital” or property being owned by as many people as possible. What he objected to was a plutocracy in which the super rich continue to get richer and richer at the expense of the poor.

Following the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum Chesterton also condemned socialism. While socialism might seem to be the compassionate antidote to plutocracy, Chesterton points out that it enshrines another form of theft. If plutocrats steal from the poor, under socialism the poor steal from the rich through the mechanism of a government that forces re-distribution of wealth. Why is this post titled, “Plutocrats and Democrats”? because the Democrats in this country have now espoused such a left wing ideology that the term can safely be used to indicate their socialist ideals. Besides, “Plutocrats and Democrats” has a nice ring to it in a way that “Republicans and Socialists” doesn’t.

The fact of the matter is the plutocrats and democrats are equally as venal and vile, and lest I be accused of crude generalizations, I realize that all Democrats are not evil monsters any more than all Republicans are. What we really need to do, both in our individual lives and as a society is move beyond these terms and see that the real enemy are not Plutocrats and Democrats,but more primal concerns and crimes of lust for power, greed, envy and the violence that comes from these sins.

What people forget is that greed and envy produce violence. The violence of war to ensure our ‘strategic interests’ the violence of revolution when the poor can take no more and man the barricades, the violence of theft –both the muggings on main street and the robbery on Wall Street. We seem to forget that there are four sins that cry out to heaven: Murder, Sodomy, Oppression of the widow and orphan and defrauding the laborer his wage.

The economic sins of our nation and their roots of greed, envy and lust are woven into the very fabric of our commercialized society. It’s nauseating, corrupt and vile. The sexual sins that Catholic so often talk about are part of the same worldliness that drives the plutocrat and democrat. The push for total sexual “freedom” and the push for personal pleasure and power at all costs are simply fruits of the seven deadlies at work in our world.

What to do about it? I cannot change the world, but I can (by God’s grace) change myself. I can decide to eschew plutocracy and socialism. I will live simply so that others may simply live. I will rejoice in being content. I will realize that the sooner I decide I have enough the sooner I will have enough. I will live with a preferential option for the poor. I will also exult and be glad for all my material benefits. I will love all things according to their worth. I will be generous to others for God has been generous to me. I will live with an open heart, an open mind, an open purse, open arms and perhaps inspire some others to live in the same way, and so eventually make a small difference in the world.


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  • Observer

    Interesting that you call out Democrats as socialists, but stop short of calling out Republicans as plutocrats. Why is that? I do like your last paragraph though. I wish the Church would cease its flirtation with GOP candidates and overt politicking.

  • Michael

    And how is democracy synonymous with socialism? Has Catholic views pof government gotten so bad in the US that now even democracy is viewed with suspicion.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Read the post. I said the Democrat party was synonymous with socialism

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I did refer to Republicans as plutocrats when I said the post could have been titled Republicans and Socialists except that it didn’t have quite the same ring as Plutocrats and Democrats.

  • Michael

    ” I can decide to eschew plutocracy and democracy (“democracy” meaning socialism) ” Democracy is not synonymous with socialism.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think most politicians just want to get re-elected and wallow in government power. To do this they have to respond to their respective party constituencies to get or stay in power. In my book there already is a Third Party in the political arena and this party is the reason why the other two are so similar to each other. That Third Party is the Advertising Party. It spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to stimulate and encourage greed, lust, and envy. It molds and shapes American’s desires and wants (Notice how ads never truthfully say that their product is something they want you to lust for but is always a basic NEED.)
    In a way the Advertising Party is very much like Satan–people deny his (its) existence and deny his (its) widespread corrupting influence so the deep underlying cause of so many evils gets a free pass to do its dirty work.

  • Obpoet

    Seems this topic begs for a solution. It is not enough to cast stones. Our society needs a solution. What is that solution, the one that is able to succeed?

  • Pat H

    Chesterton was a Distributist, an economic theory that just hasn’t managed to get any traction at all since World War Two, but which was on the rise in the 1930s and which actually saw some slight, albeit accidental, application here and there.

    As you note, Chesterton was not opposed to Capitalism, but Distributist argued that the worst aspects of Capitalism had to be addressed by “distributing” the means of production down to the family level, where possible. They particularly thought this important for agriculture. Modern post war economist have regarded such thoughts as anti capitalistic, but they’re not, as modern Capitalism relies on the legal fiction of the corporation to function. That is, like mercantilism, modern Capitalism is based upon a thesis that fully accepts granting an unnatural economic advantage to an entity, in its case the corporation, which is recognized as a person at law, even though it isn’t in nature. If corporations were regarded as huge partnerships, the economy would be much different. We’d have, for example, no Walmarts. Of course, Distributist would argue for more than that, and would be opposed to absentee agricultural land owners, etc.

    Anyhow, it’s interested me how there’s been no revived discussion of this economic theory, post 2008.

  • Ed Skrivanek

    Amen Fr. Longenecker! We always need to ponder the way Christ would want us to go. He does give us some clues though via His instructions to us in the Bible. Sin is always an issue and always will be in this life. The current trend of those in charge seems to be an effort to make even the mention of sin as politically incorrect. It’s seems like an effort to shame and humiliate those of us who are devout Christians and express our belief in our faith. I love your reminder to us, “We seem to forget that there are four sins that cry out to heaven: Murder, Sodomy, Oppression of the widow and orphan and defrauding the laborer his wage.” You are a courageous Catholic and an inspiration to others. You are also true to the magisterium, which isn’t always the case. God bless you and your family and thank you for your blog, which has been a blessing to me.

  • Christina

    Today’s Democrats may verbally espouse “left” and decry “right” economically, but the reality is that today’s socialist rulers are plutocrats. They are using a socialist system to create a plutocracy to run it, and putting themselves at the helm of this plutocracy.

    If you go far enough west, you end in the same place as if you go far enough east.

  • FW Ken

    I’ve come to the conclusion that “left” and “right” in this country are distinguished primarily by which deadly sins they overlook.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker


  • Bill

    Michael, he’s not talking about small d democrats. He’s talking about large D Democrars. LIke Orthodox and orthodox

  • Michael

    I never mentioned democrats or Democrat. I was referring to Fr. Longenecker’s use of the word democracy.

  • Observer

    You even use the Rush Limbaugh shorthand! Democrat party? Um, no. It is the Democratic Party. That is its name. It is not the Republic Party.

  • Observer

    Seems to me there was no greater advocate of distributism than Christ himself.

  • Pat H

    I’d hesitate to go too far in that direction, but the Distributist were heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching in some countries. Near distributists were also some places, and not at all in others.

    But there’s no talk of it at all anymore, even though the concerns that it expressed apply more to the US now than they did in the 30s. It’s interesting how economic thought has devolved into shades of one basic model. Indeed, I was blogging about that myself just the other date ( )

    For whatever reason, it seems today there’s just shades of corporate capitalism. Either the other theories have all been tried and found wanting, or something (like the economic realities of World War Two and the Cold War) caused all the others to be forgotten.

  • Augustine

    If only our problem was unbridled capitalism, this fantastic monster that was hunted down before it could ever come into existence.

    Benito Mussolini defined Fascism as the alliance of state and corporations. Mussolini would be proud with our world where failed banks are bailed out by the state, bankrupt companies are saved by the state, energy companies are subsidized by the state, defense companies are totally dependent on the state, millions of busybodies are employed by the state, etc.

    Perhaps we could try some unbridled capitalism for a change?