“Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (Quadragesimo anno, §120) 
These words of Pope Pius XI seem plain enough, and one might think that the subject is now closed. But today we see many Catholics calling themselves “socialists.” Are these people just “cafeteria Catholics”?
Before we rush to judgment, we should consider that Quadragesimo anno was written in 1931, and while truth doesn’t change with the times, the meanings of words do change. In the days of Pius XI, “socialism” had a specific meaning. Nowadays, it is difficult to discern one. Bernie Sanders ran in the 2016 primaries calling himself a “democratic socialist,” but there really isn’t much, if any, difference between his views and those of any New Deal Democrat. The appellation is catching on, however. As Harold Meyerson writes in the Los Angeles Times,
“American socialism is having one hot summer. In New York, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running as a Democratic Socialist, upset Rep. Joe Crowley, favored to succeed Rep. Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democrats, in the Democratic primary. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, running in the September primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has proclaimed herself a Democratic Socialist too.
“Its numbers surging in the wake of Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory, the Democratic Socialists of America now claims 45,000 members. That’s a nine-fold increase over the 5,000 members…it had before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders began his presidential run in 2015.” 
Catholics may wonder if it is consistent with their faith to get on board with this. In search of the answer some might feel inclined to ask self-designated socialists what they mean by the term. Yet those who decide to educate themselves in this manner might only add to their confusion when they find that they gets a variety of answers from different people, which are sometimes not consistent with one another. Often one group of people calling themselves “socialists” will denigrate the socialist bona fides of other “socialists,” who, presumably, return the sentiment.
It seems that we have come upon days where “socialism” can mean any number of things. We can no longer be satisfied when people call themselves socialists. We have to ask them what the word means to them before we can make any assessments.Webster’s online dictionary defines “socialism” this way:
“1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
“2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
“3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done” 
That is how “socialism” was classically defined. It involved abolition of private property in the means of production, what distributists call “productive property.” But those calling themselves “democratic socialists” nowadays would deny that they have any such intention, but instead are in favor of “a form of government in which state regulation (without state ownership) would ensure economic growth and a fair distribution of income.”  There are other “socialists” who favor worker-owned enterprises, which is nearly the opposite of classic socialism.
It appears then, that if we’re interested in determining what the Church has to say about the socialist phenomenon in the United States, we will have to deal with individual proposals rather than political labels. That means that we will have to explore exactly what the popes were condemning when they condemned socialism. This your humble servant will endeavor to do in a series of posts, of which this will serve as the first installment.
The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols.
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