An Orthodox Catholic Socialism?

An Orthodox Catholic Socialism? September 29, 2016

(A pelican, a traditional Christian symbol for Christ, since the pelican was supposed to feed its young with its own blood).
(A pelican, a traditional Christian symbol for Christ, since the pelican was supposed to feed its young with its own blood. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons License).

I’m sorry to say that the new semester has overwhelmed me. Thousands of pages of reading, moving, and my recent catfishing debacle have made it nearly impossible to write over the past few weeks. For this (and for anyone who actually misses my blogging presence), I can only openly and contritely confess: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I hope to be back soon—I miss whispering musings into the cyber-void.

But, I saw something yesterday that called out for attention, even if only the limited attention I can afford to offer: a Tradinista Manifesto.

I’ve known about the Tradinista Movement for some time, strangely enough, because of the girl who ended up catfishing me and  virtually every Catholic Millennial across the Twittersphere.

The Tradinistas are Catholic socialists of varying sorts—some of whom I’ve publicly disagreed with, some of whom are friends, all of whom (that I know anyway) I at least respect as intellectually serious, socially-conscious, and wholly orthodox Catholics.  Many are Latin Mass-goers, disgusted by our contemporary social and economic climate.

It’s in that regard that I’d invite any readers left after my prolonged absence to read the Manifesto and reflect on what Catholic politics ought to look like in 2016. With the GOP collapsing into Trumpismo and Hillary Clinton spearheading more of the same, questions abound, and this document is a sincere attempt to reckon with that reality, to take seriously the claims of Catholic Social Teaching without reducing them to mere advice or pretending the current state of things reflects either their letter or their spirit.

Some have already responded to the document, and negatively. Gabriel Sanchez (another writer worth looking at) over at Opus Publicum has taken the Tradinistas to task on a number of points, but most notably for shirking the demands of subsidiarity:

For instance, what does it mean in the concrete to subordinate a “significant part” of the economy to “communal control”? It doesn’t take lawyer’s bag of interpretive tricks to conclude that sectors ranging from airlines to agriculture could be susceptible to nationalization. Further down in the article, the author maintains that his form of socialism does not fall under papal condemnations concerning the denial of a right to or abolition of private property because some forms of property rights will be left alone. Noticeably absent from the article is any mention of the word “subsidiarity” nor a meaningful account of when it would be appropriate to nationalize a particular industry or hand it over to “communal control.” Instead of taking the position long maintained by advocates of Catholic social teaching that a wide distribution of ownership is the best means to meet the demands of justice and charity in society, the author of this piece—and the Tradinistas as a whole—want to start from the top and work down, instituting a command-planned economic order without any direct magisterial support (despite the claim that theirs is a “Catholic socialism”).

I can’t say I wholly agree, and for the same reason I often cannot agree with Catholic critiques of socialism—namely, my reservation is that Americans have a tendency to misapprehend the diversity of the socialist (let alone anti-capitalist) tradition. Socialism is not, necessarily Marxism, and, even more importantly, Marxism is not necessarily the USSR or China. There is market socialism, guild socialism, anarcho-communism, and council communism to name four traditions whose political philosophies are neither necessarily Marxist nor necessarily opposed to the personal holding of property (this is distinct from private property, but an explication of the differences is beyond the scope of this blog post. A graduate student has to read!). And saying all of that is to say nothing of the proliferation of Marxist traditions: Trotskyism, Maoism, Hoxhaism—the list goes on and on.

Thus socialism is not an easy term with which to grapple. Yet, it does have a generally accepted meaning—it seeks the workers’ ownership of the means of production (which, some say, is another way of formulating Chesterton’s famous quip about there being not too many capitalists, but too few). For example, from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

This fundamental conviction nevertheless leaves room for socialists to disagree among themselves with regard to two key points. The first concerns the extent and the kind of property that society should own or control. Some socialists have thought that almost everything except personal items such as clothing should be public property; this is true, for example, of the society envisioned by the English humanist Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (1516). Other socialists, however, have been willing to accept or even welcome private ownership of farms, shops, and other small or medium-sized businesses.

It is thus wrong to assume that socialism implies a complete domination of man by the state, or the complete abolition of property for personal use. Some socialisms are, in fact, devoted to radically decentralizing modes of production and consumption (see especially “market socialism” above).

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