Are You Condoning Democratic Socialism?

Are You Condoning Democratic Socialism? January 5, 2019

Comments, I get comments. I get comments in the form of questions.

Today, after I posted an article about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing in public, I received a comment on my public Facebook page: “Are you condoning democratic socialism?”

By the time I got around to reading the question, my other commentators had bantered about this question bit. I explained that I was not talking about economics in my post; I was endorsing public dancing, and I posted the official video of Safety Dance. Posting 80s music videos is one of my favorite responses to questions about the field of economics, and it’s about as useful as anything else, when dealing with commentators like this. But then I got to thinking that I ought to give this question a serious answer as well.

It is strange, to me, to use a verb like “condone” for something as vanilla as the democratic socialism that’s practiced in the United States today. To “condone” is to deliberately allow bad, dirty things. You can condone adultery or abortion (and I don’t) or caging and torturing children for the sins of their parents (I certainly don’t). I don’t see how you can condone the economic policies of a Bernie or an Ocasio-Cortez. You can say that they’re mistaken, but they’re not evil. They’re not really socialism, either.

Socialism, roughly speaking, involves the government owning the means of production; communism involves the workers themselves owning the means of production with no government as a middle man. Democratic socialism in its pure form would mean that socialism takes place in a representative government. The only “democratic socialism” that anyone who gets within a million miles of public office in the United States could propose or achieve is something far milder than that; they only ever ask for heavy taxes on the richest people, so that domestic tranquility and the general welfare can be ensured and promoted for everyone. You are free to disagree with that means of ensuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare, but if it’s wrong, it’s wrong because it’s mistaken, not because it’s wicked. Just about every country with a functioning government practices something like what we call democratic socialism, but they don’t call it that. They just call it civilization.

One of the people who does seem to approve of democratic socialism is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. When he was Ratzinger, he stated “In many respects democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine; in any case, it contributed toward the formation of a social consciousness.” And no, he wasn’t speaking magisterially at the time, but I still trust him to have a better grasp of Catholic social doctrine than I do, and better than just about anybody who comes into my comment box as well.

I share the Holy Father Emeritus’s cautiously-worded optimism about democratic socialism. It does seem close, but not identical, to Catholic social teaching. For that reason, though I may disagree with them strongly on other things, I do often like the economic policies of democratic socialist politicians in this country and I’m pleased when some make it to Congress. And I do often refer to myself as a pro-life democratic socialist, because it’s quicker than going on for several paragraphs to qualify my beliefs.

But am I a democratic socialist?

Strictly speaking, before anything else, am I a democratic socialist?

I don’t think I am after all. I think what I am, is a Catholic. And as far as economics is concerned, it doesn’t seem to me that a Catholic can afford to be any kind of ist. We just have to be Catholics.

The Catechism states that “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.  The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men. The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.” We are allowed to own private property and stealing someone’s private property is a sin against the seventh commandment, but the reason we have that right is so that we can provide for ourselves and others; I covered in another post that pursuing wealth for wealth’s sake is also a sin.  The government has a right to levy taxes and tax evasion is also a sin against the seventh commandment. A person who is starving has the right to take from someone who isn’t and that’s not a sin against the seventh commandment. The Church rejects the historical totalitarianism that is usually associated with communism and socialism. She also rejects the profound selfishness and exploitation of workers that is an historical feature of capitalism. There’s something in Catholic Social Teaching for anyone whose primary concern is with economics to hate.

Catholic social teaching places people, their good and their dignity, before economics or social models of any kind. The only kind of ism that is, is Catholicism.

But that’s an awfully long answer to a strange question, so maybe we should just go back to music videos.

(image via pixabay) 

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