Category Archives: Socialism

The Tradinista! Movement

“Some of the most vocal advocates for socialism are Christian theologians and committed Catholics. The Tradinista! Movement identifies itself as “a small party of young Christian socialists committed to traditional orthodoxy, to a politics of virtue and the common good, and to the destruction of capitalism, and its replacement by a truly social political economy.” In 2019, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart published an editorial in the New York Times with the provocative title, “Can We Please Relax About Socialism?” Not to be outdone, the Jesuit magazine America published a feature-length article later that year entitled, “The Catholic Case for Communism.”

There’s no small irony in this new enthusiasm for socialism among young Christians, when you consider that socialism served as the “founding heresy” that spurred the development of Catholic social teaching.

Between the 1840s and the 1940s, the papacy released eight major encyclicals that dealt with the subject, all in critical ways.

In 1849, Pope Pius IX referred to “the wicked theories of this socialism and Communism” and how they plotted to “overthrow the entire order of human affairs” through the haze of “perverted teachings” (Nostis et Nobiscum ). At the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII called socialism a “deadly plague” (Quod Apostolici Muneris) that reaps a “harvest of misery” (Graves de Communi Re). Thirty years later, Pope Pius XI said, “Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever” (Divini Redemptoris ).


Many socialists, when confronted with the moral and economic failures of countries like the Soviet Union, are quick to respond, “Oh no, I don’t want that kind of socialism” or, “That wasn’t real socialism, that was Communism.” They don’t want a totalitarian government that controls everyone; they just want a benevolent government that helps everyone. In polling, this leads to a mixed bag of preferences.

For example, two-thirds of millennials support free college tuition, government-provided universal healthcare, and a government guarantee of food, shelter, and a living wage. But the majority of them also oppose state ownership of private businesses and tax increases on anyone but the wealthy. Another survey shows that whereas only 56 percent of people have a positive image of “capitalism,” 86 percent have a positive image of “entrepreneurs.” One Atlantic writer ably summarizes this paradoxical attitude toward economics: “They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.”

Hart evinces a similar attitude when he claims of the United States:

Only here is the word “socialism” freighted with so much perceived menace. I take this to be a symptom of our unique national genius for stupidity. In every other free society with a functioning market economy, socialism is an ordinary, rather general term for sane and compassionate governance of the public purse for the purpose of promoting general welfare and a more widespread share in national prosperity.

So who’s right?

Is socialism a deadly plague that reaps a harvest of misery? Or is it a sane and compassionate economic policy that everyone, especially Christians, should support?

There are a lot of things that are wrong in Hart’s op-ed, but he does make one good point. He writes, “In this country we employ terms like ‘socialism’ with wanton indifference to historical details and conceptual distinctions.” Indeed, critics who cry wolf and describe every form of governmental economic intervention as “socialism” numb people to the unique evils that occur in a truly socialist system.

That’s why in order to determine if Catholics can be socialists we have to first understand “real socialism.””


Can a Catholic be a Democratic Socialist?

-by Trent Horn

Catherine R. Pakaluk, PhD

“Catholics must not pursue policies that result in de facto socialism even if it’s called something else.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’” (2425). This does not mean, however, that Catholics can embrace a kinder, “Christian” socialism in its place. Pope Pius XI famously declared, “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).

In response, some people say this applies only to Marxist, or authoritarian, socialism. They claim Catholics may (or even should) embrace what is popularly called “democratic socialism.”

Modern “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is the fruit of Michael Harrington, who left Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement in the 1950s. Harrington had described it as “as far left as you could go within the Church,” and soon he left the Church too to become an atheist, the author of a best-selling book on poverty called The Other America, and the founder of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He believed capitalism was dying out and that it was necessary to rescue the teachings of Karl Marx from authoritarian Communists who had perverted them.

Instead of a centralized economy, such as that of the Soviet Union, Harrington argued for “decentralized, face-to-face participation of the direct producers and their communities.” The current platform of the modern DSA says that since “we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.”

Instead of replacing markets with “an all-powerful government bureaucracy,” the DSA believes that “social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives.” In an interview with National Public Radio, one DSA chapter founder gave this analogy to explain how a “worker cooperative” would achieve social ownership in a way that is superior to corporate capitalism:

Let’s say you were negotiating at a bargaining table with workers in a bakery, and the workers said, “Look, we want more than a quarter of the bread; we want half of the bread, or we want two-thirds of the bread.” The socialist would say, “Actually, we want the bakery. We want to control it all, for all of our benefit.”

Some defenders of democratic socialism don’t stress this anti-business mentality and simply focus on government entitlement programs. Neal Meyer, a contributor to Jacobin and a member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America, says democratic socialists simply “want to build a world where everyone has a right to food, health care, a good home, an enriching education, and a union job that pays well.”

No one disputes that governments have a moral duty to make sure citizens have the ability to access the basic goods of life such as food, education, and medicine. But how the access to those goods is provided is something people can debate, and some ways of providing it are contrary to Catholic social doctrine.

When it comes to “democratic socialism,” for instance, a Catholic can advocate for policies that cohere with Catholic social teaching, such as a preferential option for the poor or the right of laborers to form a union. This is what Pope Benedict XVI referred to when he said, “In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine and has, in any case, made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.”

But Catholics cannot pursue policies that result in de facto socialism, even if it’s called something else. Pope St. John Paul II, for example, was aware of proposals such as Meyer’s that argue for the universal right to “a union job that pays well.” He said in response that “the state could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals.”

So, in order to analyze democratic socialism, we must distinguish social welfare policies Catholics can reasonably disagree about with socialist policies no Catholic can support.

The government can provide benefits to people through social welfare programs such as food stamps or education grants, and people are free to gauge and debate the effectiveness and value of such programs. John Paul II warned, though, that if the “welfare state” grew too large, it would result in “a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending” (Centesimus Annus 48).

In contrast to social welfare programs, the government could provide these goods directly through socialist programs such as government-run schools, hospitals, and grocery stores. Since socialism is often gradually introduced to societies through public policy, Catholics should approach with a healthy dose of skepticism government policies that seek to nationalize entire industries.

Of course, the existence of some nationalized industries does not mean a country has embraced full-fledged socialism. For example, having government-run schools in the United States does not mean we are a socialist country such as the Soviet Union (though that wasn’t for a lack of trying).

In 1922, Oregon tried to outlaw private and religious schools, and it was only a 1925 Supreme Court decision that kept the state from winning a monopoly on education. Pope Pius XI quoted this decision in Divnii Illius Magistri when he wrote, “The child is not the mere creature of the state” (37). Contrast this with Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels, who dreamed of a time when “the care and education of the children become a public affair; society looks after all children alike.” In fact, in Sweden (a country many Democratic socialists hold up as an ideal), homeschooling is illegal, and in neighboring Finland private schools are practically nonexistent.

In the United States, the government on many levels provides many health care services. Yet a fully socialist health care system—an idea that more political candidates are beginning to float and more voters entertain—would be another example of central planning that should concern Catholics.

If the government has the only say over what services a hospital offers, then Catholic hospitals (to whatever extent they could remain identifiably so) could be mandated to provide contraception and to perform sterilizations, abortions, and so-called “sex-reassignment” surgeries, among other morally objectionable things. There would also be concerns about the state’s rationing of health care, potentially denying certain ordinary treatments to disabled patients and imposing euthanasia in their place.

Tempting though the idea may be to some, it’s hard to see how Catholics can help create, in Meyer’s words, “a democratic road to socialism.” The Church’s condemnations against socialism would have remained the same even if Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, and other socialist leaders had been elected through a democratic process. Moreover, the Church has been aware of a peaceful “moderate socialism” for a long time and still rejects it as being a promotion of Christian values under the socialist banner with an eye toward enacting true socialism in the future.

Pope Pius XI said, “Such just demands and desire have nothing in them now which is inconsistent with Christian truth, and much less are they special to socialism. Those who work solely toward such ends have, therefore, no reason to become socialists” (Quadragesimo Anno 115). Thirty years later Pope John XXIII reaffirmed the Pope’s contention saying:

Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate socialism. The reason is that socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. (Mater et Magistra, 34)

A 1949 Gallup poll asked Americans, “What is your understanding of the term socialism?” The majority answer, at 34 percent, was “state control of business.” Today, only 17 percent of people identify socialism in this way. The most popular answer in 2019, comprising 33 percent of respondents, was an identification of socialism with “equality” and government provision of benefits and social services.

There have always been people who tried to achieve socialism’s goals without relying on its radical methods. These socialists wanted to end poverty, but they were skeptical about using a large, central government established through a people’s revolt in order to do it. Tellingly, those who did believe in that method, like Marx’s partner Friedrich Engels, were immediately suspicious of their “democratic” opponents:

These democratic socialists are either proletarians who are not yet sufficiently clear about the conditions of the liberation of their class, or they are representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, a class which, prior to the achievement of democracy and the socialist measures to which it gives rise, has many interests in common with the proletariat.

Democratic socialists in the nineteenth century formed labor parties in European countries that pushed for worker reforms instead of worker revolutions, and many of them still exist today. Democratic socialists are also a rising force in American politics, and in order to see if their brand of socialism is compatible with Catholicism we need to examine their early-twentieth-century roots.

As we show in our new book Can a Catholic be a Socialist?, socialism is evil in principle because it deprives people of their natural rights and treats them as products of the state to be sculpted and used instead of creations of God to be dignified and respected. Furthermore, socialism is unworkable because it doesn’t “see the world as it really is” and, as a result, leads to physical evils such as food shortages and the neglect of natural resources and environments. The physical and moral evils of socialism become clear once one examines the history of both socialism and the Catholic Church’s response to it.”

Love, truth, freedom,

The Evil of Socialism

“In 2019, 43 percent of Americans consider socialism to be a “good thing” and millennials are some of its strongest supporters.

Magazines such as Teen Vogue even run articles like “Everything You Should Know About Karl Marx” and “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People,” which says that millennials “expect a grand societal shift toward socialism” to counteract a “dystopian Mad Max nightmare” in which “rich plutocrats own everything.” Another poll found that half of young people say they would prefer life in a socialist country to a capitalist one.

But this flirtation with socialism is nothing new; in order to understand it, in fact, we need to go back to the Great Depression.

When you see how socialism thrived in that decade, you’ll understand why it’s making such a comeback today.

By the mid-1930s, following the stock market crash in 1929, the average family’s income had fallen 40 percent. But may- be they were the lucky ones compared to the 25 percent of Americans who were unemployed. For many people, volatile markets and greedy bankers were the villains responsible for taking people’s jobs and even their homes. In John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, banks are described as “monsters” that men make but can’t control, and capitalists are depicted as heartless pursuers of profit. For example, in one scene Steinbeck describes farmers dousing oranges in kerosene as starving people look on, because this was necessary to keep the price of oranges from getting too low.

Steinbeck doesn’t tell his readers that it was the federal government that ordered the farmers to do this. However, he does describe the resentment many average people felt toward an economy that seemed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor: “Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten . . . in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Before 1929, the Communist Party USA was a marginal movement, but during the thirties its explosive growth in membership led later historians to call that decade “the hey-day of American Communism.” However, most critics of capitalism adopted a more moderate socialism focused on redistributing wealth instead of launching a worker’s revolution.

For example, Democratic senator Huey Long blamed the country’s economic crisis on the small number of people who he said owned most of the nation’s wealth. In his notorious “Share Our Wealth Speech,” Long declared:

[T]he rich people of this country—and by rich people I mean the super-rich—will not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.”


Long proposed that no one be allowed to possess more than $50 million. He claimed that confiscatory taxation on wealth above that amount could provide every family with enough money to own a home, automobile, and radio, meaning that “there will be no such thing as a family living in poverty and distress.”

Despite such lofty promises, socialism didn’t catch on in America, partly because it was associated with distinctly anti-American values. While reflecting on his unsuccessful 1936 bid for the California governorship, socialist Upton Sinclair said, “The American people will take socialism, but they won’t take the label. . . . Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000.”


In the 2010s, struggling American families were still reeling from the Great Recession, after which the average family’s income fell by 4 percent and nine million jobs were lost—doubling the unemployment rate to a high of 9.3 percent. What angered people the most, however, were policies that seemed to allow the wealthy to hoard the country’s wealth at the expense of the poor. In 2011, protesters took over lower Manhattan as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, carrying signs saying, “We are the 99 percent.”

That slogan came from economist Joseph Stiglitz’s article “Of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent,” in which Stiglitz claimed that 1 percent of the population controlled 40 percent of the nation’s wealth and that, although their incomes had risen over the past twenty-five years, the incomes of the lower classes were stagnant or had even fallen. He ominously concluded:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Part of young people’s affection for socialism is grounded in a distrust of capitalism that grew out of the Great Recession.

Many millennials blamed the economic crisis on unregulated free markets, and polls show that between 2010 and 2018 their support for capitalism dropped from 68 percent to 45 percent. This skepticism made them the least likely generation in history to invest their savings for retirement. Some of them even believe retirement saving is pointless because, as one thirty-two-year-old political consultant put it, “I don’t think the world can sustain capitalism for another decade. It’s socialism or bust.””


Can a Catholic be a Socialist?

“Socialism is a deadly plague that reaps a harvest of misery.” – Pope Leo XIII

-by Trent Horn

Catherine R. Pakaluk, PhD

“In the middle of the third century, the Roman emperor Valerian launched a fierce persecution against the Church that resulted in the martyrdom of Pope Saint Sixtus II along with seven deacons. St. Ambrose tells us that when the Roman authorities demanded that one of the deacons, named St Lawrence, hand over “the treasures of the Church,” he agreed. According to Ambrose, “On the following day he brought the poor together. When asked where the treasures were which he had promised, he pointed to the poor, saying, “These are the treasures of the Church.”

Christ commanded his followers to care for the poor and warned them that ignoring the poor was the same as ignoring him (Matt 25:40). As the Church grew within the Roman Empire, Christians became famous for their generosity, which included not just almsgiving but the construction of the first hospitals that served the poor. The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate lamented how Christians “support not only their own poor but ours as well; all men see that our people lack aid from us.” For the most marginalized people in Roman society, like widows and abandoned newborns, it was only the generosity of Christians that stood between them and a premature death.

Christian generosity continued to be the difference between life and death for many people even after Christians became the rulers of medieval kingdoms, in which there simply wasn’t enough wealth for the state to lift the masses out of poverty. But this began to change with the rise of modern capitalism, as is evident in Adam Smith’s famous 1776 essay, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” Christians now had the ability to create wealth, and with that power came moral questions about how to address the perennial problem of poverty.

In the century after Smith’s essay was published, revolutionaries in America and Europe tore down the authority of the monarchy and replaced it with democratic republics. Ultimate authority, the revolutionaries said, should lie with the people instead of the king. Other revolutionaries took this democratic ideal even further and said wealth and property should not lie with a few people (be they monarchs or capitalists) but should be owned by all. In 1871, some of these revolutionaries even took over the city of Paris for two months, establishing a “socialist commune” until the French army retook the city, killing thousands of communards in the process.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the revolutionary spirit showed no sign of slowing and even many Christians were becoming sympathetic to the socialist cause. Christians now had access to more wealth and political power than they had ever possessed in the history of the world, but it wasn’t clear how those things should be used to help the poor. All of this was on the mind of Pope Leo XIII as he wrote the introduction to the most famous papal encyclical to address the issue of socialism: Rerum Novarum (Latin: “New Things”). He says this “spirit of revolutionary change” is not surprising and notes:

“The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvelous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self-reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy.”

The pope goes on to describe how everyone is talking about these “new things” and so the Church, which teaches us on matters of faith and morals, “thought it expedient now to speak on the condition of the working classes.” The socialist revolutions of the nineteenth century spurred the creation of the Church’s social doctrine: the application of its teaching to issues that arise as society changes over time. When it comes to the application of timeless truths to changing circumstances the pope admitted:

“The discussion is not easy, nor is it void of danger. It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men’s judgments and to stir up the people to revolt.”

Although much has changed in the century since Pope Leo XIII penned these words, many things are still the same.

There may not today be calls for violent revolution in America or Europe, but there are grassroots movements seeking to establish socialism through democratic activism. Some of those movements even claim that a Christian is obligated to support socialist economies or else he does not truly follow Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In this book we will apply the Church’s social doctrine to the debate on socialism and show that not only are Catholics not obligated to be socialists, they—we—cannot be socialists. It is not a permissible or prudent way to address the problem of poverty.”

Love, truth, justice,