george-weigel-cic

A Christian Socialist Defense of George Weigel

By | February 17, 2014

Thomas Storck’s recent article, “George Weigel on Papal Teaching,” highlights the fact that “cafeteria Catholics”—those who use their own discretion to decide which parts of Catholic doctrine to believe—are just as likely to be found on the political Right as on the liberal-Left. Those on the Left shelve Catholic beliefs on human life and the nature of marriage in order to appeal to a free-wheeling socially liberal constituency. Those on the Right explain away the Church’s teachings on social and distributive justice, bowdlerizing Catholic social thought in an effort to make it congruous with laissez-faire capitalism.

Yet, while I don’t necessarily disagree with Storck’s diagnosis, such critiques must proceed with great caution lest the side-effects of the medicine prescribed turn out worse than the symptoms of the disease. For example, in a recent article, “What Popes Can and Can’t Do,” Weigel argues:

Catholic social doctrine has long taught that we are stewards of creation and that the least of the Lord’s brethren have a moral claim on our solidarity and our charity; the social doctrine leaves open to debate the specific, practical means by which people of good will, and governments, exercise that stewardship, and that solidarity and charity.

Storck claims that Weigel’s approach here reduces Catholic social doctrine to “vague goals” without any substantive content:

The Church’s social doctrine is now to be represented by Weigel and his allies as just a set of goals, and we’re all free to propose our own ideas about how to achieve those goals.  Help the poor!  Exercise solidarity and charity!  Be nice!  What a clever way to neutralize the hard-hitting specifics of Pope Francis’s teaching.

Yet, abusus non tollit usum. If the error in “cafeteria Catholicism” is its abuse of individual discretion, we must be careful that, in opposing this abuse, we don’t go to the opposite extreme, stomping on an individual’s ability to think for himself in favor of a robot-like adherence to the Magisterium. Faith, as Pope Francis pointed out in his first encyclical, is not a form of darkness that extinguishes the capacity for reasoning (Lumen Fidei, #3). Faith is a “light” that enables reason to see rightly. Faith “awakens the critical sense” and “broadens the horizons of reason,” but also “orients reason” so that it may come to a deeper knowledge of truth (#34-36). Fidelity to the Magisterium is not the same as Magisterial positivism, and fidelity to Catholic social doctrine doesn’t mean a mindless implementation of a program laid out by the Vatican or by bureaucrats working for the USCCB (as I’m sure Storck would agree).

It seems to me that, at least in a formal sense, there is nothing objectionable about Weigel’s claim that Catholic social doctrine sets policy goals without mandating specific policy solutions. The converse of this claim would be that according to which Catholic teaching mandates both the goals of the social order and the specific policies to be implemented. But this seems to choke off any possibility for humans to think through political problems using their own rational faculties, rather than relying on the faculties of others who are arguably less well located to solve their particular problems. It would be ironic if we supposed the Church were calling for this, since the perfection of the human person as a political animal through participation in a communal process of practical reasoning is precisely the reason that a human “social order” necessarily exists in the first place.

Critique and questioning of post-Rerum Novarum formulations of Catholic social thought don’t just come from Manchester capitalists like George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Robert Sirico, but from distributists and Christian socialists, many of whom are thoroughly orthodox in theological matters.

Distributists and Christian socialists have pointed out repeatedly, for example, that Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum appears to depart fairly radically from Aquinas’s analysis of property rights with his claim that “every man has by nature,” and not simply by common custom, “the right to possess property as his own,” this being one of the things that separates man from “animal creation.”

Aquinas, like Leo, located the institution of private property in the specifically rational part of our nature, but with an important difference, as John C. Cort explains in “Christian Socialism: An Informal History”:

Under human law each individual had given up his or her claim to the free use of the material goods, property, over which God has given humankind, all men and women, by natural law, a common dominion, in exchange for a social arrangement of private property. This same individual gets in return the implied assurance that this arrangement will fulfill the purpose of giving him or her what property or possessions he or she needs for subsistence.

Traditionally, therefore, private property was seen as belonging not to the ius naturale, as Leo teaches, but to the ius gentium. When one understands how Aquinas and the patristic authors conceived of property rights, it is much easier to understand why Cardinal Cajetan, one of the greatest expounders of Aquinas’s teachings, could claim that “riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own,” but to the political community, and can be dispensed either by the community as a whole or by its governing authority. In fact, Cajetan argues, when superfluous riches are not dispensed with, an “injury” is perpetrated against the entire political community. But whereas the earlier Thomistic tradition refused to separate a personal right from the right-ordering of the entire community, Leo XIII seems to follow Scotus and Ockham in seeing a property “right” not as a customary title to a particular kind of use but as a form of absolute dominion:

If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases … consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor … it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels (#5, emphases added).

The point here is not necessarily that Leo is wrong. The point is that someone doesn’t become a “cafeteria” Catholic just because they decline to follow Leo’s analysis of property rights in favor of the traditional Thomistic analysis and the political consequences that follow from it, because Rerum Novarum, although it clearly declines to makes use of it, never explicitly condemns the Thomistic framework as a legitimate form of analysis for Catholics to employ—just as, for example, John Paul II’s decision to use Aquinas’s framework for the analysis of human action in Veritatis Splendor does not mean that every form of ethics apart from Thomistic ethics is now prohibited by the Church.

Leo goes on to allege that socialists endeavor “to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large,” an assertion which is ambiguous and somewhat questionable—even Marx, many of his commentators agree, did not want to transfer individual property to the community, but only productive property. Throughout Rerum Novarum, one of the accusations to which Leo returns continually is the idea that socialism is driven by the jealousy of the poor over the wealth of the rich. Socialism, Leo claims, preys on the lower classes who are “ever ready for disturbance” (# 47), and on “the poor man’s envy of the rich” (# 4); a socialist system would lead to the door being “thrown open to envy, to mutual invective, and to discord” (# 15).

Again, my point here is not that Leo is wrong. On the contrary, he’s right. Socialism that attempts “to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large,” as well as socialism that is borne from envy and hatred—as opposed to, say, a passion for justice—really is immoral, and as Catholics we can be confident of this if for no other reason than that Leo himself condemns it.

But clearly this characterization doesn’t apply to all (or arguably even most) forms of socialism. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, as Cardinal Ratzinger, once said that “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.” For this reason, Weigel and company surely deserve a very careful hearing when they claim that the kind of predatory capitalism condemned by the Church is not the kind of capitalism they seek to foster and promote. This doesn’t mean they are not wrong. My sympathies lie with the Christian socialist camp. But Weigel can be in serious error without being theologically heterodox.

If these criticisms seem very similar to some of the criticisms that Weigel makes of modern “Catholic Social Teaching” (a term which often functions in discourse to erase the 1,860 or so years of Christian social thought prior to Rerum Novarum), that’s simply because they are similar. These kinds of distinctions and discussions may seem exceedingly subtle to some, as if it were merely a case of wishful thinking trying to circumvent the obvious import of Catholic doctrine. But the truth often is subtle, hence why Aquinas says that without the aid of Divine Revelation many important truths “would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.”

Although authoritarianism is associated in the popular mind with the political Right, anyone acquainted with contemporary Catholic political debates is well aware that there is a virulent strain of authoritarian and anti-intellectual liberal-Leftism in the United States that uses “Catholic Social Teaching” as nothing more than a weapon to bludgeon political opponents into silence. If you don’t support the latest Democratic Party platform, you’re a violator of Catholic social doctrine, or so the popular refrain goes. This is not to say that everything (or even most of the things) that Democrats advocate are wrong. It’s just to say that the way “CST” has been turned into an ideology that forestalls debate is profoundly alien to the Catholic tradition of free intellectual inquiry. Storck, I hasten to add, is certainly not to be found in this anti-intellectual liberal-leftist camp, but I fear his attack on Weigel unwittingly gives succor to a movement within the Church that ultimately poisons the wells of both faith and reason.

As Benedict XVI once pointed out, the Church “must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray.” Use of the rod “can be a service of love,” and indeed it is not loving when “heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away.” Neither is it loving or helpful, however, to see heresy under every rock.

Print Friendly
  • RaymondNicholas

    (My comments are directed to Catholics, whom I have no problem offending. If you are non-Catholic and are offended, I do apologize.)
    I find these arguments intellectually stimulating, but since my viewpoint is that of a basic pew-sitter,they eventually go into my “So what? Who cares?” file. It is not the real issue
    anyway. The real issue is schism.

    Because of the undeclared schism in the Church, which the highbrows rarely discuss and take a position, except to say, “No, no, you mustn’t say that,” I made the decision to practice my Catholic Faith individually, not collectively. This means that I make my own decisions regarding how I practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and not by what the current crop of Catholic clerics, intellectuals, and organizations say I should do.

    If any Catholic group of whatever kind, within or without the Church, asks me for support and they do not give me a list of the things they do with the money and what community organizations they support, I do not give of my money, time, and material goods. I let them know in writing or by calling. I boycott every activity that I think is directly or indirectly supporting anti-Catholic agendas, like abortion and contraception distribution among the poor.

    Regarding schism, there are way too many public examples of truly bad apples in the barrel. The public Church does not yet get it—that in this age of widespread mass communications, scandals once deemed local and handled privately are now in the public domain. The Church can no longer hide its scandals from your average Catholic and non-Catholic. The Church should not hide behind their notion of subsidiarity when it comes to anti-Catholic practices; what affects the Church in Boston also affects the Church in Tallahassee, and so on.

    So, living here in the wild, barren regions of the North Carolina interior, I read of Dolan acting like a ruddy-faced fat-cat, hobnobbing at the Al Smith affair with the greatest abortion-enabler of our time, (except Teddy K), or shaking the hands of the NY governor and NYC mayor like all is hunky-dory; of Wuerl condemning a priest for refusing to give the Eucharist to a practicing lesbian Buddhist; of Jesuits in their business suits and nuns on the bus actively supporting abortion and active homosexuality; and of open defiance of Church teachings in countries like Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Germany, etc.

    As a result, I do not blindly place my faith in the aforementioned persons and groups, because above all, they must prove to me that they are genuinely Catholic, loyal to the Faith and Doctrines of the Church. They must earn my trust. If you think that I like doing all of this,
    I do not. But I feel like I have no other choice. It is very painful.

    BTW, for those reading this response, it is not sufficient to believe that by doing the corporal works of mercy, you fulfill the spiritual works of mercy or that they may be ignored. Unless, of course, you believe that the Church is nothing more than a massive social NGO, whose only duty is to its government/private funders.

  • JW

    Thanks for this very interesting commentary. Granting the legitimate diversity of opinion on social/economic questions that can exist among faithful Catholics, do you think that there are opinions on these matters that can be placed outside the limits of orthodoxy? What might such an opinion (even if it only a hypothetical one) be, in your view?

  • Aaron Taylor

    Thanks for your comment. One example I gave in the article itself would be any form of socialism that attempted to transfer all the possessions of individuals to the community (unless it was on a small, voluntary, scale).

  • JW

    Of course; I should have read more closely! Thanks for the reminder. In addition to the view you describe, do you think its mirror image–the notion that private property or private enterprise is inviolable and attempts by the community to interfere with it are not only unwise but always wrong in principle–would also be outside the pale?

  • Aaron Taylor

    Yes I think in principle that would be beyond the pale of Christian orthodoxy, because Jesus said we must “render unto Caesar” (Mark 12:17), which implies there must be at least something we “own” over which Caesar has a legitimate claim, even if it is only a minimal rate of taxation for the state to provide security apparatus, for example. But I hasten to add I don’t think people like Weigel would deny that at all.

  • Thomas Storck

    Mr. Taylor,

    I appreciate your reference to my earlier article, but did you notice exactly what I wrote? Further down in the article from the passage you quoted I said, “While there can be room for debate about the specifics of the approach
    to be taken to promote economic justice, certain approaches are simply
    ruled out by that `settled understandings of the truth of things’
    enunciated by Pope Francis and his predecessors. The free market cannot
    be the foundation for economic policy: The notion that market forces,
    except in rare instances of `market failure,’ will automatically work
    for the common good is simply inadmissible for a Catholic who cares to
    think with the Church.” If you doubt this assertion, I can only refer you to this earlier article of mine,
    http://ethikapolitika.org/2013/12/06/catholic-memory-loss-response-evangelii-gaudium/

    Thus, more than prescribing certain approaches, the totality of Catholic social teaching, proscribes certain approaches, among which are reliance on market forces as the foundation of economic policy, and, as you point out, a socialist takeover of an entire economy, though by no means do most socialists today advocate such an approach.

  • Ita Scripta Est

    Weigel and Fr Sirico typically twist CST beyond any reasonable interpretation. They are disingenuous.

  • Aaron Taylor

    Thank you, Mr. Storck, for chiming in.

    I suspect one Weigelite response to your assertion would be that the understanding of how market forces *actually* work expressed in those documents is simply inadequate. Therefore, doubling-down and just repeating the passages which are themselves the object of controversy doesn’t seem helpful in resolving said controversy.

    I don’t agree with Weigel and his allies. I think they’re dead wrong. The question is whether their wrongness is also theological unorthodoxy.

  • Thomas Storck

    Mr. Taylor,

    I’m puzzled, I must admit, by your response here. I’m familiar with Catholics, such as Thomas Woods, who reject forthrightly papal teaching on economic justice, because they assert that economic science, as they understand it, disproves and contradicts the Church. Moreover, they deny the competence of the Church to teach in this area.

    But this doesn’t seem to be your stance. Since you say that you disagree with Weigel et al., am I correct in thinking that you regard their understanding of how economies work as wrong? Yet you wrote above that one response they might make to me is that “the understanding of how market forces *actually* work expressed in those documents is simply inadequate.” Do you mean that since they are subjectively convinced that they are correct (even though they are wrong), therefore they cannot be accused of unorthodoxy? But don’t you suppose that most dissenters and heretics are subjectively convinced that they are right? Nevertheless the Church has to brand them for what they are. Pius XI called those who dissented from or downplayed Catholic social teaching “social modernists.” He did not suppose that, even if they may be in good faith, that excuses them.

  • Aaron Taylor

    Yes, I think Weigel and his followers are wrong on the economic questions. But the question is not about whether they are in good faith or not regarding their errors, The question is about what we are bound by the fact of our being Catholics to believe and follow, and what we are not bound to believe and follow.

    For example, let’s say I believed that, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there exists an island with pink palm trees and rainbow-colored unicorns, and that I was subjectively convinced of my belief. I would be wrong, of course. Does that mean the Church must be accuse me of unorthodoxy and brand me as a dissenter and a heretic? Of course not. Doubtless I would be in error, but “error” is a different category from “dissent” or “heresy.”

    Now, to be clear, I’m not saying the Church doesn’t have the competence to teach truths about the way human life should be organized in the social and economic sphere. The question is about what level of specificity its competence extends to. As Aquinas says, in the moral life, the further one descends into details, the more apparent exceptions one finds to general norms.

    Your citation of Pius XI and the accusation of “social modernism” speaks to the whole point of my post here. Do we really want to return to the era of theological witch-hunts?

  • Ita Scripta Est

    Your citation of Pius XI and the accusation of “social modernism” speaks to the whole point of my post here. Do we really want to return to the era of theological witch-hunts

    So then what you are basically saying is that we ought to just ignore what Pius XI said? It seems by your logic any Church teaching can be watered down, rendered so nebulous that it has really no effective bit to it. Truly this has been working out so well these past few decades!

    Aaron, since reading your posts over the last few months on an array issues, I have been to be perfectly frank pretty ambivalent regarding your entire “niche” of commentary and I try to be more charitable than the likes of Austin Ruse, but if this is your argument than it seems my worst suspicions are indeed confirmed.

  • Aaron Taylor

    I’m plainly not saying we should ignore the Church or “water down” her teachings. See, for example, what I say above about Leo XIII’s analysis of socialism and how what he condemns, we should also hold as condemned.

    However, the fact is that economics is a complex matter. Therefore teachings that deal with it deal are dealing with complex realities and not as easily understood as some want to suggest.

    As for your “suspicions” about my writing in general … If I wanted to dissent, I would just do it loudly and openly, since it would make my life (especially in academia) a lot smoother, and I would probably win a lot more friends. The reason I don’t dissent is simply because I’m not interested in dissenting, because I love the Church. If you have a specific problem, then you can write me, or comment on any of my pieces, but I’m not interested in responding to your vague and unspecified insinuations here or elsewhere.

  • Thomas Storck

    It’s curious to me that although you apparently think that the standard market model of an economy is inadequate, yet you object to the fact that the Church teaches in this area. It would be as if I said, yes, contraception is contrary to the natural law, but I object to the
    Church saying so, since she doesn’t have the competence to teach on medical matters. Very strange, if I may say so.
    But whom are Catholics to believe about the limits of papal authority? When a series of popes evidently believes that the Church’s competence extends to matters of economic justice, should one believe them or certain individual Catholics, such as yourself or Thomas Woods, who deny that they have that authority? What reason does anyone have to think that the critics of social teaching have any right to dissent, or to decide themselves what the limits of that teaching are? Moreover, if each individual Catholic can decide what those limits are, why are we bound by what Pius XI said about socialism? Or anything else for that matter?

  • Aaron Taylor

    Contraception is certainly gravely immoral. But by teaching it to be so the Church isn’t making a statement about “medical matters,” so I don’t follow your analogy there.

    I’m clearly not saying that the Church lacks the authority to teach on matters of economic justice. If I were saying that, I would have just said we should throw Rerum Novarum in the garbage instead of attempting, as I did, to excavate the meaning of Leo XIII’s condemnation of socialism. If you are going to insist on conflating me with Thomas Woods, I don’t see how we can have any kind of fruitful discussion.

  • Ita Scripta Est

    I’m plainly not saying we should ignore the Church or “water down” her teachings. See, for example, what I say above about Leo XIII’s analysis of socialism and how what he condemns, we should also hold as condemned.

    Your whole argument seems to be a sleight of hand. “I do not openly dissent but…” it is precisely this strategy that Weigel, Novak co. have employed to great effect.

    If I wanted to dissent, I would just do it loudly and openly

    That’s nice but not at all comforting. If that last century has proved anything it is that dissent can often be quiet and subtle. It has nothing to do with “witch-hunts” or the like, the only witch-hunts it seems to me are inflicted on a certain segments of the Church. Just ask the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

  • Thomas Storck

    Mr. Taylor,
    I don’t think I exactly conflated you with Tom Woods, but I did point out that your rationale is, as far as I can see, the same as his. That is, although you accept that the Church has competence to teach on economic morality, the “question is about what level of specificity its competence extends to,” you said, But isn’t it up to the Church to set that level of specificity? And, as I imagine you’re well aware, there are various levels of specificity in her social doctrine, and at times popes will note that certain things they say are simply suggestions, or are applicable only to certain times or places. Woods pretty much denies the competence of the Church to go beyond the most vague statements on economic morality, but you also apparently wish to limit the Church’s competence to a level of specificity different from that set by the popes.
    Perhaps, what is at the root of your objection is that you want to identify yourself as a Christian socialist, and Pius XI said that such a stance was not possible. Thus you are anxious to limit the competency of papal teaching. Is this correct?

  • Aaron Taylor

    Thank you again for chiming in, Mr. Storck. I appreciate it. I think we’re going around in circles here, but before I retire I offer some important points of clarification:

    1) Most importantly, you keep claiming I am attempting to limit the competence of the Church to teach on economics. This is not true. My disagreement is with *you* and others who (over hastily) accuse Weigel of “cafeteria Catholicism,” not with the Church or Pope. The distinction between yourself and the Pope might be too “subtle” for some of the other commenters on this thread to grasp, but it is, I’m certain you at least will agree with me, an important one.

    Respectfully, my disagreeing with, say, the way you used Quadragesimo Anno to critique Weigel is *not* the same thing as disagreeing with Quadragesimo Anno itself. The issue is not that I deny the Pope’s authority to teach at X level of specificity while you uphold it. The issue is that I think you have incorrectly identified the level of specificity at which the Popes *themselves* claim to be teaching.

    2) No, the level of specificity at which the Pope is competent to teach is not arbitrarily *set* by the Pope himself, as you suggest. It’s set by Jesus Christ, who commissioned the Church to hand on and safeguard the Deposit of Faith. The Pope is God’s Regent, not God Himself, and even the Pope cannot expand his own teaching authority beyond certain limits. Now, what IS true is that although the Pope doesn’t *set* the limits of his own authority, only he (and not you or I) really has the competence to *identify* those limits. That might have been what you intended to say. I hope so. But it wasn’t what you did say. Again, a subtle but absolutely crucial distinction.

    3) I haven’t even said that I definitively think Weigel is *not* a dissenter. He might well be. I don’t know. I just said I think he deserves a fairer hearing on the issue than the one he has been given. My contention here is that allegations of dissent against Weigel are premature, not that they are false.

    4) I haven’t “identified myself” as a Christian socialist. I said my sympathies lie with them over Weigel and his camp.

  • Aaron Taylor

    I guess we must have been living in parallel universes, in two alternate versions of the twentieth century. Hans Kung and the LCWR are not exactly what I’d call “quiet and subtle” dissent.

  • Dan Hugger

    These (Particularly the first two) are really essential distinctions. One of the benefits of having something like a Magisterium made up of actual people who act in the actual world is that they actually discipline actual dissent. If Mr. Storck’s reading were correct we’d expect some actual real world effects, some cases of actual discipline or some explicit condemnations.

  • Tom Leith

    > you want to identify yourself as a Christian socialist,
    > and Pius XI said that such a stance was not possible.

    Grumble.

    Dear Mr. Storck,

    The word “socialist” covers a lot of territory doesn’t it? I appreciate an attempt to excavate the meaning of the word out of the social encyclicals as I’m often accused of condemned-Socialism. As best I can tell, what is condemned about “Socialism” is the notion that the state should own all the productive capital, meaning all the capital out of which you might get a living. You could own your house or a passenger car, but not a farm or a truck (or a factory or a coal mine). But that’s not all “Socialism”.

    Christian or Democratic Socialism (so-called) doesn’t say that. The approach (if not every concrete detail) has a high endorsement: ” 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.” — Joseph Ratzinger – Europe and its Discontents My understanding is that the word “Socialism” in this context is due to an unfortunate translation from German, but we seem to be stuck with it. Just as the word “Capitalism” has rather a vague definition that needs clarification, so does “Socialism”.

    Here in the USA a Democratic or Christian Socialism might adopt a more Jeffersonian/Distributist approach than they have in Germany but it seems to me that it could look pretty similar in effect. But (of course) it couldn’t possibly be called “Socialism” or even contain the word “Social” in the label we use for it.

    Dear Mr. Taylor: Mr. Storck is quite right to insist loudly that our economic institutions must be founded with an eye towards the Common Good understood in Aristotelian/Thomistic terms and not towards Lockean Liberty as if that itself is the Common Good or naturally tends towards it.

    You can’t have heresy without Definitive Doctrine but I wonder something. At what point does Papal teaching about a topic rise above the level of “Prudential Admonition” to the level of “Authoritative Teaching” that sets a high bar for functionally ignoring or even contradicting? When the Popes say over and over again for a century that workers must be seen as factors of production and must be seen as stakeholders having by right a voice in business or industrial organization, and that the Free Market (so called) can’t be the basis of every commercial transaction, aren’t we at the point where can we say the response “Well, if you don’t like it don’t work there” is an irresponsible or rash response at the very least? If we say that a faithful response to Authoritative Teaching is “religious submission of mind and will” can’t a response like this one be (rightly) called perfidious? <– I must learn to write shorter sentences.

  • Thomas Storck

    Mr. Leith,

    I thought I’d posted this earlier, but for some reason it didn’t appear. In answer to your question about socialism, see this earlier article of mine. If you still have questions, I’ll try to answer them.

    http://distributist.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-is-socialism.html

  • Tom Leith

    Yes, Mr. Storck, thank you — I know Socialism understood technically and Capitalism by almost any understanding are materialist. Nobody who understands Socialism technically tells me I’m a Socialist.

    Any non-optional program that strikingly (or even remotely) approaches the just demands of Christian social reformers is called a Socialist by a non-negligible number of Catholics, as you well know.

    In a country / world that can’t Constitutionally admit there is anything beyond the material, there will never be properly Christian economic institutions. Maybe we’ll convert the nation over the next 2,000 years or so. Meantime we’re stuck with doing the best we can do…

    I think you’re being a little hard on Adam Smith.

  • Jonathan Quist

    I’m sorry to chime into this argument 10 months prior to the fact but I would like to summarize and clarify. Your article, in a nutshell, is attempting to argue against Thomas Storck’s claim of George Weigel being heterodox and dissident in his application of Church Social Teaching. You list the example of Christian Socialism as a position that can be adhered to without violating that teaching while, on the surface, it appears to be opposed to the Leo XIII’s rejection of socialism in Rerum Novarum. Correct?

    While I admire the subtlety of your argument and the charitable impulse to give Mr. Weigel the benefit of the doubt, I think your argument is somewhat misleading. You have pointed out that both Leo XIII and Pius XI in their criticism of Socialism have incorrectly defined socialism, in that what they have pointed to as the central evil of socialism, “the relinquishing of all private property to the state” is actually a tenant that no real socialist, not even Marx, would hold to. That is well and good.

    However, I think that you are conflating two issues if you were to say that George Weigel holds a similar position to a contemporary Christian socialist. While the Christian Socialist ascribes to an economic form that was inaccurately defined and condemned by former pontificates – (as Pius XI famously stated “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist”). Weigel, on the other hand, seems to question the Church’s ability to make judgements of specific economic systems as a whole. I mean while he never openly states that the Church is incapable about making socio-economic statements he does go far enough to say that educated Catholics can go through Caritas in Veritate “highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine in gold and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.”

    What we have here are two entirely separate cases that require individual analyses and diagnoses. The Christian Socialist, if his position is concomitant with the general principles laid out by Catholic Social Teaching and the Catholic tradition (which you have eloquently proven the feasibility of), then he needn’t explain himself, he is in good faith. But if, as I believe George Weigel has, an individual persistently ignores the Church’s perennial condemnations of the evils resulting from the current economic regime and to institute reforms that would make the current economic system more akin to the ideals laid out by the Church then that individual should be corrected. Wouldn’t you agree?