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We Need the Tradinista!—Or Something Like Them

Now raising a minor furor on Facebook and the web is a twenty-point statement by a group of young Catholic socialists called the Tradinista! Movement (the exclamation mark is theirs). I would have thought that even those opposed to socialism would still think it a misguided but well-intentioned project, but apparently not.

The Tradinista Manifesto has received, judging from in an unscientific survey, little support. Catholics who share their obedience to the Church’s moral teaching reject their socialism. Many believe in some form of classic liberalism, while the new socialists’ natural allies defend some form of third way Distributism, one that’s often anti-socialist. Their political allies, both secular and dissenting Catholic, reject their obedience to the Church’s teaching on the moral life.

The Tradinistas

The Tradinista’s are, according to their website’s About page, “a party of young Christians devoted to a ressourcement of Catholic social teaching, classical Aristotelian-Thomist political philosophy, Marxist economic analysis, and their integration into a new kind of politics.” Our writer Chase Padusniak, who knows some of them, describes them as “intellectually serious, socially-conscious, and wholly orthodox Catholics. Many are Latin Mass-goers, disgusted by our contemporary social and economic climate.”

The members have remained anonymous. The two names that appear on the articles on the homepage, C. W. Strand and Juan Martin de Guzman, seem to be pseudonyms (though not admitted as such), judging from the lack of an author biography and of an online presence.

The “About” statement continues:

Not only is such an integration possible; it is also necessary to meet both the spiritual and the material challenges of the 21st Century. We advocate for a Christian socialism from the perspective of traditional Christian orthodoxy as the remedy to the ills of capitalism, of liberalism, and of modernism.

One hears in this the voices more of Alasdair Macintyre and Karl Polanyi than Karl Marx. Strand’s three-part series on the homepage explains what they mean by socialism, and adds more Marx.

The Value of the Tradinista! Movement

As a movement, the Tradinistas could be Martin O’Malley or Bernie Sanders. The first seems more likely, because movements rarely succeed. The second seems more than usually possible, because so many Catholics hope for an alternative and the conservative versions have had their day. They could be right, but pendulums swing.

If nothing else, should the Tradinistas succeed in gaining a place in the wider Catholic discussion, they will force more politically and economically conservative Catholics to take neglected aspects of the Church’s social teaching more seriously than they do. Gabriel Sanchez, one of their critics, has written, “Given that there is a noticeable contingent of Catholics who believe that almost all forms of taxation, redistribution, and regulation constitute socialism, it is necessary to show that the Church’s magisterium expressly contemplates all three under certain circumstances.”

Moving the leftward pole of the generally accepted political spectrum farther to the left will deepen Christian political discussion and therefore our corporate public witness. Mainstream liberalism is not as liberal on economics as liberals think, and doesn’t provide a real leftwing alternative. Like the Orthodox theologian David Hart with his recent essay Christ’s Rabble, arguing that the New Testament takes a far more negative view of wealth than is generally believed, the Tradinistas’ provocation could create a new and needed exchange.

The Magisterial Just Wage

One issue on which this comes to a point is the magisterial teaching demanding a just wage. The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine (numbers 301 and 201) lists some of “The rights of workers, [that] like all other rights, are based on the nature of the human person and on his transcendent dignity,” and  lists first “the right to a just wage.”

The Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (67) demands that a man be paid “such that [he] may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents,” a demand quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see numbers 2409 and 2434.) The Compendium adds a stark warning: “They commit grave injustice who refuse to pay a just wage.”

Here’s the point of conflict: Catholic social teaching explicitly rejects a merely market-given answer: “The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a ‘just wage’, because . . . natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.”

The teaching could not be more definitive. Still, many conservative Catholics insist that only the market can set wages, meaning either that every wage (whatever it is) is by definition a just wage or that there is no such thing as a just wage. They see the Church’s demand as either nonsensical or impossible, and in either case another example of clerics not understanding economic laws.

In other words, they brush off the teaching as unrealistic, therefore not binding. A Catholic isn’t allowed to do that. He can’t simply invoke an extrinsic claim to deny what the Church says. What is a just wage and how it is achieved may be a very difficult, a hugely difficult, a nearly impossible question to answer, but the Catholic answer isn’t just “The market!” It isn’t just “Have the government set it!” either.

The Tradinista Future

The answer is something to be worked out with effort and care. It is something much more likely to be worked if the Church includes a serious leftwing voice. Even those who completely reject it need it, especially if they seek to be completely faithful Catholics.

Whether this movement of young Catholic socialists develops into that voice within the Church, no one can know. The Tradinista movement could fade from attention quickly, like Martin O’Malley’s candidacy, or prove surprising popular, like Bernie Sanders’. If it proves to be O’Malley, we still need a Sanders.

 

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  • David Mills

    For anyone’s who’s interested: As I just wrote in response to a comment from Sam Rocha: A lot of people have offered versions of this argument and these claims. But all the critiques of liberalism and all the (rarer) defenses of semi-socialist or socialist politics haven’t amounted to a movement, and a movement is needed to force the public debate.

    I’m most concerned with encouraging a full and fair reading of Catholic Social Teaching, rather than the selective readings it generally gets, and that requires pushing many people outside their (pre-Catholic) ideological commitments. CST doesn’t track directly onto the standard forms of the standard positions, which means that almost every Catholic thinker needs to be challenged.

    This has personal benefits. In theory, we will all challenge ourselves, but in reality, we need someone we have to answer before we’ll really deeply question our ideas. The personal benefit is that we should find our ideas modified or changed or held with greater understanding.

  • Gabe Jones

    Anytime socialism comes up in a Catholic context, I refer back to the way Irish economist Dr. George O’Brien summarized so eloquently the stark contrast between Catholicism and socialism in his “Essay on the Economics Effects of the Reformation”:

    “The opposition between Catholicism and socialism arises from the fact that both attempt to cover the same field. Catholicism is not merely a religion, any more than socialism is merely an economic theory. As we have already seen, the acceptance of Catholic teaching on religious matters involves the acceptance of Catholic ethics in the domain of politics and economics, and a Catholic society is deeply coloured by the religious teaching of the Church. Socialism, on the other hand, does not and cannot stop at the mere readjustment of men’s economic relations in society; its basic principle, that man is in his present evil state because of evil institutions, cannot be restricted to questioning the institutions of inequality or of property, but inevitably advances to question every other institution as well – marriage, parental control, and religious institutions. Thus, Catholicism and socialism both claim to regulate human life in all its aspects; and, as they are based on fundamentally opposite principles, it is inevitable that they must conflict, and that each must endeavour to destroy the other.”

  • Thomas Storck

    I just wrote the following to someone who asked my opinion about this.

    “I frankly don’t see the point of what they’re doing. Distributism or
    solidarism has everything they want, without burdening themselves with a
    name that’s been rejected by the Church and which will be off putting
    to potential converts [to their point of view]. What’s the point of connecting themselves to a tradition that’s substantially identified with a materialism hostile to
    Christian civilization? I suspect it’s a matter of people wanting to
    make a noise, to say something which will attract attention. I guess
    distributism is too old hat for them.”

    Instead of joining forces with Distributists to oppose capitalism, they muddy the waters and reinforce the all too common misconception that our only two choices are capitalism or socialism. Thanks, guys!

    • David Mills

      Tom,

      You might be right about the superiority of Distributism even from their point of view, though I’m sure they’d offer substantial arguments against the idea. But why the ad hominem judgment in your next to last sentence? They clearly believe it. One might think them idealistic or naive or ignorant, but it isn’t necessary to dismiss them as people who just want to make a noise and get attention.

      This seems especially unfortunate given that conservative writers say something like that about the Distributists, when that is they pay them any attention. They say something like “The Distributists are economic romantics who don’t understand economics and just want to save themselves from being identified with capitalism, and get some attention for offering the mythical ‘third way’ many people want even though it doesn’t exist.” They make the same argument, that capitalism actually provides what you’re looking for and avoids associating yourselves with a fringe movement.

      That said, I’d be very interested in their response to your criticism and will forward it to a member I know.

      • Thomas Storck

        David,

        It’s not that I blame these people because I think they’re idealists – I’ve nothing against idealism – but because they are going against the explicit judgment of the Church. I’m sure you’re aware, and it’s hard for me not to imagine that they are too, of the fact that all the popes who’ve officially addressed socialism have been critical of it, and Pius XI, though his discussion of socialism was quite nuanced and informed, gave as his definite judgment that no sincere Catholic could be a true socialist. So, frankly, I’m more than surprised when a group of Catholics chooses to describe itself by that label. I would suppose that they’ve convinced themselves that there is nothing wrong with using the label socialist, so in that sense I’m not judging their subjective good faith, but if the Church says no Catholic can be a socialist, I don’t see how they can get around that fact.

        My final paragraph stems from the fact that I’ve been called a socialist more than once due to the fact that I’m an opponent of capitalism. I’ve been trying to make objectors see for years that to oppose capitalism does not necessarily make one a socialist. And now these people come along and identify Catholic opposition to market economics with socialism. I’m afraid this could set back quite significantly the cause of educating Catholics with regard to Catholic social teaching.

        If it’s possible to make an ad hominem attack on persons unknown, I suppose I did impugn their probable motives by charging them with wanting to make a splash. Why did I do this? Because I consider it highly unlikely that, as I said above, they are unaware of the papal condemnations of socialism, nor can I imagine that they are unaware that there are perfectly acceptable Catholic alternatives to capitalism that avoid the stain of socialism and yet make all the valid points that socialists have. If for some reason they are cool to distributism, there is Heinrich Pesch’s solidarism, which was common in continental Europe at the same time Chesterton and Belloc were writing in England.
        But if they state that they’ve never read Quadragesimo Anno and hence were unaware of what Pius XI taught, then I’ll retract my judgment of their motives and apologize.

        I would though be highly interested in their response to what I’ve written.

      • Well, what the conservatives say about Distributism is true. It’s a made up economic “system” by a non-economist, much like Marxism. You can’t possibly believe that limiting yourself to small businesses would be an economic plus. Nor believe that the hand of government involved to enforce such an economic system would not be semi-totalitarian.

  • I’m sorry, but that teaching is unrealistic. The market, whether you believe it or not, sets wages. You can’t get around it. If you enforce a wage, the scale in short order through inflation brings things back. You can’t pay the poor not to be poor. Actually it was Jesus Christ who said “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matt 26:11). You can’t pay a maid the wages of a teacher without economic restructuring.

    • Thomas Storck

      The initial questions one asks about economics go a long way to set the terms of the debate and even determine the answers one gets. If you accept the paradigm of neoclassical economics, e.g., the “economic man always seeking to buy cheap and sell dear, you might indeed get the answers you state. But that paradigm is simply the deism of the Enlightenment applied to the social order. As Catholics we must have a different starting point. And in fact, history shows us that most societies have had a very different conception of economic activity.

      • No, no, no. What the Enlightenment economists (I assume you’re referring to Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, and David Ricardo) did was not impose a system as did Marx or whoever came up with Distributism, What they did was observe and derive the laws of nature as they pertain to commerce. These are laws are as close to scientific principles as can come in a social science. It is not a paradigm that can shift. If you look at the history of human commerce, they are present in the ancient world, in the world of the middle ages, and everywhere there was commerce. They can only be altered by a heavy hand of force, usually a government, whether feudal or totalitarian or dare I say democratic – the will of the people to legislate taking other people’s money.

        • Thomas Storck

          No. There are plenty of instances in history where people were quite content to accept a customary and reasonable standard of living without trying to get the greatest profit or the greatest return on their work or money. Moreover, much of history shows that people understood that the economy was supposed to support society, not vice versa, and so they very logically put in place institutions and rules to accomplish this. Thus the guilds of the Middle Ages. If you’re interested, you can find some of this more fleshed out in my articles on the Distributist Review. Adam Smith et al. were able to create their “science” of economics by ignoring how people actually behaved and by treating any restrictions on the economic appetite as somehow unnatural. If you accept legal restrictions on sexual behavior, I find it odd that you would not accept legal restrictions on our economic appetite.

          Also, I don’t know if you’re a Catholic or not, but I’m afraid both your starting point and your conclusions contradict the Church’s magisterium. You can see this clearly, say, in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, or in any of the other social encyclicals.

          • I think you have a Romanticized view of the Medieval guilds. Just look at St. Francis of Assisi’s father. Or St. Francis himself before his conversion. We’re just going to disagree. Our understanding of economics is just too different. Let me give you a challenge. Open up any college textbook on economics, and show me where the section on distributism exists. I’ve never seen a college economics book ever even mention it.

          • Thomas Storck

            Yes, you’re right about economics textbooks. Too bad for them. How about this? Open up any college textbook in sociology or psychology, and show me where the section on chastity or how contraceptives are wrong or how there are only two sexes, etc., etc. is.

            Back when Catholics made efforts to think as Catholics, one could find Catholic economics textbooks that mentioned distributism, and even more, that promoted Catholic social teaching, instead of buying into Enlightenment deism.

          • That’s not the same thing.

        • Easter Rising Farm

          Distributism– advocacy for widespread ownership of productive property– need not appeal to State enforcement.

          Distributists like Chesterton, and especially Dorothy Day, call for personal choices on the part of Catholics to support widespread ownership. They do not ask for civil legislation to redistribute wealth. They ask for us to make economic choices that support the increase of small business.

          The Church, beginning with St. Paul epistles, believes that we should pay employees as much as they need to live a dignified life. Our businesses should be ordered towards that. Profit, wealth production, should be a means to paying all employees a living wage. If a business isn’t profitable enough to pay an employee a living wage, the employer should improve his business with that as a goal.

          I run a small business, and understand what this takes in the ‘real world’ of the market. It is not easy. But a business exists for it’s employees. Profit must be ordered to an end that is the betterment of every employee.

          • If that employer cannot provide a living wage, that employee will seek a different job at his nearest opportunity. If you want to keep that employee, you will offer him what he needs to sustain himself. That’s how it works.

          • Thomas Storck

            And if no jobs paying a living wage are at hand?

          • The market will adjust. There are stepping stone jobs that are meant to lead to full time jobs. If it’s a full time job, then it should carry a living wage to it. In times of under employment, then the government will have to carry the load by creating some sort of work for them or through public assistance.

          • Thomas Storck

            That’s not how it works in the real world, I’m afraid. There are and have been many times when adults could not find work paying a living wage. “The market will adjust.” This is a statement of faith, but faith, I’m afraid, in a falsehood.

          • Yes, it is how it works. Tell me which full time job does not pay a living wage? Which one?

            You’re the one taking cliched understanding of economics as faith.

          • Thomas Storck

            Are you serious with this question? Are you really unaware that many jobs pay only a minimum wage?

          • I’m serious. Tell me a full time job that pays minimum wage. I challenge you. If you can’t do it – which you won’t be able to – then you have to admit you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. Tell me.

          • Thomas Storck

            I posted a reply yesterday which included two links to Dept. of Labor sites, one showing the median weekly wage, the other showing how many adults over 25 worked for minimum wage. Perhaps the post needs to be approved, since it contains links. In any case, it has not appeared as of yet.

          • OK, I’ve got websites too. 🙂

          • “Distributism– advocacy for widespread ownership of productive property– need not appeal to State enforcement”

            Really? How do you prevent large businesses from forming? Magic? How do you take away from large businesses that exist now to form that distributism utopia?

  • Nicholas Lund-Molfese

    I’m in agreement with Mr. Stork when he says, “Distributism or solidarism has everything they want, without burdening themselves with a name that’s been rejected by the Church.” A true “traditional” approach is to build on what is received rather than concocting something new. (But perhaps we are cranky old men who want the kids to join in our long-standing efforts rather than try to reinvent the wheel?)

    Mr. Mills seems ready to potentially concede “the superiority of Distributism [&/or Solidarism?] even from their point of view” but says that, “I’m sure they’d offer substantial arguments against the idea.” I’d be interested in seeing that debate, if he can arrange it, in his editorial capacity. Frankly, I’d like to see if they have any rational basis for rejecting joining in these existing efforts.

    It seems to me that they will end up redefining the terms in their name until they reinvent something at least wholly consistent with the longstanding efforts of others like Mr. Stork.

    It reminds me of a story told me by a senior member of an international Pentecostal confederation. They rejected the authority of the early Ecumenical Councils, on principle, and then found the need to answer the same fundamental theological issues. After many years of hard work they came to the same answers, while as a matter of church doctrine still rejecting various terms and the authority of those Councils.