Times are tough in many parts of the world, including first-world countries, and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. The middle class is falling through that gap into the abyss.
With all the poverty and inequality we see today, you may wonder whether private property is really worth defending.
Communism and socialism can be tempting options in times like these. But don’t be fooled! All communist and socialist regimes have failed to live up to the ideal utopia they’ve promised.
The Church has condemned communism and socialism. If you’re thinking about jumping on either bandwagon, take heed of these warnings from past popes.
Pope Blessed Pius IX, “Qui Pluribus” (1846):
“…Communism, as it is called, [is] a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow.”
Pope Pius IX seemingly had a window into the future. Today’s communist regimes have wreaked havoc on their people. Many of these people are poor and have had fundamental rights taken away. Communist regimes are especially notorious for violating people’s religious liberty.
You simply can’t have a stable society without the right to ownership. The right to private property is part of the natural law. And though God commands us to share our goods with the poor, nowhere in revelation does He condemn private property.
Pope Pius XI, “Quadragesimo Anno” (1931):
“No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
Well, we can’t say it more clearly than that, so we’ll move on.
Pope Pius XI, “Divini Redemptoris” (1937):
“Too few have been able to grasp the nature of Communism. The majority instead succumb to its deception, skillfully concealed by the most extravagant promises. By pretending to desire only the betterment of the condition of the working classes, by urging the removal of the very real abuses chargeable to the liberalistic economic order, and by demanding a more equitable distribution of this world’s goods (objectives entirely and undoubtedly legitimate), the Communist takes advantage of the present world-wide economic crisis to draw into the sphere of his influence, even those sections of the populace which on principle reject all forms of materialism and terrorism.”
Pope Pius XI reveals the main reason for communism’s appeal: It identifies real injustices in the world. That’s why it’s attractive to young people who feel disenfranchised by the current economic order.
But as we’ve said, communist regimes are notorious for their injustices. They identify a problem, but fail to deliver a real solution. They have killed millions of people who refused to get with their program.
Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est” (2005):
“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person — every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.”
Pope Benedict XVI hits on two important flaws of an overly powerful state. One, while the state addresses our material concerns, it can’t meet our need for love. That’s why the Church’s charitable activities have always been superior. The Church addresses the whole person — body and soul — and sees in the suffering the face of Christ.
Two, the State shouldn’t snuff out the rights of individuals and communities to control aspects of their own destiny (the principle of subsidiarity).
Don’t let the economic challenges of today fool you into thinking that communism or socialism is the answer. Both these systems have been tried and epically failed.
Of course, no economic system can succeed without being animated by a Christian spirit. And even then, we as Christians are not supposed to look for an earthly utopia.
Our ultimate goal is heaven.