(3 Thomistic Philosophy § 1150, 3º, trans. O’Hanley) (footnote omitted.) In other words, some Catholics have explored the possibility that, if socialism abandons class warfare in favor of “honest discussion of differences,” and if socialism permits private property except where the common good requires property to be under public control, then there may be room for cooperation between socialism and Christ’s Church. The via media! No such luck, Grenier says. Socialism, even moderate socialism, is “irreconcilable” with Christianity. We see that, at least as Grenier understands the situation, there is no possibility for the sort of via media that Paul marks out.
3. Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno Held that Socialism Is Incompatible With Christianity, Even if Socialism Moderates Its Policies of Class Struggle and War on Private Property.
In support of this proposition, Grenier cites Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno. Indeed, Quadragesimo anno is, it seems, itself sufficient to answer the Catholics who have “unwarrantably wondered” about a possible via media between socialism and the Church’s social teaching. We come, therefore, to the heart of the matter. The brief portion of Quadragesimo anno that Grenier quotes in a footnote comes near the end of a considerably longer passage, which ought to be considered in full, because Pius does something very clever in it. Pius begins,
One might say that, terrified by its own principles and by the conclusions drawn therefrom by Communism, Socialism inclines toward and in a certain measure approaches the truths which Christian tradition has always held sacred; for it cannot be denied that its demands at times come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon.
For if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice, and if this is not that blessed social peace which we all seek, it can and ought to be the point of departure from which to move forward to the mutual cooperation of the Industries and Professions. So also the war declared on private ownership, more and more abated, is being so restricted that now, finally, not the possession itself of the means of production is attacked but rather a kind of sovereignty over society which ownership has, contrary to all right, seized and usurped. For such sovereignty belongs in reality not to owners but to the public authority. If the foregoing happens, it can come even to the point that imperceptibly these ideas of the more moderate socialism will no longer differ from the desires and demands of those who are striving to remold human society on the basis of Christian principles. For certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals.
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.
That’s a neat trick, there at the end, isn’t it? If socialism, Pius says, has moderated class struggle into mere dialogue between classes and renounced public ownership of the means of production in favor of the recognition that the public authority has the right to govern capital, then there’s no reason to become a socialist, since those doctrines aren’t uniquely socialist. And this is, of course, a point that is difficult to answer: if socialism is about, say, mere economic justice and solidarity within and among classes, then there is very little to distinguish socialism from other political tendencies. Almost no mainstream political tendency wants economic injustice and conflict among classes for its own sake.
Paul seems to contradict this point pretty squarely in Octogesima adveniens, doesn’t he? Paul says,
Distinctions must be made to guide concrete choices between the various levels of expression of socialism: a generous aspiration and a seeking for a more just society, historical movements with a political organization and aim, and an ideology which claims to give a complete and self-sufficient picture of man. Nevertheless, these distinctions must not lead one to consider such levels as completely separate and independent. The concrete link which, according to circumstances, exists between them must be clearly marked out.
Under Pius’s teaching, if socialism is only “a generous aspiration and a seeking for a more just society,” then there is no reason to cooperate with socialism, because neither of those things are uniquely socialist. And he is probably right, as we said. Paul, on the other hand, seems to leave the door open.
But it probably doesn’t matter much, since Pius doubts that socialism really has moderated class struggle or renounced public ownership of the means of production:
Yet let no one think that all the socialist groups or factions that are not communist have, without exception, recovered their senses to this extent either in fact or in name. For the most part they do not reject the class struggle or the abolition of ownership, but only in some degree modify them. Now if these false principles are modified and to some extent erased from the program, the question arises, or rather is raised without warrant by some, whether the principles of Christian truth cannot perhaps be also modified to some degree and be tempered so as to meet Socialism half-way and, as it were, by a middle course, come to agreement with it. There are some allured by the foolish hope that socialists in this way will be drawn to us. A vain hope! Those who want to be apostles among socialists ought to profess Christian truth whole and entire, openly and sincerely, and not connive at error in any way. If they truly wish to be heralds of the Gospel, let them above all strive to show to socialists that socialist claims, so far as they are just, are far more strongly supported by the principles of Christian faith and much more effectively promoted through the power of Christian charity.
Since socialism is likely to retain some of its uniquely socialist character, can’t the Church moderate its doctrines a little to find that via media? Of course not! Pius offers a variation on his neat trick from before. Here, he says that the way for Christians to interact with socialists is to show them—without departing from the doctrine of Christ’s Church—that there is no just socialist claim that is not supported and advanced better by the Church. In other words, it is the Christian’s duty to show the socialist that his just aims are really the Church’s aims and that the Church is better able to actually achieve those aims. The Christian is the perfect socialist, or, to put it in a less polemic manner, the Christian has perfectly what the socialist has imperfectly. Cooperation with socialism is therefore nothing more or less than bringing the Gospel to socialists.
Pius then circles back to the idea that socialism can moderate its distinctive aspects—class struggle and the public ownership of the means of production—sufficiently to permit cooperation between the Christian and the socialist.
But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion? This is the question that holds many minds in suspense. And numerous are the Catholics who, although they clearly understand that Christian principles can never be abandoned or diminished seem to turn their eyes to the Holy See and earnestly beseech Us to decide whether this form of Socialism has so far recovered from false doctrines that it can be accepted without the sacrifice of any Christian principle and in a certain sense be baptized. That We, in keeping with Our fatherly solicitude, may answer their petitions, We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.
(Emphasis supplied.) Even if socialism moderates itself to the point of class dialogue and public authority over certain private property, socialism is still diseased. This seems to be contradicted even more strongly by Paul, doesn’t it? Paul seems to hold that
But why does Pius say this?
[A]ccording to Christian teaching, man, endowed with a social nature, is placed on this earth so that by leading a life in society and under an authority ordained of God he may fully cultivate and develop all his faculties unto the praise and glory of his Creator; and that by faithfully fulfilling the duties of his craft or other calling he may obtain for himself temporal and at the same time eternal happiness. Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone.
Because of the fact that goods are produced more efficiently by a suitable division of labor than by the scattered efforts of individuals, socialists infer that economic activity, only the material ends of which enter into their thinking, ought of necessity to be carried on socially. Because of this necessity, they hold that men are obliged, with respect to the producing of goods, to surrender and subject themselves entirely to society. Indeed, possession of the greatest possible supply of things that serve the advantages of this life is considered of such great importance that the higher goods of man, liberty not excepted, must take a secondary place and even be sacrificed to the demands of the most efficient production of goods. This damage to human dignity, undergone in the “socialized” process of production, will be easily offset, they say, by the abundance of socially produced goods which will pour out in profusion to individuals to be used freely at their pleasure for comforts and cultural development. Society, therefore, as Socialism conceives it, can on the one hand neither exist nor be thought of without an obviously excessive use of force; on the other hand, it fosters a liberty no less false, since there is no place in it for true social authority, which rests not on temporal and material advantages but descends from God alone, the Creator and last end of all things.
(Footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) In other words, the fault with socialism is its concept of society as ordered toward the efficient production of goods, and, in Pius’s view, that fault is inseparable from socialism. This fault has two consequences: it requires excessive force and creates false liberty.
4. Henri Grenier Summarizes and Clarifies Pius’s Argument Against Socialism’s Concept of Society.
Now, this ought to be carefully considered. Socialism has one body of doctrine, Pius seems to tell us, and two key aspects of that doctrine are class struggle and the public ownership of the means of production. But there is more to socialism than those two points—including the idea that society is ordered toward production—and even if socialism moderates the two big points, the remaining doctrine is poisoned by socialism’s concept of society. There is, then, no way in Pius’s mind for the Christian to cooperate with the socialist, even if the socialist moderates the leading aspects of socialism.
The importance for Pius of the socialist concept of society cannot be understated. And it may help to clarify the argument a little to see what Pius is getting at. Grenier does just that. The thesis is that socialism is untenable. (We know Grenier’ll prove it, but don’t let that spoil the suspense.) Grenier unpacks the major and minor premises of Pius’s argument:
1° Man must live in society, in order to attain temporal and eternal happiness. But, according to Socialism, man’s only purpose in living in society is the acquisition of an abundance of temporal goods. Therefore.
Major.— The end of civil society is the temporal happiness of this life as directed to eternal happiness.
Minor.— For Socialism, in declaring even an attenuated kind of war on private ownership, is concerned only with the acquisition of an abundance of material goods, and thus shows no solicitude either for man’s higher goods, or for his liberty. For it teaches that man must be completely subject to civil society, in order that he acquire an abundance of material goods.
(3 Thomistic Philosophy § 1151, 1º.) He proceeds to the conclusion, and explains the two antecedents to the conclusion, of Pius’s argument:
2° Society, as conceived by the Socialist, is, on the one hand, impossible and inconceivable without the use of compulsion of the most excessive kind; and, on the other hand, it fosters a false liberty. Therefore Socialism is untenable.
Antecedent — a) Society is impossible and inconceivable without the use of compulsion of the most excessive kind.— According to Socialism, the possession of the greatest possible amount of temporal goods is esteemed so highly that man’s higher goods, not excepting liberty, must be subordinated and even sacrificed to the exigencies of efficient production.
b) Society fosters a false liberty.— Society, according to the Socialistic conception of it, is based solely on temporal and material advantages. From this it follows that neither society nor its members are subject to God, the wellspring of all authority. In other words, Socialism, in which no place is found for true social authority, destroys all authority.
We may add that Socialism cannot, in virtue of its principles, abolish class welfare.
(3 Thomistic Philosophy § 1151, 2º.) We note briefly here that there is an interesting point raised by this argument: does Pius mean that the mere subordination of man’s higher goods to the possession of temporal goods itself constitutes the “obviously excessive use of force”? That is, if man’s higher good is subordinated to the possession of temporal goods without physical coercion, is that still the “obviously excessive use of force”? If so, this is a remarkably interesting and potentially fruitful line of argument. But that’s not exactly what we’re here for today.
To summarize, in Pius’s view, socialism is contradictory to Christian doctrine because of its views on class struggle and private property, but even if socialism moderates those views, it is still contrary to Christian doctrine because socialism rejects the proper end of civil society in favor of a purely materialistic concept of civil society. Worse than that, socialism, in order to implement its materialistic concept of society, both uses excessive force and fosters a false concept of liberty. In other words, the poison in socialism is fundamental. Therefore, Christians cannot cooperate with socialism.
5. Returning to Octogesima adveniens: a Hermeneutic of Continuity or a Hermeneutic of Rupture?
As noted above, this bright-line approach is not to be found in Octogesima adveniens. Or is it? Remember, again, what Paul said:
Too often Christians attracted by socialism tend to idealize it in terms which, apart from anything else, are very general: a will for justice, solidarity and equality. They refuse to recognize the limitations of the historical socialist movements, which remain conditioned by the ideologies from which they originated. Distinctions must be made to guide concrete choices between the various levels of expression of socialism: a generous aspiration and a seeking for a more just society, historical movements with a political organization and aim, and an ideology which claims to give a complete and self-sufficient picture of man. Nevertheless, these distinctions must not lead one to consider such levels as completely separate and independent. The concrete link which, according to circumstances, exists between them must be clearly marked out. This insight will enable Christians to see the degree of commitment possible along these lines, while safeguarding the values, especially those of liberty, responsibility and openness to the spiritual, which guarantee the integral development of man.
(Emphasis supplied.) It seems to us that one could argue that Paul kept Quadragesimo anno in mind when he wrote Octogesima adveniens, and when he talks about “an ideology which claims to give a complete and self-sufficient picture of man,” he could well be talking about socialism’s broader notions of society—notions which Pius held to be incompatible with Christianity. Furthermore, one could well argue that Paul pointed out that there is a link between, say, “a generous aspiration and a seeking for a more just society,” and those same broader, incompatible notions of society. Furthermore, one could argue that Paul’s injunction to safeguard integral values—including liberty—points toward Pius’s teaching that socialism simultaneously does violence to and promotes a false vision of liberty. (To say nothing of socialism’s materialistic outlook, which contradicts necessarily “openness to the spiritual.”) In other words, Paul’s admonitions to Christians fit into Pius’s teachings and result in Christians being unable to commit themselves along socialist lines. Paul reaffirms Pius.
But if that were the case, one wonders why Paul did not come out and reaffirm Pius’s bright-line noncooperation rule. One can just as easily read Paul as permitting some commitment or cooperation. Certainly such a reading finds support in the text and does not require lengthy analyses of Paul’s secret allusions to Quadragesimo anno. And one could quite reasonably say that Paul meant what he said, and what he said was that Christians could, keeping certain things in mind, come to a decision about the extent to which they could commit themselves along socialist lines. If he had meant that they could not so commit themselves, then he would have said so. And this reading is hard to answer, too. No means no, and maybe means maybe.
The question, then, is whether one prefers a hermeneutic of continuity or a hermeneutic of rupture. And that question seems to be answered largely by one’s broader political preferences. Obviously, Christians who seek a via media—or something more—will adopt the hermeneutic of rupture, arguing that Paul VI, perhaps considering certain changes in the state of socialism by 1971, softened the Church’s stance on cooperation or commitment. And Christians who reject socialism completely on political grounds will adopt a hermeneutic of continuity with Pius XI’s strict anti-socialist teaching.