When Benedict XVI spoke in Latin America recently, he criticized the very essence of socialism: its inherent materialism. The socialist ideology imagines that the logic of history is driven by what whole classes of people possess and control. It suffers from a plethora of failures, including a complete mischaracterization of the labor-capital contract, positing a collective and class-based consciousness, and a false view of history. And the effects of socialism on human rights and dignity? Unspeakable.
The pope also has some firm words for those living under capitalistic conditions. They too can imbibe the materialist ethic. How true this is! If people live to produce and consume as ends in themselves, they are denying the reality of the human soul, and this is dangerous to the culture and salvation.
Examples of this surround us. Shopping is a form of therapy for many. People sometimes seek professional advancement over family obligations. They use leisure time for self indulgence rather than charitable works and worship. Any political or social system that is constructed to tend to material needs only ends in cruelty that is contrary to morality.
Let us be clear on one important distinction however. The materialism in a capitalistic system is a problem of individual sin and cultural corruption. The materialism of socialism is integral to the philosophy itself. It cannot be redeemed by adding a religious gloss or refashioning class analysis in pseudo-Biblical terms. The burden of the critique of liberation theology, offered in many articles and books published by the Acton Institute, is to show just that.
The free economy provides opportunities to people that can be used wisely or squandered. The command economy denies opportunity and breeds suffering and corruption by its very nature. Our choice concerning economic systems, then, should be clear. The choice concerning how we use human freedom is dictated by the moral foundation of a culture and the exercise of virtue by individuals.
At the Acton Institute, we work hard to keep such distinctions before the public eye. Thank you for making our work possible!
Rev. Robert A. Sirico,