Seeking Solidarity: Against the Liberal Critics

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In his Encyclical Graves De Communi Re, Pope Leo XIII treats with the growing movements of Christian Democracy of his time. Indeed, it is from these movements that the ASP claims decent. The scions of liberalism, ever watchful for the resurrection of the philosophical patrimony of the West that they intended to bury like Chronus in Tartarus, would paint us as their brothers in red or blue liberalism respectively.Yet, founded on the principles of Christianity rather than the failed axioms of liberals 300 years ago, we reject the monikers of socialist, right-winger, woman hater, race baiter, and the like and can do so since we reject the Liberalism from which both stem.

The stumbling block for these critics is the same that was a stumbling block for the Judaizers: misunderstanding of the Law, in this case the Natural Law. For Liberalism, man is absolutely autonomous. In man alone are the determinations of previously objective principles. Happiness, virtue, religion, reason, all these things are subject to the mind of the man contemplating them and bend themselves to his definitions. The very law of Nature, therefore, is in the hand of man to define, legislate, and enforce. Man becomes the tyrant of the order that he is subject to, placing the burdens of their imagined dogmas upon all mankind.

They deem themselves beneficent tyrants, however, declaring that every man is “free” to pursue any end he chose provided it does not violate the axioms they established to set limits to otherwise limitless license. Indeed, the most important restriction they place on mankind is precisely the one that would reveal their foolishness: questioning their dogma. They believe these things to be settled, obvious, and universal, so shut up and like them. They complain that this is the only way man can be free and the only way to protect man from his fellow man and the beast they call government.

Pope Leo XIII gives an alternative. In the face of the moral excesses of the two liberal factions–the socialists and the capitalists–tearing mankind down all across the world with their poisons of envy and greed respectively, he extols the emergence of Christian Democracy. In Rerum Novarum, Leo called out to Christians to affect social change like responsible citizens. In Graves, he extols those rising to that challenge as Christian Democrats.

Nor, with God’s grace, were Our hopes entirely frustrated. Even those who are not Catholics, moved by the power of truth, avowed that the Church must be credited with a watchful care over all classes of society, and especially those whom fortune had least favored. Catholics, of course, profited abundantly by these letters, for they not only received encouragement and strength for the excellent undertakings in which they were engaged, but also obtained the light which they needed in order to study this order of problems with great sureness and success. Hence it happened that the differences of opinion which prevailed among them were either removed or lessened. In the order of action, much has been done in favor of the proletariat, especially in those places where poverty was at its worst. Many new institutions were set on foot, those which were already established were increased, and all reaped the benefit of a greater stability. Such are, for instance, the popular bureaus which supply information to the uneducated; the rural banks which make loans to small farmers; the societies for mutual help or relief; the unions of working men and other associations or institutions of the same kind. Thus, under the auspices of the Church, a measure of united action among Catholics was secured, as well as some planning in the setting up of agencies for the protection of the masses which, in fact, are as often oppressed by guile and exploitation of their necessities as by their own indigence and toil.

The rise of Christian Democracy affected real social change all over the world at that time and in subsequent decades. Labor laws, charitable institutions, and other tools of private and public use were employed to protect the poor and foster greater social integration. Those who call us Socialists will likely recall the Christian Socialists of the time which Leo calls an oxymoron and that we reject utterly.

What Social Democracy is and what Christian Democracy ought to be, assuredly no one can doubt. The first, with due consideration to the greater or less intemperance of its utterance, is carried to such an excess by many as to maintain that there is really nothing existing above the natural order of things, and that the acquirement and enjoyment of corporal and external goods constitute man’s happiness. It aims at putting all government in the hands of the masses, reducing all ranks to the same level, abolishing all distinction of class, and finally introducing community of goods. Hence, the right to own private property is to be abrogated, and whatever property a man possesses, or whatever means of livelihood he has, is to be common to all.

Leo plainly points to the fundamental issues that set us apart from the Socialists, namely populism, social equality, class equality, and the abolishing of private property. As Christian Democrats, we support the structuring of government such that issues are handled at the lowest level necessary to deal with them. Securing the Atlantic coast is an issue best suited for a national government while the granting of fishing rights in a Virginia river belong either to the Commonwealth or the county, depending on the size of the river. We are unlike the “small government” liberals in that we acknowledge that government must have power to act. We differ from them further by acknowledging that the government is the expression of the people’s will rather than some removed entity foreign to their interests and existing with the sole aim to enslave and oppress. If such a thing were true, then it would be better if no government existed. Yet they would insist it is necessary to protect their rights while they brandish weapons they say protect their rights anyway. But I digress. We do not advocate any more government than there needs to be, but like our founders acknowledge that men are not just on their own and the government must enforce the demands of justice.

As Christian Democrats, we believe that all men are equal in dignity and deserve the respect thereof. This means that all have the right to private property received through their own toil but allowing for assistance for that end. It does not mean that the social and economic classes must be leveled so that all enjoy property that is not their own and not to their liking. It contradicts the natural right of all men to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It is the result of our concupiscence that we must labor; we cannot cheat, either through capital ventures or government censure, a man from the products of his labor. Rather, public and private energies should be focused on the mutual growth of all persons in the community. Self-interest, however understood, is never right and will only affect the greed and envy of the capitalists and the socialists that Leo condemned.

As against this, Christian Democracy, by the fact that it is Christian, is built, and necessarily so, on the basic principles of divine faith, and it must provide better conditions for the masses, with the ulterior object of promoting the perfection of souls made for things eternal. Hence, for Christian Democracy, justice is sacred; it must maintain that the right of acquiring and possessing property cannot be impugned, and it must safeguard the various distinctions and degrees which are indispensable in every well-ordered commonwealth. Finally, it must endeavor to preserve in every human society the form and the character which God ever impresses on it. It is clear, therefore, that there in nothing in common between Social and Christian Democracy. They differ from each other as much as the sect of socialism differs from the profession of Christianity.

It is from this that we draw our inspiration and according to this we are foreign to socialism and even Liberalism. Yet the Liberals will again complain that we seek to redistribute wealth like the brothers the socialists. This derives from their myopic view of political philosophy. To them, there is only Liberalism and anything contrary to their specific liberal view is a different liberal view. Foreign to them are the proscriptions of Leo and the Church throughout the ages. The wisdom of the West that their forefathers so imprudently rejected for follies of their own devising is now unintelligible to them. Thus, they are utterly confounded when we follow this teaching from Leo.

As regards not merely the temporary aid given to the laboring classes, but the establishment of permanent institutions in their behalf, it is most commendable for charity to undertake them. It will thus see that more certain and more reliable means of assistance will be afforded to the necessitous. That kind of help is especially worthy of recognition which forms the minds of mechanics and laborers to thrift and foresight, so that in course of time they may be able, in part at least, to look out for themselves. To aim at that is not only to dignify the duty of the rich toward the poor, but to elevate the poor themselves, for, while it urges them to work in order to improve their condition, it preserves them meantime from danger, it refrains immoderation in their desires, and acts as a spur in the practice of virtue. Since, therefore, this is of such great avail and so much in keeping with the spirit of the times, it is a worthy object for the charity of righteous men to undertake with prudence and zeal.

Since the very elevation of the poor is unconscionable to liberals regardless of their color–they prefer to either consign them to the hand of fate and call it just or tear down the natural rights of man and call it just–Leo’s words would smell of socialism to them or they would attempt to twist them into Gordian knots of excuses, detailing that the government cannot compel a man to be charitable. This last objection is so ridiculous, I scarcely know why it is an objection at all. They say it is because Charity is a religious proscription and therefore out of the purview of government. If the chief and greatest virtue is incapable of being legislation, it logically follows that no other virtue could be legislated. If the virtue from which all virtues come cannot have the force of law, then no virtue can. See how these liberals behave when they force God out of their governance! Justice, prudence, temperance, all virtue now can have no force of law. The law itself becomes the whims of human imagination and there is anarchy. This is what the liberals offer. It is all they can offer. As Leo said, these institutions act as the spur in the practice of virtue. Is it not written that St. Paul kicked against the spur to his detriment? If a rich man suffers under a law intended to spur him to virtue, is it the fault of the spur or the man? Shall we remove our laws on murder because it is hard for the murderer to live under that spur? These are the counsels of liberals. They enforce their atheistic dogmas upon all which can only lead to the total depravity and destruction of mankind. We, on the other hand, seek to build man up, confirmed as we are by Divine precept.

Finally, We recur again to what We have already declared and We insist upon it most solemnly; viz., that whatever projects individuals or associations form in this matter should be formed under episcopal authority. Let them not be led astray by an excessive zeal in the cause of charity. If it leads them to be wanting in proper submission, it is not a sincere zeal; it will not have any useful result and cannot be acceptable to God. God delights in the souls of those who put aside their own designs and obey the rulers of His Church as if they were obeying Him; He assists them even when they attempt difficult things and benignly leads them to their desired end. Let them show, also, examples of virtue, so as to prove that a Christian is a hater of idleness and self indulgence, that he stands firm and unconquered in the midst of adversity. Examples of that kind have a power of moving people to dispositions of soul that make for salvation, and have all the greater force as the condition of those who give them is higher in the social scale.

We do not desire any man stay on the dole, but we rather desire a man use it as the spring board to reach his happiness. We cannot fall into the lies and traps of liberals, be they red or blue, provided we adhere to the advice of Leo and allow ourselves to be formed by Divine precept. By following the logic of the Gospel rather than the whims of popular liberal movements, we commit ourselves to something greater than simply a “revolution” started by popular political figures. It is giving everything to God, including our politics, and submitting ourselves to His wisdom and order rather than our own. Such selflessness is not only impossible for liberals but actually antithetical to their main premise of the autonomy and supremacy of the individual man over nature and even God Himself. We reject such arrogance along with all the works and empty promises of Liberalism.

After all, it worked for Poland.



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