Acton Institute Powerblog

Popes Say No to Socialism

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Popes in Rome have attempted to steer the Catholic flock away from the “seductive” forces of socialist ideologies threatening human liberty, which since the  late 1800s have relentlessly plucked away at  “the delicate fruit of  mature  civilizations” as  Lord Acton once said.

From Pius IX to Benedict XVI, socialism has been viewed with great caution and even as major threat to the demise of all God-loving free civilizations, despite many of their past and present socio-political and economic “sins.”

In their various official publications and social encyclicals, at least since the advent of the latter with Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Roman pontiffs have given socialism a bad rap: It has never been positively perceived as a good political order, east or west of the Tiber River.

Why so? We do not have to look further than the popes’ own teachings regarding their vision of human work, anthropology, happiness and basic dignity.

First of all, socialism ultimately allows political authority to direct the ends of human happiness; that is to say, its supports the secular state’s programs and its functionaries’ potential and power to resolve much of man’s social and economic needs. It, therefore, replaces and distrusts individuals, local communities and families acting in free alliance with their Creator to build a good and better society for all. In a nutshell, socialism treats ordinary citizens like children incapable of governing themselves. When replacing  private charity with public welfare programs, socialism takes full advantage of the contemporary crisis of adulthood infecting free societies, whose dishonorable,  capricious and selfish citizens are unwilling to make sacrifices gratuitously for their neighbor  (see these two Acton videos one character by Lawrence Reed and Michael Miller).

Hence, socialism tends to defile human dignity and dehumanize the personal and local processes of free collaboration and personal responsibility. And as socialism advances closer its pure form in political practice, it ultimately attempts to dictate and bureaucratize all of human socio-economic well being, a concept of social justice built on the dangerous quicksand of modern materialism, which ultimately drags human freedom down to a slow, merciless death.

As the current pope, Benedict XVI, writes:

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.… In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) − a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (Deus Caritas Est, n. 28)

In order to give you a smattering of just how other popes have tended to view socialism, I recommend reading Gustavo Solimeo‘s “What the Popes Have to Say About Socialism” published for The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.

In Mr. Solimeo’s article we read that various popes believe that socialism is part of an “iniquitous plot…to drive people to overthrow the entire order of human affairs” (Pius IX); that “communism, socialism, nihilism (are) hideous deformities of the civil society of men and almost its ruin (and part of) a wicked confederacy” (Leo XIII); socialism is “contradictory (in) nature to the Christian religion (…) No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist” (Pius XI); socialism has “no account of any objective other than that of material well-being” (John XXIII); and finally that the “fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature…. (It) considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” (John Paul II)

Michael Severance


  • Ken Day

    I agree, Socialism disregards the ability of an achieving individual. Market Capitalism can be regarded as the opposite to Socialism. Market Capitalism has three principles – 1. Private ownership of the means of production. 2. Generaly free markets. 3. Limited, but not absent government. All this means that the individual must have a great say and contol over the system, otherwise it is not free market.

    Benedict XV1 said ” 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 …”

    True freedom cannot be found through the state, but only through the exercise of conscience, individual achievement, and the freedom to do so.

    Of course, we all know of human original sin, and in any ” ism ” there is the potential for greed and exploitation, including Capitalism.

    It was good to have this article and be reminded of the flaws of socialism.

  • Sandra

    I guess the difficulty with seeing Socialism as this abstract “evil” is seeing it in play in various European nations. They have healthcare when they need it. They have job support when needed. They turn out students that are multi-lingual and ready for the worldwide economy. Parents get months off of maternity and paternity leave to raise their babies, and studies show their children are generally happier than say USA, which always performs low on those test. Just doesn’t seem so bad to me.

  • Sandra: View European socialism “in play” here.

    “They have healthcare when they need it” except for those times when doctors, nurses, and hospital workers are on strike, in which case they don’t have healthcare. And why do do so many Greeks have to bribe doctors to get healthcare under this marvelous system?

  • Kuro

    Of course the popes hate it. It involves the masses taking the operation of society and the economy into their own hands and bending it to their will. It’s a scientific and materialist answer to the internal contradictions of an irrational and self-destructive system of parasitic profiteering that threatens our very existence. It is an affront to a god who demands obedience, That’s why the church has so often supported fascist regimes around the world as an effective executor of the god’s will to put down his rebellious slaves.

  • Raj

    Socialism doesn’t work. The best example is the Indian state of Kerala. There is no economy there, no jobs. At least every family in the state of 35 mil has someone working abroad. 

  • Ross Vassilev

    I just love the new Pope Francis. He’s a socialist if ever there was one.