What have many academics and a good number of religious leaders learned from the collapse of communism and the failures of so many utopias of socialism that couldn’t deliver on their promises? Well, nothing. In “The Great Lie: Pope Benedict XVI on Socialism,” Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at a critique of the socialist impulse offered by the Pope in his new encyclical Spe Salvi.

In the article, published on InsideCatholic.com, Rev. Sirico discusses the futility of a salvation based on a materialistic worlview:

History is strewn with intellectuals who imagined that they could save the world — and created hell on earth as a result. The pope counts the socialists among them, and Karl Marx in particular. Here was an intellectual who imagined that salvation could occur without God, and that something approximating the Kingdom of God on earth could be created by adjusting the material conditions of man.

Socialist theorizers simply cannot wish away economic realities. “The economic problem is intractable,” Rev. Sirico writes. “Simply asserting that the new world will magically appear begs critical issues, such as how we are to feed, clothe, and house people.”

Pope Benedict sees this flaw clearly. This is from Spe Salvi:

Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another.

This utopian impulse, Rev. Sirico says, blinds the socialist to unchangeable realities of the economic order:

… the pope has put the problems of economics exactly in the right light: the practical issue that needs to be settled within the framework of a sound morality and understanding of human nature. Socialism fails for a precise and practical reason: It has no system for pricing factors of production to make economic calculation possible. Prices come from the exchange of the very private property with which socialism dispenses.

Read the encyclical letter Spe Salvi on the Vatican Web site here.