The Jesuit publication “America Magazine” has officially lost its unholy mind. Despite the fact that the Catholic Church has condemned both communism and socialism as unviable economic systems that violate natural law by depriving individuals of their labor’s fruits, the magazine still had the audacity to publish “The Catholic Case for Communism” by Dean Dettloff.
Not once throughout Dettloff’s lengthy defense of communism, in which he characterizes it as a just system seeking to correct the exploitation of the poor on behalf of the wealthy, does he mention the fact it ushered in one of the most destructive centuries in the history of the world, causing up to 100 million human deaths either by way of famine or government force. No mention of gulags, no mention of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and no mention of re-education camps. Instead, Dettloff plays a big (and wholly simplified) game of whataboutisms by claiming capitalism has caused just as much suffering as communism.
“Communists are not the only ones who have to answer for creating human suffering,” he writes. “Far from being a friendly game of world competition, capitalism, Marx argued, emerged through the privatization of what was once public, like shared land, a process enforced first by physical violence and then continued by law.”
In other words, a person being able to call the police when a trespasser waltzes on to their private property is akin to shipping someone off to a re-education camp because they held the wrong opinions. Dettloff goes on:
Colonial capitalism, together with the assumptions of white supremacy, ushered in centuries of unbridled terrorism on populations around the world, creating a system in which people could be bought and sold as commodities. Even after the official abolition of slavery in the largest world economies — which required a costly civil war in the United States — the effects of that system live on, and capitalist nations and transnational companies continue to exploit poor and working people at home and abroad. For many people around the globe today, being on the wrong side of capitalism can still mean the difference between life and death.
Later, Dettloff explores the forms of oppression that modern capitalism has inflicted upon people, citing the alleged grotesque labor conditions at Amazon. “An undercover journalist reports workers urinate into bottles in a U.K. Amazon warehouse for fear of being disciplined for ‘idle time,’ and the company has a long list of previous offenses,” he writes. “In Pennsylvania, Amazon workers needed medical attention both for exposure to the cold in the winter and for heat exhaustion in the summer.”
All of these, of course, are fair criticisms of the excesses of capitalism, or rather, the pursuit of profit at the expense of individuals, which the Catholic social teaching has condemned all the way back since Pope Leo XIII published “Rerum Novarum.” Dettloff clearly understands this, so when he tries to clarify that the sins listed above are “not the result only of unkind employers or unfair labor regulations” but are rather symptomatic of capitalism itself, he falls into his own trap.
“For communists, global inequality and the abuse of workers at highly profitable corporations are not the result only of unkind employers or unfair labor regulations,” he writes. “They are symptoms of a specific way of organizing wealth, one that did not exist at the creation of the world and one that represents part of a ‘culture of death,’ to borrow a familiar phrase. We already live in a world where wealth is redistributed, but it goes up, not down or across.”
If capitalism itself truly did create a system fully outside of natural law (not just a system that permits such violations by individuals), then by Dettloff’s own logic, one can only conclude that communism produces even more suffering simply by observing the widespread misery it produced everywhere it sprang forth, hence why nowhere in Dettloff’s piece does the phrase “100 million human deaths” appear. This is what led Pope St. John Paul II to declare:
Socialism 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.
Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.
Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decisions disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order.
In fact, as many as 10 Popes throughout history have condemned the evils of both socialism and communism while simultaneously seeking to curtail the abusive excesses of capitalism.
So why did America Magazine publish an article so far outside Catholic social teaching? According to Editor-in-Chief Matt Malone, it was simply an attempt to give representation to different voices.
“You might ask, after 110 years of opposition to communism, why are we publishing an article in this issue that is sympathetic to it?” he wrote in a clarifying op-ed. “Well, for one thing, you should not assume that America’s editorial position on communism has changed very much. It has not. What has also not changed is our willingness to hear views with which we may disagree but that we nonetheless think are worth hearing. And we could not have picked a better author for such an article.”
Except for the fact that the debate on communism has long been shut, every bit as much as the debate on abortion. There is no resurrecting it. While the Catholic Church has certainly shifted its focus into advocating for workers’ rights and a symbiotic relationship between employers and employees. Likewise, while it has underlined an individual’s natural right to private property, the church has also emphasized that private property should never come at the expense of the common good. But it has never looked at communism as a viable alternative.
Though America Magazine has long been pushing the envelope by allowing Father James Martin to publish pro-LGBT material without impunity, it blatantly crossed a line by publishing such a tone-deaf defense of what can be argued to be one of the most evil economic systems ever created by human beings and only highlights the reprehensible fact that communism has not yet been put in its rightful place in the history books alongside Nazism.