Keith Michael Estrada, writing over at Patheos, has more than a few words to say in defense of socialism from a Catholic perspective. Although Estrda is right to criticize those who would use the Church’s social magisterium to baptize capitalism, his attempted presentation of what Catholicism “actually teaches” regarding socialism leaves something to be desired. The most elemental error Estrada makes is failing to offer concrete examples of “socialisms” which have not been condemned by the Catholic Church. Instead, Estrada repeatedly suggests that not “all socialism” contradicts the magisterium. But what kind of “socialism” is that? Clearly the principles of private property and subsidiarity do not support a state-centered system where heavy expropriation, command-planned redistribution, and centralization are the norm. And while there are other models of socialism available which are more localized and communal, Estrada fails to discuss them . . . at all. Call that the “meta” problem with Estrada’s article. There are a couple of others worth noting as well.
First, Estrada’s horizon is too narrow. While he spends a great deal of time with excerpts from the writings of recent popes, he has almost nothing at all to say about the social-magisterial statements of Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI. Any type of “socialism” which is ostensibly congruent with Catholic teaching needs to take account of the entire magisterium; selectivity simply will not do. Given that the earlier popes were attempting to meet socialism straight on during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it would have behooved Estrada to look further back than the last 50 years. Of course, as noted, Estrada doesn’t seem all that concerned with clarifying what he even means by “socialism,” so perhaps that why he didn’t bother to engage the magisterium in toto.
Second, while Estrada is certainly right to stress that free-market capitalism finds no rooted support in Catholic social teaching, he falls prey to making several sloppy claims which undermine the integrity of his case. For instance, Estrada tries to lump “national socialism” (Nazism) in as a type of socialism which the Church condemns without mentioning that almost all economic historians reject the idea that Nazi Germany was authentically socialist at all. Estrada then goes on to claim that national socialism/Nazism is simply “capitalist pursuits to the extreme”—whatever the heck that means. Again, no credible economic historian would hold that the Nazi economy was capitalist, and certainly not a hyper-charged version of capitalism. It seems that instead of thinking through the matter, Estrada falls prey to the reductio ad Hitlerum.
In closing, let me stress that I agree with Estrada that the Church’s social magisterium is not “pro-capitalist” and that the free-market policies championed by the American Enterprise Institute and the Acton Institute are contrary to Catholic social principles. However, Estrada’s sloppy approach to the issue is incredibly unhelpful. All it does is feed into the predominant liberal narrative that Catholic critics of capitalism lack credibility, are selective in their approach to the Church’s social magisterium, and do not have a firm grasp of economics or economic history. While I believe all three of those charges are ultimately false, you wouldn’t know it from reading or Estrada or the careless rhetoric of other Catholics who have fallen pretty to what I have referred to as the “socialist seduction.”