One of the strangest things about the 2016 presidential campaign is the revival of socialism as a mainstream political ideology. Socialism is not something widely understood in America today, in part because we’ve been remarkably shielded from most of its effects. Ask one segment of the population what socialism is and they are likely to reply with “Obamacare,” while another may think it means “free” college. Ask some Catholics and they may even claim that Jesus was a socialist. Others may like the idea of socialism simply because in theory it runs counter to the corruption and excess of Wall Street, or it’s the “anti-establishment” thing to do. For many young, wide-eyed, and naïve millennials, socialism is a utopic vision for the future where everyone is happy because the government has righted every wrong and satisfied all our needs. Or, as is more likely the case, supporters of socialism won’t be able to define it at all.

In a recent analysis of the 2016 primaries, Mr. Jeffrey Tucker writes  “It’s amazing that we should still be talking about socialism at all today,” yet we are because so many people see “the greatest failure of the 20th century as a solution for the 21st.” But socialism isn’t just the greatest failure of the 20th century; it is also one of the greatest evils. Pope Leo XIII, the author of Rerum Novarum – arguably the preeminent social encyclical of the Catholic Church – recognized the problems inherent in socialism years before all the Socialist upheavals of the early 20th century. Socialism, he states, “is highly unjust, because it violates the rights of lawful owners, perverts the functions of the State, and throws governments into utter confusion.”

He continues at length:

Therefore, inasmuch as the Socialists seek to transfer the goods of private persons to the community at large, they make the lot of all wage earners worse, because in abolishing the freedom to dispose of wages they take away from them by this very act the hope and the opportunity of increasing their property and of securing advantages for themselves.

But, what is of more vital concern, they propose a remedy openly in conflict with justice, inasmuch as nature confers on man the right to possess things privately as his own.” (Rerum Novarum, 7)*

Volumes could be, and have been, written on the detrimental effects of socialism as an economic and political system, while Rerum Novarum, other Church documents, and countless other writings have detailed its disastrous philosophical and theological implications. The flavor of socialism as described by Pope Leo may be more heavy-handed than the “softer” European socialism of our contemporary era and that advocated for by some presidential candidates, nevertheless, his prophetic warning about the unjust nature of socialism rings as true today as it did more than a century ago. One only need count the millions killed in the 20th century by socialists like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Guevara to grasp the scope of injustice brought about by this system.

However, this essay is not meant to be an economic or historical treatise. Instead, it is intended to be a warning for my fellow men to avoid the dangerous trap of this enticing ideology in all its forms. We (and Catholicism in general) are under direct assault from it, for it undermines three essential virtues, or characteristics, of the Catholic male ethos: providing for others, sacrificing of self, and the exercising of free will.

I) Providing for Others

One of the principle qualities of the Catholic man is his desire to provide for others, principally those under his charge. Here St. Joseph is the quintessential figure. Married men, fathers in particular, know what this quality demands of us. It is why we work, because our work is inherently tied to our dignity as men. It is the reason we get up before dawn to head off to work to provide for our family. It is why we think first of the comfort and needs of our children before our own. It is through our work that we provide what is necessary for our family. But socialism takes away from the dignity of men because it takes away from the dignity of their work. Under a socialist system, men do not engage in work to provide for their family; they engage in work to provide for the government, because it is the government that will provide for our family. That may sound nice, but it is ultimately soul-crushing and unsustainable. Authentic masculinity demands that men provide for others and those under our care come first, not the government.

II) Sacrificing for Others

Any man who works hard to provide for his family knows that the very act of providing requires sacrifice. These are inseparable qualities. As Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross provided us the opportunity to attain eternal life, so do our daily sacrifices help to provide the daily life for our family. But under socialism, the need for sacrifice is reduced, if not eliminated, since the government has inserted itself into the family and community structure. It is true that under our current free-market system many families do sacrifice enormously in an attempt to make ends meet. The excesses of the market do allow many to fall through the cracks. But that is why we must sacrifice. It is not enough to see those in need and allow the government provide for them. We as Catholics must sacrifice to help those who are less fortunate. Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Knights of Columbus exist for this very reason. Providing for others demands sacrifice on our part, not government intervention.

III) Exercising Free Will

If providing for others is only possible through sacrifice, then sacrifice is only possible because of the divine gift of free will. It is impossible to sacrifice without purpose and intent. If we rise before dawn and head off to work simply as an automaton with no real purpose, no desire to provide for our family or sacrifice on their behalf, then our work is empty. Sacrifice gains its luster when we willingly choose it, accept it, and embrace it, just as Christ embraced the cross of His crucifixion. As Pope Leo says, socialism abolishes “the freedom to dispose of wages” and conflicts with man’s “right to possess things privately.” This does not mean by virtue of our free will that we should indulge every desire for gadgets and luxury; rather, free will should lead us to willingly sacrifice all the more, for we know that is how to grow in holiness and virtue. When government hinders our ability to sacrifice with real purpose and intent, our ability to provide for those under our care is diminished. Our free will should be exercised so that we might sacrifice for those in our care, not for the government.


Men, these are but some of the dangers of socialism, which unfortunately recent polls suggest many of our brothers seemingly do not grasp. There is cause for alarm, but also reason for hope. Young voters, especially men, are engaged in politics to a degree unheard of in recent times. Many of these young people have gravitated towards socialism because they sense the depravity of modern society. They know the existing order is largely a decaying vapid morass of excess and wantonness. These young people hunger for truth and for magis, as St. Ignatius Loyola would say. But the satisfaction they seek cannot be found in any ideology, because what they really desire is not of this world. And so we must warn of the conflict between Catholicism and socialism, which the noted Irish economist Dr. George O’Brien explained so eloquently:

“The opposition between Catholicism and socialism arises from the fact that both attempt to cover the same field. Catholicism is not merely a religion, any more than socialism is merely an economic theory. As we have already seen, the acceptance of Catholic teaching on religious matters involves the acceptance of Catholic ethics in the domain of politics and economics, and a Catholic society is deeply coloured by the religious teaching of the Church. Socialism, on the other hand, does not and cannot stop at the mere readjustment of men’s economic relations in society; its basic principle, that man is in his present evil state because of evil institutions, cannot be restricted to questioning the institutions of inequality or of property, but inevitably advances to question every other institution as well – marriage, parental control, and religious institutions. Thus, Catholicism and socialism both claim to regulate human life in all its aspects; and, as they are based on fundamentally opposite principles, it is inevitable that they must conflict, and that each must endeavour to destroy the other.” (An Essay on The Economic Effects of the Reformation, IHS Press, pg. 122)

Heed this warning my brothers. Socialism is wrong for men, because it is wrong for our families, our world, and the Church. Socialism is not just another ideology; it is in direct conflict with our faith. We must not allow it to undermine what is true, noble, and good about authentic masculinity. And no, Jesus was not a socialist.


*Translation taken from Rerum Novarum published by Pauline Books & Media (2000)

  • AsherLev

    You say this is a response to the ‘Tradinista’ group’s ‘manifesto’, but all you’ve taken from that text is the word ‘socialism’ and then brought up the straw men of ‘Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Guevara’. The ‘socialism’ of those dictators was indeed repudiated by Leo XIII and by pretty much all subsequent pontiffs, but there it was defined specifically as a planned economy, which you go on to critique. Planned economies, though, are just one variant in the constellation of political ideologies known today as ‘socialism’. Pope Benedict XVI himself noted that we can distinguish between this ‘totalitarian’ form of socialism and more ‘democratic’ models, concluding that actually ‘democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine’. And, as far as the Tradinista manifesto itself is concerned, it explicitly defends politico-economic principals, such as private property, subsidiarist governance and worker cooperatives etc., that are contrary to the totalitarian planned economy critiqued by the Church. The reason for Tradinista’s use of the word socialist, which could be critiqued as a matter of prudence, is clearly just to defend the ‘democratization’ (as opposed to ‘collectivization’) of the means of production (largely through mutual associations) and attack the current situation under capitalism whereby the majority of people are ‘compelled to sell their labor-power on pain of destitution’ because of those ‘who, by their ownership of capital, are enabled to exploit’ them. This is actually a very orthodox critique of capitalism, with Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno plainly stating that ‘it does violate right order when capital hires workers, that is, the non-owning working class, with a view to and under such terms that it directs business and even the whole economic system according to its own will and advantage’, with the Pontiff going on to describe the real-world destructiveness of capitalism as a ‘despotic economic dictatorship’.

    • Gabe Jones

      Asher, thank you for reading and taking the time to make such a thoughtful reply. I think you intended to comment on my related post here:

      I can understand and appreciate the nuances of the terminology as you explained. However, I don’t think these nuances make up for the very profound errors inherent in any socialist ideology. I will refer again to Dr. George O’Brien, the economist I quote in this article on socialism and the other one on capitalism, who says when comparing the two:

      “Socialism, on the other hand, derived encouragement from the violations of established and prescriptive rights of which the Reformation afforded so many examples, from the growth of heretical sects tainted with Communism, and from the overthrow of the orthodox doctrine of original sin, which opened the way to the idea of the perfectibility of man through institutions.”

  • Pat_h

    I guess I find myself more and more in the position that Catholics like Chesterton and Belloc found themselves. Socialism strikes me more and more as an unrealistic concept based on a hope for humanity, but a hope that’s so tied to a concept of Man without God that it ultimately corrupts in nearly every extensive application. The state ends up being everything, and everyone relies on the state, which then redefines what is and what isn’t real in an attempt to make everyone happy on earth, as if that’s all there is.

    That’s paining with a very broad brush, I know, but if we look at socialistic societies, at the end of the day, genuine concerns end up with the state being the only solution to anything and deep reliance on the state for everything.

    But our corporate capitalism has deep problems as well, and sees money as the solution for everything and operates on the assumption that what is good for fictional entities, i.e., corporations, is by default what is good for people. The only concern is economic productivity.

    Like Chesteron and Belloc, Distributism, a natural form of capitalism, seems the best option to me. But it gets little press, even amongst we Catholics, who developed the 20th Century expression of it.

  • David W. Cooney

    Great article! It is good to remind people that our faith encompasses all aspects of our lives, and that economics is not an independent science, but is a sub-field of ethics.

    • Gabe J.

      Thank you for reading!

  • Gary Finneyfrock

    Chirhes have always been on competition between bars, clubs, drugs, alcohol etc
    Anything that keeps people put of the puhs. It has always tried to control medical advances, science and personnel freedoms. Free thought, free spirit, free market, free choice to globalisation.

  • Mike

    Here’s the thing, though. Bernie Sanders doesn’t call himself socialist, he calls himself a democratic socialist. He’s not suggesting a pure form of socialism, in fact it’s not even really socialism. What he’s suggesting is something more akin to FDR in the 1930s. He’s saying we have enough wealth to support people, to take care of our poor, immigrants, etc. When you look at the guy’s platform, most of what he wants is directly in line with Catholic “social” teaching. Of course his biggest and most direct conflict with Catholicism is on abortion. While I’m not saying Catholic men should be voting Sanders, I AM saying he’s not really a socialist.

    • Pat_h

      FWIW, all the early Socialist called themselves Democratic Socialist. Prior to the split of the Social Democrats in Imperial Russia into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks they called themselves Social Democrats.

      It was only after the Bolsheviks became the Communist that Social Democrats outside the USSR began to form a distinction between Communist and Social Democrats, although they did so rapidly and genuinely. But even at that, at least through the 1940s European Social Democratic parties, like Germany’s SDP, were real Socialist.

      A person can question what that means today. Ownership of the means of production isn’t really advocated by anyone any more, but there is a very statist aspect to most true Socialist. In Sanders case, however, I’m not too certain that he isn’t more of a left wing New Dealer, basically, although he certainly proposes at least a couple of fairly socialistic positions.

    • Alex S.

      John Paul II said this in Centesimus Annus:

      “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”

      That was FDR’s America, and that would be Bernie’s America. It may sound Catholic on the surface, but in reality it works counter to the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.

    • Gabe J.

      Mike, allow me to re-emphasize a line from the quote I included in my article: “Socialism, on the other hand, does not and cannot stop at the mere readjustment of men’s economic relations in society…”

      Whether it’s “democratic socialism,” “authoritarian socialism,” or just plain “socialism” it won’t stop with just our economic relations. Look at how FDR’s Social Security program has changed how our society looks at the elderly. That’s just one example. I can agree that Sanders says things that superficially sound Catholic, but in reality I believe they are very, very dangerous to the faith.