There is a cynical reading of Catholic social teaching that holds the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church which includes the Pope and his closest Bishops) must walk the line of alienating large swaths of its laity and angering the wealthy and powerful who derive their power by oppressing those large swaths of Catholic laity (amongst others, of course). Thus we find in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum a seeming “third-way” between unfettered liberal capitalism and the then radical socialism of the late 1800s. Others have noted that socialism gets the far harsher treatment here, even as the encyclical ends up calling for a living wage thus cementing the Magisterium and institutional Church as the true arbiter of justice for workers rather than a Workers’ State.
What struck me, however, as I was re-reading the encyclical was the central place of heteronormativity in the rejection of socialism. The logic of the encyclical is clear, beginning with the notion that the family is an antecedent to the State and so a true community separate from the State. There is a natural law that organizes this family and this law makes it incumbent upon a father to provide food and all the necessities of life for that family. The State, the encyclical suggests, confuses itself with the family when it attempts to interfere in families (presumably through State education or through the various other attempts to increase the wellbeing of the species rather than the individual). But this confusion is expressed and exposed as an error through the violation of the natural right to private property. I’ll let the encyclical speak for itself here,
“Paternal authority can neither be abolished by the State nor absorbed; for it has the same source as human life itself; ‘the child belongs to the father,’ and is, as it were, the continuation of the father’s personality; and, to speak with strictness, the child takes its place in civil society not in its own right, but in its equality as a member of the family which it is begotten. And it is for the very reason that ‘the child belongs to the father,’ that, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘before it attains the use of free will, it is in the power and care of its parents.” The socialists, therefore [???], in setting aside the parents and introducing the providence of the State, act against natural justice and threaten the very existence of family life. […] Thus it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, the community of goods, must be utterly rejected; for it would injure those whom it is intended to benefit, it would be contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and it would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonwealth. Our fist and most fundamental principle, therefore, when we undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, but be the inviolability of private property.”
I realize that most of our readers will be unsurprised by this, but I was struck by the quite blatant equivocating of private property with male dominion over the family. It points to the truly disturbing nature of CST third-wayism, where a deep paternalism pervades any sense of justice to the point where justice can only mean paternalism. Those who will try to use CST to recover a sense of justice closer to one rooted in the commons will of course point out that the encyclical goes on to claim, with Thomas, that one should give money to the poor from what is left over after their needs have been met. But the separating out of charity from justice that is explicit here means that justice becomes cheap. Charity is not something that can be enforced, whereas justice must be enacted. Again, the point here is to remove the State from the relationship of the masses and a justice which isn’t paternalism.