Monday, March 2, 2020

"Can a Catholic Be a Socialist?" by Trent Horn & Catherine R. Pakaluk

I've made no secret of my enjoyment of Trent Horn's work. He has a tremendous knowledge base and is very effective at crafting and presenting his arguments to non-specialists. That last point is especially important given the topic of his latest book, socialism, and its embrace by such an alarming number of young people with little true understanding of the ideology. 

To answer the question Can A Catholic Be A Socialist?, Trent partners with Harvard-trained, Catholic University business professor and economist, Dr. Catherine R. Pakaluk. I think readers will find them to be a formidable team.

Pakaluk and Horn adeptly explain socialism's aim: "a centrally planned economic system that rejects the ownership of private property." After debunking the claim that Christ and the primitive Church taught and practiced socialism, the authors trace its true genesis to the writings of Marx and Engels. From there they take us through its incarnation in Russia, China, and their satellites, up to its slick rebranding under the Democratic Socialists of America (with its stars, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). It's an informative history, especially helpful for those born after the fall of the U.S.S.R. I, for one, was surprised to learn that the Democratic Socialists of America was founded by a close collaborator of Dorothy Day's, Michael Harrington. Harrington left the Church, embraced atheism, and worked to "rehabilitate" Marx’s teachings from what he considered communism's authoritarian perversion.

The Church's social justice teaching can seem monolithic to outsiders, but Horn and Pakaluk zero in on key concepts such as the right to private property and subsidiarity and show their applicability to the question of socialism. It's a nice way to wade into the body of papal teaching. There's also a helpful appendix on distributism (and why it isn't a viable option today).

I imagine that the bulk of people reading this review have already arrived at the conclusion that socialism is incompatible with Christianity. By the time you finish this book, however, you will be able to articulate why capitalism - with its possibilities for abuse - is an inherently more realistic system than socialism. You'll also be equipped with example after example to illustrate your points.  I appreciated the chapters dealing with the demise of the Venezualan economy and the lie of Nordic socialism perpetuated by the likes of Bernie Sanders. (Denmark's prime minister went so far as to issue a statement clarifying that, "Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state...[p.151])

I found Can A Catholic Be A Socialist? to be a page-turner, and I'm sure you will too.



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