Spe Salvi 21: A Problem With Marxism

Some might consider this a bit of a rabbit hole from the topic of hope, but it’s an interesting window into the mind of Pope Benedict XVI. I think it would be just as easy to review the philosophy of, say, trickle-down economics. A bit simple really: be kind to your economic betters and they will be kind to you, but then human nature takes over and presto! it doesn’t really mean a better life. Or more freedom for you.

21. Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized.

I’d have to read far deeper into Marx than I care to, but for a man from a non-practicing Jewish family that switched into Christianity, I’m not sure a deep thinker would view an end-of-the-universe paradise as an endgame. An observer of working classes and the poor might suggest things were bad enough that any change would be an improvement from hell.

Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, (humankind) and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another. Thus, having accomplished the revolution, Lenin must have realized that the writings of the master gave no indication as to how to proceed.

Well, the democracy instead of neo-czarist rule might have been an improvement, but …

True, Marx had spoken of the interim phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity which in time would automatically become redundant. This “intermediate phase” we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction. Marx not only omitted to work out how this new world would be organized—which should, of course, have been unnecessary. His silence on this matter follows logically from his chosen approach. His error lay deeper. He forgot that (humankind) always remains (humankind). He forgot (humankind) and he forgot (humankind’s) freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: (humankind), in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem (us) purely from the outside by creating a favorable economic environment.

Pretty basic stuff. No approach without God, the acknowledgement of sin, and the vector of contrition and reform has a realistic hope of accomplishing lasting improvement in the human condition. It seems we always get in our own way, no matter what the system. The analysis of marxism is illustrative, but limited. Raising questions more bothersome to one’s readers might bring home the point with a little more sharpness and clarity.

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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