In a confusing and desperately frustrating primary season, one of the oddest outcomes has been the rise of Bernie Sanders. The self-proclaimed democratic socialist, who won last night’s New Hampshire democratic primary, has vowed to make virtually everything free. He’s stated time and time again that college education should cost nothing to the college student, that healthcare should never been paid for out-of-pocket, and that welfare programs should be vastly expanded. His disdain for the ‘1%’ is referred to in every stump speech given, and he has promised a massive redistribution of wealth. In his candidacy, Bernie has carefully incorporated all the elements of an unachievable socialist utopia.
That a far-left Senator from Vermont subscribes to socialism is not surprising. Government officials and academics are constantly attempting to throw capitalism overboard so that socialism can reign free. They conveniently ignore that socialism has never worked in human history, ending either in economic disaster or mass genocide. They fail to openly acknowledge that socialism, and its even distribution of wealth and property, runs contrary to human nature. And they demonize capitalism and the businessmen despite being afforded their positions, jobs, and wealth through a capitalistic society. This is not new, and I expect it will continue for as long as American principles exist.
What does concern me, however, is the large, and growing, support Bernie has from the electorate, especially Catholics. CatholicVote recently published statistics on the election showing that 52% of Catholic adults believed Sanders would be an average or better president. 52%? Seriously?
I struggled to understand the wide appeal of Bernie Sanders mainly because I know socialism, or even a government that looks a lot like socialism, will never work in this country. It is economically unsound and morally unjust. But upon a closer look, I see why Catholic support of Sanders is so high. There seems to be a confusion over what Catholicism teaches about charity and equality and what government can do to facilitate that charity and equality. While Catholic Social Teaching tells us that we as Christians have an obligation to help those less fortunate, it states that it should be done through good will by faith, not government mandated programs funded by excessive taxes.
The fundamental flaw in the perceived relationship between Bernie’s social-justice mantra and Catholicism came forth while reading a piece by Josh Gelertner in National Review on cultural appropriation. Though the topic is unrelated, he states that, “young leftists who want to appear good without the hassle of doing good” are problematic and rampant in today’s society. The desire of many to appear good without actually doing anything good is a line of thinking that lends itself to Sanders campaign. Pumping money into government welfare programs and education seemingly does what many people are unwilling to do themselves—assist the poor, hungry, sick, and marginalized. In an effort to reconcile Catholic Social Teaching with modern American society, numerous Catholics have eliminated individual good will and charity in favor of government-subsidized programs and insane tax plans.
In reality, Bernie’s highfalutin criticism of capitalism and praise of socialism is contradictory to much of Catholic Doctrine. The theology does not preach the merits of government redistribution of wealth or extreme welfare programs whose benefits outweigh those gained through actual work. Hard work and charity from the heart are pillars of the Catholic faith; two things that are enabled by capitalism and hindered by socialism. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical ‘Sollicitudo Rei Socialis’ that “Experience shows us that the denial of this right [the right of economic initiative], or its limitation in the name of an alleged “equality” of everyone in society diminishes, or in practice, absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative..”. Government cannot grant equality by taxing the rich, redistributing their often hard-earned wealth, and creating massive welfare programs, because equality is not theirs to give.
Equality comes from God, not Bernie Sanders.
Socialism, and its disciple Sanders, are not friends of Catholicism. Sanders plan fundamentally undermines the spirit of Christian charity, assuming the marginalized will only be cared for if the federal government forces you to care. Further, the notion of economic redistribution, as a means of achieving equality is counter to the belief that God grants our worth and hard work is a mainstay of Catholic teaching, not to mention a deeply flawed economic practice. Socialism is not known for its embrace of religion, so why is this proposal any different?
In an election cycle as important as this, Catholics have a spiritual and civic responsibility to assess candidates beyond their stump speeches. Though free education, free healthcare, and the promise of hearty welfare benefits sounds good, the promise is impossible. Taxing away nearly all the money of those who work hard to pay for others’ elite education and over-the-top welfare benefits disincentivizes work. In turn, those federally funded social programs use the money of others to negate the need for Christian charity.
The socialism of Bernie Sanders is not Catholic Social Teaching on steroids, but a practice that if implemented, would render Catholicism, and it’s members, archaic.