The latest news from the Bread King…

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx (1818-1883) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The masses were generally interested only in wonders and in security. When [Christ] multiplied the loaves and fishes, He startled their eyes. When He filled their stomachs he satisfied their sense of social justice. That was the kind of king they wanted, a bread king. “What else can religion do for man, anyway except give him social security;” they seemed to ask. … Fill gullets, turn stones into bread, and promise prosperity—this is the end of living for most mortals. Bur Our Lord would have no kingship based on the economics of plenty. … His Kingship would be of hearts and souls, not digestive tracts. … Is it the business of Christ to win followers by elaborate social programs? This is one form of life. Or is it the business of Christ to be willing to lose all the stomach-minded at the cost of reaching the few with faith, to whom will be given the Bread of Life and the Wine that germinates virgins? From that day on, Christ never won the masses; within twenty months they would shout, “Crucify!” as Pilate would say, ‘Behold your King.’ “

— Abp. Fulton Sheen, «The Life of Christ»


So a leftist-social Catholic recently post this––“The war between the Liberation Theology movement and Rome is over” via Vatican Insider, 6/21/13––on my Facebook, and the following discussion charts some of the response generated by me and others.

I, by the way, am B, while C is your typical boot-licking socialist Catholic in our times.

A: “Francis has always been sympathetic to Liberation Theology (LT); his public positioning, however, was conditioned by certain politically violent uprisings in Latin America which he opposed.”

B: “If we remove the Marxism from Liberation Theology (the class-struggle myth; messianic dialectical materialism; defunct labor theory of value; the critical superstructure theory of religion, family, and property), what is left? Or are we encouraged to keep the Marxism, after all? The more Marxist LT is, the less Christian it is. The less Marxist it is, the less it deserves any special name besides incarnational Catholic social doctrine (or, “Catholic social praxis”). Boff is just Chittister in drag. LT : hope :: LCWR : change –> Leftist Priests Speak Out On Pope Francis And A Church ‘In Ruins’ | Huffington Post. In any event, A, could you explain what you mean, as I’ve heard a much different story about Pope Francis and LT? –> ‘Chasm’ Exists Between Pope Francis and Liberation Theology | Daily News | + Pope Francis was all too familiar with Liberation Theology. That’s why he opposed it |

C: “Sorry, but, ‘Class Warfare‘ in the modern age is sort of hard to deny. Of course, it is always begun with an attack by the rich on the poor, and only becomes ‘class warfare’ when the poor respond. I’ve never read anything in either Gutierrez or Boff denying the existence of miracles. You’d have to show me some literature to back up your claims here.”

D: “Here in Brazil the ‘T.L.’ [Teología de Liberación]  is very dangerous. Deceive the people through his semantic Marxist revolution. Very sad.”

B: “Fr. Z says it pretty well, I think: ‘Some people have expressed misgivings over Müller’s open thoughts on a range of theological questions, including Liberation Theology. Let us not forget that Joseph Ratzinger used a point from Liberation Theology as a starting point for a book on liturgical worship: Christ is the Liberator who frees us from sin and death and liturgical worship is as an act of the Liberator, liberating for those who participate. Frankly, I think that focusing on the fact that Müller has read Liberation Theology is not very productive. Liberation Theology has been pretty much junked, and picked over for the good points it had.’ In any event, there can only be class warfare if there are such things as classes, but the Marxist theory of class is incoherent, like so much of the rest of the ideology.”

C: “Is it? In what way? It seems to me to be an patent reality of the modern world.”

D: “Dave, L.T. is dangerous because deceive the people: Comes as Christianity, but is deeply communist, materialist, and propagates a revolutionaty idea. Many priests of T.L. (as we call it here in Brazil) are pedophiles. LT is materialist! Are you crazy? Priests of LT don’t believes in miracles, spirits or something like that. It is the real cancer in the Church in Brazil. The look for the poor comes from St. Francisi, not Marx.”

B: “Marx’s class theory is incoherent because it requires that there is an objective, materially quantifiable cleft between the proletariat P and the bourgeoisie B, yet in reality no one member of either class perfectly or permanently exists inside those parameters (P|B). For example, if on Monday a man M earns the same wage W as his coworkers C, he’s objectively and ontologically on the proletariat side of the P|B. However, if on Tuesday he finds a satchel of gold coins on his way home from work, his material conditions have changed in a B-ward direction, so he’s no longer purely a P-factor in the dialectical process.

“Just think about the vulgar mantras about “the 1%”. First of all, what about the 1% of “the 1%” that employs and controls the other 99% of “the 1%”? Do we now have a hyper-bourgeoisie––an entirely new class just because quantities are infinitely divisible (like a number line)? Or how about the top 99% of “the 99%”, whose material conditions are objectively and logically superior to those of the bottom 1% of “the 99%”? Another class, again? Precisely how much does a person have to earn––and for how long, and with how many allowable losses or gains from time to time––in order to be, as an objective historical reality, a member of P or B? We cannot and will never know, but Marx bases his entire theory on the reality of that fantastical cleft.

“Moreover, if a member of the P ever uses his wages to employ someone (say to build a shed or clean the house, etc.), he has created a miniature version of the P|B, and is thus functioning in a B-fashion. The same goes in reverse for a member of the B who moves into P-conditions over time. Everyone’s uniquely precise material conditions are always in flux, and as such no is ever precisely in a pure P or B condition. Likewise, if we took a snapshot––This Is When the Objective, Deterministic Laws of the Historical Dialectic Cause The Overthrow of the Proletariat to Happen––of the 1% and the 99%, we’d ‘catch’ some of the 99% frozen in a transaction that might have elevated them to the 1% (and thus to B-ward), such as opening an inheritance check from a wealthy relative; or that might have dragged them into the 99%, such as a complete wipeout on a market speculation. So, contrary to Marxism, if we unfroze those people at the very cusp of the overthrow, they’d have gone from being P to being B, and the entire aim of the overthrow would be dialectically incoherent.

“For Marx/Engels, a class is understood as the synthesis that emerges, by Hegelian historical materialism, from the thesis of employment under capital and the antithesis that arises between workers. Once the workers “sublimate” their hostility against each other as competitors for wages, they become a class (the proletariat), an objective, higher ontological reality than their own individuality, and the historical process arrays them against that other ontological reality, the bourgeoisie. The problem is that, since class consciousness does not arise from personal volition (Marxism is entirely deterministic and materialistic), inclusion in a class is not a personal choice, nor are the boundaries of the class as an ontological reality amenable to individual alteration.

“Even the subjectivist theories of class consciousness à la E. P. Thompson can’t avoid this contradiction, since, for one thing, if on Monday M is wholly unified with the proletariat status of C, but then on Tuesday he wavers with bourgeois ambitions or, worse, happily resigns himself to doing dignified work as a member of the proletariat, then the unified consciousness of the P is fractured. For another thing, though, P’s achievement of class consciousness would require that there is an objective criterion for P|B, which we have seen is incoherent. Marx was a nominalist in everything but his most famous theses: there are objective, substantial entities called “the proletariat,” “the bourgeoisie,” “the value of labor,” etc. In order for a nominalist to assign any tokens to a class, he’d have to know the common factor in virtue of which they all resemble each other under that class-heading, but, as I’ve shown with the intrinsically fluid imprecision of the P|B, there is no single factor which all members of P or B share by resemblance. Even if you were to pick a single worker P! as your exemplar, by fiat, and class everyone else by reference to their resemblance to him, the ineluctable imprecision of P!’s materially determinant conditions would render such comparisons totally defective. So, because there is never, at a single discrete point in time, an exact criterion for the existence of the classes, there can never be an exact point in time at which capital is all concentrated, B is all oppressive, and P is all unified for the overthrow.

“Marx should have known this, of course, since his Hegelianism meant that nothing is ever purely, substantially “what it is”, but is always in the process of becoming its own antithesis which contains its own synthesis which is a different thesis which contains its own antithesis. At the end of the day, probably the easiest way to show why Marx is all wrong on class, is to note two things: first, he was born in a bourgeois family, yet somehow contravened his own theory of material determinism to join the ranks of the proletariat; and, second, his work was funded for almost his whole life from the profits earned by Engels’ wealthy family.

“So, as long as we drop the noxious reifying myths about classes and class conditions, etc. and instead simply focus on particular cases of injustice or progress, it’s fine to speak of “conflict.” After all, even the poorest person in the world is as fallen and as prone to greed, envy, oppression, and hatred, as the richest person on earth. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think people were greedy before Adam Smith was born. If, however, we claim that some “perfect economic system” or “the right conditions” will usher in an age of “true justice”––i.e. if a distributist can’t see how greed and envy could flourish just as well apart from capital and wages––then we are falling into the secular messianism which in fact has and always will be “junked” by the Church.

“Granted that Pope John Paull II uses the word “class” as a preliminary term of art in §9 of Laborem Exercens, by paragraphs 26–27, he notes how the biblical notion of work “practically does away with the very basis of the ancient differentiation of people into classes according to the kind of work done”; in paragraph 49 he speaks of “class struggle” as an ideological co-optation, by some, of the real problems between labor and capital; and in §96 he fastidiously avoids endorsing the term “class” as it relates to the otherwise good function of labor unions, and even notes that work actually unites people, as opposed to engendering struggle.”
C: “I am at a loss to understand why you think the notion of classes is a ‘fiction.'”

B: “It’s a theoretical placeholder, not a reality proper to human nature. This is why I think Catholics of all people should not bandy about terms like “class warfare”! They corrupt the Church’s wisdom with modern implications, rather like the liberal sense of “freedom” has infiltrated even the minds of the faithful.”

C: “Your objections still are not clear to me. Do you reject the reality itself? Is there some term you would prefer?”

B: Okay, here’s what I’m trying to get at: prior to Marx, the term “class” may have been innocent enough (à la a placeholder for “the persons unified by their trade-craft,” etc.), but after his Hegelianizing of the term, I think it’s a profound tactical error on the part of non-Marxists to keep using it, as it imports a host of theoretical landmines, and in the popular understanding invariably triggers the idea of “class struggle” (and thus adds a normalizing valor to it once again). I am trying to research the etymology and sense of the term “class” as it may have been used prior to Marx, but am so far not finding much. Even were I to grant the uncontroversial usage of the term in magisterial teachings, however, as you can see, I have my own *properly philosophical* objections to it. It sounds to me like “time and space” did prior to Einstein, but now that we understand the relativity and unity of those things, it’s lazy and imprecise to keep speaking like a Newtonian. My preference is to say “the employers/employees” in a given transaction-context; speaking of “the poor” and “the rich” is not only theoretically imprecise but also reinforces the cleft as if it were a natural reality. (I have a similar headache with using the term “distributism”. For one thing, I don’t capitalize it, unless I also happen to be channeling Ben Franklin and also capitalize Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, etc. If it weren’t so cumbersome, I prefer to say “the theory behind efforts/policies to create widespread productive freedom-in-ownership under decentralized government” instead of the disarming or inscrutable “distributism”.)”

E: “I consider myself a Distributist (capital D, and not in the spirit of Franklin), but I do not for one second believe in the pipe dream of a classless society. There is no Hegelian “logic” that will get us there. That sort of “materialism” is the fairy tale it appears to be. People are hierarchical by nature… But these natural tendencies may be softened considerably… and should be as subject only the availability of resources. The last I looked, we presently have considerable amounts of such resources. And waste them. This is why I also refuse to accept the alienating liberal (Euro definition) society that elevates mutual envy to a governing principle and regards the protection of property rights and individual freedom of choice (taken to inhuman extremes) as the only legitimate function of the state. Such a state is designed to irrationally distribute wealth upwards out of all proportion to human need. It is what happens when we treat human beings as so many numbers in a column. And we call this form of materialism “reality.” Well, such “reality” is not long for the world. It won’t result in a classless society. I suspect it will result in something quite worse.”

And that’s when things basically petered out. You can see how dismal things are in the trenches.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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