Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
Folha de S. Paulo, April 4 th 1971 (*)
Of the three principles affirmed in the name TFP - Tradition, Family and Property - only the third, that is, property, is contested with a certain insistence. This disagreement comes primarily - and naturally so - from socialists and communists, who deny private property. However, it also comes at times from certain business sectors and some Catholic circles, and this is much less natural.
The businessman is, by definition, an owner, and it is incomprehensible that someone be comfortably and opulently installed in the position of an owner and at the same time be against property. This contradiction is like that of a monarch who is also a republican, or the president of a republic who also calls himself an anarchist. Given these hypotheses, it would be a shocking contradiction for the monarch not to renounce his crown or the president his capacity as chief of State. It is no less shocking for the owner not to renounce his goods and give them to works of charity, for example.
That Catholics be against private property is also extremely odd. In the first place, the hostility to private property of many of them shows through rather than shows up. That is, it filters out through insinuations, veiled criticisms, and unexpected connivance with the left rather than by frank affirmation. Why all this mystery? If they are against private property, why don't they say so? And if they favor it, why do they never defend it? Why does their sympathy always go out to those who attack it? And why does their antipathy turn only against those who defend it?
It must be said that there are Catholics who go even farther, and openly affirm that the Church is completely disconnected from the institution of private property in our days. They say that Communism, as a social and economic regime, is just as acceptable to the Church as any other, and that the only reason for the conflict between Communism and the Church until now was the fact that the former persecuted religion. Once the persecutions cease, the Church will accept living in total harmony with communist states, just as She has placidly done with the capitalist states, as She felt at ease in the monarchical-centralist state before the French Revolution, and as She even more remotely, that is, in the Middle Ages, cooperated intimately with the feudal state.
Now, the position of these leftist Catholics is disconcerting since private property, with one accidental change or the other, is pointed out in pontifical documents as an institution proceeding from the fixed and invariable aspects of the very nature of things. It is thus referred to as a legitimate institution that should last as long as the world is the world; as a sacred right of man because he is man; a right, therefore, that no state can abolish without entering a very grave and head-on conflict with Catholic morality.
For this reason it is even stranger that some Catholics classify private property as an injustice of former times that the Church supported out of weakness, but from which She should become disassociated at this point in human evolution. Was it then a weakness of God to affirm private property in two Commandments of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not steal," and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods." And was it a weakness of Our Lord Jesus Christ to corroborate the Decalogue for all time by affirming that "...till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law..." (Matt. 5:18)?
What is most irksome is that between this patronal "anti-ownerism" and its "Catholic" counterpart there are profound convergences.
"Anti-ownerist" businessmen attempt to justify their position in terms of the encyclicals, and "anti-ownerist" Catholics in economic terms.
Both seem to think that the world is heading for an esoteric situation already known to them, but which they do not yet dare reveal to us. This situation would not be identical to Communism, although it would include the abolition of private property. That is, we conclude, it would be genuinely communist. What rabbit is about to jump out of the sleeves or pockets of these enigmatic magicians?
* * *
This rabbit portends nothing good. The mystery created before finally bringing it out for the admiration of the peoples can only raise suspicions. Even before the rabbit appears on the scene, it promises to be the bearer of calamities. It is therefore necessary to do everything we can to keep the rabbit inside the sleeves or pockets of the magicians.
The best way to do this is to cite some of the pontifical teachings on private property which both disconcert the businessmen and silence the Catholics of the "anti-ownerist" clique.
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So they will not say that these teachings are obsolete (what is an obsolete papal teaching?), I'll start right off with a text of John XXIII:
“ ... the right of private property, even in relation to goods employed in production, is valid for all time. For it depends on the very nature of things which tells us the individual is anterior to civil society and for this reason, civil society exists or man. Furthermore. no one's right to act freely in economic matters would be recognized if he were not likewise given the ability to choose and employ the means necessary for the exercise of this right. Moreover, experience and History attest to the fact that where political regimes do not recognize the ownership by individuals of even the means of production then the use of human freedom in fundamental matters is violated or completely destroyed. From this it certainly becomes clear that freedom finds protection and incentive in the right of private property” (Encyclical Mater et Magistra, A.A.S, Vol. LIII, p. 427, emphasis ours).
Through this passage one sees the legitimacy and perennity of the regime of private property. It proves with luminous simplicity how the suppression of private property amounts to the most complete tyranny.
(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. American TFP.