Socialist Doctrine Is Incompatible with Property and the Family




Prof Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

with the collaboration of others

Part I – Religious and Social Aspects, SECTION I – THE ASSAULT OF SOCIALISM AGAINST RURAL PROPERTY, Subsection II – “Agrarian Reform,” a Genuinely Socialistic and Anti-Christian Goal

Socialist Doctrine

As a doctrine that covers all the domains mentioned in the preceding chapter, socialism can be concisely summarized in a few main points:

In the universe, there is nothing but matter. God, the soul, the future life are illusions.

Consequently, it is entirely justified for all men, with the help of science, to seek complete happiness in this life. As long as that goal is not attained, everyone must be given the greatest possible amount of pleasure and avoid all effort and suffering as much as possible.

All inequalities are unjust as such, be they of fortune, prestige, culture or anything else. As a result, inequality between large, medium and small properties is unjust; and so is, above all, the system of wage-earning. In it the employer, claiming his right of property, exploits the rural worker by demanding a share of the product of his work, which should belong entirely to him.

Already at the present stage of human evolution, it is possible to abolish property, social hierarchy and the family (an obvious source of inequalities) and recognize the State as the sole holder of all rights. It will be incumbent on the State, guided by workers and peasants, to maintain full equality among men.

That will be the most evolved form of social life in our time.

In the universe, everything constantly evolves. Private property is an obsolete economic and social form that drags countries that cling to it into crisis and ultimately to collapse. Thus, in addition to being unjust as such, property is an enemy of the public interest.

Certain socialists add that in the future, the evolution of the universe and of man will be such that not even the State will survive. The end result will be anarchy,23 which these utopians conceive as being possible without disorder or confusion.

It is superfluous to show how much this doctrine diverges from our Catholic tradition. We will limit ourselves to adducing, in chapter III of this title, declarations of various Popes on socialism.

It is important here to emphasize that applied to the rural problems such a doctrine cannot fail to produce the idea that the property owner is an unjust occupant of lands that should be distributed among all. The existence of unequal properties is contrary to the evolution of humanity at the present time and provokes terrible crises. It is and could only continue to be a very important cause of the present crisis.

Therefore, the State must divide up the lands. It will be impossible to pay compensation entirely proportional to their value. Perhaps it will be good politics for the State to give to current property owners a small compensation if feasible. But strictly speaking it would not be obliged to do even that; for the right of property, a myth harmful to States and to societies, is being swept away by evolution. It is thus fitting for that compensation to be as small as strategically possible.

In this egalitarian conception, an elite becomes ipso facto a defrauder of the majority as soon as it is formed. The majority and the elite minority are forces necessarily in conflict. This is the pagan myth of class struggle so often condemned by the Popes, the outcome of which is the crushing of the best by the mass, the triumph of quantity over quality and the ruin of everyone in slavery to the Master- State.

Thus, the socialist system is the opposite of the traditional Christian idea of naturally shared interests among property owners, labourers and the State. The new conception automatically degrades the property owner from a well-deserving person to a parasite. Later we will return to the comparative study of differences between socialism and Catholic doctrine.

A naive egalitarian may claim that by the very nature of things, the socialist tendency will entail the abolition of land inequality only for a short while. Indeed, that highly unjust and harmful inequality will reappear as soon as the lands are distributed. For example, some people will work harder and buy the plots of others who are less healthy or industrious. Furthermore, an only son will inherit more than one who has ten siblings. How can one maintain, then, that dreamed-of equality?

The man-in-the-street, so busy and oppressed in our days, rarely delves into this question. And demagogues deftly and carefully avoid it, as it would necessitate giving premature answers to our “backward” milieu…

But the consequence of the compulsory division of lands is clear. Either the State is given a totalitarian power to curb the prosperity of the more capable and the more industrious, or the strictly egalitarian regime will not exist. Furthermore, either one suppresses not only inheritance but also the family, or parents will be continually tempted clandestinely to accumulate goods to favour their children. The State will be the sole great and true property owner and lord. Farmers will be mere squatters whose portions it will redistribute, from time to time, in order to maintain equality.

Thus, the most natural and holy institutions will be sacrificed in holocaust to the egalitarian Utopia… with enormous harm to the worker himself. How rightly Pius XI observed that the abolition of the right of property “would result, not to the advantage of the working class, but to their extreme harm.” 24

The Right of Property Derives from Man’s Nature

At the root of the opposition between the socialist thesis contrary to private property, and the Catholic thesis favourable to it, there is a difference in the conception of human nature.

For socialism, man is nothing but a piece of the immense cogwheel which is the State. Catholic doctrine sees it otherwise.

Every living being is endowed by God with a set of needs, organs and aptitudes placed in an intimate and natural correlation with one another. In other words, each being’s organs and aptitudes are directly destined to fulfil its needs.

Man is distinguished from other visible beings by having a spiritual soul endowed with intelligence and will. Through the principle of correlation we have just enunciated, man’s intelligence serves him by making known his needs and how to satisfy them. And his will serves him by wanting and doing what he needs. Thus, it is within human nature to know and choose what suits it.

Now then, these faculties would be useless to man if he were unable to establish a link between himself and that which he needs. Of what use would it be, for example, for a coastal dweller to know there are fish in the sea, how to fish them, and to have a firm desire to face the waves and actually catch them if he were not allowed to establish a bond with his catch so he would be able to bring it to land and dispose of it exclusively for his own nutrition? In this case, that bond is called appropriation. The fisherman becomes the owner of the fish. This right of property results for him – and for any person – from his nature as an intelligent and free being. God created beings that are useful to man so he can use them continually through appropriation.

If it is lawful for man to thus appropriate goods existing in nature without owner and consume them, for the same reason, he may also appropriate those goods to turn them into work instruments. Such would be the case, for example, of a person who appropriates a fish not to eat it but to use it as bait. This truth is even easier to see when someone takes an inadequate and useless object such as a piece of flint and, by sharpening it, gives it usefulness it did not have. The flint’s new usefulness is a product of his work, and every man, being by nature the owner of himself, is also the owner of his labour and the fruit it produces.

Man sees that his needs are recurrent. His nature, capable of apprehending and fearing the danger of an unstable supply, and naturally desirous of stability, requires that he have at his disposal the means to assure himself against the uncertainties of the future. Thus, it is licit for him, in addition to owning goods and means of production, to store up the product of his work through savings, thus guarding against the future. Depending on the case, he may also become the owner of the source of production. The appropriation of moveable reserves and real estate is thus entirely justified.

Let us note, before passing on, that the foundation of the right of property in its various aspects is thus found in the rational and free nature of man.

“Agrarian Reform” and the Family

We referred in passing to the predictable collision between “Agrarian Reform” and the family. The matter merits a little more analysis.

Indeed, the two topics, “Agrarian Reform” and family seemingly have nothing in common. Looking at the abundant material published so far, for and against “Agrarian Reform” (at least to the degree we have been able to grasp it), we have found nothing that indicates a connection between the two.

Nevertheless, the problem of relations between “Agrarian Reform” and the institution of the family is unavoidable. In fact, family and private property have existed since the dawn of history. And what exists between one institution and the other is not merely a cold and fortuitous coexistence but an intimate symbiosis that has remained uninterrupted until today. Already at first sight, this symbiosis indicates a profound affinity between private property and the family. Is that affinity not the result of a natural and indissoluble bond between the two? If that is the case, what consequences will the family sustain from the blow that “Agrarian Reform” is about to strike against the institution of private property?

This question could not fail to be of interest to a genuinely Christian soul impregnated with the sentiments of love and veneration that the institution of the family deserves.

Just as human nature generates the right to appropriate things, it also generates the right to constitute a family.

It is not difficult to show the correlation between property and the family. Indeed, it is naturally incumbent on the head of a family to bear the costs for supporting the home and providing proper education to the children. This gives the family a natural right to his work more proximate and more serious than the eventual rights of society. And the object of that right is not only what he earns but also what he accumulates. For a family brings its head responsibilities greater than those of a bachelor; and since these responsibilities concern a naturally stable society – the family – the arguments that justify the right of property when considered in function of the family assume such force that, while working, accumulating and prospering can often be for an isolated individual more a right than a duty, for the head of a family it is, in general, first a duty before it is a right. Conversely, when a man is able to earn enough to worthily support more than one person, except in cases of a special vocation, he tends to establish a family. His condition as owner of resources greater than his needs leads him to the condition of head of a family. Thus, property and family are related institutions, and even more, are connatural.

Furthermore, if one looks at man’s relations with his spouse and children from the standpoint of his nature, one easily sees that they rest on a principle similar to the one whereby, in virtue of his nature, man tends to be a property owner. Indeed, there is between husband and wife, as it were, a mutual appropriation that extends to the children, flesh of their flesh and blood of their blood.

The relationship between property and the family stands out with even greater clarity when we compare the situation that both these create for man with his situation in a socialist or communist regime, in which they are absent.

Man’s nature leads him to establish more direct ties with certain things and closer relationships with certain persons. Being a property owner and having a family are situations that give him a just sensation of a full personality. Living as an isolated atom without family or goods in a multitude of strangers gives him a sensation of emptiness, anonymity and isolation that is profoundly anti-natural.

Thus, it is easy to see the intimate connection in the innermost recesses of the human soul between the right that man has to appropriate goods and his right to establish a family. Between family and property there is, we would say, a community of root and reversibility. By divine mission, the Church is the guardian of the right of property and of the family. By exercising this mission, she implicitly protects inestimable values, that is, essential rights of the human soul and the dignity which derives from man’s condition as a spiritual being and as a Christian.

Socialist doctrine, on the contrary, inspirer of “Agrarian Reform,” denies at its root the principle that man, a spiritual, intelligent and free being, is master of himself, his potencies and his work. To socialists, everything belongs to the collectivity. For the same reason, they logically deny the family as well.

If socialists eventually obtain the huge victory of abolishing large- and medium-size rural property by implementing “Agrarian Reform” and are thus strengthened, will they not attack the right of inheritance? And the day they triumph there too, who will muster the strength to prevent them from directly attacking the very existence of the institution of the family?

Therefore, “Agrarian Reform” paves the way for the decadence and subsequent ruin of the family.

It comes from an ideology that denies the very doctrinal root of the latter. So here we have a connection between “Agrarian Reform” and the family.

By stressing this point, we do not wish to affirm that such is the intention of all proponents of “Agrarian Reform,” or even their majority. But him who inadvertently strikes an axe at the root of a tree, cannot hope that it will not fall merely because, on striking the blow he had no intention of knocking it down.



23 In the etymological sense: “an” = without; “arce” = government.

24 Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931 no. 44 at