Why we published an essay sympathetic to communism

Bolivian President Evo Morales presents a gift to Pope Francis at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia, July 8. The gift was a wooden hammer and sickle -- the symbol of communism -- with a figure of a crucified Christ. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

One of the finest hours in the history of the Catholic press occurred in the late spring of 1954, when this magazine, along with several others, published an editorial denouncing Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s witch hunt against communists, which was then reaching its ugly zenith in the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings. “Catholic Weekly Assails McCarthy,” read The New York Times headline—just one among several national stories about the editorial.

America’s comments about Senator McCarthy generated a great deal of interest for a couple of reasons. First, Senator McCarthy was a prominent Irish Catholic, and he had powerful friends in the Catholic community, including several bishops. Second, America had spent much of the previous 50 years loudly denouncing communism in its pages. As early as 1934, my predecessor John LaFarge, S.J., who later served as the sixth editor in chief, had even introduced a detailed plan for how American Jesuits should attack the growing threat of communism in the United States. So the fact that the anti-communist America magazine was now critical of Mr. McCarthy created an “only Nixon could go to China” moment, lending great credibility to the anti-McCarthy forces.

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You might ask, after 110 years of opposition to communism, why are we publishing an article in this issue that is sympathetic to it?

So, you might ask, after 110 years of opposition to communism, why are we publishing an article in this issue that is sympathetic to it? Well, for one thing, you should not assume that America’s editorial position on communism has changed very much. It has not. What has also not changed is our willingness to hear views with which we may disagree but that we nonetheless think are worth hearing. And we could not have picked a better author for such an article. Dean Dettloff has made many fine contributions to these pages as our Toronto correspondent.

This sort of thing is also not a first for America. One year before Father LaFarge declared his red alert, the saintly Dorothy Day appeared in these pages, defending the values of the communists she knew, if not their political program. “The trouble with many Catholics,” Ms. Day wrote, “is that they think of Communists as characters from E. Phillips Oppenheim’s international mystery novels.” In other words, she thought Catholics were missing something of value amid all the legitimate criticism.

Could the same be happening today? It is possible. Socialism is much in the news. One presidential candidate says he is a socialist, and several others don’t mind sounding like one.

My reading of Catholic social teaching, especially the commentary of recent popes, is that it has many good things to say about capitalism while always reminding us about the bad that comes with it. At the same time, it has many bad things to say about socialism while always reminding us of the good that comes with it. For my part, I don’t like ideological “-isms” of any kind, except for Catholicism, which is nothing like an “-ism” in the sense I mean here.

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For what it’s worth, my general view of economics begins with the fact that markets, for all their downsides, are the greatest force for economic empowerment that the world has ever seen. But that is just my opinion and, therefore, not the point. Mr. Dettloff’s piece is in this issue not because I agree with it but because I think it is worth reading, just as I did with Arthur Brooks’s article in defense of free markets that we published in February 2017 and just as we did when we published Dorothy Day in 1934.

America, in other words, is not a journal of Father Matt’s opinions. Not even I would want to read such a magazine. This is a journal of Catholic opinion, and Catholics have differing opinions about many things. Our job is to host a conversation among Catholics and our friends in which people can respectfully and intelligently disagree. Accordingly, we publish something in almost every issue with which I personally disagree. I hope we publish something you disagree with, too. If not, we are not doing our job.

Dean Dettloff’s piece is in this issue not because I agree with it but because I think it is worth reading, just as I did with Arthur Brooks’s article in defense of free markets that we published in February 2017 and just as we did when we published Dorothy Day in 1934.

It will be interesting to monitor reactions to Mr. Dettloff’s article on social media. I have followed folks on Twitter long enough to recognize certain patterns. While you who are reading this will know what we are up to, many among the Twitterati can be counted on to be uninformed, unreasonable and uncharitable. I can see the tweets now: “This Dettloff piece! So typical of that left-wing America magazine!” “America shows its radical tendencies again!”

Well, that’s just claptrap. I once said that being an America reader requires you to engage with opinions that are different from your own. It occasionally requires something else, especially when browsing social media: the ability to spot what this family-friendly magazine will call male bovine fecal matter.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Rick Malloy, S.J.
11 months 3 weeks ago

cf. Acts 4:32-35.

"[Governments] must then make efforts to ensure “greater opportunities and a fairer distribution of wealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of creation. Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing a true economy of communion and sharing of goods, in both the national and international order.”
This is the only way to respect the dignity of persons and families, as well as the authentic cultural patrimony of peoples." Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II, 1995 #91.

"The Catholic doctrine of the common good is incompatible with unlimited free-market, or laissez-faire, capitalism, which insists that the distribution of wealth must occur entirely according to the dictates of market forces. This theory presupposes that the common good will take care of itself…This does sometimes happen; but to say that it invariably must happen, as if by a God-given natural law, is a view which can amount to idolatry or a form of economic superstition." The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 1996 #76.

"[T]oday we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape." Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #53.

"The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property." Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #93.

Lloyd William
11 months 3 weeks ago

I don’t think many who read these posts believe in unbridled capitalism. To have a humane society requires a mix involving some redistribution is needed as a safety net

I would suggest that America and it’s authors reflect on a question and a reality. The question is what economic system best serves the most people over time? Think about China. While it has what it calls a “communist” government, what it really has is a strong dose of capitalism. China’s modern day economic growth stems from allowing free enterprise. There is now a significant middle class and growing affluence affecting hundreds of millions of people. This would not have occurred had it not opened the doors to free enterprise. Yes, it has created some inequalities with millionaires and billionaires but the average person is much better off. Compare them to North Korea or Cuba where rigid adherence to state a controlled economy dictating “equal results” prevail.

I’m not condoning the political repression that China continues to impose but I cite it as an example of how allowing free enterprise to flourish can have a big impact.

Lloyd William
11 months 3 weeks ago

I don’t think many who read these posts believe in unbridled capitalism. To have a humane society requires a mix involving some redistribution is needed as a safety net

I would suggest that America and it’s authors reflect on a question and a reality. The question is what economic system best serves the most people over time? Think about China. While it has what it calls a “communist” government, what it really has is a strong dose of capitalism. China’s modern day economic growth stems from allowing free enterprise. There is now a significant middle class and growing affluence affecting hundreds of millions of people. This would not have occurred had it not opened the doors to free enterprise. Yes, it has created some inequalities with millionaires and billionaires but the average person is much better off. Compare them to North Korea or Cuba where rigid adherence to state a controlled economy dictating “equal results” prevail.

I’m not condoning the political repression that China continues to impose but I cite it as an example of how allowing free enterprise to flourish can have a big impact.

Stuart Meisenzahl
11 months 3 weeks ago

Father Malloy
Indeed....A fine list of Popes supporting your viewpoint. But if Papal approval of economics is required why not add the Popes Alexander VI and Julius 11 who decreed the division of all the New World between Spain and Portugal and to the exclusion of all other countries!
Popes have every right to to comment on the moral implications of the exercise of free will in various economic choices. But they have neither any special brief, nor the competence, nor the authority to advocate for specific economic systems or methods. If the Pope(s) believe otherwise then they should have the courage to mount the Chair of Saint Peter and affirmatively say so.
I read the Papal commentaries you have provided to say that I as an individual am required to reasonably share my worldly goods with others. You seem to be saying/implying that your cited Papal commentaries obligate me as an individual to support governments and economic systems to achieve those ends. If that is your intent then you are suggesting we all just “outsource to government” our individual Obligations under The Sermon on the Mount. If Christ came to reform government and not individuals I believe he would have gone to Rome!

Thomas McKernan
11 months 3 weeks ago

Disgraceful Father

Rick Malloy, S.J.
11 months 3 weeks ago

cf. Acts4:32-35 and Matt 5:11-12. N.B. Communism is not identical with Marxism. And the Catholic faith does not canonize Capitalism as an unmitigated blessing.

"The Catholic doctrine of the common good is incompatible with unlimited free-market, or laissez-faire, capitalism, which insists that the distribution of wealth must occur entirely according to the dictates of market forces. This theory presupposes that the common good will take care of itself…This does sometimes happen; but to say that it invariably must happen, as if by a God-given natural law, is a view which can amount to idolatry or a form of economic superstition." The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 1996 #76.

"[Governments] must then make efforts to ensure “greater opportunities and a fairer distribution of wealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of creation. Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing a true economy of communion and sharing of goods, in both the national and international order.”
This is the only way to respect the dignity of persons and families, as well as the authentic cultural patrimony of peoples." Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II, 1995 #91.
"[T]oday we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape." Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #53.

Andrew Strada
11 months 3 weeks ago

Fr. Malloy, you are spending time and energy to refute an argument no one has made. Like many others who have responded to this article, I believe that communism is evil. But I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that the Catholic faith canonizes capitalism as an unmitigated blessing. So the eloquent criticisms of some aspects of capitalism by Pope Francis and other popes do not address at all the question of whether or not communism is evil. There are many alternatives to unbridled capitalism (bridled capitalism, for example). It is intellectually dishonest to set up a false dichotomy insisting that the only possibilities are communism or unbridled capitalism.

Lloyd William
11 months 3 weeks ago

Well said

Chuck Kotlarz
11 months 3 weeks ago

An unexpected topic with a number of insightful and in depth comments, including some commenters whose names I am not familiar with.

Rachel Ouellette
11 months 3 weeks ago

Why did my comment come out three times?

Rob S
11 months 3 weeks ago

So would you publish an article in defense of fascism? Lest you think this an unserious question, the 1939 yearbook of the Jesuit Prep School I attended was dedicated to Franco.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
11 months 3 weeks ago

The life and works of Jesus of Nazareth continue to be a major source of inspiration to many so called communists out here in this part of the world.

Kent Hildebrand
11 months 3 weeks ago

The article trying to intellectualize and put a warmer intention on communism definitely reflects your "Cafeteria Catholic" membership. In a very comforting way you focus on dialog instead of action while the souls of millions of Catholics are at risk. You also pander to people who look at things and say, "that makes sense, or maybe I should be more tolerant". Not bad in themselves but it is clear not many of you believe in Hell or Satin as an "intellectual being". Instead, while abortion through birth, the statistical correlation between gay clergy and rising sexual abuse, the nearly universal decline in the family and marriage, and church closings, you find value in chatting on about how socialism and communism might not be as bad as some think. After spending years at a University and six years of college including a degree in psychology I have come to the conclusion that publications like this one are providing cover for lazy clergy who often spend zero time researching their homilies and for Catholics in name only that come to mass to feel good before doing what ever feels good to them during the week. Here in Michigan we have examples of Pro-Life Priest being censored and isolated while Bishops and Archbishops live a life of wealth and leisure. As I got into my senior years I realized that especially the Jesuits have become a group of lets dialog and focus on inclusion so we don't have to be troubled with what past Popes and Jesus actually said. Her in Michigan we are instructed not to drop "truth bombs" on parishioners because that makes some feel uncomfortable. Since Satin is still waging war on Catholics and the population throughout the world, I fail to see how telling the truth of Jesus' teaching and sending parishioners out ill equipped to recognize evil is saving souls. But then Is the purpose of this publication to save souls or to appear intellectual while finding good in things like communism that has killed tens of millions of men, women, children, both born and unborn, and eliminated freedom to worship Christ. Take a look at what is going on in China as some of the earth's bravest Catholics try to keep the Communist Party from dictating what Chinese families can think. So blather on endlessly while the war is fought by lay and clergy that still remember there is a Satin that is not sitting around like your intellectual apologists trying to be inclusive. Satin is inclusive, he does what ever he can do to destroy souls. If there was not a second coming of Christ perhaps your publication would be OK in the never ending drive toward inclusion of non-Catholic teaching. But for me, I look at that hammer and sickle with the body of Christ nailed on it and I think, intellectually perhaps we need a new Pope.

Bill Kulls
11 months 3 weeks ago

I have no need of lending anybody an ear to listen to the modern day analysis of the benefits of Communism! I saw them in action in 1963 in East Berlin, I watched as VOPOs (East German Police drag away an East German for simply waiving to us Americans!They were thugs and murderers!

teresita@cableonda.net
11 months 3 weeks ago

An incredible exhibition of demagoguery

James Schwarzwalder
11 months 3 weeks ago

What'samattayou! Gender neutral bovine fecal matter!

Darby Heavey
11 months 3 weeks ago

You will know them by their fruits

The simple fact is that since it’s inception in the fevered swamps European Utopianism socialism in all its forms has murdered more human beings than any other form of economic or political organization..

The communist form is particularly virulent and violent adding a level of coercion and mass murder surpassing even the brutal Nazi regime.

Sant John Paul ll warned us against the temptation to achieve a heaven on this earth as it leads men to behave as devils.

Dmitri Wright
11 months 3 weeks ago

My husband and I are subscribers to America. Our concern is with the content of the author and your response of why the article was worth publishing, astonishes me. Our daughter-in-law is from China who is now an American citizen and become a Catholic because of the truth, goodness and values they represent, which we try to uphold. Obviously this author or you have not lived under communism. As a 3 generation family of Fordham graduates, I am truly saddened this was published. Karen Shields Wright, Greenwich CT

Margaret W
11 months 3 weeks ago

There really is no excuse in an authentic Catholic venue for the kind of naiveté found in “The Catholic Case for Communism.” (Trying to be restrained, I will use the word “naiveté” instead of “stupidity.”) The history of the last 100 years up to the present time is overflowing with verifiable accounts of the millions of people who have been oppressed, tortured, murdered by Godless, communist dictators. The atrocities of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro and other communist minions are well-documented for their barbaric treatment of millions. Try your logic of giving a happy face to communism on these millions of butchered souls and their grieving survivors!

Rob H
11 months 2 weeks ago

It is interesting that this piece begins with an attempt to be on the "right side of history" by condemning Sen. McCarthy's witch hunts against communism, but maybe a bit of research on that topic is in order. With the release of the details of the Venona project in 1995, it became apparent that Sen. McCarthy's claims regarding vast communist penetration into the State Department as well as other US government agencies since the 1930s was fact. I recommend Blacklisted by History by M. Stanton Evans. Also in the 1930's, according to Alice Von Hilderbrand, Bella Dodd who was a member (then former member) of the Communist party who went on to testify in front of Congress told her, "Stalin, soon after he came to power, ordered his cronies to invade Catholic seminaries ... with young men that had neither faith nor morals. Now ... the ideal cases: homosexual. Obviously, you don't suppose that someone ... well, it's much more complicated, you know, to have an affair with a woman. But if you're a homosexual, and then it was a tragic mission ... . [Dodd] declared publicly — I repeat, publicly — that in the course of the 20 years of activities for the Communists, she recruited some 1,100 young men."

Along with the above as examples of how Communists tried to destroy both our Democratic Republic and Catholic church, I cant help but think of the 20 million Russians who were killed by their fellow countrymen to establish the communist government in Russia or the 70 million Chinese who were killed by their fellow countrymen.

With almost 100 million deaths in the last century being the result of Communist revolutions and the fact that the Communists tried to rot both my country and my church from the inside out, I find it appalling that any Catholic organization would try to present their ideas in a favorable light. It is abhorrent. When I read your support of Communism and previously that the Catholic Church emphasizes not to get to the root of decades of their priests' homosexual pedophilia, but, " ... to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants," it makes me seriously question how successful the Communists were in pursuit of their goals.

Alan Johnstone
11 months 2 weeks ago

Yes. McCarthy was well-informed and prophetic. Should he have been successful the USA may not have been in the grip of the new elaborations of this diabolical invention.

Andrew Strada
11 months 2 weeks ago

Fr. Malone may be impressed by pretentious overeducated pseudointellectuals who have spent years perfecting a jargon that, through the use of long words and foreign words, is designed to obscure the fact that almost everything they say is either meaningless or false. Hopefully he will understand that others may not share that admiration. And not conclude that their lack of appreciation is because they weren't listening or because they are too stupid to understand a brilliant argument when they see it.

Alan Johnstone
11 months 2 weeks ago

Yes, Andrew, almost reminds you of theology: thought produced drivel masquerading as wisdom and truth.

Tim O'Leary
11 months 2 weeks ago

Rehabilitating Communism? This is equivalent to Holocaust denial. Imagine the article above written with Nazism replacing Communism. It is so awful it reminds me of a sketch on British TV about a liberal Anglican asking "is Satan really all that bad"?

E. Commerce
11 months 2 weeks ago

The ferocity of comments against the article should convey the Catholic instinct to reject the insidious lies that have brought such pain and loss to so many. “Communism is a lousy economic system” my economist father would tell us. Lots of toilet paper and no bread in the stores, because distribution from the top is inefficient, compared with the free market. I used to think: Isn’t Communism bad mostly because it has to crush all opposition? The older I get, the more sense my father’s simple assessment makes to me. It is a lousy economic system.

Kevin Murphy
11 months 2 weeks ago

Remember America's soft spot for Communism the next time it's bloviating about the "evil" Donald Trump. I mean, all the Communists did was kill some 100 million people.

Stuart Meisenzahl
11 months 2 weeks ago

I reread this article and I think of the photo of Saint John Paul 11 in his full prime on the tarmac in Nicaragua reproving a kneeling Father Ernesto Cardenal for his support of the Communist Sandinista regime.....and then suspended him along with his Jesuit brother Fernando from engaging in all priesthood functions because they would not stop mixing religion and politics
I wonder what JP11 would think about this publication of the Dettloff article .

In 2006 Ernesto Cardenal finally recognized the inevitable transmogrification of any so called “good communism” into authoritarianism and stated during the Ortega revival : “I think more desirable authentic capitalism ....would be [ than] a false Revolution” This comment is directed to Mr Dettloff who wrote the underlying article and Father Malone who deemed it worthy of publications....there are no known exemplars of “good communism” but multiple examples of its monumental failure.

John McAdams
11 months 2 weeks ago

When are you going to publish an article titled "In Praise of Fascism?" And how about "In Praise of Donald Trump?"

JR Cosgrove
11 months 2 weeks ago

Fascism was highly praised by progressive elites in the 1920's and early 30's. It is when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia that his liberal luster faded. Then fascism got associated with Hitler and in recent years it became a pejorative to call anyone you don't like a fascist. So the irony is progressives once loved fascism.

Thomas Piatak
11 months 2 weeks ago

https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/there-catholic-case-communism

Stuart Meisenzahl
11 months 1 week ago

Tom
I have a long educational experience with the Jesuits as well, and I do not remember their being very willing”to share”.....one of my favorite recollections is of tall stately, gray haired college Jesuit theologian telling a group lounging undergraduates to: “Get the Hell off MY lawn!”😱

JR Cosgrove
11 months 2 weeks ago

From Tom Piatak, a Jesuit trained writer in previous comment
If Fr. Malone wants to show that America truly is hosting “a conversation among Catholics...he will be as willing to publish essays defending Donald Trump as he is willing to publish essays extolling Karl Marx. But if the magazine continues to treat Trump supporters worse than it treats Communists, it will make clear that its principal aim is the promotion of a one-sided political viewpoint, something critics have long contended but that I was reluctant to believe until now.

JR Cosgrove
11 months 2 weeks ago

I highly recommend Intellectual Takeout as a source for alternative points of view.

Alan Johnstone
11 months 2 weeks ago

In case someone missed this on the core article, let me introduce an interview with someone who was able in under an hour to sketch out the origins of this pernicious creed, its development and its incarnation in current American politics and global affairs.

https://youtu.be/thvN6X_kYcs

Rob Jacobs
11 months 1 week ago

Nice to see that America magazine has the courage of its convictions and is willing to investigate alternative ideas in a balanced, reasoned, intellectual manner (that great Jesuit tradition). It’s rather sad to see the hysterical, knee jerk reactions by some of the commenters. It appears a portion of the population has been brainwashed to think that anything short of Wild West capitalism is a threat to our way of life.
I seem to remember someone saying that we should sell everything we have and give it to the poor.... now who was that?

Stuart Meisenzahl
11 months 1 week ago

Rob
As I recollect Christ did not suggest you also sell your neighbors’ goods and give them away as well. Nor did he suggest Cesar should collect all the goods of all the people and redistribute them!
One cannot just outsource his obligations under the Sermon on the amount to Government. Nor can one require others to do so. There is no merit in compelled responses to Christ’s injunctions on the Mount!

Andrew Strada
11 months 1 week ago

Getting irritated with someone who makes excuses for communism may be the reaction of a "balanced, reasoned, intellectual" reader, rather than a "hysterical, knee jerk reaction". It is simplistic to assume that the only alternative to communism is Wild West capitalism. George Orwell and Arthur Koestler, for example, recognized the communists for what they were but never became "Wild West capitalists". If, however, for some strange reason it pleases you to feel superior to those who have normal, human reactions to this article, then by all means, continue to do so.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Dorothy Day—including archival material authored by her.]

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