Why Are Young People Cheering Socialism?

“Too often Christians attracted by Socialism tend to idealize it in terms which, apart from anything else, are very general: a will for justice, solidarity and equality. They refuse to recognize the limitations of the historical socialist movements, which remain conditioned by the ideologies from which they originated.” —Pope Paul VI

Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, “Lamartine Rejects the Red Flag,” 1901
Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, “Lamartine Rejects the Red Flag,” 1901 (photo: Public Domain)

Winston Churchill said something like, “If a man is not a socialist in his twenties he is a scoundrel. If he is still a socialist in his fifties he is mad.”

He was acknowledging the attractive idealism of the young. He was also acknowledging its impracticality.

So often I heard, “All these people who want socialism… They’re just looking for more free stuff.”

Well, maybe. But maybe not.

In fact what many of them are looking for is something called justice. They see the huge (and growing) income inequality in this country. They see the enormous college debt they feel they must accumulate to get a good job (if there is any job at all). They look at the low minimum wage. They look at poor families struggling to work hard who can never get ahead. They look at the poor who have discovered that they are better off on welfare than getting a low paid, stressful and dangerous job and being worse off.

They look at the super-rich, who are obscenely wealthy and who are too often rich because of crooked finance deals, shady bankers, crony capitalism and unfair working practices, and they cry out for justice. 

They hear their elders say, “If only you work hard and take the opportunities that come your way you can get rich too.” But they see that many of the super-rich have not started at the bottom. They have inherited their money. They’ve had a head start.

They grumble that it isn’t fair that the poor are expected to “work harder and dream the impossible dream” because in fact, the dream of a better life for many really is impossible.

Then they expand their vision to the developing world and realize that the inequalities are even greater.

Socialism, it seems to them, offers a way toward justice.

Whether it is the best way toward justice is what all the discussion is about, and why Churchill acknowledged that the mature person comes to realize that, for all sorts of reasons, socialism doesn’t work.

However, the young person’s longing for justice is not misplaced. It is a cry every disciple of Christ should share, and every Catholic should hold true to the Church’s demand for the “preferential option for the poor.”

The fact of the matter is, the cry for socialism and government solutions would not be necessary if the rich took their proper responsibility and their proper role in helping to create a just and fair society.

It is true that the social teaching of the Catholic Church condemns socialism, but it also demands that workers be treated fairly, that a true living wages is supplied, that hours of work are moderated with plenty of time for family, for worship and for leisure. The Catholic Church’s social teaching demands not only that individual capitalists have a responsibility, but that a civilized government also has proper duties and responsibilities to build up and maintain the common good.

When the rich get richer by schemes that rob from the poor, people cry out for justice. When the powerful consolidate their power and wealth at the expense of the workers, the vulnerable, the immigrants and the homeless, then people cry out for justice. When the fabulously rich do all they can to avoid taxes, secrete their wealth overseas and castigate the poor and treat them badly, people cry out for justice.

This is why, in this election, people are turning away from the established politicians of both parties with anger to follow extremists like Bernie Sanders.

They are crying out for justice and (mistakenly for socialism) because they have seen and experienced the cruel inequalities in America and in the world.

Revolutions are rarely just the fault of the rebels. In every revolution, if the ruling elite had not been so greedy, decadent, corrupt and vile, if they had not suppressed the people for so long, the revolutions would never have been necessary.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy