The Canonical Crossroads of Catholicism and Capitalism: Why American Catholics Should Consider Democratic Socialism

by The Cowl Editor on November 7, 2019


  Photo courtesy of GoodFreePhotos.








by Alyssa Cohen ’21

Opinion Staff

For too long the Catholic identity has been mistakenly aligned with conservatism and voting conservative is seen as the only option for American Catholics who want to see their views represented politically. 

According to the Pew Research Center, some 37 percent of Catholics identify as Republican, establishing conservatism as the most popular political affiliation of the faith. This statistic proves surprising considering that, while the political right embodies some Catholic values, such as the pro-life stance, the conservative political agenda also turns sharply against other Catholic teachings. 

Specifically, conservative economic policy has allowed for the excessive accumulation of wealth in the top percentile of American society while masses of people enduringly struggle to make ends meet living under the poverty line—a clear inversion of Catholic values. 

To that end, why do so many individuals automatically associate the conservative party with Christian beliefs? American Catholics should recognize that voting right is not the only option: liberal ideologies like the democratic socialist platform might actually have something to offer to American Catholics who yearn for their values to be represented politically—especially regarding the issue of wealth inequality. 

According to The Washington Post, the top one percent of the population now yields some 40 percent of the country’s wealth while 13.5 percent of the population (43.1 million Americans) live below the poverty line as the middle class continues to shrink. Conservative economic policy promotes the expansion of this income gap by implementing tax cuts for the wealthy, amongst other financial loopholes, which enable the top one percent to continually amass excessive wealth and power.  

While such policies permit an unbridled accumulation of wealth for an individual or corporation, the Bible identifies money to be “the root of all evil” (Timothy 6:10) and advises against “storing up treasure for themselves on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break up and steal” (Matthew 6:19)  while encouraging humans to “speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). 

To that end, such Christian teachings are directly contradicted by innumerable aspects of the conservative political agenda, which enables corporations and big business to usurp control over the fate of many American workers in pursuit of wealth and power.  

Dorothy Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement who is currently being considered for canonization, grappled with the issue of inequitable wealth distribution throughout her life. “The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker,” the document that outlined the central goals of the Catholic Worker movement, says, “Private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions.” 

It also asserts that “those in power live off the sweat of others’ brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work.”  

This Catholic critique of capitalism encapsulates the influence of the corrupt practices of large corporations, such as Amazon, within our present American culture. Higher-ups in such organizations amass surpluses of our country’s wealth while the work of their employees becomes devalued—they work long, taxing hours yet enduringly struggle to afford healthcare, higher education, and in some cases, even housing and food for their families. 

Thus, the conservative economic agenda would prolong the devaluation of the work of the middle class and the expansion of the American population living below the poverty line—societal circumstances that Catholic teachings would intend to combat.  

To that end, the automatic social conflation of Catholicism and conservatism proves enigmatic—why do we automatically conflate conservative politics with Catholicism when the conservative political identity yields such a vast number of ideologies incongruent with the teachings of Christianity?

A potential rationale for the mistaken conflation of these respective religious and political identities may be attributed to one of the few common values between the two affiliations—a unifying pro-life stance. On the single-issue basis of abortion, the conservative ideology may  represent a pro-life opinion more aligned with the Catholic church; however, considering the present influence of our nation’s wealth inequality upon those in poverty, the democratic socialist platform may represent the Catholic stance on wealth more wholly. 

Considering the economic concerns of the Catholic Church, then, it would prove unfair to associate only one party with Catholic or Christian teachings. The conservative party is not the only option for Catholics, as is commonly assumed in the present state of politics. Catholic voters do not have to be single-issue voters, and if that is the case, American Catholics should start considering the policies of the democratic socialist ideology.

 However, the Republican Party is not the sole party representative of pro-life Catholic values. If a prerogative of the Catholic church is to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, advocating for conservative political policies that strive to condemn abortion by defunding women’s health organizations or by delegalizing abortion altogether would merely superficially condemn the practice rather than remedy the underlying causes of women seeking abortions. 

According to a study conducted by the Guttmacher organization on abortion rates in the United States, “Some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (having an income below the federal poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two in 2014) or low-income (having an income of 100–199% of the federal poverty level).”

Essentially, the results of this study imply a strong correlation between an unstable financial standing and a woman’s decision not to carry to term. Thus, a more effective means of reducing the number of abortions performed within the United States would prove to first remedy the systematic economic injustices that compel women to seek abortions in the first place.

To that end, democratic socialist policy rather than conservative policy strives to redress financial inequality and corporate exploitation by redistributing the municipal of the ultra wealthy in order to aid the middle class and those in poverty.  

Such redistribution of wealth, along with other political policies aligned with the ideology of democratic socialism promote accessible, quality healthcare and educational opportunities, along with a more equitable treatment of all Americans regardless of gender, socioeconomic, racial, or religious identity—all resources and virtues combative of the crime and violence that becomes symptomatic of conditions of oppression and poverty. 

Essentially, as long as establishing more moral communities endures as a prerogative of Catholicism, the conservative party, whose economic policies perpetuate some immoral behaviors of the ultra wealthy along with the inequitable treatment of human beings, cannot be considered the sole option for American Catholics, despite the party’s incorporation of a pro-life stance.

To that end, democratic socialist policy that incorporates wealth redistribution to promote human flourishing regardless of socioeconomic status could enable morality to replace money at the forefront of the American cultural agenda, thus establishing a society more aligned with the values of Catholicism. American Catholics should keep this in mind the next time they go to vote.