Trent Horn, Capitalism, and Socialism - 2021-09-24

Perhaps one of my favorite Catholic Apologists is Trent Horn. He does an amazing job at calmly and concisely explaining Catholic doctrines on Faith & Morals in a very rational manner. He has been fundamental in my formation as a Catholic, and I pray God will provide him with what he needs to continue his wonderful work.

All this being said, there is one area where I have a small discrepancy with Mr. Horn, which lies in his understanding and personal definitions for the terms Socialism and Capitalism. This is not because I disagree with his position - that no good Catholic can be a Socialist - but rather that, in misunderstanding and misrepresenting what Socialism is, we give way for confusion in what the Church actually teaches. So I'd like to make some clarifying statements on his definitions, basing myself on a segment from an interview he did on the channel Pints with Aquinas.[1]

The best place to start, as it will later help us in defining Capitalism, is with Mr. Horn's definition of Socialism. He defines Socialism as "give the government what you have and they will give you what they think you need." I will concede that Mr. Horn was probably looking for a simplified definition, this definition oversimplifies it, and not in a manner that it is too broad, but quite the opposite: it leaves out other forms of Socialism. This is because Mr. Horn is (understandably) thinking about Planned/Command Economy Socialism,[2] which is the most common form in which Socialism has been implemented. However, because of this oversimplification, his definition fails to include a very real form of Socialism named Market Socialism.[3] This is also Socialist, and therefore condemned by the Church, and yet it will not fall under Mr. Horn's definition of Socialism. Yet, if we're going to understand Socialism, we should take it from real Socialists. As Marx himself defined it, "the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property."[4] (1) To change this negative definition into a positive one, what a Communist/Socialist defends is the collectivization of the means of production. Therefore, although this may take form of collectivization into a State apparatus, as Mr. Horn is referring to, it does not necessitate such. This is an important point, since the Church condemns the very foundation of Socialism, which is Collectivism, meaning that even these lighter forms of Socialism remain condemned by the Holy Church.(2)

Perhaps the reason why Mr. Horn creates such a limited definition for Socialism is because he gives too wide of a definition for Capitalism. In the video Mr. Horn starts by recognizing that Capitalism is a term coined by Socialists, and most notably influenced by Karl Marx, and goes on to equivocate Capitalism with Free Markets, saying that this is what he defends. The issue is that this definition is actually much too broad, and therefore would actually end up encompassing forms of Socialism that we have mentioned earlier. What's more, if this is your definition of Capitalism, then truly Capitalism has existed since the very beginnings of human trade & commerce. Yet, if Mr. Horn acknowledges that the term is of Socialist origin, would it not make sense to use its Socialist meaning, especially when trying to explain it in relation to Socialism? For Marx, we could say that Capitalism is a socio-economic system which tends towards the accumulation of capital (i.e. means of production), concentrated in the hands of a class of Capitalists, while the rest (Proletarians) are forced to sell their labour. Taking this into consideration, we can see that this does not include Market Socialism, and at the same time it also means that there are possible free market economies which are neither Socialist nor Capitalist (e.g. Feudalism, Distributism, etc.).

Taking this into consideration, I believe that Mr. Horn should reconsider the definitions he's using. For in using a very restrictive definition of Socialism, he leaves out models of Socialism, and in using a broad definition of Capitalism, he includes forms of Socialism as well as other economic systems which are not strictly Capitalist. Overall, his definitions cause confusion.

Notes

  1. What is meant in this quote by the terms "Communists" and "private property". In this time the term "Communist" was used mostly interchangeably with the term "Socialist". As for "private property", Marx states earlier in that same chapter that he is referring solely to what he calls "bourgeois property", and "not the abolition of property in general", which is a common misconception.
  2. This does not mean that forms of Capitalism with State intervention, or other systems such as Distributism are condemned by the Church, as these do not fall under the category of Socialists as they both respect Man's right to private property.

References

  1. "1 Thing Ben Shapiro & St. Paul Agree On... w/ Trent Horn" from Pints with Aquinas on YouTube
  2. "Economic Planning: In Socialism" on Wikipedia
  3. "Market Socialism" on Wikipedia
  4. The Communist Manifesto, Ch. II: Proletarians and Communists, by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

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