Pope Leo XIII on Cuba

Michelle Hagan p.4- If Pope Leo XIII were alive today, he would have a lot to say to Cuba’s president Raul Castro. To this day Cuba is still ruled under a socialist government.  Although Cuba does not practice “true socialism”, which is defined as total government control over economy and society, it does come pretty darn close.  However in the early 1980’s Fidel Castro had converted Cuba into a Marxist Leninist society where there was absolutely no private property nor were there individual freedoms.  Cuba even adopted the soviet style economy.  Fortunately that was the closest Cuba has (so far) ever gotten to having true socialism and it did not work out very well for the country. Cubans “sank to unprecedented levels of poverty” and their economy collapsed in the early 1990’s (“Military”).   Now in 2013, Cuba’s economy is mainly state-run, has universal healthcare, various social programs, and government paid education at all levels (a form of socialism but not considered “total” socialism) (“Military).

Pope Leo XIII strongly believes that socialism is a corrupt form of government and takes away man’s natural right to private property.  This is proven in his encyclical Rerum Novarum where he talks about the negatives of socialism.  Because Cuba is economically underdeveloped, socialism seems appealing to them, and supporters of socialism would argue that this type of government would decrease conflicts between the working classes and wealthy classes.  Supporters believe “the working men and the wealthy are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict” (Rerum Novarum).  However, Leo XIII argues this perspective because “the two classes (wealthy and working men) should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital” (Rerum Novarum).  Basically, as Pope Leo XIII writes, a state cannot function as a state without the existence of both classes.   Both classes must coexist in a state and it is duly possible for them to coexist in peace.

A common misconception of socialism is that it will bring happiness and fairness to all people, regardless of class or race.  This is why it has become so appealing to certain countries where there are a large amount of impoverished people.  I wish that Rerum Novarum could be printed out and handed to the people living in socialist countries because if they read it I think they would reconsider their socialistic state of government.

Socialists often think that with a capitalistic government, comes inevitably hostilities between classes.  However, hostilities between classes are not a permanent characteristic of capitalistic governments. In fact, it should not even be one of the traits of this type of government.  This is why socialist government fear capitalism.  They think it will cause even more strife between classes.  But really hostilities between classes can be solved by (as Pope Leo would say) practice of “Christian charity- a duty not enforced by human law” (Rerum Novarum).  People do not need to identify themselves with any certain religion in order to practice Christian charity.  They just need to be willing to respect every human being’s dignity as a person.   If good virtue is practiced between employer and worker than everyone would be happy and satisfied and there would be peace.  Leo believes that if Christian virtues prevail then the different classes will be united in both bonds of friendship and brotherly love.  Unfortunately, this unity is not easy to accomplish in real day to day life.  Many men and women alike tend to resort back to greed which causes conflicts between classes.  But capitalism, which allows for a division of classes, is not wrong because there are conflicts present.  Conflicts will be present in socialism as well. The conflicts are not a direct result of a capitalistic government, but rather are a result of the people.  Even in a socialist government, the people are still going to have the same type of greed and therefore hostilities will still exist even thought there are no distinct classes.  In any type of government it is up to the people to choose how they want to live.  They can choose to be bad people and not respect others or they can choose to be good moral humans and treat others as they would like to be treated.  The economic system will thrive if there is “mutual respect and cooperation between the owner and workers who made their products a reality” (“Lord”).

The main reason why Pope Leo rejects socialism is because of private property.  According to his beliefs, Leo XIII states that private property is one of man’s natural rights.  This ability to possess property on our own distinguishes us from animals.  A big difference between animals and humans is that animals do not have the power of self-direction.  Fortunately for us, we have this ability but when it is taken away we are reduced to the level of animals.  That is why private property should not be taken away; it is what clearly separates us from animals.

Besides the absence of private property, there are other reasons with which Pope Leo XIII writes against socialism.  One of these is because labor unions are restricted.  Right now in Cuba, the government has control over all forms of mass media and they control the labor unions.  Their government is constantly violating international labor standards.  They have passed a law that does not allow workers to join independent unions of their choice.  This strongly contrasts with Rerum Novarum.  Leo XIII argues that worker’s rights extend all the way from reasonable hours, rest periods, health safeguards, to the right to join unions.  By taking away the ability to join labor unions, Cuba is infringing on worker’s rights. Like private property, worker’s rights are a natural right of man.  Humans are entitled to such laws when they are born and to infringe upon these rights would be to violate the power of our creator.  For these rights are technically “not man’s own rights which are here in question, but the rights of God, the most sacred and inviolable of rights” (Rerum Novarum).  Not only do workers have rights but they also have certain duties to their employers.  They must be equally fair to their employers.  These duties include performing the work as agreed upon and refraining from vandalizing, looting, or rioting.

Cuba’s socialistic government is not the only type of government that Rerum Novarum warns against.  Unrestricted capitalism is also rejected by this encyclical.  If a society was run under unrestricted capitalism everything would be private property and privately owned, schools, hospitals, bridges,etc.  That is not good because the state needs at least some “laws and institutions that realize [and promote] both public well being and private prosperity” (Rerum Novarum).  Therefore, Pope Leo XIII believes that the best government will be one that falls under the category between unrestricted capitalism and socialism.  This would be one that does not excessively tax the rich but rather one that taxes just enough for the interests of the poor. It is shown that Pope Leo XIII disapproves of excessive taxation that would “deprive the private owner of more than is fair” (Rerum Novarum). In conclusion, if Pope Leo XIII was given the opportunity to speak to the leaders in charge of Cuba’s government it is evident that he would attempt to convince them to change it.  I am very confident that Pope Leo could persuade them because his arguments in Rerum Novarum are so clear, concise, and logical that it would be most difficult to refute them.  Pope Leo’s encyclical is not just to advise socialist countries like Cuba but also to advise those countries who are contemplating using unrestricted capitalism or an economy where worker’s rights are not respected.  If I could summarize what Pope Leo XIII would say to president Raul Castro in just a few words it would be , “Read this and put it into practice *hands Raul Rerum Novarum*; if you do you will be a great leader”.

Works Cited

Leo, and Pius. Rerum Novarum. Utrecht: Urbi Et Orbi, 1938. Print.

“Lord, Prosper the Work of Our Hands.” News Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013.

“Military.” Cuba’s Economy. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013.


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