Last night, the Anchoress posted a quote about socialism from Pope John Paul II that stunned me in a good way:
“The fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decisions disappears.”
I think this ties closely to why I do what I do. Recently, I talked about Newman’s Idea of A University and the idea that my students need to see themselves as someone deserving better than to be a cog in a machine. That temptation may be more multifarious and stronger today than it was in Newman’s time, but it’s nothing new, nor was it 150 years ago.
In the medieval moralities I study, the Seven Deadly Sins are agents — evangelists, even — of the Three Enemies of Man: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Now, in the plays, the Enemies were principally concerned with capturing the souls of the Everymen who were the subjects of these psychomachia. Thus, they would tempt the human figure (with varying degrees of success) until the scene of redemption that would provide the plays’ climactic moments.
While the World offers similar blandishments today, I think it takes another line of attack as well. So much of life today seems designed to deny the existence of the individual, and in particular, of the soul. We are courted by politicians and media as NASCAR dads and soccer moms, as urban youth and senior citizens, as sources of income and votes, but always as parts of groups, with interests defined as the interest of our group, our tribe, our generation, our nation. And we are parts of all those things, but we are something more than that, too.
But that is what the World, and the princes of this world, would have us forget, or at least would distract us from noticing. Better for them that we should think of their glorious machines and our chances to be part of those machines, and strive to make the machines run smoothly.
But ultimately, machines are inadequate, as the greatest tools are the imagination and the soul. Part of my job is to remind my kids that they have those tools, and to guard them well against the World that would filch them in moments of distraction and human weakness. The world will distract them with shiny objects, both material and spiritual (“the social good.”) I have to turn to my plays, and to the other writers I read and discuss, to remind them that what they have is far more gleaming — the image of God. That’s a good day’s work.