The Dangers of the Word “Capitalism”

460px-Gustave_Dore_Lazarus_and_the_Rich_ManJesuit Fr. Bernard Dempsey warns against the use of the word “capitalism” in economic debate.

The principal reason is that there is really no such thing as capitalism. He claims the word cannot be defined scientifically and really only exists in a Marxist dream world. F.A. Hayak declared that the word is largely the “creation of [a] socialist interpretation of history.”

The word has come to be defined negatively as that which is the contrary Subscription11of Marxism. It is best is to stay away from the word, Fr. Dempsey claims, since “only a very foolish general accepts battle on terrain of his adversary’s choice.” (Bernard W. Dempsey, S.J., The Functional Economy, The Bases of Economic Organization, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1958, p. 162.)


  • To that extent I agree. Can we shift the discussion to the dangers of redefining freedom to mean license, and the potential disaster of an absolute right to private property that trumps our neighbor’s right to life?

  • Old Salt

    Capitalism is simply the private ownership of assets, which of course, slaves are not allowed to have in a Marxist world. – Old Salt

  • Paul Folley

    Good to see this important point raised here. Defining terms is an essential prerequisite to any fruitful debate/conversation. Apologies in advance to Old Salt, but Capitalism means a whole lot more than “simply the private ownership of assets”. Capitalism means many different things to different people (oh…and is it capitalism or Capitalism?). Conservatives, feeling the weakens of their position, often make the ridiculous assertion that there are good and bad capitalisms. Well, we might have good health or bad health, but we cannot have good and bad capitalism. Those who favour free enterprise often confuse it with Capitalism and fall headlong into a ‘dialectic’ set by Marxists. As Fr Dempsey observes, it is time to stop fighting on ground chosen by the adversary.

  • Paul Tran

    The greatest irony of the Marxist system is its most ardent supporters are capitalists themselves while the rest of the populace is reduced to serfdom. Or simply put Socialism/Communism/Marxism is a neo-feudal system, a system it sets out to replace.

    • Bigg Dee

      I would gladly be a serf if the rights of the Church were protected and error was not permitted.

      • Paul Tran

        I agree, we would all gladly want to serve God, however being human we are bound to err. The problem is misdeeds are often committed before they are found even when they are not permitted, i.e. sexual abuse of children within priesthood. That said, the Church is the closest one gets to a form of noocracy / noucracy.
        The greatest error in Socialism/Cmmunism/Marxism is these systems negate God and replace God with the State. And by doing so they fail to develop a sense of conscience and righteousness in the human person.

        • Bigg Dee

          What is noocracy/noucracy? “Capitalism” ultimately accomplishes the same lack of conscience and righteousness in society. Remember when just about everything was closed on Sundays? Easter? Christmas? “Capitalism” or whatever leads to mammon worship.

          • Paul Tran

            Noocracy/noucracy is a system of governance of the hightest form of wisdom and intelligence (which , in my humble opinion, can only come directly from God).
            Yes, Capitalism can have its inherent evils if moral conscience is not practised or enforced. However Capitalism is second nature to Man and has always existed since the dawn of time. The Bible is not against Capitalism if it is understood as private ownership of assets or the accumulation of capital – usury is a perfect example.
            Regarding Christian holidays : We must remember that , according to Christ, “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath”- what this means is the Sabbath is created for man as a day of rest and must not be seen as an imposition.

  • GKMidwest

    A discussion of whether one should or should not use the word ‘capitalism’ is a distraction to this discussion. Therefore, for the sake of focusing on the issue at hand, it is perfectly appropriate to use the word capitalism if one describes accurately the historical development of this economic philosophy ie. creation and growth of modern day banking system. In particular, the now accepted practice of usury, and the key historical moments that ushered in the evils of our present system must be honestly accepted. Yes, “frenetic intemperance” is a byproduct of a diminishing, Christian society, but it is also the byproduct of certain historical events that led to the shipwreck of Christendom. Unless one accepts the facts of history that pinpoint precisely the catastrophic consequences of the Protestant revolt; ie. the looting of Catholic Church property, the introduction/establishment of evils such as usury, the violent replacement of the Catholic monarchy with an oligarchical rule of law, one will not recognize that capitalism and socialism/communism are two sides of the same coin. Both are not, in any way, the fruit of a Catholic culture or ethos. Addressing “frenetic intemperance”; while ignoring or denying the historical facts that ushered in and firmly established our present economic philosophy/system that promotes such behavior, will fail to bring about an authentic renewal of society based on Christian values. I enthusiastically support John Horvat’s desire to highlight the dysfunction of our economic situation, but I regret that he and others who disavow the decisive impact of certain historical facts over the past five hundred years that are the direct causes of the present economic situation, will not help us to realize a ‘return to order’. Capitalism (NOT to be confused with a market system) or whatever one wishes to call it, is simply incompatible with a true restoration of society. Let’s embrace the “Third Way” (to be continued).
    Vivat Jesus!