The Legitimacy and Even Necessity of Just and Proportional Inequalities Among the Social Classes

May 6, 2013

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Marxist doctrine of class struggle considers all inequalities unjust and harmful. Consequently, it proclaims the legitimacy of the mobilization of the lower classes on a global scale in order to suppress the higher classes. “Workers of the world unite!” is the well-known cry with which Marx and Engels ended the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

On the contrary, traditional Catholic doctrine proclaims the legitimacy and even the necessity of just and proportional inequalities among men. Consequently, it condemns class struggle. This condemnation clearly does not include legitimate attempts—and even struggles—of a class seeking recognition of its rightful position within the social body or the body politic. Catholic doctrine does condemn, however, the degeneration of this legitimate self-defense of a beleaguered class into a war of extermination of other classes or into a denial of their rightful position in society.

May Day March in Melbourne, Australia on May 6, 2012. Photo by Johan Fantenberg

A Catholic should desire mutual harmony and peace among the classes and not chronic fighting among them, particularly when such conflict seeks to establish complete and radical equality.

All of this would be better understood had the admirable teachings of Pius XII on “the people” and “the masses” received appropriate dissemination in the West.

“Ah, Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!” the notorious French revolutionary Madame Roland allegedly exclaimed shortly before being guillotined by order of the regime of the Terror.(1) Beholding the history of our troubled twentieth century, one could similarly exclaim: “O People, O People, how many insanities, how many injustices, how many crimes are committed in your name by today’s revolutionary demagogues!”

Freedom Rally

“O People, O People, how many insanities, how many injustices, how many crimes are committed in your name by today’s revolutionary demagogues!”

The Church certainly loves the people and prides herself on having loved it in a most special manner from the moment of her founding by the Divine Master.

What, however, is the people? It is something quite different from the masses, which are agitated like a churning ocean, an easy prey to revolutionary demagoguery.

Mother that she is, the Church does not refuse her love to these masses as well. Rather, it is precisely because of the love she bears them that she desires, as a precious good, that they be helped to pass from the condition of a mass to that of a people.


(1) Cf. Louis Madelin, Figures of the Revolution (New York: The Macaulay Co., 1929), 168.


Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), 25-27.


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