Monday, December 02, 2013


Last week I started to think that I've been wrong about the impact of Pope Francis. A month ago I wrote, "I'll know that Francis is having a positive impact when he's actually making enemies -- of the priggish haters, of the heartless rich and powerful. He's not." Then Rush Limbaugh accused the pope of spouting "pure Marxism," and other right-wing bloviators were denouncing him as well. So, I guess he is making the right people squirm, isn't he?

Yes and no. After the first wave of right-wing anger at Francis's critique of materialism, we're getting the second wave now, and it largely consists of right-wingers looking in the mirror and feeling quite pleased at what they see. They're also arguing that, while Francis did criticize people who wallow in wealth, he wasn't referring to them -- heavens, no!

So here's Ross Douthat:
... for Catholics who pride themselves on fidelity to Rome, the burden is on them -- on us -- to explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.

That explanation rests, I think, on three ideas. First, that when it comes to lifting the poor out of poverty, global capitalism, faults and all, has a better track record by far than any other system or approach.

Second, that Catholic social teaching, properly understood, emphasizes both solidarity and subsidiarity -- that is, a small-c conservative preference for local efforts over national ones, voluntarism over bureaucracy.

Third, that on recent evidence, the most expansive welfare states can crowd out what Christianity considers the most basic human goods -- by lowering birthrates, discouraging private charity and restricting the church's freedom to minister in subtle but increasingly consequential ways.
But give Douthat some credit: after marshaling all these arguments, he tells us that right-wing Catholics have to do more:
This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.
Wander over to James Pethokoukis's blog for the American Enterprise Institute, however, and you get no such self-doubt:
In a new research note, JP Morgan Chase economist James Glassman doesn't mention Pope Francis by name, but clearly had his comments in mind as he addressed the record of market economies:
Those concerned about global poverty have more to be thankful today than to complain about.

... despite the cyclical problems of the developed economies, the average global living standard is at a record high -- the highest known in the records compiled by economists and still climbing, thanks to the support from the developed economies.

In other words, market-oriented economic systems are doing more to cure global poverty than any other effort in the past....
Capitalism is the solution, not the problem! Back off, Pope Francis!

And over at the old Alan Keyes site Renew America, columnist Matt Abbott turns to "Father John Trigilio Jr., Ph.D., Th.D., president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy" -- who, after praising Rush Limbaugh ("I often listen to Rush Limbaugh and find him to be an intelligent man and an erudite conservative journalist. He uses common sense and logic to expose the fallacious arguments of liberal progressives"), informs us that Limbaugh is overreacting to Francis's words because, well, Francis didn't actually say anything bad about capitalism at all:
Pope Francis did not criticize unfettered capitalism; he used the phrase unfettered consumerism....

Capitalism is an economic and political ideology, whereas consumerism is a personal and individual ideology. The former is focused on a free market; the latter is obsessed with the acquisition of goods in and of themselves.... A free market system ... treats human beings equally, not giving undo advantage to card-carrying members of the Communist Party while penalizing those who express some political dissent....

Access to necessary goods is a natural right. That does not mean, however, that the natural moral law requires the poor to become enslaved to the state by permanently keeping them dependent. Rush calls Pope Francis a Socialist at best and a Communist at worst. Does this sound like a commie comment?
'Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses.' (no. 202)
OK, let's go to the pope's message. Does he critique consumerism while refraining from criticism of our economic system? No:
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a "disposable" culture which is now spreading.

... some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
And welfare? Is Francis against welfare? Only to the extent that it's not a real solution to systemic economic problems:
The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality,[173] no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.
So Father Trigilio is just cherry-picking Francis's message for Limbaugh-compatible phrases. He's arguing, as James Glassman argues, that capitalism is virtuous. (The only reason there's exploitation is that people are sinful.)

All these folks have concluded that the pope is misinformed, or isn't really talking about them, or knows that capitalism, properly applied, is God's preferred solution to the world's economic ills. And that, I think, is where the matter is going to rest on the right. Right-wingers aren't going to respond to Francis by acknowledging their own sins.


Victor said...

Self-delusion must be a wonderful thing.

If Jesus came down and bitch-slapped every one of these sociopathic assholes, they'd claim he was patting them on the back for their good works.

Ten Bears said...

My g'da would have said something about closing the barn door after the horse is gone, about being a day late and a dollar short. Since the corrupted of the templar The Church has been the singlemost effective catalyst for unfettered capitalism, for exploitation of the masses, for slavery and genocide in the name of profit. The Pope may not be the anti-christ, but The Church id the Whore of Babylon.

For a thousand years, oaths have been sworn.

No fear.

Phil Freeman said...

Catholics cherry-picking papal utterances? THIS IS TOTALLY UNPRECEDENTED IN ALL OF HISTORY!!!

Philo Vaihinger said...

What are the "structural causes of inequality" to which he alludes?

Joey Blau said...

" for Catholics who pride themselves on fidelity to Rome"

yeah... all three of them Ross...