TAG | Religious Left
Fox News reports:
[Cardinal] Dolan…said he was “disappointed” that Congress has failed to pass immigration reform and put the blame on the Republican-led House that has yet to vote on the issue.
“You guys have got to get your act together,” he said. “We’re not going to let you guys off the hook. … We’re disappointed.”
And who is this “we”, Cardinal?
Probably not the unemployed.
Christianity has—stretching from its murky beginnings to its wildly syncretic present—quite a few of those.
Writing on his always fascinating (if sometimes infuriating) blog, Andrew Sullivan takes Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to task for making insufficient effort to reconcile their views on Pope Francis’s demagogic attacks on free markets with the Christianity that the two also profess. I don’t have a god in this fight, but read what Andrew has to say, and judge for yourselves. I should say that this this was one of his high-octane days, and that can make for a rough ride, but I’ll admit that this made me laugh:
In the Church of Limbaugh, there is no greater heretic than Saint Francis. Francis even believed in the sanctity of the natural world, regarding animals as reflecting the pied beauty of a mysterious divinity. Sarah Palin, in contrast, sees them solely as dinner.
And how right she is.
“Pied beauty of a mysterious divinity”, or just beautiful in pies?
With apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins (and pun-hating readers), I’ll take the latter.
Christianity is one of the most powerful critiques of radical market triumphalism. And it’s now coming – more plainly and unmistakably in our lifetimes – to a church near you.
Well, “radical market triumphalism” is a mistake, but one that is more talked about than real: for the most part it is a straw man. On Andrew’s broader point, we’ll have to see whether the religious left is indeed going to enjoy another surge. Maybe, maybe not. It won’t be the first time. Or the last. But, there is a slight something in Andrew’s tone—a shadow, no more than that—which is a reminder that when such surges occur, liberty frays.
Cross-posted on Ricochet.
I’ll admit it, I’d been waiting for this.
Over at the Liberty Law blog, Theodore Dalrymple has now taken a look at what the pope had to say:
I was …not completely out of sympathy with some of the premises of the Pope’s latest apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium…but it seems to me that he has yielded in it to the temptation to mistake an initial apprehension of what is wrong as an understanding of economics….We – by ‘we’ I mean all who are likely to read this – are aware that a life of consumption of ever more material goods is profoundly unsatisfying and in the end self-defeating. We all know that an egotistical individualism is deeply unattractive and not even satisfying to the many millions of whom it is the leading characteristic. Even the improved means of communication that the Pope extols in his exhortation may not only conduce to self-preoccupation but serve to isolate people further. A million monologues is not a conversation.
So far, so good – that is to say so far, so banal.
And very typical, I’d add, of the way that the arguments used by this pope sometimes seem to amount to little more than a sequence of punches thrown at a series of straw men.
A good demagogic trick, I suppose,
But back to Dalrymple:
[T]he Pope, alas, then indulges in a little Peronist economics. I hesitate to call his theorizing mediaeval because scholars will inform me that, in fact, some of the scholastics were far more sophisticated in their economic understanding than we usually credit them with, getting well beyond denunciations of usury. I am not sure the Pope has got much further. He writes, inter alia, that ‘Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the powerless.’ This is demagoguery of the purest kind, the kind that ruined the Pope’s native Argentina seventy years ago and from whose effects it still has not fully recovered.
And from which, intellectually, nor has the pope.
‘As a consequence,’ continues the pope, ‘masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.’
If we put the two sentences together, a certain conclusion is inescapable: if only the powerful stopped cannibalizing the powerless, the latter would have work, possibility and the means of escape. To change slightly the framework of reference, four legs good, two legs bad.
The Pope is loose and inaccurate in his thinking. The trickle-down theory of wealth may or may not be correct, but those who hold it do not express, and never have expressed, ‘a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power…’ On the contrary, according to the theory it is not the rich whose goodness benefits the poor, but the system that allowed them to become rich, even if the rich should turn out to be hard-hearted skinflints. A system of redistribution, by contrast, really does require the goodness of at least the superior echelons of the system, faith in which is genuinely rather crude and naïve.
Most egregiously, the Pope quotes from St John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods that we hold,but theirs.”
This could only be true if an economy were a zero-sum game, if my wealth were your poverty and vice versa. But if the world has learnt anything since the death of St John Chrysostom one thousand six hundred years ago, it is that an economy such as ours is and ought to be dynamic rather than static. I am not poor because Bill Gates is rich; as it happens in enriching himself he enriched me, though the ratio of his wealth to mine is probably greater than the ratio of my wealth to the poorest person in my society. I do not care; it does no harm to me unless I let it do me harm by dwelling upon it. In the meantime, I have enough to eat and much else besides.
This is not to say that all is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds, far from it. The world is full of dishonesty, corruption, cruelty, indifference and injustice. But Peronist demagoguery dressed up as apostolic exhortation will not improve matters, quite the reverse.
Reason’s Matt Welch responds to Pope Francis’s dishonest and manipulative attack on free markets:
Francis’s hyperbolic rants about the role and allegedly dictatorial power of free markets are embarrassing in their wrongness. Cheering them on is like donating money to a Creationist Museum, only with more potential impact.
To take one papal passage out of dozens:
“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
More people have escaped poverty the past 25 years than were alive on the planet in 1800. Their “means of escape” was largely the introduction of at least some “laws of competition” in endeavors that had long been the exclusive domain of authoritarian, monopolistic governments.
…To look upon the miracles of this world and lament the lack of “means of escape” is to advertise your own ignorance. To call it a “tyranny” is to do violence to any meaningful sense of that important word (much like Francis’s predecessor did with his silly “dictatorship of relativism” crack). And to make such absolutist statements as “everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest” is to admit up front that you are not primarily interested in spreading truth, but rather in exciting popular passions.
Cross-posted on the Corner
As Kathryn notes (and we were discussing over at Ricochet), today saw the release of a major statement by the new pope.
One highlight(courtesy of an admiring Guardian):
Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.
Quite where “unfettered capitalism” is to be found remains a mystery.
And there’s this (via Volokh):
We can no longer trust in the unseen forces…
Childish, I know, but I am not the only person to have smiled at that. Smiles past, lets rewind back to the beginning:
We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
Take the time to note another straw man rushing by (modern economies do not, in truth, leave that much to the invisible hand) and the demagogic reference to the creative destruction of capitalism as “a new poison”, but then focus on what clearly lies at the heart of the Pope’s economic prescriptions, the belief in an economy even more tightly managed than ours are today, and with it, a belief in the skills, incorruptibility and fairness of a bureaucratic elite that would be touching, if it were not so troubling.
Troubling? Yes, and that’s probably too gentle a word. If this was just a discussion within the Roman Catholic church aimed solely at how its members should behave that, for the most part, would be up to them. But the pope’s words are rather more than that. In Francis, we see a charming and charismatic advocate (complete with large megaphone and the attention of a sizeable slice of the world) for economic policies of a type that have failed and failed and failed again, not least in the Argentina of his youth, the Argentina of Perón, the Argentina that he evidently still sees as some sort of model.
That’s not good news, nor is it likely to be the source of much joy.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
There was an exultant article by Jonathan Freedland over in the Guardian a couple of days ago proclaiming Pope Francis an “obvious hero of the left.” I wrote something about it over at Ricochet, but it’s also worth highlighting a different piece, linked to by Freedland as evidence of the discomfort that some free market folk feel over the pope’s economic pronouncements. It was written back in September by Phillip Booth of Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs.
Here’s an extract:
…[John Paul II] was not only right to suggest that the word ‘capitalism’ might be confusing but he also talked elsewhere in the encyclical about how capitalism must have people at its centre, must operate in a juridical framework, must avoid the problems of monopolies, and so on. Indeed, implicitly Pope John Paul was criticising the crony capitalism systems such as those in South America and Italy that use the apparatus of the state together with the power of financial interests to oppress the people rather than to serve the people. A free economy naturally has the human person at its centre. Models of so-called capitalism which are, in reality, closer to corporatism and cronyism, as well as being riddled with corruption, do not bear any relationship to a truly free economy.
The countries in which Pope Francis has made most of his statements about capitalism are Italy and Argentina. In making his statements, he has related them to the economic conditions in those particular countries. This is interesting because Italy is the least free country in the EU according to the Index of Economic Freedom – and a long way down the world list (unusually for a European state). Argentina is one of the least free countries in the world. To criticise capitalism in Argentina is like criticising the malign influence of cricket on French society. The pope’s statements about capitalism are confusing in the least. They seem to involve visiting countries which are not in any meaningful sense capitalist and blaming the problems of those countries on a system that they have not adopted.
It is fair to say that the pope’s criticisms of capitalism could at least partly be put down to a misunderstanding of the concept due to his experience in South America …
They clearly have also been shaped by the ideological environment in which he grew up in Argentina. There’s no precise way to pigeonhole Francis’s economic thinking (and, indeed, his economic thinking is not very precise) but if I had to guess, it appears (as I noted on Ricochet) to be a muddle of Rerum Novarum and Juan Perón. That’s not particularly reassuring.
Back to Booth:
However, his criticisms of globalisation are much more dangerous – he does not like it, even when it functions well. The pope’s position is dangerous because globalisation has been responsible for the most rapid reduction in poverty in the history of the planet. The pope is capable of doing real damage if his ideas are widely adopted. Very poor people could be made poorer if the pope is successful in changing the climate of opinion. Again, looking at the data forming the Index of Economic Freedom, a simple measure of globalisation unsurprisingly puts Argentina towards the bottom of the whole world, whilst Italy also performs very poorly by the standards of developed countries.
And we’ve still yet to see what Francis has to say about the environment. I think I can guess the sort of thing that’s coming, but here’s one early clue: The pope is not (it seems) a fan of fracking.
Cross-posted on Ricochet:
Over at the Guardian Jonathan Freedland exults in a new pope he believes is the “obvious new hero of the left” arguing that “even atheists should be praying” for him, a statement that can be read (on one interpretation) as assuming that atheists are on the left, something that isn’t necessarily so (trust me on this).
There is the usual discussion of where the pope may stand on sexual morality (I’d guess a—so to speak— compassionate conservative with a little medieval thrown in to spice things up), but I found this more interesting:
It seems [Francis] wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”….
…[H]e also seems set to lead a church campaign on the environment. He was photographed this week with anti-fracking activists, while his biographer, Paul Vallely, has revealed that the pope has made contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian previously shunned by Rome and sentenced to “obsequious silence” by the office formerly known as the “Inquisition”. An encyclical on care for the planet is said to be on the way.
Boff? Never heard of him. Perhaps that obsequious silence was just too deep.
A back issue of National Catholic Reporter Online fills the gap:
One of Pope Francis’ most vocal supporters since his election three days ago has been Leonardo Boff, one of the founders of liberation theology….
And no, that’s not reassuring.
FWIW, I don’t think that Francis has signed up for liberation theology. When it comes to economics, at least, his thinking appears to be a muddle of Rerum Novarum and Juan Peron.
And no, that’s not particularly reassuring either.
Kathryn, I was interested to read this passage from that new interview with the Pope:
Personally I think so-called unrestrained liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded. We need great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love. We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities.
Reading the first sentence, I (perhaps mistakenly) was left with the clear impression that the Pope believes that he has seen “unrestrained [economic] liberalism” at work. I am curious to know where.
Looking at the Pope’s second sentence, fair enough, but when it comes to the avoidance of demagoguery, I wonder how, on reflection, the Pope would classify certain sections of the speech he made on a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, sections analyzed by Theodore Dalrymple in an analysis (previously posted on the Corner here), of which this is a key extract:
In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’
The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’
With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?
…The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…
Then we turn to the Pope’s final sentence. Its contents were perfectly reasonable in one sense. Few would deny that the marketplace needs rules of conduct. The real question is what those rules should be. And so it is with the Pope’s observation that it is at times “necessary” for the state to “correct the more intolerable inequalities”. Yes, sure, but the real question is when, and how.
And when it comes to answering those questions, I somehow doubt that this pope is on the side, metaphorically (if not theologically), of the angels.
There are times, sadly, when the economic pronouncements of Pope Francis have more than a touch of Juan Perón about them.
This may be one of them.
“We don´t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre as God wants, not money. . … The world has become an idolator of this god called money … It is not only a problem of Italy and Europe.. it is a consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre an idol which is called money”.
Warnings of the way that money can be a source of spiritual corruption are, of course, nothing new to Christianity (or, indeed, a good number of other religions). Just the other day the Pope was citing (with, I feel, a degree of approval) the fact that some early church fathers had described money as ‘the dung of the devil’, but the reference to the evils of a ‘globalized economic system’ contained within this latest comment seems to be something a little different, a nod to the notion of economic autarky that was such a notable characteristic of the Argentina of Pope Francis’s teenage years.
And, no, it didn’t work out so well.
The Economist takes a look at what America’s Roman Catholic church has been saying about immigration:
In America Roman Catholic ears are ringing from sermons supporting immigration reform. On September 8th, just before politicians returned to Congress after their summer break, several Catholic bishops spoke in favour of a bill passed by the Senate in June. The legislation would provide a bridge to citizenship for the 11m people currently residing in America without legal authorisation to do so (and also proposes $46 billion for border security measures). It followed on from vigils in August in support of reform of immigration policies (pictured). Prospects for the passage of any sort of immigration reform in the current legislative session are fading quickly, while the chances of the Senate bill passing the House of Representatives are currently low. But the Roman Catholic church is increasing pressure from the pulpit. Why is the church interested in changing immigration policies?
Well, some of it is ideological, of course, a religio-philosophical stance not too dissimilar from that which we heard the other day from the Pope in Lampedusa, and which was so rightly criticized by Theodore Dalrymple for its intellectually lazy “moral exhibitionism”.
But is there, wonders The Economist, something else:
Currently only 22% of Americans are Catholic (although almost a third of those in Congress are Catholic, making up the largest religious group). One possible reason why the Catholic church is keen to cultivate Hispanic migrants could be that, if some of the immigrants are more socially conservative, their voices could become louder on topics such as contraception and abortion, over which the church has clashed with the Obama administration. Welcoming more Hispanics into the country would also swell congregations, extending the church’s influence from pulpits to polling stations.
That could indeed be part of it, but I suspect that The Economist is defining the issue too narrowly (when it comes to social conservatism, the opinions of Latino immigrants may be less straightforward than the magazine imagines). Better, perhaps, to see this simply as a reflection of an old truth.
Numbers mean clout.