In the course of a lengthy piece on Pope Francis, The Economist looks at the pontiff’s political and economic opinions and (correctly, in my view) finds them rooted in the history of the country of his birth:
The political landscape of Francis’s homeland, however, offers a more accurate, and nuanced, understanding of his views. For most of his life Argentina has plotted a kind of third way between Marxism and liberalism—albeit one with disastrous political and economic results. “[Francis] only knows one style of politics,” says a diplomat accredited to the Holy See. “And that is Peronism.”
The creed bequeathed by Argentina’s former dictator, General Juan Perón, with its “three flags” of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, has been endlessly reinterpreted since. Conservatives and revolutionaries alike have been proud to call themselves Peronist. But at its heart it is corporatist, assigning to the state the job of resolving conflicts between interest groups, including workers and employers. In that respect it resembles fascism and Nazism—and also Catholic social doctrine.
The pope’s Peronist side shows in his use of a classic populist technique: going over the heads of the elite to the people with headline-grabbing gestures and comments. And it is visible in his view of political economy, which also has much in common with post-Marxist protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Spanish indignados and Italy’s Five Star Movement. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few,” he has written. “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”
The Economist is perhaps too polite to mention the fact that crude reductionism, scapegoating and argument by straw man are also often “classic populist techniques”, and ones, regrettably, that this pope sometimes appears willing to deploy. Nevertheless, the magazine does find space to include this:
One passage in Evangelii Gaudium [This pope’s first ‘Apostolic Exhortation’] appalled many: “Just as the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not,’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Even more radically, he quoted St John Chrysostom, an early church father: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.”
This, of course, was (as The Economist noted) the same document that included, without qualification, this:
“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”