Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pope Francis the Marxist

I normally don't care what Rush Limbaugh or Fox News have to say about the world.  But, as a result of simplistic readings of Evangelii Gaudium, both Limbaugh and Fox News have come out swinging against Pope Francis.  Limbaugh, as many know by now, suggested last Wednesday that Pope Francis was preaching "pure Marxism."  And today, Adam Shaw, who normally writes video game reviews at, attacked the Pope for what he considers his economic naïveté:
"[Francis] shows himself painfully misguided on economics, failing to see that free markets have consistently lifted the poor out of poverty, while socialism merely entrenches them in it, or kills them outright."
At the heart of their critiques of Francis is the idea that the pope is presenting economic ideas completely out of keeping with prior Catholic teaching.  The reality, however, is that, as Robert Ellsberg (editor of Dorothy Day's journals and letters) wrote yesterday, "little distinguishes Pope Francis from the prophetic utterances of his predecessors."

I have neither the time nor the expertise to provide an in depth argument demonstrating how Pope Francis' economic ideas (which make up only a very small portion of an incredibly rich and complex text, I should add!) conform to prior church teaching.  A few years ago, however, I compiled a list of quotations from various papal documents of the twentieth century which provide some insight into Catholic understanding of economic ideas.  This list is not exhaustive, nor, frankly, does it do any justice at all to the incredible complexity of Catholic social teaching on the economy.  I am, to be honest, somewhat reluctant simply to provide a list of quotations.  'Proof-texting' is one of the worst forms of argument, and I do not wish be guilty of such an argument here.  But in posting these quotations, I simply make a very small gesture toward the notion that the kinds of economic ideas Francis put forward in Evangelii Gaudium certainly have precedent.

But don't take my word for it.  Read the church's social documents yourself.  The USCCB has a helpful link to all the documents here.  Here are some of the pertinent quotations:
It follows from the twofold character of ownership which we have termed individual and social, that individuals must take into account in this matter, not only their own advantage, but also the common good. To define in detail these duties, when the need occurs and when the natural law does not do so, is the function of the Government (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno).

 [T]he civil authority is entirely ordained to the common good of all...The common good concerns the whole person, the needs both of body and soul. Hence it follows that the civil authority must undertake to procure it by ways and means proportionate to it: while respecting the hierarchy of values, they should promote simultaneously both the material and the spiritual welfare of the citizens" (Blessed John XXIII, Pacem in Terris).

Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for one's exclusive use what one does not need, when others lack necessities....If there should arise a conflict between acquired private rights and primary community exigencies, it is the responsibility of public authorities to look for a solution" (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio).
Government leaders, your task is to draw your communities into closer ties of solidarity with all men, and to convince them that they must accept the necessary taxes on their luxuries and their wasteful expenditures in order to promote the development of nations and the preservation of peace" (ibid.).
[C]ertain concepts have somehow arisen out of these new conditions and insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations. This unbridled liberalism paves the way for a particular type of tyranny, rightly condemned by Our predecessor Pius XI, for it results in the international imperialism of money" (ibid.).

Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution...hinder the achievement of lasting development" (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 32).
[I]t must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution" (ibid., 36).
Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics" (ibid., 37).
 All images from Wikimedia Commons

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