Rorate Caeli

Truth be told: the Traditional Catholic position on the Economy is not Libertarian (and the Pope is close to it)

Today, we will do something unusual for us: we will mention three other blogs in a row, and "label" them in the Catholic spectrum so that we can make our point.

Liberal Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo had, unsurprisingly, firsthand access to the address given by Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, the head of the Council of Cardinals, to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) today at an event titled Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism, at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America (Washington).

Right at the beginning of his talk, the Cardinal mentions two bloggers that could be considered, in the American scene, on "opposing" fields -- an ultra-liberal blogger, and a conservative blogger:

I would like to start quoting Michael Sean Winters’s recent article in NCR:

“Last week, the Holy Father addressed leaders of United Nations who called on him in Rome. He gave a short talk, which included these words calling for ‘the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State.’ Then, America's conservative chattering classes went ballistic. John Moody, executive vice president at Fox News and a former Vatican correspondent, might be expected from his time covering the Holy See to have rendered a nuanced appraisal of what Pope Francis said. Nah. The title of the piece -- and I know writers do not usually choose their own titles -- is: ‘Pope Francis should stick to doctrine, stay away from economic 'redistribution.' Of course, Pope Francis was speaking from the social doctrine of the Church. The Church's teachings on social justice are as firmly rooted in our theological doctrines as are the teachings on any other issues.”

And the following day he wrote: “Here comes Father Zuhlsdorf, who runs a popular conservative blog. ‘I wonder how many people are still listening to him seriously on this issue,’ opines Reverend Father. Not content to take a swipe at the Pope, he goes after a few cardinals, adding, ‘I suspect other people might have the same reaction that I have when hearing/reading this stuff. It comes across as naive, out of step with history. Has any nation successfully dealt with poverty through redistribution? I don't think so. Moreover, who would supervise this process of global redistribution? Angels? EU bureaucrats? The UN? Card. Rodriguez Maradiaga? Card. Kasper?’.”

As you see, the theme of today is very actual. [Source]

Once again, the Traditional Catholic voice went unheeded. Very few indeed have been making the case, a case that is true, that the positions stated by Pope Francis on economic and social matters are much closer to the Traditional Catholic position on the economy and the State than not. Indeed, it can be said unhesitatingly that this is one area in which the Pope will find mostly allies in Traditional Catholics. They know by heart, also as victims of injustice (including within the Church), that the doctrine of the Church regarding people, society and economic relations, and individuals faced with government, is one which privileges "justice" as its foundational aspect.

As Pope John Paul II recalled:

The Church's social doctrine is not a "third way" between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather, it constitutes a category of its own. Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church's tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behavior. It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology.

The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the Church's evangelizing mission. And since it is a doctrine aimed at guiding people's behavior, it consequently gives rise to a "commitment to justice," according to each individual's role, vocation and circumstances. [Sollicitudo rei socialis, 41]

Now, there are few things that are less traditional in Catholic doctrine on Church, State, Society and the Economy than Libertarianism. The Church was always adamantly against what was classically defined as "Liberalism" (confusingly often defined as a kind of "Conservatism" in much of American thought, precisely because there is much to "conserve", or preserve, in the American experience that is essentially "Liberal" in the classical sense), so the Church should naturally be against Libertarianism.We have always tried to avoid alienating any specific group of readers. We know that a considerable and respectable group of those who attend the Traditional Mass and support it have a position on economic and political matters close to what would be deemed classical "Liberalism" (or, mistakenly, "Conservatism"). We deeply respect these readers. But it is undeniable that in economic matters, the traditional Catholic positions (adapted to the circumstances of the liberal and post-liberal world by carefully crafted foundational documents such as Rerum novarum and Quagragesimo anno) are much closer to the socio-economic positions defended by Pope Francis than those defended by "Libertarians" or those who mistakenly identify themselves as "Conservative" when they actually mean "Liberal" in the classical sense.

For instance, in the specific matter of the redistribution of wealth, Catholic social doctrine has always defended the possibility of some regulation for the common good of what is deemed superfluous. Let us leave the specific words to Pius XI:

[T]he wise Pontiff [Leo XIII] declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes. "For since the right of possessing goods privately has been conferred not by man's law, but by nature, public authority cannot abolish it, but can only control its exercise and bring it into conformity with the common weal." Yet when the State brings private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good, it does not commit a hostile act against private owners but rather does them a friendly service; for it thereby effectively prevents the private possession of goods, which the Author of nature in His most wise providence ordained for the support of human life, from causing intolerable evils and thus rushing to its own destruction; it does not destroy private possessions, but safeguards them; and it does not weaken private property rights, but strengthens them.

Furthermore, a person's superfluous income, that is, income which he does not need to sustain life fittingly and with dignity, is not left wholly to his own free determination. Rather the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church constantly declare in the most explicit language that the rich are bound by a very grave precept to practice almsgiving, beneficence, and munificence.

But not every distribution among human beings of property and wealth is of a character to attain either completely or to a satisfactory degree of perfection the end which God intends. Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits. Hence the class of the wealthy violates this law no less, when, as if free from care on account of its wealth, it thinks it the right order of things for it to get everything and the worker nothing, than does the non-owning working class when, angered deeply at outraged justice and too ready to assert wrongly the one right it is conscious of, it demands for itself everything as if produced by its own hands, and attacks and seeks to abolish, therefore, all property and returns or incomes, of whatever kind they are or whatever the function they perform in human society, that have not been obtained by labor, and for no other reason save that they are of such a nature. And in this connection We must not pass over the unwarranted and unmerited appeal made by some to the Apostle when he said: "If any man will not work neither let him eat." For the Apostle is passing judgment on those who are unwilling to work, although they can and ought to, and he admonishes us that we ought diligently to use our time and energies of body, and mind and not be a burden to others when we can provide for ourselves. But the Apostle in no wise teaches that labor is the sole title to a living or an income.

To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice. [Quadragesimo anno, 49-50, 58]

We would like to reinforce what we posted just a few days ago: social concerns, in theory and in practice, cannot be left by Traditionalists as an unoccupied field to the ecclesiastical "leftwing", to the unbelieving liberals. By supporting the overthrow of all that is natural in society (for instance, from their defense of abortion to their promotion of "gender theory"), "progressive Catholics" ("Liberals") are, in fact, great promoters of injustice, subverters of the Catholic order in Church and Society. By criticizing the current Pope when he indeed defends positions kept by his predecessors on Social Doctrine (admittedly, Pope Francis often fills such defense with unexpected idiosyncrasies, but not essential deviations), "Conservatives" bring themselves to an untenable position.

The traditional Catholic Social Doctrine is ours, it is wholly traditional, and it is our responsibility to defend it, to put it into practice in our communities (including with specific actions for the benefit of the most derelict in society), and also to defend His Holiness in those cases in which he makes its defense in the current economic environment.