Posts tagged with: Caritas in Veritate

The budget proposed by House Republicans has lead to a heated debate; one key facet being whether funding should be cut for programs that benefit the poor and vulnerable. Critics claim the House Republicans’ proposed budget violates Catholic social teaching (click here to read the critics’ open letter to Speaker Boehner). Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s first response to Boehner’s critics appeared in NRO. In this week’s commentary Rev. Sirico expands upon his first response and articulates how Catholics can disagree on how to assist the poor and vulnerable. The article originally appeared in Crisis Magazine.

Not Whether to Help the Poor, But How

By Rev. Sirico

The debate over the application of the core teachings of the Christian faith began when Jesus was presented with a Roman coin containing Caesar’s image. In that moment, the Lord drew both a limitation to the legitimate power of the state and a distinction between it and the supreme authority of Almighty God. What would unfold over the years following was a highly balanced and well thought-out hierarchy of values rooted in a core understanding of the dignity of the human person. Yet it was not so abstract a set of principles as to be incapable of providing guidance for concrete policy recommendations that nonetheless do not collapse dogmatic and unchangeable doctrine into the dynamic stuff of politics and policies.

Along this circuitous route to a more balanced set of principles, there have been dead ends and extremes from which the Church has pulled her faithful: the medieval Spiritualist Franciscan (i fraticelli) who wanted to ban private property as intrinsically evil, or, more recently, the Liberation Theologians who attempted to “collapse the eschaton” of the Kingdom of God into socialist revolution.

Yet the incarnation of Christ does not let the Christian off the hook when it comes to our beliefs about human dignity and the practical protection of the vulnerable. Understanding how to translate the social implications of the gospel into workable and concrete solutions is at times as frustrating and ambiguous as understanding the homoousian clause of the Creed.

Let us take the recent occasions of public discourse by Catholics on these matters occasioned by an open letter issued by a group of Catholic professors, which argues that the budget proposed by House Republicans violates Catholic social teaching, and in which they come close to calling the Speaker of the House a heretic.

There is evidence in this letter, and in some of the commentary surrounding it, of a failure to grasp the necessary distinctions in Catholic moral theology (of which, as the popes have noted, the social teaching is a branch). I pointed out in my original critique of the open letter that the Catholic professors’ statement neglected the important distinction between “non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines” and the “prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching.” Then I cited the Compendium of the Social Doctrine: “The Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions” (571).  The use of the phrase “contingent questions” in the Compendium is quite deliberate. It means that it is simply inaccurate to say that Catholics who debate how to address poverty dissent from the Church’s teaching in the same way as someone who does not support the Church’s insistence on legal protection for the unborn.

Some Catholic commentators reject this point, offering in defense a quotation from Caritas in Veritate: “Clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church’s social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social teaching that are extraneous to it…. There is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new.”

Benedict’s point here is that the Church’s teaching in the moral realm is one consistent body of thought. It is not a hodgepodge of policy concerns, among which Catholics may pick and choose along the lines of the fashionable Cafeteria Catholicism. The Church’s solicitude for the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, and the elderly is all of a piece. In that sense, the critique is correct: A Catholic cannot subordinate “justice issues” to “life issues”; he must embrace the Church’s teaching as a whole, because life issues are justice issues.

Yet the distinction holds. This is not because “justice issues” are less important than “life issues,” but because they are fundamentally different — a difference rooted in two millennia of Catholic moral reflection. Abortion involves the direct and intentional destruction of an innocent human life. It is never permissible intentionally to choose evil. Laws that permit abortion are inherently unjust, and Catholics are obligated to work toward legal prohibition of abortion.

When it comes to doing good, however, which is what addressing poverty entails, the Church does not stipulate exactly how such good is to be done. Helping the poor requires a different sort of moral analysis — not because I (or the Church’s teaching) am “dualist,” as some critics suggest, nor because assisting the poor is “less important” than protecting the unborn, but because the two issues possess different characteristics and therefore require different sorts of moral analysis.

This distinction holds, for example, outside the realm of the Church’s social teaching and can be seen in her teaching on the moral manner in which life is conceived. A superficial criticism of the Church’s stance against artificial contraception says, “Why is it wrong to avoid conception by the use of chemicals or condoms, but not immoral when using natural family planning methods?” The error in this argument is the same one made by the critics to whom I am responding: In the former case, an evil means is being chosen (the action to chemically prevent conception, for example), rather than refraining from doing good at a given time (actions leading to conception). It is not a sin to refrain from choosing from all the many goods available; it is always a sin to intentionally choose to do evil.

It is possible to argue that cutting welfare programs is consistent with Catholic social teaching, because we may choose from the various options available to us to do good by evaluating them in the hierarchy of goods. It will not do to fling citations of social encyclicals at each other on this point. Certainly there are passages that could be found to support increased government activity in the economy and provision of social services — when necessary to serve the common good. But there are also passages that suggest decreased government activity and withdrawal from social services (i.e., critiques of bureaucracy and calls for more vigorous private charity). Whether a particular situation — in this case, the budget battle in the United States in the year 2011 — calls for one or the other is manifestly a prudential question about which Catholics may disagree.

At the root of the incredulity and exasperation of some Catholics who mix fair arguments with vitriol is an incapacity to recognize that we really believe that many government programs aggravate rather than ameliorate poverty and other social ills. Rather than debating the prudence of the policies at hand, detractors resort to ad hominem attacks and pronounce anathemas selectively. Yet there is by this time a vast literature on the damage wrought by the war on poverty and its failure to achieve its goals. Such critics can continue to believe that shoveling government money into welfare programs discharges Catholic social teaching’s obligation to assist the poor if they wish, but their inability to see other views as reasonable, at least, is distressingly myopic.

A Catholic may not disregard the Church’s teaching to assist the poor and vulnerable; to do so would be to neglect the words and example of Christ Himself. It would be, in effect, to deny the Faith. But on the question of how best to fulfill that obligation, Catholics will indeed disagree, and the Church does not teach that it must be otherwise. The same kind of latitude is not permitted when it comes to legal protection of the unborn. I do not believe that this is “my view” of the matter; it is the mind of the Church, to which I hope my own mind is conformed.

John Boehner

On National Review Online, Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico has a new commentary on the letter sent by a group of Catholic academics to Speaker of the House John Boehner. The occasion for the letter is Boehner’s commencement address at Catholic University of America in Washington this weekend. The letter accuses the Ohio Republican of having “among the worst” record in Congress for supporting legislation that addresses the “desperate needs of the poor.”

Rev. Sirico:

It appears then that these Catholic academicians who have written to Speaker Boehner do not understand the distinctions the Church herself makes between fundamental, non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines, and the prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching. Here Speaker Boehner need only consult the text of the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which the authors of the letter say they have delivered to him, wherein he will read: “The Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions.” (no. 571)

The specifics of the 2012 Budget proposed by the Speaker and his colleagues are, the letter’s authors contend, the result of either ignorance or “dissent.” I think they are neither; they simply reflect a different, and in many people’s estimation, more accurate and economically-informed way, of proposing how we achieve worthy goals. Indeed, it could be said that what these Catholic academicians are proposing is not a “preferential option for the poor,” but rather a preferential option for the State. They make the unfortunately common error of assuming that concern for the economically weak and marginalized must somehow translate into (yet another) government program.

That assumption is wrong, and flies in the face of another principle of Catholic social teaching — the principle of subsidarity. With good reason, this is something the Catholic Left — or whatever remains of it these days — rarely mentions or grapples with, because they know that it would raise many questions about the prudence of any number of welfare programs they support.

Indeed, what strikes me about this letter to Speaker Boehner is how reactionary it is.

Read “Boehner’s Catholic Critics Rush to Protect Welfare State” on NRO.

In an article appearing on EWTN News, Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, is interviewed on rising food prices and the effect on the developing world. In this article, Dr. Gregg contributed to a broad discussion on the many factors contributing to the rising food prices.

He advocates for a free market economy in agriculture by discussing the effects agricultural subsides in Europe and the United State, and how these market distortions contribute to stifling the growth of agriculture in the developing world. Furthermore, the effects of the oil industry on food prices is also discussed along with Pope Benedict’s call for the need to address the problems of food insecurity in Caritas in Veritate.

Developing world’s food crisis seen as a ripple effect of over-regulation

By Benjamin Mann

The dramatic rise in global food prices was high on the agenda of the 2011 World Economic Forum on Africa, held from May 4–6 in Cape Town, South Africa. According to a leading Catholic economist, excessive government regulations are to blame for the rise in prices.

A complex combination of factors – including natural disasters and higher oil prices, as well as a rising standard of living in countries like China, India and Brazil – have made food less affordable in recent months.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization has warned that the “food price shock” could have devastating effects upon the world’s poorest people.

At meetings in Cape Town, South Africa this week, African leaders discussed a “road map” to help the continent cope with rising prices through market-based approaches that would encourage local agriculture.

Some factors behind higher food prices, such as natural disasters, cannot be controlled. But Dr. Samuel Gregg, an economist at Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said other factors – especially agricultural subsidies and the manipulation of oil supplies – were preventing poorer countries from bringing their productive capacities to bear in the global market.

The result, he told EWTN News on May 6, is an under-supply of food, and higher prices.

“All the subsidies that go into agriculture – through things like import taxes and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies – have the paradoxical effect of reducing the incentive for investment in agriculture in developing countries,” Gregg observed.

Without the ability to sell their products at competitive prices on the global market, these countries end up producing less food, and attracting fewer investors.

“They end up saying, ‘We can’t compete because of subsidies in the European Union and the United States.’ Consequently, the supply of food starts to be reduced, because there isn’t the incentive for agricultural investment.”

“This effort to protect American and European farmers has the unintended consequence of reducing the supply of agricultural products from other people.”

He said farm subsidies, going mainly to large corporations rather than individual growers, were a “very good example” of how “a government program can have a completely unintended negative effect” on a critical area of the world economy.

If the barriers to competition were lifted, Gregg said, developing countries could attract more investment and increase their own productive capacities, to cope with global demand and bring food prices down.

But agricultural subsidies have the backing of powerful interest groups, and are often perceived as vital to the national interest.

Gregg also holds oil-exporting nations of OPEC responsible for high fuel prices that translate into more expensive food.

“The energy sector of the economy is not a free market – it’s a cartel,” he stated. “That’s something to keep in mind with all discussion about energy prices. This is why we worry about what OPEC is going to set as the price for gas, or for the production of barrels of oil.”

“It’s not the market that is controlling the price, for the most part. Generally speaking, it’s a cartel – which means that OPEC and other oil-producing countries introduce a whole range of price-distortions into the energy sector, resulting in higher prices.”

Oil prices, he said, “don’t reflect the true state of supply and demand.” Rather, Gregg said, they tend to reflect the will of countries exporting oil, and the inefficiency of frequently nationalized oil production.

Elsewhere, government regulations surrounding the refinement of oil into gas also play a role in raising prices, when refining capacity fails to keep pace with crude oil supply.

“There’s plenty of oil,” Gregg stated. “The problem is, there’s a disparity between supply and demand.” Meanwhile, this imbalance in the oil market has a ripple effect. “Just as energy prices go up,” he explained, “so do food costs.”

Another obstacle to meeting rising demand for food may come from ideological opposition to genetically-modified crops.

“There are all sorts of restrictions in place around the world, upon the development of genetically modified food,” Gregg noted. Genetic modification is highly controversial, and skeptics worry such crops could harm local ecosystems or human health.

But Gregg said that these concerns had to be weighed against the world’s urgent food needs, given that genetic modification could enable crops to be grown “in conditions where they might not otherwise be able to be produced.”

Many of these crops are also designed to resist natural occurrences – such as droughts, floods, and disease – that destabilize food prices.

“There’s no question that if more countries were enabled by law to engage in genetically modified agriculture, the supply of food would go up, and prices would come down,” he observed.

Gregg’s advocacy of what he called a “true free market in agriculture,” geared toward attracting investment in the developing world, reflects priorities that Pope Benedict XVI outlined in his 2008 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”

In that encyclical, the Pope said that “the problem of food insecurity” had to be addressed by “eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it, and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries.”

“This can be done,” the Pope wrote, “by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology.”

Pope Benedict stated said the developing world’s most urgent need in this area was “a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food.”

Gregg believes a general draw-down of government involvement in agriculture, as well as energy, would allow these kinds of economic institutions to develop locally and compete globally.

The result would be a boost in developing countries’ food production capacity, and more affordable food for the world.

“Obviously you need some kind of regulatory framework,” Gregg said. “But if it were a less onerous regulatory framework, and different groups weren’t trying to influence the process for political and ideological reasons, I think you’d find that the price of food – and the price of energy – would fall.”

Read more: http://ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/World.php?id=3153#ixzz1LrqsAFKh

The Catholic Church has long been one of the most insistent voices concerning the obligation of wealthy nations to assist less developed nations. Philip Booth, author of the new Acton monograph International Aid and Integral Human Development, looks at this tradition and finds that the Church’s endorsement of aid is highly qualified — a positive sign of increasing awareness that old methods of development assistance may not be as helpful as previously thought. Indeed, there is good evidence to believe that aid might even harm the citizens of the countries that receive it. Get Acton News & Commentary in your email inbox every Wednesday. Sign up here.

Solidarity, Charity and Government Aid

By Philip Booth

Of all Christ’s teachings as reflected in the gospel accounts, there is none as consistent as his defense of the poor and downtrodden. This teaching applies also to international relations and individual and societal responsibilities toward the poor and marginalized beyond one’s own borders. The Christian desire to assist the economic development of poorer peoples is founded on the principle at the heart of the Christian life: love. To be concerned about and act in favor of the poor around the world is to practice the virtue of charity.

However, in this context, it is a mistake to equate charity with government aid. When the Church talks about solidarity and the preferential option for the poor, it usually refers to these concepts in the context of charity: the service of love in providing for one’s neighbor without expecting anything in return. In his 2009 World Peace Day message, for example, Pope Benedict XVI said: “[I]t is timely to recall in particular the ‘preferential love for the poor’ in the light of the primacy of charity, which is attested throughout the Christian tradition, beginning with that of the early Church.”

Booth

This is not to say that there is no role for governments in providing aid for poor nations. However, such aid does not fulfill our duty of solidarity, and it is for individual Christians to make prudential judgments as to whether government aid is effective in aiding the poor. That government provision of any good, service, or assistance does not discharge our duties and cannot bring the world to perfection was made clear by Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate: “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (no. 38).

Political authorities play their part in bringing about the common good. To do this, they set the framework of laws within which individuals, families, and communities operate. The state may also enact laws where sins of omission are of sufficient seriousness to prevent people from participating in the common good. Thus if charity is not sufficiently generous to allow people to have the basics of life (such as food, clean water, and healthcare) the state may step in. It may do this on an international basis if the capacity of individual national states is insufficient. The state may also provide certain infrastructure that is necessary to promote the common good.

These guidelines leave a wide area for judgment in four respects. First, if government aid actually does more harm than good, it would be imprudent to use aid to try to promote the common good. Second, we may wish to use government policy to encourage more voluntary support. Third, there is the question of how much aid should be provided and how it should be delivered. Finally, especially if it is shown that aid does not raise the living standards of a recipient country, we may wish to pursue other policies to try to bring about long-term and fruitful change in the political and economic character of a country.

In Caritas, aid is mentioned 19 times and development over 250 times. That Pope Benedict has not abandoned papal exhortations to governments to provide aid is clear. He states: “Economically developed nations should do all they can to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid” (no. 60). This passage must be read in context, however. It is the only point in the encyclical where more aid of this type is explicitly recommended. On 15 of the 19 occasions on which the word aid is used, the Holy Father is critical of aid agencies, the way in which Western governments provide aid, or of the way in which recipient governments use aid.

Benedict writes: “International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions” (no. 22). He reminds us of the “grave irresponsibility of the governments of former colonies.” Those responsible have a duty—a very serious duty given the historical record—to ensure that aid is provided in a bottom-up way that genuinely leads to development for the poor.

The pope also stresses the importance of “institution building” for development (e.g., no. 41). Caritas suggests that a main focus of development aid should be to ensure that institutions exist so that the rule of law, protection of property rights, and a properly functioning democracy thrive. “The focus of international aid, within a solidarity-based plan to resolve today’s economic problems,” Benedict writes, “should rather be on consolidating constitutional, juridical and administrative systems in countries that do not yet fully enjoy these goods” (no. 41).

Benedict criticizes tied aid (assistance that must be spent in the nation providing it) and warns about aid dependency; he also demands a removal of developed-country trade barriers, which stop underdeveloped countries from selling their goods and produce. Indeed, he links the two points and suggests, in keeping with the tradition of Catholic social teaching, that aid should be temporary and that trade is the “principal form of assistance” to be provided to underdeveloped countries. In other words, countries should not be dependent on aid but move away from aid toward self-supporting economies.

Caritas also has advice for those involved in distributing aid, including agencies and charities. As the pope says: “International organizations might question the actual effectiveness of their bureaucratic and administrative machinery, which is often excessively costly” (no. 47). He calls for complete financial transparency for all aid organizations. He blames both providers of aid and recipients for diverting money from the purposes for which it was intended. He expresses concern that aid can lead to dependence and also, if badly administered, can give rise to exploitation and oppression. This can happen where aid budgets are large in relation to developing countries’ domestic budgets and the money gets into the hands of the rich and powerful rather than the poor and needy.

This analysis leaves open, however, the issue of how we should respond if the political, legal, and economic environment is not only hostile to economic development but also such that aid will be wasted and may be used to centralize power within corrupt political systems. Aid, in the wrong political environment, might do significant harm. Indeed, there is no substantial economic evidence that aid does significant good and a lot of evidence to suggest that it might harm the citizens of the countries that receive it.

Philip Booth is editorial and program director at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. This article was excerpted from Booth’s new Acton monograph International Aid and Integral Human Development.

Dr. Paul Oslington, professor of economics at Australian Catholic University, has a piece up today that examines the scope of social encyclicals, beginning with Rerum Novarum in 1891 and focusing especially on the similarities and differences between John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus and Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate.

Comparing this tradition with that of ecclesiastical statements from other church traditions, Oslington judges (and I think quite rightly), “On the whole, statements of the Roman Catholic Church since the landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum, issued in 1891, have been of higher theological quality than most church statements, and more reticent when dealing with specific economic questions.”

He points especially to the 2004 Accra Confession of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) as a negative example. I make a substantive criticism of the Accra Confession within the broader context of ecumenical social statements of the last decade in my recent book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

I also point in that book to some of the things that the mainline ecumenical movement can learn from the tradition of Roman Catholic social thought. As Oslington rightly notes, the quality of the encyclical tradition makes it the natural starting point for broader dialogues about the role of faith and theology in relation to economics, politics, and social life. He points to the way in which Benedict’s encyclical has occasioned important discussion from all kinds of quarters, both in the secular media as well as by other Christian traditions.

Oslington is especially hopeful about the work of Benedict XVI, and says, “With these theological resources, there is hope for a much-needed deep theological engagement with economics. It is hard to image a Pope better equipped theologically to undertake this task.”

One of the most important things that Protestant social thought can learn from the encyclical tradition is the importance of the principle of prudence. This is manifested in a bias against making strict policy prescriptions in favor of articulating the broad principles that must be applied in various concrete circumstances.

As Oslington concludes, this is a fundamental element of the social encyclicals, including Benedict’s:

I don’t know what Benedict XVI’s theological engagement with economics will end up looking like. He indicates in the unfinished state of his reflections a call for “further and deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its goals” in the light of the “explosion of worldwide interdependence.”

Could this turn out something like the Augustinian theodicy of markets that Anthony Waterman saw in Adam Smith? Waterman argued that just as for Augustine government restrains sin in a fallen world until the time of a final judgment and renewal, so markets restrain the effects of human sin.

Will it include elements of the vision of economic life of early modern Franciscan thinkers favoured by Benedict and some of his advisors such as Stefano Zamagni?

Whatever direction it goes, it will be some kind of theological reframing of economics that orients economic enquiry without detailed prescription on matters of economic theory and policy.

Incidentally, Dr. Oslington was kind enough to endorse my book, and I pass along his comments here in full.

Jordan Ballor has written a useful guide for those wishing to venture into the smelly swamps of ecumenical social and economic thought. Why should non-swamp dwellers care what goes on there? Ballor’s quite reasonable answer is that ecumenical bodies claim to speak on behalf of churches, churches which many of us are part. Whether anyone outside is listening is another question—one which Ballor doesn’t address but which others such as Anthony Waterman have considered—that being less and less so. Ballor’s book is distinguished by considering not just the content of ecumenical statements on economic matters (which have given grief to a long line of professional economists), but also the theological self-understanding of the various bodies when they speak. He asks the deeper question of whether the bodies are adequately constituted to be the (or even a) Christian voice on economic matters, as well as the not irrelevant questions of their actual theological and economic competence. Fundamental questions are raised about the relationship between theological and economic discourse, and the sorts of institutions that support helpful discourse. Christian faith certainly bears on economic matters—the briefest acquaintance with the Scriptures is enough to dispel any doubts. Ballor’s book is part of the movement towards a better discussion of the links in our churches, universities and political forums.

I should note too that some serious work has been done in bringing the various traditions of Protestant and Catholic social thinking into dialogue.

This includes the proceedings of the conference commemorating Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper in the Journal of Markets & Morality. I’m also pleased to announce that in the next issue of the journal we’ll be including an introduction to and translation of Herman Bavinck’s “General Biblical Principles and the Relevance of Concrete Mosaic Law for the Social Question Today,” prepared for the Christian Social Congress held in Amsterdam, November 9-12, 1891 (you can subscribe to the journal here).

Over at MercatorNet, there is a discussion taking place on the “world’s most dangerous idea.” Entries include the idea that human beings are no more dignified than animals, that the cheap, abundant information found on the Internet is a good thing, and that the holding of dogmas is only for the narrow-minded. But the one “dangerous idea” most interesting to PowerBlog readers may that “capitalism is the most ethical form economics.”

This last contribution comes from Prof. Jeffrey Langan, chairman of the Liberal Studies Department, Holy Cross College at Notre Dame University. Langan’s argument is that the victory of capitalism over communism and fascism in the 20th century has blinded us to the serious defects and “real injustices that are part of its foundation, history, principles, and ethos.”

Langan argues that capitalism is based on a “subtly dangerous materialism,” that the greatest period of capital formation took place as a result of King Henry VIII’s theft of Church property, that self-interest is simply a euphemism for avarice, that capitalism promotes usury and the rule of the strong over the weak, and lowers the wages of the workers. Not content to stick to these very negative economic consequences, Langan then asserts that capitalism promotes “the widespread use of birth control, abortion, easy divorce, and now gay marriage. Children in proudly capitalist families are frequently beset with alcohol, drug and sex addictions.” He concludes that “[c]apitalism is not compatible with the principles of equitable human development” and that we are better off avoided the term “capitalism” as such.

These are bold accusations to make, especially in such a short commentary, and even more so when they are made without a shred of evidence. (Langan writes that footnotes are available upon request, but he has yet to reply to my request for them.) Though he does not use the term “distributist,” it seems that Langan has been strongly influenced by the critique of capitalism offered by that school of thought, the problems of which have been dissected by Thomas E. Woods Jr. in the 2008 Acton monograph Beyond Distributism, in an Acton University Lecture I gave in June, and partially taken up in a previous blog post of mine.

Without the footnotes, it is difficult to refute Langan’s core arguments about the theory and history of capitalism. Part of me wants to think that Langan is being deliberately provocative, exaggerating his case of rhetorical effect, or even arguing tongue-in-cheek. But if Langan truly believes that supporters of capitalism are blind to its defects, he is purposely ignoring what Catholic social teaching had to say about capitalism, and especially Pope John Paul II’s qualified acceptance of an ethical form of capitalism in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus (see especially n. 42) as well as his preference for terms other than “capitalism” to describe the market/free/business economy. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI has also gone to great lengths to recall the benefits as well as the challenges of economic globalization in last year’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (see, again, n.42).

What is even more damning of Langan’s critique of capitalism is that it provides cover for those who wish to deny the connection of human freedom and responsibility that is the result of our God-given dignity. If human beings are simply driven by their desire for even-increasing amounts of material goods and do not posses the ability to say “no” or even “enough,” then there really is no responsible use of freedom and we would be nothing other than clever animals. It can and should be admitted that an unethical form of capitalism can treat people as nothing more than consumers. But if this is the anthropology at the root of capitalism, if human beings are not capable of living freely and responsibly, why shouldn’t we opt just as easily for those 20th-century ideologies of communism or fascism? Do we favor capitalism just because it gives us more stuff and makes fewer demands of us? Far from being a dangerous idea, ethical capitalism is what we need now more than ever.

When in Krakow, Poland, for Acton’s recent conference, I was interviewed by journalist Dominik Jaskulski for the news organization Fronda. Dominik has kindly allowed us to publish excerpts from his translation of the interview.

Father Sirico, tell us why your conference, organized with the Foundation PAFERE, is important for Poland.

Today, many people in the world are in a situation of transition. If you do not respond well in such conditions, you may see a repeat episode where – as you had here in Poland — people turned to socialist and communist ideas. I think it’s very important that people understand what culture is and how dynamic it is. With the foundation of a moral framework, it is much easier to choose the proper path of development. In that framework, we want above all to respect the dignity of the human person.

In Poland, we often see a discrepancy between the views of younger people and their elders about the nature of the transformation that occurred. Older people often talk about the loss of state benefits.

It’s quite funny, because less than 20 years ago, when I first came here, I gave an interview in which I was asked about how I thought things would go in the next few years. I said something like this: When the Israelites were leaving Egypt, it took them 40 years to arrive at the Promised Land. That’s mainly because Egypt was still in their hearts. In the Bible, the Israelites constantly asked, “Where is the land of milk and honey? When we were in Egypt, at least we had the dates and other food.” It took a whole generation to accept the changes that occurred.

What about unemployment? Under communism, we all had jobs. Currently, unemployment exceeds 10 percent. A few years ago it was even 20 percent.

Well, I think what the case was in the past in Poland is that everyone seemed to have a job. Authentic work, in which everyone is responsible for that work and understands its purpose, is productive. Many people were employed in Poland, which was not free, but many of these workers had no purpose and were unproductive. And, at the end, it led to massive poverty. Poverty, not wealth, was socialized. If we could measure the level of satisfaction and happiness then and now in Poland, I would be surprised if it isn’t now much higher. Yet it is true that some people find themselves in a difficult situation during the transition. We will discuss this during the conference.

Economics, as we know, has its cultural consequences, just as culture has economic implications. How you assess economic and cultural changes in Poland?

I must say that from all countries historically affected by communism, Poland and the Czech Republic were the most successful in their transformation. In Poland, largely thanks to the Church, the local culture remained intact. Of course, questions about the transformation continue to occur. This indeed was a dramatic shift because this country escaped one of the most horrific, depraved systems in human history. There is a cost, which we had to go through. We just have to understand that this transformation brings together a number of costs. (more…)

I’ve begun a series of articles that take a close look at Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. In this first article, which focuses on the opening chapter, I examine the moral realism of this pope, a realism that transcends the easy categories of politics and social theory.

[Benedict's] theory about Truth is not his own, but the traditional teaching of the Church, as it comes to us from the Apostles and as it has been safeguarded and interpreted over the centuries. His theory is quite simply that every person longs for both truth and love. This longing can never be suppressed, in spite of modern pretensions to being ever-so-above-it-all. “All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person” (no. 1). Therefore, we will never be able to completely suppress the human desire to know the truth and to live in accordance with it.

Benedict’s perspective on Truth has its own view of human freedom as well as of the human good. “Each person find his good by adherence to God’s plan for him,… in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free.” Two possible objections come to mind, from opposite intellectual poles. From the relativist side, we can practically hear the sophisticated eye-rolling over the idea that freedom means anything other than “doing as I please.” But consider these reasons why it is reasonable to follow God’s plan for our lives: (1) God knows more than we do; (2) He has the good of more people in mind, whereas honestly, most of us are mostly thinking of ourselves most of the time; and (3) He has a longer time horizon.

Read Caritas in Veritate: The Truth about Humanity” on the Acton Institute’s Caritas resource page.

I welcome your comments.

A Caritas in Veritate Reader

In response to the ongoing interest in Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, the Acton Institute is readying the publication of Caritas in Veritate — A Reader.

This encyclical, in all of its remarkable depth, will no doubt be the subject of thoughtful analysis for a long time to come. Later this summer, Acton will gather the best of its own commentary on Caritas and selected articles from other observers in a single volume that will be available in hard copy and in a digital format. We trust that this Reader will serve as a guide to understanding the encyclical and the thinking of Pope Benedict on important social questions. We’ll update you with information on how to purchase or download the Reader as we get closer to the publication date.

Headline Bistro, a news service of the Knights of Columbus, published a new roundup of commentary on Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate encyclical. I am joined in “Catholic Thinkers Reflect on Caritas in Veritate” by Michael Novak, Kirk Doran and Carl Anderson. Here’s the introduction and the article, which was written by Elizabeth Hansen:

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI released his much-anticipated social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. While it addressed the global economic crisis and the need for reform in business practices, the document was marked overall by its underlying premise of fostering true, integral development of the human person: a goal achieved by practicing charity in truth. Three Catholic economists and social thinkers shared their reflections on Caritas in Veritate via email correspondence with Headline Bistro.

Balance: In a word, that is what Michael Novak, Father Robert Sirico and Kirk Doran would name as the strength of Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical released one month ago today.

From discussing the pros and cons of development aid to a treatment on the theological principle of gratuitousness, the span of Caritas in Veritate is wide. The document’s suggestion of reform of the U.N. – “so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth,” the English translation said – grabbed headlines in the mainstream press, while Catholics noted Benedict’s insistence that true development involves the whole human person, on a spiritual as well as economic level.

Indeed, anything beyond a superficial read of the encyclical reveals its depth, which is what makes Pope Benedict’s ability to balance numerous perspectives and proposals on the technical end – even more, to transcend them – all the more impressive. (more…)