In response to Pope Francis’s recent critique of capitalism, Ross Douthat has a column dealing with the implication for conservative Catholics, such as himself: “[F]or Catholics who pride themselves on fidelity to Rome, the burden is on them – on us- to explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.” It isn’t enough to say merely that Papal pronouncements don’t present a particular platform as mandated by Catholic social teaching- conservatives Catholics also have to justify their platforms as consistent with such teaching, Ross believes.
“[T]he church’s social teaching is no less an official teaching for allowing room for disagreement on its policy implications,” Ross writes. But for me, my disagreements with Pope Francis’s encyclical, or excerpts I’ve seen reported on, is more at the level of principle than practical policy.
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life,” Francis writes, “today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” The Pope fallaciously anthropomorphizes the economy, which as everybody knows consists of millions of decisions whose connections to one another nobody understands. His rhetoric focuses on the question whether “the free market,” as a whole, is morally good or bad, which is a meaningless question. How would one apply it to a particular policy question? Do we just have to favor any proposed government intervention, because lack of said intervention would be “the free market,” and the free market is bad?
It seems to me there is unclear thinking behind the encyclical, which eliminates the kind of room Ross sees for policy disagreements, by taking such disagreements to a level of abstraction that just doesn’t makes sense. I see the document as a Bernie Sanders-style rant rather than the thoughtful, nuanced critique of capitalism Ross Douthat and others appear to see.