David Mills, former editor of First Things and current editor of Ethika Politika, has a post up at Aleteia entitled “Free-Market Catholics Are Losing Their Faith (In Capitalism).” Here is, I believe, his central point:
[I]f I read the signs aright, many politically conservative Christians, Catholics and Evangelicals both, are now shifting in their attitude to the state, to a new assertion not just of the limits and dangers of the market but of the need for a welfare and regulatory government. They haven’t become old-fashioned socialists or even social democrats. They still believe in a capitalist economy, but want to restrict, temper, and even direct it in a way much more “liberal” than their movement has allowed since the 1970s.
The immediate quibble that I have with Mills’s summary is that it appears to accept the false dualism of “statism” or “the market.” As I have discussed numerous times on this web-log and in other forums, rejecting the neoliberal/libertarian conception of the “free market” and the wobbly economics which provides theoretical heft to their policy preferences does not entail an active and open embrace of the present administrative state. That is to say, one can accept a system of rules, moored in the private law, which limits the excesses of capitalism while meeting the dictates of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) without having recourse to centralized, top-down regulation. Although such regulatory measures may be needed in certain circumstances, Catholics who are mindful of the Church’s authentic social magisterium know that the principle of subsidiarity is intractable. The problem, however, is that our (the United States’) current schema of inverted federalism either does not allow, or makes it very difficult, for local rules and institutions to meaningfully address matters ranging from wages to labor standards to environmental protections. At the same time, we have to recognize that most of the efficacious social-safety nets currently available are either funded by and/or administered through the federal government. That is not a desirable situation, though neither is rolling back those protections without an alternative schema in place first.
A second quibble I have concerns Mills’s statement that Catholics and Evangelicals who are now taking a skeptical position with regard to capitalism aren’t “becom[ing] old-fashioned socialists or even social democrats.” It seems to me, however, that a good number of these folks, which include plenty of young Catholics, are quite ready to accept the tenets of socialism and, more distressingly, argue that those tenets find support in CST. Granted, the term “socialist” is often open-ended and certainly overused, but there is nothing in CST which calls for mass expropriation (either through regulatory or taxing mechanisms) in the hopes of establishing an economically egalitarian society. That cure is worse than the disease. However, those I have called “socialist Catholics” do have their instincts in the right place. It’s just too bad that their main critics are economic liberals whose own utopian visions warrant condemnation.
Even so, Mills is right that there is a shift underway. He is also right to note that this shift is not monochromatic, though I do wish that he would have highlighted that there are substantial disagreements between anti-liberal (or “illiberal”) Catholics who take their bearings from Alasdair MacIntyre, Patrick Deneen, or some proof-text they yanked from the Church Fathers and those more traditional Catholics who embrace the modern social magisterium which began under Pope Leo XIII, received a substantial shot in the arm from Pius XI, and, despite some questionable detours, remains alive and (somewhat) well after the Second Vatican Council.