This should be unnecessary, but alas it is not. To those who have come across this blog in the last day and are, intentionally or unintentionally, inclined to make a fundamental interpretive error, let me be clear: Rejecting capitalist ideology is not tantamount to accepting communism. Other formulations which clarify that the Catholic critique of capitalism, as embedded in the Church’s social magisterium, is not a call for communal property, command planning, or the elimination of markets if, by “markets,” one means the exchange of goods and services.
I must admit that it is strange to hear pro-capitalist ideologues act as if there is no viable alternative to capitalism when many in fact agitate for a significantly, if not radically, different form of capitalism than what we currently have (or have ever had). As I noted in my “Crony Capitalism” post, free-market types regularly decry government and business being in bed together in favor of a purely unregulated, or nearly unregulated, marketplace free of such apparently abhorrent practices like taxation, safety oversight, licensing, antitrust enforcement, and so forth. That paradisiacal ordo, they claim, is a far cry from the present situation government power is routinely, or at least potentially, wielded contra the public interest. How true that is (or not) is a debatable point; what is not debatable is the reality that many capitalists apologists—including Catholics and other Christians over at the Acton Institute—can and do imagine “another way.” In fact they invest countless resources into promoting “another way” than the one we current have while, ironically, claiming that there is no other way. And do not believe them if they say the current way is uniformly terrible and needs to be upended for it is the material results of this way—the crony-capitalist way—to which they appeal when espousing the glories of free, unregulated, markets.
So, if individuals at Acton, along with a host of other Catholic writers intoxicated with economic liberalism, can imagine and promote another way, why can’t those who are faithful to Catholic Social Teaching (CST) do the same? Why must we be forced to read magisterial documents such as Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno through a hermeneutic of selectivity whereby the liberal elements—or what can be (mis)construed as liberal elements—stay in and everything else goes out? Why must we be committed to filling the alleged “gaps” in CST with the “truths” derived from the “science” of economics? In the end, why must “pure” capitalism be our starting point with no more than marginal allowance given to “tweak” and “adjust” it here and there? (For instance, perhaps there is a role for government to cleanup and provide humanitarian assistance after a natural disaster—unless there’s money to be made.)
Proponents of economic liberalism want to handcuff faithful Catholics to capitalism before any discussion commences. We must accept the premise that capitalism is good lest we fall into embracing the horrors of communism and socialism—economic forms which have been condemned by the Church for more than a century. When we propose another way, whether it is a form of Distributism or Solidarism, we are ridiculed as “dreamers.” To some extent that’s true, but are we dreaming any more than those Catholics who believe that the free market will address a myriad of—if not most—socio-economic and political problems? Compared to the current crisis, our dreams may seem fantastical and farfetched, but at least it is not the nightmare world of bellum omnium contra omnes in the marketplace where the losers are, at best, pitied or, more likely, derided for their lack of entrepreneurial acumen. Whatever they get they deserve and the wealthy reign by “natural right.”
The market will not save us; only God can do that. By the same token, heavy handed government regulation backed up by a Leviathan state will do us no good, especially in an era where the levers of power have been captured by individuals and corporations animated by anti-Christian principles. The Catholic minority which remains committed to full-throated CST must battle on multiple fronts. As difficult as that may be to do, we have no right to compromise. The need to push back against an administrate state that seeks to undermine the rights of God and His Holy Church does not furnish any Catholic the right to take up the banner of libertarianism, for instance. Political relevancy is fleeting; the truths of the social magisterium are timeless. Jesus Christ, Lord of Heaven and earth, has not left us to fend for ourselves. He has graced us with Doctors, Confessors, and Popes who have shown us that there is a way out of the present darkness if only we have the resolve to commit and the fortitude to stand fast in the face of derision from even our coreligionists. Nobiscum Deus so long as we hold to the truth.