Wednesday, April 06, 2005

John Paul II and the Evils of Liberal Capitalism

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

As the world mourns the loss of Pope John Paul II, and the political and religious right in the US make of him a spokesman for "American values," it is instructive to look at some of his writings and teachings that the mainstream media largely ignored over the last 26 years.

In 1987, JP II issued an encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Matters), in which he clearly cast Marxist Communism and unregulated, free-market, liberal capitalism as equivalent evils, each containing their distinct "structures of sin." It is a revolutionary statement and has guided the Catholic Church's teachings on social justice and global development for nearly two decades. And it has been entirely ignored in the mainstream media, then and now.

While Church pronouncements about moral theology frequently make the news (in the Church's opposition to abortion, birth control, etc.), Catholic social justice teaching is curiously absent. It is easy for the mainstream media to ridicule, for instance, abstinence or celibacy in the face of an overwhelming cultural emphasis on sensual gratification. It is another story to expect it to look critically at the source of its own power and wealth: a global economy of mass exploitation and mass consumption.

But in the light of this 1987 statement, the audacity of the religious and political right to promote the Pope--along with Ronald Reagan and MArgaret Thatcher, for pete's sake--as a symbol of "American" values is particularly galling.

I have chosen representative (and lengthy) quotes. All emphases are mine. I urge you to read this largely ignored encyclical yourself:

(20) In the West there exists a system which is historically inspired by the principles of the liberal capitalism which developed with industrialization during the last century. In the East there exists a system inspired by the Marxist collectivism which sprang from an interpretation of the condition of the proletarian classes made in the light of a particular reading of history. Each of the two ideologies, on the basis of two very different visions of man and of his freedom and social role, has proposed and still promotes, on the economic level, antithetical forms of the organization of labor and of the structures of ownership, especially with regard to the so-called means of production.

(21) This is one of the reasons why the Church's social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism. For from the point of view of development the question naturally arises: in what way and to what extent are these two systems capable of changes and updatings such as to favor or promote a true and integral development of individuals and peoples in modern society? In fact, these changes and updatings are urgent and essential for the cause of a development common to all.

22. In the light of these considerations, we easily arrive at a clearer picture of the last twenty years and a better understanding of the conflicts in the northern hemisphere, namely between East and West, as an important cause of the retardation or stagnation of the South. The developing countries, instead of becoming autonomous nations concerned with their own progress towards a just sharing in the goods and services meant for all, become parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel. This is often true also in the field of social communications, which, being run by centers mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up. They frequently impose a distorted vision of life and of man and thus fail to respond to the demands of true development.

Each of the two blocs harbors in its own way a tendency towards imperialism, as it is usually called, or towards forms of new- colonialism: an easy temptation to which they frequently succumb, as history, including recent history, teaches.

(28) A disconcerting conclusion about the most recent period should serve to enlighten us: side-by-side with the miseries of underdevelopment, themselves unacceptable, we find ourselves up against a form of superdevelopment, equally inadmissible. because like the former it is contrary to what is good and to true happiness. This super-development, which consists in an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of "possession" and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better. This is the so-called civilization of consumption" or "consumerism ," which involves so much "throwing-away" and "waste." An object already owned but now superseded by something better is discarded, with no thought of its possible lasting value in itself, nor of some other human being who is poorer.

Of course, the difference between "being" and "having," the danger inherent in a mere multiplication or replacement of things possessed compared to the value of "being," need not turn into a contradiction. One of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world consists precisely in this: that the ones who possess much are relatively few and those who possess almost nothing are many. It is the injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all.

This then is the picture: there are some people - the few who possess much - who do not really succeed in "being" because, through a reversal of the hierarchy of values, they are hindered by the cult of "having"; and there are others - the many who have little or nothing - who do not succeed in realizing their basic human vocation because they are deprived of essential goods.

(41) Following the example of my predecessors, I must repeat that whatever affects the dignity of individuals and peoples, such as authentic development, cannot be reduced to a "technical" problem. If reduced in this way, development would be emptied of its true content, and this would be an act of betrayal of the individuals and peoples whom development is meant to serve.

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…It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all…

And let's not forget one other point, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Howie, et al.: Pope John Paul II condemned the US invasion of Iraq as an unjust war.

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