Sunday, July 26, 2009

Caritas in Veritate, Part 3

As we keep plowing through the Holy Father’s latest encyclical, I’m going to go ahead and say that the guy needs an editor. Part of me wonders if the unfocused and rambling bits of this one aren’t the result of some ghost-writing additions meant to “update” it in light of the recent economic troubles. We know it was revised with that in mind at some point.

I don’t know. The style just seems to vary quite a bit, especially when compared to Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi. Oh well, on we go.

We left off where the Pope was transitioning into the Chapter on Fraternity, Economic Development, and Civil Society. Unlike what the heterodox would like to hear on these topics, namely, that we can have a world of burgers, fries, and cherry pies, Pope Benedict reminds us of original sin and the fact that this is the vale of tears.

The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.

For more on this, note Karl’s take here in reference to Michael Jackson. This is the need for charity in truth and that integral human development that is a central theme in this letter. This belief that men can fix everything is nothing but pride and a guaranteed path to catastrophe. We can’t get paradise here. In our charity for others, this must be accepted but not with despair, which is what we’re left with when God is excised from the picture.

Because it is a gift received by everyone, charity in truth is a force that builds community, it brings all people together without imposing barriers or limits. The human community that we build by ourselves can never, purely by its own strength, be a fully fraternal community, nor can it overcome every division and become a truly universal community.

This is why folks who elevate the market to the role of Providence have it wrong. You can’t arrive at true charity by simply relying on the forces of supply and demand, monetary policy, etc. Some folks find this offensive. I really don’t know why. Oftentimes, it seems that the concept of a free market economy has become the end rather than the means of, say, promoting justice and true charity throughout the world.

The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.

In other words, the market is just as subject to abuse as anything else we humans get their hands on. Given our propensity to screw things up, we are left with a conundrum:

The great challenge before us, accentuated by the problems of development in this global era and made even more urgent by the economic and financial crisis, is to demonstrate, in thinking and behaviour, not only that traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated, but also that in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity. This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth.

The Holy Father is basically calling for a bit of consistency on the part of us Catholics. We can believe in a free market system. I most certainly do. However, we same folks that clamor for religion to influence our political system and other societal beliefs must also allow for the principles of the Faith to infiltrate our economic policies as well. Think of it as the Economic Kingship of Christ. Again, this should not be all that controversial, especially in light of prior papal pronouncements. Hence:

The Church's social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence.

What follows is a discussion of economic solidarity stressing the ability of businesses and individuals to freely contract amongst themselves, but with market structures in place that enable goals higher than mere profits to be sought. A lot of folks who don’t know what they are talking about often call for “unrestricted markets” or “unfettered capitalism.” Such people neglect the fact that markets that are free get to be that way because they have structure and rules and protections. The very nature of a contract is a restriction on a given market or transaction. When is a train freer? When it’s locked into the track or when it’s off the track? You need fetters or else there is anarchy. The Pope is calling for a market that respects the transcendent calling of man to seek something more than the material. We have certain policies like that now in items such as tax breaks for charitable contributions. I wonder what all the “Obama is so Catholic, he should be Pope” jerks think of the recent proposals to shelve such measures.

More people who don’t what they are talking about are claiming that these sorts of views somehow make Pope Benedict some sort of socialist. Keeping in mind the Pope’s repeated condemnations of liberation theology and the repeated push in this very encyclical that man is really only good at screwing things up, let’s take a look at how Pope Benedict runs with the ball here:

When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.

In other words, state-run economies are crap and immoral. So much for socialism. What’s being called for here is an economic vision that is guided and directed by what the Church thinks, not secular society, materialism, and/or socialism. Perhaps I am dumb, but I fail to see the controversy in all this. Many people have accused the Pope of secular humanism here. I find such commentary asinine. Such people are presupposing secular definitions to words like “solidarity” and “common good” when the Holy Father uses these terms. More than that, they are ignoring the whole first 1/3 of the encyclical where repeated calls are made for the mind of man to reject secular and material things and order themselves towards God.

I will probably get gripes for skipping through the next few paragraphs, but to be blunt, they seem to be very lengthy ways of saying, “Businesses shouldn’t screw people over.” Anyone who thinks I’m wrong is welcome to comment. Instead, since it’s the political aspects of the encyclical that are getting the most play (and distortion), let’s look at political authority for a moment:

As well as cultivating differentiated forms of business activity on the global plane, we must also promote a dispersed political authority, effective on different levels. The integrated economy of the present day does not make the role of States redundant, but rather it commits governments to greater collaboration with one another. Both wisdom and prudence suggest not being too precipitous in declaring the demise of the State. In terms of the resolution of the current crisis, the State's role seems destined to grow, as it regains many of its competences. In some nations, moreover, the construction or reconstruction of the State remains a key factor in their development. The focus of international aid, within a solidarity-based plan to resolve today's economic problems, should rather be on consolidating constitutional, juridical and administrative systems in countries that do not yet fully enjoy these goods. Alongside economic aid, there needs to be aid directed towards reinforcing the guarantees proper to the State of law: a system of public order and effective imprisonment that respects human rights, truly democratic institutions. The State does not need to have identical characteristics everywhere: the support aimed at strengthening weak constitutional systems can easily be accompanied by the development of other political players, of a cultural, social, territorial or religious nature, alongside the State. The articulation of political authority at the local, national and international levels is one of the best ways of giving direction to the process of economic globalization. It is also the way to ensure that it does not actually undermine the foundations of democracy.

It’s great how people stuff and automatically think it’s a shot at their own situation. The last thing that is being called for here is a global super-state. What is needed is something to keep the places like Sierra Leone and Darfur from annihilating each other. The whole context here is helping out the countries that are most broken. As a side note, for you separation of Church and state folks, the Pope slipped in a nice present for you at the end there by mentioning religion as a politically stabilizing force. Call it a gut feeling, but I’m betting he isn’t talking about sharia.

The Pope closes out this section by turning his points on the market towards globalization. Like the market, globalization isn’t good or bad. It’s an instrument that can be used for doing good things or for destruction. The latter is not a foregone conclusion, but given our tendency to screw up, it is a distinct possibility:

Globalization is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon which must be grasped in the diversity and unity of all its different dimensions, including the theological dimension. In this way it will be possible to experience and to steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods.

We'll probably have a couple of more entries on this. It's long as all get out. Bear with me. We'll have a wrap-up soon enough.

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