Friday, July 10, 2009
A conservative blogger I follow bemoans the fact that a recent papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, opens Barack Obama up to attack from the left on economic issues by the Pope. Between the gloating of leftist E.J. Dionne and the open evasion of Robert A. Sirico in the Wall Street Journal, I am reminded of Ayn Rand's essay, "Requiem for Man," in which she responded to Populorum Progressio, by Pope Paul VI.
First, we'll get the gloating out of the way.
Benedict's letter had some good things to say about the market system, but only if it is tempered by both "distributive justice and social justice." He thus spoke approvingly of "the redistribution of wealth" -- not a phrase currently on many American lips -- and caused free-market conservatives to blanch with his call for a "world political authority" to oversee the global economy in the name of "the common good."Remember: "Capitalism" is fine only as long as we're talking about elements of a market economy subordinated to government conrol, and that's the best this anti-secular Pope can say for it.
And now for the open evasion.
The context [of this encyclical] is of course a global economic crisis -- a crisis that's taken place in a moral vacuum, where the love of truth has been abandoned in favor of a crude materialism. The pope urges that this crisis become "an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future."Never mind that one cannot have a political-economic system "in a moral vacuum," and that the erosion of capitalism over the past century has occurred precisely because the moral philosophy of altruism cannot support capitalism, the political expression of egoism, the morality of rational self-interest: The pope didn't use the word "capitalism."
Yet his encyclical contains no talk of seeking a third way between markets and socialism. Words like greed and capitalism make no appearance here, despite press headlines following the publication of the encyclical earlier this week. People seeking a blueprint for the political restructuring of the world economy won't find it here. But if they look to this document as a means for the moral reconstruction of the world's cultures and societies, which in turn influence economic events, they will find much to reflect upon.
Also, we're supposed to pretend that the government policies that precipitated the financial crisis were formulated in a moral vacuum and that businessmen somehow function in a moral vacuum -- unless of course, they're being immoral according to the distorting light of altruism.
Ayn Rand's response (search term: "Dark Ages") to Populorum Progressio is just as apt for this, because the very same issues -- within the encyclical and within America's craven conservative movement -- apply today.
The encyclical is the voice of the Dark Ages, rising again in today's intellectual vacuum, like a cold wind whistling through the empty streets of an abandoned civilization.And there's more where that came from.
Unable to resolve a lethal contradiction, the conflict between individualism and altruism, the West is giving up. When men give up reason and freedom, the vacuum is filled by faith and force.
No social system can stand for long without a moral base. Project a magnificent skyscraper being built on quicksands: while men are struggling upward to add the hundredth and two-hundredth stories, the tenth and twentieth are vanishing, sucked under by the muck. That is the history of capitalism, of its swaying, tottering attempt to stand erect on the foundation of the altruist morality.
It's either-or. If capitalism's befuddled, guilt-ridden apologists do not know it, two fully consistent representatives of altruism do know it: Catholicism and communism.
When Michael Moore's next "documentary" -- allegedly about capitalism -- comes out, don't forget that he's Catholic, too.
But be sure to remember as well that the title of Ayn Rand's eloquent defense of capitalism is Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.