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Pope John Paul II on Capitalism

Since socialism is the great fear of the day among many conservative Christians, here’s an interesting approach to the matter from an oft-claimed hero for conservative Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike:

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces. [Italics added]

~ Pope John Paull II, Centesimus annus, §42.

What might have been reasonably called a risk at the close of the Cold War is stark reality today, I’m afraid.

3 Comments

  1. JM wrote:

    Have you seen this: http://theologica.blogspot.com/2009/05/money-greed-and-god-why-capitalism-is.html

    Now, we don’t have evangelicals just naively assuming capitalism, they are actively defending it! I’d like to see you write on this insanity.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  2. Nick wrote:

    The comments on that post really freak me out. Not sure which is worse:

    “I hold to the rather unusual position that the bible is essentially silent on the issue of political and economic philosophy.

    “Secondly, the Sermon on the Mount addresses individual ethics, not the ethics of the state.”

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  3. Thom Stark wrote:

    “The Marxist solution has failed.” Not exactly. The Marxist solution was betrayed by the Soviet model which then, coopting the language of Marxism, became the inspiration for the majority of “Marxist” revolutions throughout the third world.

    One of the problems with JP2′s analysis is that he thinks “radical capitalistic ideology” is only a “risk,” rather than a reality, even then. He puts his faith in the government to ensure that the market stays free, but the long history of British and U.S. capitalism has displayed that the government’s role is to intervene only to insure that the market remains the domain of the imperialist powers. The principle proponents of capitalism have never advocated a free market in practice, only in rhetoric. In practice military intervention, sanctions, embargoes and boycotts have been used to create a situation in which the imperialist nations have the market advantage–only then are the markets “opened up” to be “free.”

    Furthermore, trade agreements which are strictly speaking quite kosher according to even the ideal of the free market system result in the closing of markets that are not able to compete. Opening up “free markets” in the third world is not about competition but about profit for U.S. and British corporations. These trade agreements are precisely the product of the “strong juridical framework” that JP2 believed was the antidote to radical corporate autonomy.

    Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

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