Looking Ahead to Benedict's Encyclical

I wonder what will be said this morning at the water fountain down the hall from George Weigel’s office at the Ethics & Public Policy Center when they read Sandro Magister’s column today. I will take bets that paramedics will be needed at the American Enterprise Institute, where Michael Novak works, if, as Magister suggests, the writings of a German jurist Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde exert sufficient influence on the final version of an encyclical by Bockenforde’s most famous fan, Pope Benedict XVI.

"It is the Church's duty to denounce the fundamental errors that have now been revealed in the collapse of the major American banks. Human greed is a form of idolatry that is against the true God, and is a falsification of the image of God with another god, Mammon." Hey – wait a minute. That is not Bockenforde. Those words were uttered by Benedict himself back in February. Yes, the Pope did say idolatry, not bad management, was at the heart of the economic crisis in the American financial sector.


Bockenforde’s article, published in "Il Regno," a journal from the Sacred Heart fathers, is a full-scale, frontal attack on capitalism. This sentence is precisely the kind of observation that catches the Pope’s attention: "On the basis of [capitalism’s] own dynamic, it constantly seeks to extend itself and to integrate within its functional logic all areas of life to the extent to which they have an economic side, with extensive repercussions also in the area of culture and personal lifestyle. This leads to the extension of economic considerations into all aspects of life."

Readers familiar with the writings of Hans urs von Balthasar or with the charism of Communione e Liberazione and its founder Luigi Giussani will see their influence in the following passage: "So what is capitalism suffering from? It is not suffering only from its excesses and from the greed and egoism of the men operating in it. It suffers from its point of departure, from its functional principle and the power that creates the system. For this reason, it is impossible to heal this illness with marginal remedies; it can be healed only by changing the point of departure." I confess I would be surprised if this finds its way into the encyclical, but it is powerful stuff, and its gets down to the level of theological analysis that few men are capable of. Pope Benedict, however, is one of those few.

The Catholic neo-cons like Weigel and Novak are always reducing Christianity to a prop for Americanism. Liberal Catholics, too, look to the writings of John Courtney Murray, S.J. for sanctioning the parts of the Enlightenment that they approve, such as the First Amendment. But, the Communio school of theologians has always understood that at some deep level, the Enlightenment is a Seraglio.

I read yesterday a note by Winston Churchill written in 1941 when Rommel was still facing Auchinleck not Montgomery. "Renown awaits the Commander who first in this war restores artillery to its prime importance upon the battlefield, from which it has been ousted by heavily armoured tanks." Mutatis Mutandi, we can say that renown awaits the theologian who synthesizes the classic liberalism of the Enlightenment (that is, the liberalism to which both contemporary conservatives and liberals are heirs) with Christian doctrine as St. Thomas Aquinas once synthesized the thought of Aristotle with Christian doctrine and St. Augustine achieved with neo-Platonism. I do not think Bockenforde gets there. But, I do know that the neo-cons are focused on maintaining their heavily armoured tanks not on seeking to go deeply enough into their own presuppositions to discover, as Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez once said, "The problem with capitalism, is that the evil is in its DNA."



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8 years 11 months ago
The important thing is to distinguish Captialism from the free market.  They are not the same things, although it seems many don't know that.  We also need to be careful to distinguish between corporatism and capitalism.  Its not the corporate form of ownership that is the problem.  Its the plutocrats - who can either be celebrity CEOs or individual owners - or individual owners who hide behind corporate structures but are virtual sole proprietors.  The odd middle manager is not really the problem.  They are caught in a system rotten from the top, where the owners of the capital equipment of the firm have arranged the structure of the enterprise to also own more of the labor of the workforce than they would be entitled to in a free market for employment, wages and positions.  The tyranny of capitalism within the firm (and in some cases against certain parts of the community) and the theft of rewards are the problems which we as a Church must address if we really want to take on this issue. Much to the chagrin of the Neocons, Benedict XVI might just address these things.
8 years 11 months ago
A few weeks ago, Michael Sean Winters attacked Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon for being a partisan hack.  A more recent post emitted some transparently untrue criticisms of Princeton professor Robbie George.  And now MSW comes after two of the most regarded Catholic intellectuals of the day, authors of some of the most respected Catholic works in the last half-century, and says, "The Catholic neo-cons like Weigel and Novak are always reducing Christianity to a prop for Americanism."  The author of "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism" and "Witness to Hope" - like Mary Ann Glendon, a bunch of partisan hacks.  And this - astonishingly - coming from the author of a book subtitled, "How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics can Save the Democrats."     Anyone who's read Novak and Weigel knows how polemic and conclusory a spin MSW has placed on decades of their scholarship.  Then again, anyone who saw the C-SPAN clip of Robbie George knew that MSW's characterizations were plainly misleading.  And anyone who tracked MSW's reversals on Mary Ann Glendon saw how utterly political his earlier championing of her had been.  The spectacle of this - a blogger calling out in soundbites some of the most well regarded scholars of the day, unembarrassed neither by his flippancy nor his intellectual dishonesty - would be hilarious were it not for the fact that MSW has been given a prominent forum by America Magazine. 
8 years 11 months ago
I say to Matt Emerson that Novak. Weigel and Glendon have well paid forums to defend themselves and you seem to begrudge Winters an ill paid forum with America mag. What ever happened to the idea of 'free markets'? or free expression? free blogging.. freeanythng? Weigel and Novak are whacked and nobody hurt..


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