Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Theoconservatives" and "Neoconservatives" on Pope Francis

Andrew Sullivan has a helpful post on the way that conservatives--both so-called "theoconservatives" and "neoconservatives"--have been responding to Pope Francis's critique of capitalism.  Good thoughts here on the meaning of Catholicism (and I would argue all of Christianity) and American exceptionalism.

Here is a taste:

There is, for example, little doubt that the free market has brought more wealth, comfort and health to more human beings than any other form of economic model in human history. The last three hundred years have improved our material lot more than the previous 200,000. Socialism is a grim failure of a system, communism even worse. But what all these systems have in common is a materialist vision of what makes human life worth living. That’s not a criticism in particular. Most such systems do not have within their remit a deeper understanding of human existence, a grounding in something other than prosperity. A Catholic, however, has exactly that grounding, which enables us to examine all such systems from different, higher ground.

And the way in which market capitalism has become a good in itself on the American right is, well, perniciously wrong. As soon as a system ceases to be a means to a human good, and becomes an end in itself, it has become a false idol. Perhaps the apotheosis of that idol worship was the belief – brandished on the degenerate right in the past decade or two – that markets are self-regulating. Of course they’re not, as Adam Smith would have been the first to inform you. Another assumption embedded on the American right is that more wealth is always a good thing. The Church must say no. This is a lie. Wealth is a neutral thing above a certain basic level of non-drudgery. Above that, it can be an absolutely evil, deceptive thing, distorting human souls, warping their dignity, vulgarizing their character. An American right that worships at the altar of both free markets and material wealth, and that takes these two idols as their primary goods, is not just non-Catholic. It is anathema to Catholicism and to the Gospels.
The neoconservative version of American exceptionalism is equally anathema to Catholicism. No country on earth is any more inherently moral than any other. It may achieve great things in advancing human good, as the US has clearly done. But as soon as you identify one country with all human good, and believe that its model, let along its divine providence, is dispositive for the whole of humankind, you are also worshiping a false God. It is that self-worship that allows a country to commit evil and justify it. Torture is such an evil. The American justification of it by the false doctrine of exceptionalism is something the Devil would have celebrated as a great triumph in the Screwtape Letters. And the American Catholic right’s acquiescence to it – including the last Pope’s – is a dark and indelible strain.