Catholic Neocons Distort Church Teachings on Economics
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:28:49 AM EST
The Catholic Right, Part Seventy-one
Don Wilky, in his recent post The Religious Right's Fear of Obama's Economics, cited Sarah Posner's conclusion in God's Profits, "...that one of the driving forces of the religious right is laissez-faire."

This is especially true of the many on the Catholic Right who share this social Darwinist view of economics. To this mix, Catholic neocons have added an element of historical revisionism, as I discuss in the forthcoming Winter 2008 edition of The Public Eye magazine. Nowhere have they done this more so when it comes to explain basic principles of Catholic economics.

Catholic neocons have a special problem: Their ideology has been radically out of synch with Catholic teaching on economics since 1891. Starting with Rerum novarum  and through the life-long work of liberal economist (and priest) John A. Ryan the Catholic Church has stressed a form of capitalism, on that steers a course between laissez-faire capitalism and Marxism based upon the principles of Distributive Justice.

Distributive Justice capitalism, criticisms from the Right not withstanding, is not Marxism. Instead it attempts to deflect and curb the arbitrary power that often accompanies both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism.

Unlike Marxism, the model presented here still centers on the twin goals of private property ownership and profit motive. And unlike under Marxist regimes government does not become the ultimate owner of property nor of the means of production. Instead, it acts as the umpire to assure that laws and mechanisms exist to allow workers to better bargain for a fairer share of private profits, safer working conditions and the ability to acquire private property. Distributive Justice concentrates on the democratization of capitalism through the fairer distribution of profits to all those who produced a given product or provided a specific service.

But Catholic neocons act as if this is no longer Church teaching, even though it clearly is. And to that end, Michael Novak, George Weigel and Robert H. Bork have embarked on a voyage of distortion that is second to none. In an effort to effort their refute their tenuous claims I put forth my piece, Saving Monsignor Ryan: Refuting the Myths of Neoconservative Roman Catholic Economics.

As I point out in the article:

In essence, Catholic neocons are attempting to subvert the Roman Catholic tradition of social justice in order to further a greater (and ultimately) nonreligious neoconservative agenda. As we shall see, their take on Catholicism, social justice, and economics is not only inaccurate, but engages in a quietly ruthless form of historical revisionism. I daresay that their revisionism is one of the more remarkable deviations not only from Roman Catholic teaching, but from basic standards of scholarship in recent American history.

The point of this rewriting of history is quite simple: Roman Catholicism has had a tradition of social justice consistent with the New Deal's generally pro-worker approach, one that calls for the use of activist government to ensure economic equity. Catholic theocons such as Michael Novak are doing their best to efface that tradition.

Part of the Catholic neocon effort has focused "the airbrushing out" Monsignor Ryan's legacy. His theology-derived influence on the New Deal is a thorn in the neocons' side. So, what to do? Act as if he and his body of work never existed.

Further on I point out:

It seems to be essential to the project to which Novak et al have devoted their lives - and the resources of their wealthy patrons - to erode Ryan's influence and ideas in the American Church. One of their main methods is, as major Roman Catholic authors, to elide him from history. After all, a Catholic Church that advocates for the economic interests of the poor, working, and middle classes can threaten the unfettered practice of buccaneer capitalism. They therefore shift the focus to the micro issues of personal economic evils and away from systemic causes of economic evils. How irresistibly convenient for these neocons and their wealthy benefactors.

All these nonsensical charges by Senator Obama's opponents that his economic policies are socialism just don't pass the smell test. Again, as Don Wilky points out:

When Obama talks about reversing the tax breaks given to the higher income portion of the society granted so by the Bush administration, his critics see this as redistribution of wealth - and the "s" word is used (socialism). More emotional critics use the "c" word (Communism).

The Religious Right's argument that our present tax system is one based upon "the envy of wealth" or "is a redistributer of wealth" is a fraud (Robert Bork's choice descrpiption). Instead it is a value for value transaction-especially for the very wealthy. As I have said
before, having Bill Gates pay a federal tax rate of about 41% will not put a crimp in his lifestyle; he will not be  denied self-development. In fact, in the early 1960s when the highest tax bracket was 90%, the conservative writer Willmoore Kendall proclaimed that if the top bracket were to be lowered to 40%, it would allow anyone to become "smacking rich."

Obama does not espouse any "ism" but a saner, more just form of capitalism. His economic view is one tempered by Protestant Social Gospelers, Catholic Distributive Justice proponents and New Dealers of various ethical beliefs.

And unlike our friends on the Religious Right, his economics are informed by the view that government is the required ingredient to ensure economic sanity and justice.




Display:
"Marxism," "socialism"...all divisive terms used to play the game of "Enemy/Friend."

It's time to put that dynamic to bed and return to a more civil discourse.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:33:43 AM EST

Frank, when you've got someone who's out to essentially wipe you from existence, and you don't respond in a "us vs them" way, you're leaving yourself open.

Where we need to be different is in the way we "fight our fight"- keeping it as civil as possible and above reproach.  As soon as they drop their goal of elimination; at that point then "us vs them" becomes wrong.

BTW- here is another way to think of Distributive Justice.  The US government is supposed to be representative of the American people- and thus enforcing their will.  By putting business (especially Big Business) under government control and oversight, we're forcing them to obey the will of the citizens- and thus providing checks and balances that are missing today.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 12:24:05 PM EST
Parent

By no means am I advocating appeasement with these folks -- far from it. All I'm saying is that we don't frame everything in term of enemy/friend.

Here is what I mean.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 02:04:27 PM EST
Parent




The economic neocons actually belong to the church of "I've Got Mine, Now You Go Out and Get Yours."

by khughes1963 on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 01:17:27 PM EST

A TV comedian stated the religious right is no no longer interested in appeasing Joe the Plumber, they are seeking to appease another Joe. Joe McCarthy.

by wilkyjr on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 09:59:54 AM EST


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