All Too Fallible

Earlier today, Severely Ltd pondered the comments made by the Pope in his New Year address and found them “not at all helpful.” I’ll say. Writing yesterday over at the sinister, godless realm that is Secular Right, I was perhaps a little less polite

I was reacting to a BBC report on the Pope’s remarks. Here’s (part of) what the Beeb had to say:

 The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica. He deplored “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor”.

 Those “hotbeds” also grew out of “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”, as well as “various forms of terrorism and crime”, he said.

 My comment:

I don’t know what is worse. The ignorance (if there’s one thing that the financial markets were not, it was unregulated; whether they were sensibly regulated is a different question), or the clear signs of a visceral loathing for “financial” capitalism and, of course, the Pope’s attempt to smear it with guilt by association with “various forms of terrorism and crime”.

 If the Pope’s remarks were designed to be “helpful”, I dread to think to whom.

  1. Leslie Watkins

    I’m so happy to know about the website you referenced. I could not agree with you more.

  2. Pseudodionysius

    You might want to re-read Severley’s thread and the later comments on 

    On the contrary: in the 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Blessed John Paul II condemned the “Social Assistance State” because it saps welfare-recipients of their dignity and their creativity while making them wards of the government.

    – George Weigel

  3. James Of England
    KC Mulville

    Severely Ltd.

    I refuse to ignore the plain meaning of a homily, and focus instead on how the BBC and the Italian press have misconstrued three words from it. I refuse to be manipulated that way.

    If Paul Ryan said, for example, that the Constitution protects free speech, and the New York Times reported it with the headline “Paul Ryan hates fellow Republicans,” why would I waste a moment worrying about the misrepresentation? Any fair reading of what Ryan said would reveal the truth. Would I demand that Paul Ryan change his speeches to account for their distortion? No.

    The press took three words and magnified them into headlines, utterly ignoring the meaning of the pope’s homily.

    If Paul Ryan gave a speech in which 30k words said that he liked the Constitution, particularly the Free Speech clause, and 3 of those words said “I hate Republicans”, I do not think it would be surprising or unfair for the NYT (and National Review and Ricochet) to focus on the controversial 3 and ignore the uncontroversial 29,997. If, in your analogy, Ryan did not say the words, it is not similar. 

  4. Pseudodionysius

    By the way, I don’t understand what this means:

    We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims.  Rather, conservatism serves the ends of “Human Flourishing,” what the Greeks termed Eudaimonia. Secular conservatism takes the empirical world for what it is, and accepts that the making of it the best that it can be is only possible through our faculties of reason.

    Eudaimonia is in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and he certainly wasn’t a British empiricist or Enlightenment rationalist. How do you resolve the metaphysical difficulties?

  5. James Of England
    EThompson

    James Of England

    I’d theoretically prefer an unfree theocracy to agodless capitalist society…

    Out of curiosity, what such example could one cite? · 6 hours ago

    I was thinking abstractly, but I guess if I think in terms of Mount Athos and Prague, I do find myself even more unhappy with my actual preferences. Prague’s loss of religion occurred suddenly and long enough ago that the phantom religion they have left is in some ways closer to Orthodoxy than the modern version of Catholicism they left behind; they still celebrate Martinmas as the beginning of a fast, for instance, although none of them then follow through and actually fast. It’s a deeply atheist place, but a comfortable place to be theist.

    I think of it in terms of ακρισια, and think Socrates was wrong to claim that just because I know that I would really live in Prague 95%+ of time, I don’t think that Athos would be better for me.

  6. Jeff

    It depends on what was meant by “financial capitalism.”

    If it meas the  the international bank system and the outrageous privileges  bestowed upon it – which privileges amount to titles of nobility for banking institutions – then I’m an Orthodox christian in complete agreement with the Pope on this one.

    If it means free markets, then I’m an Orthodox christian in complete disagreement with the Pope on this one.

    On the principle of charity, I take his meaning to be the former.

  7. Scott R

    John Paul II had a line or two that could’ve been taken as luke warm on capitalism, too, and yet he proved to be an anti-communist par excellence, so I’d be willing to give Benedict the benefit of the doubt here.

    Still, a quick reminder that a free market economy is not a zero-sum game — and therefore ”gaps” are nothing to fret over (unlike, say, poverty-causing egalitarianism) – can be useful to anyone, even His Excellency.   

  8. Peter Robinson
    C

    Although scarcely an expert on the Vatican, I tend to attribute the Pope’s remarks not to “visceral loathing” but to the sloppy, lazy, eurocratic thinking of so many of the curial officials who surround him.  But although it pains me to say so, Andrew–in light, that is, of our much larger disagreement over the Act of Supremacy–you are right and the pontifex maximus is wrong.

  9. Pseudodionysius

    Before you know it Obama will be using them to beat on Republicans.

    Obama regularly pontificates on scripture in spite of his inability to publish a 3 volume work on the topic and in spite of not being his brother’s keeper. I doubt that will be the defining moment that prevents a Republican resurgence.

  10. Pseudodionysius

    In the face of serious pollution around a US-run foundry in La Oroya, in 2004, with the help of Saint-Louis University, a Jesuit school in Missouri, he transformed the archdiocesan kitchens into a laboratory to test soil and air samples for heavy metals. The Doe Run foundry processes minerals mined from the surrounding Andes into copper, lead, zinc and other metals. The amount of pollution caused by the smelter has led La Oroya to being named one of the 10 most-polluted places on the planet, with high levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals found in the soil, air and even in the blood samples of local residents.

    The smelter was closed in 2009 due to environmental and health concerns. However, it has now resumed operations, after the company was forced to adopt environmental norms that were finally enforced by the government as a result of the work of the archdiocese. Archbishop Barreto recently travelled to the U.S. to give testimony to the human rights panel of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on the environmental damage caused by the smelter and the need for tighter regulation.

    Some useful background to the audience.

  11. Indaba

    I work in the finance industry, at the heart of capitalism. We work long hours and get paid fairly well but I can tell you my brother in the government is now able to retire. He gets 80% of his best 3 year’s of pay plus benefits such as dental, hearing aids and drugs which are not covered by our so called free Canadian health care. Now he gets that paid, no matter what happens on the stock market and he does not have to find a wealth manager, supervise them or pay them for looking after his capital.

    As a greedy capitalist working in finance and paying the employee taxes, corporate taxes, sales taxes by Province and Federal jurisdiction, more goes to greedy government than to reinvestment in my business, or to my employees or to me.

    I have now left the business and have a salary but still no government pension like my government employee brother. What shocks me is this big corporate finance company is still on Microsoft 03. I empathize.

    so the Pope means well about having values to treat others well, but, the heavens above, it is the Government and their unions who are greedy.

  12. Andrew Stuttaford
    C
    Pseudodionysius: By the way, I don’t understand what this means:

    We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims.  Rather, conservatism serves the ends of “Human Flourishing,” what the Greeks termed Eudaimonia. Secular conservatism takes the empirical world for what it is, and accepts that the making of it the best that it can be is only possible through our faculties of reason.

    Eudaimoniais in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and he certainly wasn’t a British empiricist or Enlightenment rationalist. How do you resolve the metaphysical difficulties? · 1 hour ago

     Pseudodionysius  is quoting the ‘mission statement’ (dreadful term, but it’ll have to do) of Secular Right. That was written before I signed up for SR, so you’d have to ask the author about the specifics. But, to me, the key point is that conservative (loosely defined) principles do not require (although they need not exclude)  supernatural backing. As for “metaphysical difficulties”, I’ve never worried too much about them. To me such questions are pointless–and not particularly interesting–speculation. But to each his own!

  13. Pseudodionysius

    But, to me, the key point is that conservative (loosely defined) principles do not require (although they need not exclude)  supernatural backing.

    That’s clarifying. I misunderstood and thought you were originally involved as a founder and had some hand in drafting the mission statement. For now, I’ll have to file away my Terence Irwin translation of the Nicomachean Ethics.

  14. Andrew Stuttaford
    C
    Pseudodionysius: You might want to re-read Severley’s thread and the later comments on 

    On the contrary: in the 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Blessed John Paul II condemned the “Social Assistance State” because it saps welfare-recipients of their dignity and their creativity while making them wards of the government.

    – George Weigel

    Edited 1 hour ago1 hour ago

    Pseudodionysius provides a quote that is well worth remembering, but it does not contradict the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has long (well before Rerum Novarum) been suspicious of capitalism or proto-capitalism. If it has an ‘economic’ ideology it is corporatism, which probably finds its most benign expression in “Rhineland Capitalism” and/or the “Social Market”, although there are plenty of other, far less attractive, variants….

  15. Aaron Miller

    Pope Benedict XVI is an exceptionally wise and holy man. I welcome his input on everything.

    Catechized Catholics understand that not every word from a bishop — even the bishop of Rome — is spoken authoritatively. They, too, are human.

  16. James Of England
    Peter Robinson: Although scarcely an expert on the Vatican, I tend to attribute the Pope’s remarks not to “visceral loathing” but to the sloppy, lazy, eurocratic thinking of so many of the curial officials who surround him.  But although it pains me to say so, Andrew–in light, that is, of our much larger disagreement over the Act of Supremacy–you are right and the pontifex maximus is wrong. · 39 minutes ago

    Short version: I agree

    Slightly longer: I think that the somewhat vigorous debate on Severely’s thread has simmered down a little now, but that a number of people have agreed that BXVI is a fairly mainstream fiscal social democrat. On the downside, this means that he’s not enormously fiscally conservative, but on the upside, his proposals tend to be tweaks (focusing on full employment, strengthening unions, increasing worker’s rights etc.) rather than revolutions. He has quite a lot of nice things to say about globalization, free markets, etc., as well as unkind things, and objects to his ideological adversaries on his left even more than those on his right. He is wrong to not be more conservative, but it could easily be much worse.

  17. Pseudodionysius
    Andrew Stuttaford

    Pseudodionysius: You might want to re-read Severley’s thread and the later comments on 

    On the contrary: in the 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Blessed John Paul II condemned the “Social Assistance State” because it saps welfare-recipients of their dignity and their creativity while making them wards of the government.

    – George Weigel

    Edited 1 hour ago

    1 hour ago

    Pseudodionysius provides a quote that is well worth remembering, but it does not contradict the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has long (well before Rerum Novarum) been suspicious of capitalism or proto-capitalism. If it has an ‘economic’ ideology it is corporatism, which probably finds its most benign expression in “Rhineland Capitalism” and/or the “Social Market”, although there are plenty of other, far less attractive, variants…. · 7 minutes ago

    I hasten to remind everyone of St Antoninus of Florence, the Renaissance Thomist thinker and theorist of economics, unknown to most Catholics as well as Protestants.

  18. Andrew Stuttaford
    C
    Peter Robinson: Although scarcely an expert on the Vatican, I tend to attribute the Pope’s remarks not to “visceral loathing” but to the sloppy, lazy, eurocratic thinking of so many of the curial officials who surround him.  But although it pains me to say so, Andrew–in light, that is, of our much larger disagreement over the Act of Supremacy–you are right and the pontifex maximus is wrong. · 40 minutes ago

    Peter, it’s very ungracious of me to quibble when you are agreeing with me, but I don’t think that it’s quite right to use  the “eurocratic thinking” (lazy or otherwise) of Curial officials as an alibi for the Pope’s remarks. That’s because the EU,  corporatist to its core,  was from the beginning clearly designed as an expression of Roman Catholic ideas of how Europe’s economy–and, indeed, society–should be run (you can even see that in some of its jargon: “subsidiarity” and all that). The project was then flavored by the likes of “founding father” Altiero Spinelli with the socialist elements that added further poison to the mix.

  19. Pseudodionysius

    The treatise on Avarice (42) is labeled “in the manner of a sermon” (per modum praedicationis) and it seems likely that a good deal of it was compiled from sermons which he had delivered before the hard-headed capitalists of Florence. So rich in practical detail is this treatise that economic historians have mined it for information, and it has been studied as one of the first contributions to the science of economics, although Antoninus’ purpose is purely moral not technical.(43) The famous controversy over the thesis of Max Weber who explained the rise of capitalism by the “Protestant Ethic” and the justification of taking interests on money loans by Calvin is not yet finished.(44) One of the main objections to this thesis is that European capitalism was well developed before the Reformation. The Avignon papacy had by its bureaucratization of church taxes provided the first example of international finance,(45) and as we have seen the Medici and Fuggers, who were neither Protestant nor Jewish, but Catholic, were the first great bankers.(46)

  20. Aaron Miller

    By the way, Americans, being the most influential nation in the world, often make the mistake of assuming that comments from the Vatican are directed at us or at the West broadly. The Church includes Christians from every nation in the world, and our Pope represents them all. His typical focus is the poor and downtrodden, not the movers and shakers.