Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. A Primer on the Pontiff

 

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis continues making waves across Latin America, hailed as a socialist by the likes of Evo Morales (who recently presented to the Pope a crucifix in the form of a hammer and sickle), it is of the highest importance to understand how Pope Francis gained his world view of capitalism and socialism in his native land of Argentina.

An incident that can help us understand took place at the time of the famous event in Argentina called the Cordobazo in 1969, the same year Bergoglio (Pope Francis) became a priest. The Cordobazo was a watershed event where the free-market based ideas of Krieger Vasena, Finance Minister under the Dictator General Onganía, emerged but ultimately collapsed under immense social pressure. Argentina was slowly undergoing a shift from a protectionist economic state ruled by unions to a more free economy with a smaller public sector workforce. His reforms were various and effective.

Despite the return to economic stability, foreign investment, and lower unemployment, many students, workers, and clergy had a different view from Vasena’s grand free-market vision. They held steadfast to the idea that America was trying to destroy all remnants of their way of life by beating their Argentine competitors and essentially taking over their country. This view stems from the ideology created by one of Argentina’s most famous President, Juan Domingo Perón.

Perón was president of Argentina for almost 10 years, starting at the end of the Second World War; and through immense economic surpluses generated from grain exports, he was able to implement economic, social, and political reforms that made FDR look like an amateur (read Amity Shlaes). Empowering workers by giving them higher wages, protecting native industries, and forming a strong sense of national pride for the country, Perón dominated Argentine politics. What abruptly ended his renaissance was the Marshall Act, which kicked Argentina out of the plan for providing postwar relief to war-torn Europe. The economic unrest that followed led to his exile from the country. His imprint of social, economic, and political change, however, stayed and morphed over the following decades into an array of socialist and marxist interpretations.

This leads us back to Generals Onganía and Vasena, who were attempting to rid the country of Perónist ideology. As mentioned previously, Bergoglio was ordained a priest in 1969, a date that forever stamped into Argentina’s psyche the idea that anything that wasn’t Argentine was essentially against the interests of the Argentine republic. Through a massive coordination among students, workers, priests, and revolutionary individuals who saw America’s expansion into the auto market in the industrial city of Córdoba as an imperial incursion, American factories were vandalized and torched. The military moved in and tried to quell the protests, but only furthered emboldened the rioters, leading to the ouster of Vasena and the return of Perónist influences in economics. A victory culminated in the return of Perón years after, and he presided as President and Dictator for a few years until his unexpected death in 1974.

I believe Pope Francis, having seen all of this, was left with a very strong impression. That impression consists of the view that workers had been suppressed by foreign corporations in the name of capitalism, and that the state had a duty to protect the interests of its people no matter the cost. This thinking, whether you called it socialism, corporatism, or the lingo you prefer to describe his philosophy, eventually influenced his recent encyclical on the environment.

Personally, I think there are several aspects of his teaching that should be taken positively in his recent encyclical, from his favorable views of the ecology of the family and its importance for society to his criticism of the rampant hyper-individualism that has predominated most economic powerhouses. His views on the environment and the economy, however you stand on those issues, should be discussed and understood, among conservatives, Catholics, and libertarians alike, in the context of the immense turmoil that a single ideology created and the way it has mutated into dozens of interpretations, from marxism to light socialism, making the differences between libertarians and core conservatives seem trifling in nature.

Behind the Vatican walls resides a man who has seen poverty at its worst, due to a mistaken notion that captured the imagination of the Argentine Republic. Even though no conservative or classical liberal introduction will change his mind, from the Spanish Scholastics of the 16th and 17th Centuries to Richard Epstein, it is immensely important to understand the Pontiff within the context of the Argentine tragedy.

There are 68 comments.

  1. Carey J. Inactive

    If you want to know to make a nation’s economy prosperous, ask a group of Catholic bishops for advice – then do the exact opposite.

    • #1
    • July 12, 2015, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for the historical primer. I vaguely recall that as priest Father Bergoglio sometimes stood against Argentine socialists and not always, if ever, for them. But I’d have to restudy those events.

    Meanwhile, here is a speech he gave in Bolivia.

    I got into a debate on Facebook about its likely meanings. Pope Francis has explicitly cited the Catholic ethical teaching of subsidiarity (that most problems should be addressed locally). But implicitly he seems to argue against it. At least, he seems to support the general notion of powerful central governments (including international powers like the United Nations), which is particularly sad since totalitarian governments universally attack the Church or seek to corrupt her. Note phrases like “the ability to organize” and frequent references to “popular movements.”

    Anyway, I am less concerned about a particular Pope misleading Christ’s flock than I am about bishops and priests generally being mistaken in this manner. It’s good that they prioritize the miraculous ways of God for the healing of souls before worldly strategies for material comfort. We must seek room for capitalism in Christianity, and not the other way around. But there is too little practical respect among the bishops for the gift of free will in relation to politics.

    Essentially, they too often mistake government as the proper means of community giving.

    • #2
    • July 12, 2015, at 11:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Here is another useful primer on Pope’s (then Bergoglio) formative years in Argentina. From John L Allen, Jr of National Catholic Reporter:

    On the broader question of Bergoglio’s record during the military dictatorship, I consulted historian Roberto Bosca at the University of Astral in Buenos Aires. I asked about Bergoglio’s relationship with the military government that took power in March 1976 and that ruled the country through a euphemistically termed “National Reorganization Process” until December 1983.

    Bosca’s basic take is that Bergoglio, like most people in Argentina at the time, was neither a supporter nor a critic.

    “There’s almost no record of anything he either said or wrote during that period either in favor of the regime or against it,” Bosca said.

    “Bergoglio was not really a church authority back then. He wasn’t a bishop yet in Buenos Aires, he was simply the regional superior of a religious order. The nature of his job didn’t lend itself to taking positions for or against the government, and my impression is that during that period was simply trying to do his job,” Bosca said.

    [….]

    “His way of coping with the regime was more or less the way most people in Argentina handled it, which is they still went to work and tried to get on with their lives,” he said.

    • #3
    • July 12, 2015, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I was there for the coup that installed Onganía in 1966, by which I mean that I saw the coup in progress on my way to school one morning. One of my classmates (dumb as dirt, btw) showed up to school later that day under escort since his dad was a high-ranking member of the new government. As a kid, I was too naive to be scared. We still played fútbol at recess. Fortunately, shortly thereafter my parents decided this was not a good place hang around and we left for the US, but not before I finished out the school year.

    It’s hard for people in a country such as the US to understand how totally messed up the political and economic culture of Argentina was at that time (and possibly still is). Corruption was normal; bribes, extortion, and cheating were part of everyday life. A person, like this pope, whose world view was shaped under such conditions can not hope to understand the workings of a modern, developed state operating under the rule of law. Say what you like about our current government, but believe me, you ain’t seen nothin’.

    • #4
    • July 12, 2015, at 12:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. Scott Wilmot Member

    Interesting summary JM, thank you for your commentary.

    As a faithful son of the Church, I firmly believe that Pope Francis embraces what St. Pope John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus (49):

    People lose sight of the fact that life in society has neither the market nor the State as its final purpose, since life itself has a unique value which the State and the market must serve.

    And at times, Pope Francis can even write clearly on economics, such as this from Laudato Si (129):

    In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. <snip> Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

    I think this is what he was trying to get at in the address that Aaron highlighted (promoting land, labor, and lodging) but that address is so full of mush that one gets lost trying to get through it.

    • #5
    • July 12, 2015, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Done Contributor

    Understanding why a person is wrong is useful, but they remain wrong.

    • #6
    • July 12, 2015, at 1:56 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Pencilvania Inactive

    Thanks, JMS, for that background – and Dr. Lorentz, what a stunning recollection!

    I can also certainly see St. John Paul II being uniquely formed by his life in Poland through WW II and under Communist rule — but his pronouncements seemed to resonate so much stronger with conservative American Catholics than those of Pope Francis. I wonder if South American prelates felt a distance between themselves and John Paul II, as we do somewhat with Pope Francis?

    • #7
    • July 12, 2015, at 2:14 PM PDT
    • Like
  8. Old Bathos Moderator

    The Catholic Church still has not fully adjusted to the emergence of the bourgeoisie. Wealth from inherited titles or the favor of the king was deemed natural. But if Theoderic the miller re-designed his water-powered grain mill and got rich (not rich enough to live like a nobleman or a bishop or, much less, a king, mind you) because he milled more grain in half the time, that was highly suspect and most likely an instance of sinful materialism.
    In Latin America, the Church invariably backed the most retrograde authoritarian regimes, backing policies that suppressed the emergence of a middle class and guaranteed that democratic movements would be anti-clerical.
    No one has ever left a vibrant spiritual life for “consumerism” or “materialism” which are symptoms, not causes of spiritual emptiness. The head of a religious enterprise that has failed to spread and invigorate itself in significant part because of clericalism and structural and ideological deadwood needs to take a better look inward instead of tying Catholicism to more stupid ideologies and dysfunctional political prejudices.
    The notion that freedom and innovation drive productivity in the real, nonzero-sum world is incomprehensible to many people and makes them economic illiterates and politically dangerous.
    The economic and political culture that produced this pope is dysfunctional and harms the people it claims to serve. Honest men of good will should assume a moral obligation to emulate what works rather than sanctify excuses and rationalizations for failed ideologies.

    • #8
    • July 12, 2015, at 2:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Old Bathos: No one has ever left a vibrant spiritual life for “consumerism” or “materialism” which are symptoms, not causes of spiritual emptiness.

    Not quite sure I agree that consumerism is a symptom of spiritual emptiness. A somewhat different take on this was posted by Richard Fulmer, which I recommend.

    Old Bathos: The notion that freedom and innovation drive productivity in the real, nonzero-sum world is incomprehensible to many people and makes them economic illiterates and politically dangerous. The economic and political culture that produced this pope is dysfunctional and harms the people it claims to serve. Honest men of good will should assume a moral obligation to emulate what works rather than sanctify excuses and rationalizations for failed ideologies.

    True. It would be asking much for someone of the current pope’s background to understand this. I’m guessing his predecessor was better at that.

    • #9
    • July 12, 2015, at 3:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Frank Soto:Understanding why a person is wrong is useful,but they remain wrong.

    It matters why he believes what he believes in part because a mistaken judgment due to innocent ignorance is easier to correct than one born of willful ignorance or knowing opposition. If the Holy Father rejects Western capitalist ideas because he hasn’t yet witnessed them in action or hasn’t been exposed to the theories, then he is more likely to be convinced by information.

    Someone wrote on Ricochet once that Pope John Paul II was less kind to Western economies before he developed an association with American author George Weigel, who informally educated him on American ideas.

    If Pope Francis is simply ignorant of American economics, then his misleading suggestions might be only a temporary problem.

    But American Christians should not blithely dismiss the Church’s criticisms of ethically agnostic business in a free economy. Nor should we set aside reliance on God as we pursue practical strategies. The miracle of the loaves and fishes, among others, is repeated among the experiences of every generation. The Bible is clear that God helps even those who do not help themselves.

    • #10
    • July 12, 2015, at 3:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    On a related note, the National Catholic Register posted an interview with an Austrian philosopher familiar with the writings of Cardinal Kasper. This bit on the cardinal’s theology goes to show that the Left/Right divide is pre-political:

    And this has something to do with this whole optimistic atmosphere in the ’60s. People trusted in, what I said in my lecture, they trusted in the vision that modernity produced of its own future. So they thought: things are getting better, people are getting freer, there is a dialectic in history which is an emancipation which makes people freer, and we just have to go along with history and history will somehow tell us where to go. But, I’m sorry, this is not the concept of history that we find in the New Testament, that we find in the Church Fathers, that we find in the doctors of the Church, that we find in Scholasticism or anywhere else. We find this concept in Hegel and in de Chardin but there is no legitimate way for a Catholic theologian to accept these novel concepts. Not as far as I see.

    And they have great resentment towards everything in and of the past. Our great grandfathers were stupid idiots, in their opinion. [….]

    • #11
    • July 12, 2015, at 3:53 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. I Walton Member

    I thought R Reno in a recent Richochet podcast discussed this Pope wisely; more or less ignore him on things he knows nothing about, which would seem to be economics, science, the weather, politics not to mention European or even Argentine history, and pay attention when he speaks theologically. Even so, I think he even conflates these and that he really is from liberation theology. We can hope he doesn’t do too much damage as he alienates his natural allies and embraces those who would see the church buried. Did he ever speak with his two predecessors? John Paul knew something about socialism in its two modern forms, and Benedict had incredible insights about modernity.

    • #12
    • July 12, 2015, at 4:13 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Doug Watt Moderator

    The problem is that unfettered capitalism is not practiced anywhere in the world. Unfettered capitalism is not practiced in the United States. For citizens in the United States the call from Europeans and South Americans to look to Europe or South America for moral lessons on economic policy is asinine. For conservatives and libertarians in the United States to pretend that the United States is a paragon of capitalism is asinine. Since the time of Teddy Roosevelt the United States has been on the road to corporatism. The definition of Left and Right applies to the French Revolution. There are two schools of socialist thought. Fascism or Communism. In Communism the state owns everything. In Fascism the state allows the ownership of private property but controls its’ use and disposal. You may own your home in the U.S. but property taxes make the state a co-owner of your property. Right and Left is meaningless. The question becomes is a bullet in the Lubyanka basement preferable to a bullet from an SS soldier. The bullet is the same. Rail against the pope all you like but quit pretending the U.S. is free or truly capitalist.

    • #13
    • July 12, 2015, at 5:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  14. Doug Watt Moderator

    By the way my comment is not directed at the writer of this essay. It is directed at the critics that believe the U.S. is the that city on the shining hill.

    • #14
    • July 12, 2015, at 6:34 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. Solon Inactive

    He seems to have left-wing values. Sure, he is a product of Argentina, and we need to understand him in context, but I’d sure love it if he railed against ISIS as much as he does against financial greed.

    • #15
    • July 12, 2015, at 7:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. HerrForce1 Member
    HerrForce1 Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I appreciate JM’s informative essay and the discussion surrounding it. It paints more of a picture than I previously understood. What makes an impression on me (admittedly not a Catholic), is the enormous amount of attention focused on temporal matters whenever this pope’s writings arise. Some of the reason for this is the secular world covers Francis’ topics that it cares about and fixates way less on theological items.

    I understand that a pope is more like a head of state than an average Christian pastor. He has to crank out essays, encyclicals, and other statements to his followers. But I’d like to hear more of his attention directed at championing the Word of Christ to the lost. I presume Francis believes that eternal separation from the Living God awaits those who do not accept Him in this life. With that unfathomable consequence in the balance, Francis’ high profile, significant influence, and limited time on Earth seems better spent telling people about Jesus most every chance he gets.

    • #16
    • July 12, 2015, at 7:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Zafar Member

    For some reason this reminds me of the people who used to criticise Mother Teresa because she didn’t do “development work” – but that wasn’t why she was there, she had a different set of objectives.

    • #17
    • July 12, 2015, at 8:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Watt: For conservatives and libertarians in the United States to pretend that the United States is a paragon of capitalism is asinine.

    I think you just called me asinine, Watt! I …oh…wait…

    • #18
    • July 12, 2015, at 8:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Koolie Inactive

    Doug Watt:By the way my comment is…directed at the critics that believe the U.S. is the that city on the shining hill.

    I believe America remains that shining city on the hill, even though much that’s rotten have snuck in. Presently, I am learning (Great Courses) about Chinese history and Chinese culture from American (white) scholars; and about Buddhism and Indian religions from American (white) scholars. So, sometimes, I do step back and observe: a Chinaman learning about Chinese history and Asian religions from Americans, utterly of his own choosing, because it’s good scholarship? If you think that’s unremarkable because it’s so commonplace, grasp that it’s commonplace. To me, that’s Reagan’s shining city on a hill.

    When I am in Asia and people scoff at America, I ask them to think about a civilization that’s achieved the above, which can afford its people that luxury to study and hone deep scholarship about other peoples, other cultures, other religions, as well as math and science. Can your civilization afford you such wide freedoms? Marx used to dream about his final stage–Communist Nirvana. Ironically, it’s capitalism, freedom, and innovation that are getting ever closer to delivering that nirvana with the age of robotics, not Marx’s command and control fantasies.

    The old cliché: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But you are right. Much that’s rotten is blowing and has blown our way.

    • #19
    • July 12, 2015, at 9:22 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. David Williamson Inactive

    Yeah, he probably thinks the Falklands (Maldives, according to Mr Obama) belong to Argentina, too – in spite of what their people want.

    • #20
    • July 12, 2015, at 9:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. Joseph Stanko Member
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Pencilvania: I wonder if South American prelates felt a distance between themselves and John Paul II, as we do somewhat with Pope Francis?

    Seems likely since Latin America was the source of liberation theology and many of the prelates there were shaped by it, while as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and JPII’s right-hand man Cardinal Ratzinger criticized it and censured some of the theologians who taught it.

    • #21
    • July 12, 2015, at 9:28 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Watt: quit pretending the U.S. is free or truly capitalist

    Doug Watt: By the way my comment is not directed at the writer of this essay. It is directed at the critics that believe the U.S. is the that city on the shining hill.

    Truly capitalist or not, it’s a heck of a lot better than anywhere else. Take it from one who’s lived somewhere else. In that sense, the US is a shining city on the hill. That’s why everyone wants to come here. Or as Koolie wrote,

    Koolie: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    • #22
    • July 12, 2015, at 10:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. Richard Fulmer Member

    Aaron Miller:

    Frank Soto:Understanding why a person is wrong is useful,but they remain wrong.

    It matters why he believes what he believes in part because a mistaken judgment due to innocent ignorance is easier to correct than one born of willful ignorance or knowing opposition. If the Holy Father rejects Western capitalist ideas because he hasn’t yet witnessed them in action or hasn’t been exposed to the theories, then he is more likely to be convinced by information.

    If taken to heart and acted upon, the ideas that the Pope is preaching will get people killed. They will die of hunger, of disease, and violence. There is no mystery, it has all happened before. No doubt his intentions are good, but good or bad, the people will be just as dead.

    • #23
    • July 12, 2015, at 11:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    So what? I don’t care about the brand of Marxism that went into this Marxist cake, which is fully baked and now infallible.

    This is like saying you have to understand the conditions under which your dinner became rancid. No I don’t.

    Perhaps the miracle of transubstantiation now covers having one’s cake and eating it too.

    • #24
    • July 13, 2015, at 1:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Frank Soto:Understanding why a person is wrong is useful,but they remain wrong.

    Help! I’m being oppressed!

    • #25
    • July 13, 2015, at 1:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Wade Moore Member

    drlorentz:I was there for the coup that installed Onganía in 1966, by which I mean that I saw the coup in progress on my way to school one morning. One of my classmates (dumb as dirt, btw) showed up to school later that day under escort since his dad was a high-ranking member of the new government. As a kid, I was too naive to be scared. We still played fútbol at recess. Fortunately, shortly thereafter my parents decided this was not a good place hang around and we left for the US, but not before I finished out the school year.

    I was there for the coup (?) that reinstalled Peron. Like you I was a student (13 years old) and didn’t understand a bit of what was going on only that we had a short holiday from classes until things calmed down. We left for the US as soon as the school year was out.

    Did you go to Escuela Lincoln?

    • #26
    • July 13, 2015, at 4:27 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Scott Wilmot Member

    HerrForce1: But I’d like to hear more of his attention directed at championing the Word of Christ to the lost.

    HerrForce1,

    You probably won’t hear about his proclamation of the Gospel because there is nothing there for conservatives to bash or liberals to gush over. But, you can read his Gospel message that he proclaimed on his most recent Apostolic Journey to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Not all of his addresses have been translated into English, but you will find that at heart, he is a pastor preaching the Word of Christ.

    He also has his daily homilies summarized on Vatican News and his weekly audiences and Angelus messages are posted to the Vatican website.

    Unfortunately, proclaiming the Gospel isn’t something the media is going to help him with.

    • #27
    • July 13, 2015, at 4:43 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Scott Wilmot Member

    George Weigel has an interesting essay at NRO that seems relevant to this post. A sample:

    Today, however, the Vatican’s institutional memory seems to retain little from either the teaching or the accomplishment of John Paul II. And that ill serves Pope Francis, whose public persona and popularity, like John Paul’s, create openings for real change to happen: change that leads to the empowerment and inclusion of the poor and marginalized. Such change seems unlikely, however, in circumstances in which Evo Morales thinks he can offer the first Latin American pope the dumbed-down, faux-Communist equivalent of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ — and get away with it.

    Thus the pope’s diplomats might want to spend Ferragosto, the summer period when the Vatican essentially shuts down, informing themselves about the failure of the Casaroli Project and studying the teaching of John Paul II on the free and virtuous society of the 21st century, as essential preparation for Pope Francis’s pastoral visit to Cuba in September, and to the United States after that.

    • #28
    • July 13, 2015, at 4:56 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. Manny Member

    I’m a fairly devout Roman Catholic and I don’t buy that “strong impression” of capitalism the Pope developed when young. Not entirely. Even conservative Popes like Benedict XVI and John Paul II were not full endorsers of capitalism. The Holy Father is over 70 years old and by now he should have learned or realized the benefits of capitalism. However he continues to harp on the negatives. What are the negatives? Well, making money is an idol or can become an idol. There’s no question that today’s world focuses, even what’s left of the Christian west, more time thinking and working for money than in thinking and working for Christ. He also I think sees a connection between this making money an idol and the loss of faith. I don’t think he sees it as the only reason, but certainly a main one. He falls back on many scriptural passages that insist that money is either evil or a hindrance to salvation. Consider, the rich west has lost faith; the poor third world is religiously vibrant.

    Theologically he may be right but the question then becomes are we going to reduce our standard of living to live a more scripturally exact life?

    • #29
    • July 13, 2015, at 4:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. Done Contributor

    Aaron Miller: But American Christians should not blithely dismiss the Church’s criticisms of ethically agnostic business in a free economy.

    When they are this vapid we should.

    • #30
    • July 13, 2015, at 6:21 AM PDT
    • Like