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Eighty-seven years old, Rev. James Schall, S.J. is one of the most respected Catholic scholars in the nation. A philosopher, theologian, and political theorist, Fr. Schall, the author of dozens of books, served as a professor of government at Georgetown University for 35 years before retiring to a Jesuit home here in California in 2012. (If you’d like a thrilling intellectual experience, go to YouTube, then, in the search bar, type “Fr. Schall’s final lecture at Georgetown.”)
Fr. Schall has just published a long article on Laudato Si, the encyclical on the environment that Pope Francis published earlier this summer. Fr. Schall’s analysis is respectful, erudite, intellectually humble — and devastating.
In the Pope’s view, the poverty of modern times, not its relief, is due mainly to uncontrolled capitalism….
The fact is that modern centuries have seen a gradual but increasingly effective alleviation of poverty as one society after another learned the hard way or the easy way what it takes to produce and distribute wealth. In the past several decades, the amount of poverty in the world has been rapidly reduced by what can only fairly be called capitalist presuppositions or imitations of them. We look for a means whereby new ideas can come into the economy. We must recognize that the real source of wealth is the human mind and creativity… The free market systems under laws and prudence, where they are allowed to exist, are the best and probably only way to aid the majority of the poor.
But the Pope evidently does not see this connection….While acknowledging subsidiarity, Francis seems to prefer a state-engineered solution, a take-care-of-the-poor solution rather than an expanding economy solution. Actually, the whole of this encyclical seems to be telling us not to be wealthy; it is morally dangerous. The purpose of an economy is not to create wealth but to teach us how to live frugally and in very moderate ways. The Holy Father has much practical advice about turning down the heat, wearing jackets, drinking less water, and taking public transportation. He is leery of a society of abundance, which also has its problems….
If we confiscate all the world’s wealth tomorrow morning and distribute it equitably to everyone on earth, two things would result: 1) everyone would become poor; 2) within a short time, large portions of the goods distributed would end up on the hands of those who knew how to acquire, barter, and use them. If we mistake the real ways of making everyone “not poor,” we risk spreading poverty, not alleviating it….
We find little in Laudato Si’ that would indicate awareness that government is itself a major factor in causing and extending world poverty. It is not just a matter of corruption or bureaucracy, though that too is a serious problem. My point is not that the Pope does not have his own worthy opinions. But what, in fact, has been working for the purpose of poverty alleviation is not really discussed….
[T]he goal of ecological vision is posed in terms of creating a world that takes into consideration future generations. The consumption of goods must include future usage. We might note that no generation previous to ours ever seemed to worry about this issue. Usually, population control theses are posed in the light of estimates about available resources in relation to projected population sizes. What seems to happen is that when previous future generations come about, they will have figured out some way to survive and even prosper. That is, human intelligence and skill are active elements in nature.
The question here is how do we know how many ages are left for us to plan for? And is there not reason to believe that a larger, rather than smaller, population will be the incentive to learn how to deal with human needs? We simply do not know how many generations there will be, what technology will be available to them, or even whether there will be a future generation. We know not the day or the hour. What we do know is that the earth, plus human intelligence on it, is adequate to provide for the human race as it is….We simply do not know how to calculate what future generations down the ages will need so that we can reasonably restrict our development now accordingly. It is incoherent to think that we can.
A wise, holy and learned man — and, like Pope Francis himself, a Jesuit — Fr. Schall could have taken no pleasure in writing this. But there you have it.
Laudato Si, incoherent.