Pope Francis: Does An Anti-Capitalist = A Socialist?

The Pope has made his opposition to capitalism clear and his words were scathing…

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.”

This has led to praise and criticism from the right and the left. People have naturally views this within the right vs left dichotomy. I think it worth pointing out that libertarians of all varieties do not fit anywhere, comfortably, in this one dimensional paradigm, nor aught the Pope be expected to. He has been called a Marxist and had the economic failing of state socialism in Latin America and around the world flagged up, the assumption seems to be that if he is against the present model of capitalism he must be a socialist. The problem is the Pope may have made clear that he is in opposition to our present economic model he has not made clear what else he is against, (socialism) or what he supports.

What he has said on the matter and the clues to what he supports are as follows “I repeat: I did not talk as a specialist but according to the social doctrine of the church. And this does not mean being a Marxist.” The Pope indicates here that his stance on economics is only that which the Church has long-held. That he is simply re-iterating it’s doctrine, the only economic ideology based upon catholic social doctrine is Distributism… It is based on the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, and it is emphatically opposed to socialism. In the words one who inspired it:

“No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist” and “it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community” – Pius XI.

The Popes Francis’s words on capitalism were no less scathing than his predecessor’s in Rerum Novarum. Pope Leo XIII spoke of “misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” and how “a small number of very rich men” had been able to “lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” And Pope Francis’s use of the term “exclusion” I’d argue meaning exclusion from personal access to property, and the means to produce are a further clue to his distributist leanings.

So what do these distributists profess if they oppose both socialism and capitalism?

According to distributists, property ownership is a fundamental right and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or of accomplished individuals (laissez-faire capitalism). Distributism therefore advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership and, according to co-operative economist Race Mathews, maintains that such a system is key to bringing about a just social order. – Wikipedia

In truth we cannot know where the Pope stands on socialism other than what he has said. Until he say’s otherwise I think it’s safe to say there is no reason to suspect he is a socialist, or that his position is anything other than that which the church has long-held.

- Samuel Allen

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4 thoughts on “Pope Francis: Does An Anti-Capitalist = A Socialist?”

  1. In the eyes of laissez-faire capitalists, there is no “third way.” There are varying degrees of government interference in the economy; at a certain point, quantity becomes quality and those interferences add up to socialism. This is because there is no “third way” between freedom and coercion, between choice and force.

    If Distributism is chosen voluntarily by those whom it will benefit the most, then it is 100% capitalist in character. This is all capitalism is, after all – a system of economic freedom in which each person pursues their own self-determined best-interests. If it is forced upon people against their will by politicians, then it is 100% socialist in character. For that is what socialism is – a group of people who believe that “power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and will bring us all along to an enlightened future whether we want it or not.

    I think Distributism is a fine idea, if it is chosen. But if people don’t want it, then I absolutely oppose its imposition by force. When someone voices their criticism of “free markets”, they are really voicing criticism of the idea of individual freedom and economic choice, which is all a free market is. It is also manifest that no country in the world has a totally free market, meaning that criticism of the idea that markets “left alone” will solve all problems is criticism of an idea that is not allowed to work anywhere at any time. If Francis and others don’t like the current reality, they ought to be criticizing policies that actually exist as opposed to ideological scapegoats.

    1. Sure define it how you will but myself I define state socialism/socialism as some form of state/collective ownership, and anything in-between that and free-markets as varying degrees of interventionism. Pope Francis, I think we can safely say, is an interventionist but he’s likely more of an Anti-Trust type than a Barack Obama. I’m not trying to defend his position, just portray it as accurately as possible.

      With other elements of distributism, I don’t think it’s as simple as initiation of force vs non-interventionism. Since anyway that ownership of property ownership is defined, it is enforced is at the barrel of gun or by some other means of force. Some distributist suggestions are based around the state no longer intervening and legally enforcing things like interest-rate contracts (usury). I’d argue that no system of property ownership can be voluntary in the sense you are asking of distributism. If someone’s claim to property is enforced then, that is something others have no choice in, others consent is not asked for.

      Distributism is not so much criticising freedom as a whole but criticising the parameters that we are not just free to act with in, but constrained coerced and forced to act within. What in many cases distributism is disputing, is what constitutes rightfully owned property. For the laissez-faire capitalists it’s anything a man can get his hands on, there is no set limit to what one can obtain. For distributists what constitutes rightfully owned property is differently defined, property is to be spread as much as possible large amounts are not centralised by state or in private hands.

      Force isn’t really the issue it’s whether that force is justly applied, whether it’s in the defence of property that is rightly owned, or wrongfully.

  2. “For the laissez-faire capitalists it’s anything a man can get his hands on, there is no set limit to what one can obtain. ”

    The limits are what other people are willing to give him. On what grounds does anyone interfere with this? All such interference is premised on the assumption that free people should not be able to determine what their own best interests are, but rather what someone claiming authority determines those interests to be.

    There is nothing that prevents lower and middle-income people from owning property. Nothing prevents them from pooling resources and sharing in large properties. Workers cooperatives and other such projects exist. In my view they are capitalist entities because they are voluntarily formed by people who regard it in their interests to do so.

    Regarding force, if Distributists are really following Pope Leo XIII, then they are accepting the same labor theory of property acquisition that libertarians use – whatever one acquires through one’s labor is properly theirs. It is legitimate to use force to defend it, and illegitimate to use force to confiscate and redistribute it. All free market capitalism requires is respect for this principle. Leo XIII recognized that certain extreme needs may justify its violation, and I have no issue with this, but they are case-by-case and not the subject of broad policies.

Please keep it civil (unless it relates to Jacques)

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